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Why were the Watts Family Finances in Ruins?

While researching TWO FACE ANNIHILATION it’s become more and more obvious what’s missing from the Second Confession. The word “finances” appears just once, on page 17 of the CBI Report.

Ever since he sold his 4-wheeler for less than what he owed on it, Shan’ann wouldn’t let him do anything with their finances.

The word “debt” appears on the same page which deals with the cops quizzing Watts directly about the business of selling the house. Also a single instance of that word.

Most of the bankruptcy dealt with credit card debt from their wedding.

The word “money” also appears only one time on page 21.

His mother initially believed his father was having an affair because he couldn’t account for missing money.

Many are uncomfortable assigning blame – one way or another – for why these horrific murders took place. Are we less uncomfortable assigning blame for the financial mess they were in?

Although it’s clear Watts didn’t take much if any responsibility for his own finances [and only he is to blame for that], the fact that Shan’ann took control didn’t make matters any better. It also seems having gone bankrupt once before hadn’t been much of a check on whatever was going wrong behind-the-scenes.

Personally I don’t think it’s helpful taking sides in the financial equation either, as regards the Watts. Whether we say it was all Shan’ann’s fault, or all his fault, or that they were both at fault, the fact remains that a financial malaise appeared to hang over them – like a dark cloud – from as early as the beginning of their marriage. Why?

What seems to me to be more helpful is to understand how human psychology, with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, plays into a pattern that adds up either to financial gain or ruin. It also seems reductionist to simply blame MLM. How is it to blame?

Today on a television show dealing with budgeting advice, I caught a clip by Maya Fisher-French, an award-winning financial journalist, that I thought really resonated with the Watts story.

Fisher-French was making a simple but profound observation about how human psychology plays into our approach to money through our sense of fulfillment, and overall gratification.

Her point was that when we try to save, we tend to focus on denying ourselves small things. We may scrimp on a latte, or hold ourselves back from buying a candy bar. We may – like Shan’ann – elect to choose a cheaper meal at a cheaper restaurant.

Fisher-French’s point is that when we reward ourselves, we do so disproportionately, spending thousands on a holiday, or hundreds on new outfits.

We can see how the Watts household was geared towards making small savings in certain areas [order your free Thrive pack today, at a discount], while splurging in other areas: a really big house, an expensive car, one exotic holiday after another.

The damaging thing about MLM is that it encourages exactly these enormous extravagances, and links them to the idea of “Thriving”, and having a better sense of self.


It even reverses the idea of saving in small doses by overpricing their products, and then simultaneously offering “unbeatable” bargains and discounts.

MLM’s message is you can live in a castle! You can have the luxury car! You can travel to your heart’s content! Don’t let anything [like not being able to afford it] stop you because you deserve it!

Fisher-French’s advice is to make a list of those things we deny ourselves on a daily basis that “hurt”, like that extra spoon of sugar in our coffee, or a dessert at a restaurant, and swap that around with our unworkable and unaffordable reward system.

She recommends saving on the big things rather than scrimping on the little ones as a more effective way of staying financially safe and sound. The idea is to connect our sense-of-self to daily, ordinary things, rather than to attach ourselves to bigger, unrealistic extravagances. In other words, financially we need to occupy and live in the real world.



  1. CBH

    Very interesting point. Decades ago, I had read about a family that had fallen apart due to a sudden, steep drop in their income. As stated above, they deprived themselves of little items of food and toiletries, then turned around and squandered on some expensive private colleges to stay in the swing of things. Things didn’t turn out well. There was a murder for life insurance.

    There is NO doubt in my mind that MLM absolutely promotes delusional spending and that Shannan was the worse for it. I remember one time Shannan posted on Instagram a Thrive saying: “The only thing standing between you and your dreams are your excuses.” Riiiight! And the only thing standing between me and my owning a huge island are my excuses. 😂😂

    • Mo

      My Grandma used to call that behaviour ‘penny clever and pound daft’. One is better off being the other way about.

      • Ralph Oscar

        We have the same saying on this side of the pond: “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

        • Mo

          Oh, right. I think that lack of money could certainly be a stressor in a marriage, but it’s a big jump to kill in a cold hearted and callous manner solely because of it. There is more to this repeated pattern of the unfeeling killing of a pregnant wife along with one’s own two little girls. Dr Jeffrey MacDonald was in a similar family situation, (not regarding the money worries so much), and he, like Chris, knew that the coming unborn babe was male, (probably established on foetal imaging done at that time). Most men want sons, as far as I understand. Anyhow, the misogyny theory would be destroyed by killing the son and heir apparent. Of course, Dr MacDonald might be innocent, some certainly think so. Or, if he did it, or could not recollect the sequence of events accurately, something caused his thinking and normal feelings to be distorted. Chemicals can alter the way that the brain works for quite some time. His judgement was impaired in needlessly lying about later killing one of the hippy invaders, (the truth could be, and was, checked), and in going on the television talk show, where he could not hide that his affect was all wrong, so he maybe did not have insight into this. This is not the normal reasoning process one sees in highly intelligent people.

          • Ralph Oscar

            “This is not the normal reasoning process one sees in highly intelligent people.”

            Perhaps not, but no one can deny that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, Green Beret *and* medical doctor, was indeed highly intelligent.

            Perhaps it’s our understanding of “highly intelligent” that is inadequate.

          • Mo

            I agree, “it’s our understanding of ‘highly intelligent’ that is inadequate”, and: … “no one can deny that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, Green Beret *and* medical doctor, was indeed highly intelligent”.

            He also seemed to love his wife and daughters, although he did have affairs, (which is not good, and detracts from true love of his wife). However, I think that he would have deeply yearned to welcome a son. The thought of his son possibly growing up to take on the baton of medicine would have been dear to him, as it would be to any young doctor when the seventies were themselves also young.

            I don’t see a motive for him killing them all in this really barbaric way. Even if he preferred to divorce, and live a bachelor life, I don’t think that the ongoing financial upkeep of wife and children would have been a motive for him. Doctors are reasonably well off, (although admittedly not wildly rich). However, even if the family had just privately learned that they had won millions, the same scenario could have played out. In this case, I don’t think that love of lucre was a primary motive.

            His memory of what he did that night, the sequence of events, seems possibly impaired. His recollection of what exactly happened, such as with the pyjama top, was used in the court case against him.

            Intelligent people can usually ‘read’ people very well. How could he not tell (later) that the author of the book had turned against him?

            How could he not perceive that telling his father in law such a wild lie would cause him to lose his previously strongest ally?

            He should have known that his emotional presentation of events seemed shallow, but he did not seem to, and exhibited this for all to see on national television.

            Something had impaired his reasoning, and interfered with normal human feelings, or how these should be presented publicly.

            He may not even be guilty of the murders, of course. Someone was accidentally put through on the phone during the melee, (they had wanted another doctor, a Dr. McDonald). This caller claimed that a woman answered, backed up by the testimony of one of the possible hippy invaders. The evidence in this case seems strange to me, quite a few used the phone, yet it was wiped clean of prints?

            Maybe there were hippy invaders. Some wonder, if so, why the closet full of prescription drugs was not emptied, as hippies would want these, along with the syringes etc. Maybe they were too high on acid to look?

            Or, perhaps there were no hippy invaders. Were they hallucinations? Illusions? Or, fabricated to cover unfeeling slaughter?

            What drugs, in addition to the above effects, might cause hallucinations, illusions, and distortion of normal feelings?

            If future financial outlay is deemed as part of the motive in family annihilation, (even in the reasonably well off), something is wrong in the perpetrator’s moral calculus. If they have always been ‘different’ (or have been since, for example, a head injury in childhood), but have skilfully hid it well, that is one thing. No doubt, psychopaths and sociopaths may walk undetected among us, and they could hide (with practice) that they do not seem to ‘feel’ for others, in quite the way ‘normal’ humans do. I think that a highly intelligent person would have learned how to present himself in everyday life, had he been this way since childhood.

            Or, certain drugs might cause the cerebral insult, in later life. Part of the distorted thinking and feeling may result in the person’s estimation of financial outlay being grossly overvalued, and the ‘right to life’ of even 2-year-olds and 5-year-olds is discarded. This calculation is seen by the perpetrator as a perfectly rational motive for killing, and maybe attacks of blind rage (also caused by the drugs) amplify the cruel and unusual nature of the actions.

            This stockpiling of drugs is a common feature.

            What drugs were among the selection stored?

          • nickvdl

            Intelligent people can usually ‘read’ people very well.>>>Like Sheldon Cooper?

          • Mo

            Hi Nick,

            I don’t know who Sheldon Cooper is, but I am going to find out.

            Doctors who run A&E (if successful) can usually tell if someone is lying, or has changed allegiance in some important way, especially if the future of the said doctor depends on it (as in the conversation with the author, who was supposed to be writing a book to exonerate him). If the doctor was perceiving accurately he would have picked up on the author’s change of opinion re the doctor’s guilt, I think.

            Adding this possibility to the poor judgement shown in other ways (being facile and jovial on the tv appearance) points to something being wrong with his thinking, in some areas. If that is the case, (and this is new in his behaviour), something must have caused it.

            Married people fight, now and then, but things don’t usually get out of hand. However, if he and his wife had a physical fight, with little regard paid for strength used in flinging stuff, this is suggestive of chemical origins, not just one orange cocktail each as a nightcap. One would have to hit someone really hard with a hairbrush to cause concussion, unless they had a very thin skull. One does not usually see doctors and their wives walking about with the likes of black eyes, or their teeth knocked out, or with concussed brains after a ‘domestic’. Such a presentation in A&E would lead the staff to consider prescription drugs, were excess alcohol ruled out.

          • Ralph Oscar

            “He also seemed to love his wife and daughters, although he did have affairs, (which is not good, and detracts from true love of his wife).”

            Polyamory (having multiple love partners in ongoing stable relationships) is definitely a “thing” in real life, though our Christianity-based culture definitely labels it pathological. That doesn’t stop people from doing it, though, and if the *couple* is cool with it, then one person or both might have multiple partners, and in some cases, some of them even share a living space. Sometimes one spouse simply dates other people – years ago, country music star Dolly Parton said that her husband allows her to date other men. Hey, if it works for them, who’s to judge?

            We don’t know if Dr. MacDonald’s wife knew about the girlfriends and mistresses – for all we know, she might have known and been just *fine* with it. Some people are. It appears Shan’Ann would *not* have been – but who knows? Many women become far less jealous once their attention becomes claimed by their children, and if NK had been willing to become a very active downline for Shan’Ann during her “lying in” time and maybe even help out with the family, who knows?

            However, the facts we have that are undeniable – no interpretation required – was that these two wives were pregnant; the #1 cause of death among pregnant women is homicide (according to the CDC – Center for Disease Control); and the murderer is almost always the babydaddy. Check, check, check.

            Why do men kill their pregnant partners? The obvious factor – not having wanted the child, not wanting the lifetime of responsibility that entails – that shouldn’t apply to a father who already has at least one loved child. For men whose mistresses fall pregnant, getting rid of her and the evidence of his adultery is often viewed as how he can keep his marriage intact, but the equation changes *very* significantly when it’s the other way around – wanting to get rid of the pregnant *wife* to keep the mistress (as with Scott Peterson and Amber Frey). That is a much more difficult undertaking. Just getting rid of pregnant wife and keeping the kid(s) is one way – see Patrick Frazee’s “solution” to the fiancée he no longer wanted (Kelsey Berreth). Make it look like she just disappeared – ran off. Chris suggested that scenario – the whole “She’s missing” line. While a mistress might accept a widowed father, few would be willing to accept a family annihilator. Look at this from a website on why men murder their pregnant partners:

            “But some experts say there is something women can do to protect themselves from male assailants during pregnancy: At the very start, they should be wary of the men they become intimate with. Controlling behavior should be seen as a warning sign.”

            None of that applies to Chris, you’ll notice. Was MacDonald controlling? I don’t know, but his Green Beret background suggests “Yes” to me. Scott Peterson was. But this suggests a profile that does not fit family annihilators, the assumption so many had that Chris *had* to have been abusive and thus provided indicators all along that he could, yes, go that far. Chris never did.

            Did you know that only 17 states in the US require reporting whether the murdered woman was even pregnant at the time? Huh.

            According to “REAL CRIME: The Twisted Reasons Why Some Husbands Kill Their Wives”, “replacing a wife with another partner (solving the problem of alimony)” is a *less*-common motive. However, in each case, we’ve typically got a man who’s just killing ONE wife, so for him, *his* motive is 100%.

            >And why don’t people just divorce if they’re so unhappy? Giacalone says he has found that men find it difficult to face the financial losses that come with divorce—spousal or child support, sharing assets. “They don’t realize the wheels they set in motion when a guy kills his wife,” Giacalone says. “They think they are going to get away with it. I would tell a husband, ‘You’re the first person we’re looking at.’”

            From another source:

            >“These killers are very isolated people, often, and they’re often very depressed people,” Websdale says. “They may not know it, but they are.”

            The non-chemical-imbalance form of depression is “I hate my life.”

            >“There’s a plethora of possibilities here, but I do think also that we need to face the fact that we’re also dealing with the haunting presence of the inexplicable,” he says. “I think we like, in this age of reason, to think that we can pinpoint a particular cause or factor here or there, and I think the reality is that in these cases, we often can’t.”

            And that’s where we are.

          • Mo

            Hi Ralph,

            This is thought-provoking. All of this sleeping around would not be God’s plan for a marriage, that’s for sure, so one could argue that satanic forces have been let in. I’m not being judgemental, we are all sinners, it’s a fallen world.

            I think that you’re right, the causes of familicide are complex, but, in this age of reason, we should try to do something about the cases that are potentially explicable.

            There are very eerie similarities, on the face of it, between Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald and Chris Watts though. (I’m not sure that Dr, MacDonald is definitely guilty of murder, which is why I say ‘on the face of it’).

            Chris Watts was well liked, prior to the murders. I saw an earlier photograph where he gazed upon his little baby daughter with pure love. I believe it.

            Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald seemed to love his daughters too. He was, prior to all that happened, a well liked doctor. There may have been hippie invaders, or not, but either way, his thinking became disturbed.

            Both households had a stockpile of prescription drugs.

            Something caused both of these young men to change.

            Could any prescription drug cause all of the things mentioned? Including a biochemical deep depression? If so, it really matters. It could happen again.

            Other cases of family annihilation may not have anything to do with prescription drugs. I do not yet know very much about the other cases you cite, but I will read about them.

            However, other cases of annihilating the innocent would seem to have something to do with prescription drugs.

            Jim Jones and his doctor could be an early example. Possibly, some of the cult members took these as well, (they also had an enormous stockpile).

  2. Ira

    I think the Watts family is a snapshot of the larger financial picture with many American families . With the middle class all but eroding , a lot of people are in over their heads . However six figure debt in your early 30s or any time really , is unbelievable to me . I find it odd there aren’t records of them fighting over the finances , I know in my house if there even a fraction of that type of debt and expenditures it would certainly be discussed often . I am of the opinion though that although Chris should have shown some maturity and kept abreast of that stiff from the get go , at the end of the day , the fact remains he is the one that worked , not her . I also think he would have been fine living in a smaller home , he seemed like a no frills kind of guy . Shanann seemed to be the one who needed to drown in excess , with all of the insane amounts of clothing, make up etc. He needed to be with someone who was ok with living a calmer and more frugal lifestyle . She was off the deep end with spending and didn’t even have a real job to help contribute to their everyday expenses . It seems to be that the origins of their money issues lie with her and that she brought them into the relationship from the very start .

    • Laura Thompson

      The 25k per year preschool is what gets me. I understand that they utilized the daycare services at that school also. But in my opinion, both members of the couple would have to have really nice incomes to justify that expense. There are so many less expensive, (and just as good), options to be found, but it seems that Shan’ann wanted the name brand and “prestige” of the Primrose School.

      It’s been almost 20 years, so I don’t recall exactly how much we paid for our youngest to attend preschool three half days per week. I think it was something like 200 dollars per month, or something close to that. We didn’t use daycare because we never could have afforded that, and so we juggled our work schedules to make it so that one of us, (usually me), was home with him when he wasn’t at school. And, the preschool he attended had the reputation of being one of the best in the area. (My older son had attended there years prior; they are eleven years apart. )

      That kind of setup is what most of the people in our friends circles did, similarly. I’m just astonished at 25k per year when the mother doesn’t even work a “real” enough job to justify the cost. A nice retired lady in a church basement would have been a much more viable alternative for them with their income level.

      • CBH

        Yes, considering their financial reality (one person working and paying the bills, the other with delusions of grandeur, spending like crazy and getting them in deep trouble) Shannan’s insistence on the Primrose school was inexcusable.

      • Ira

        My wife and I both work and I believe we spent around 1200 a month for my son to be in daycare four years ago . If one of us didn’t work or worked at home , ( which I do now ) we would have stayed with him and saved the cost for sure . She didn’t work and still had to have them at a preschool so she didn’t have to be bothered taking care of them , and that school was a huge component of their financial disaster . It should have been the first thing to go.

        • nickvdl

          It should have been the first thing to go.>>>It was. It was one of the first calls Watts made the morning of the murders.

          • Ira

            Oh I know , I apologize I meant in the context of , hey we are in trouble how can we cut costs and start paying off the debts? Take the kids out of the expensive school which isn’t needed .

          • Ralph Oscar

            You’d think an unemployed stay-at-home mom who brags that she is feeling the best she’s ever felt would be able to watch her own children at home, wouldn’t yoU?

          • Kaye

            It makes you wonder what would have happened when Nico was born. Was Shan’ann just planning on taking a few weeks off and then back to the “normal” routine? Would she have planned to put him in day care too? That is at least another $1,000/month.

          • Ira

            Hi Kaye, I have no doubts she would have sent him there as well. It almost seemed to me like she just wanted the kids to paint the portrait of a happy family for the MLM audience, She seemed to be an unfit mother unfortunately. Way too concerned with the MLM to give her daughters the attention they deserved.

    • CBH

      Completely agree.

    • Cathy

      I totally agree with your comment!!! After awhile I am sure Chris Watts just felt used with her access of his 401 k and everything!!! she should of married a man with far more money to fund her materialistic wants!!! I can not understand killing the little girls, this is the most baffling part of this whole horrible case

  3. Sylvester

    Watts never seemed to take any kind of a stand one way or the other to reign in her spending. In his second confession he says he said “can we move to Brighton?” – and if he did say that or put it to her as a question it’s no wonder she ran roughshod over him all of those years. She was likely spending some of his money on him to placate him, or have him be placated by giving him nice t shirts, concert tickets, trips away, so that he would go along with living beyond their means. If he was organizing the basement he would have noticed all of the past purchases that didn’t even make it upstairs and instead had to be housed in plastic bins. He may have thought “what the hell” right there and then.

    • mitzi2006

      If they had just downsized and taken the kids out of that daycare they would have been in a far better position financially. She was to blame for those huge expenses

  4. richard didd

    I was wondering how things would have panned out if Chris had not done what he had.

    I know that week they were due to be summoned for $1500 for the house upkeep, three months behind on the mortgage and another $500 for the pre-school
    So what sort of time frame were they looking at before they were all evicted and lost everything ?
    How does the foreclosure process work in the USA ?
    I guess Chris Watts done those horrible murders at the latest time possible (just before loosing everything)

  5. Debbie

    He brushed aside the talk of finances in his second interview and yet he tells Nichole Kessinger all about their finances. She asks him is it sustainable and he says no so I believe he knew they were in trouble. He would of known from when he had to take the 3 months mortgage repayment out of his 401K. Perhaps that is when he thought enough is enough and decided on a separation.

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