Formats Unpacked: Financial Audio - Caleb Hammer

How a brutally honest YouTuber reinvented financial advice for Gen Z

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Today’s unpacking is all about a YouTube channel I wish existed when I was younger. It would have saved me a lot of money and stress. We talk a lot at Storythings about the importance of building an archive. It’s hard to imagine what that means when you create your first piece of content. But when your archive stands at 538 videos in just over three years (as in Caleb’s case) it’s amazing how your archive becomes an incredibly use resource for those who need it. Doing the unpacking is Callum Tyler.

Over to Callum…

What’s it called?

What’s the format?

Nobody talks about money. Or at least, nobody talks about money like Caleb Hammer. 

Financial Audit is a simple YouTube format. In each episode we meet one guest across the table who bares all, letting Caleb pick through the pieces of their financial situation. 

Across the various loans, mortgages, car finance and credit cards (so many credit cards), our host ruthlessly interrogates every transaction, exposing the worst decisions and most shameful excesses. Once the problem is diagnosed, Caleb helps them create a plan to get out of debt and get on with living their lives. 

While the income and backgrounds of his guests are diverse – from the young and dumb to the careless, reckless or simply unlucky – they are linked by the severity of their situations. Often, Caleb is their last resort. 

It’s just over a year old but Financial Audit has spawned an enormous community of supporters and the channel is soon to pass a million subscribers.

Caleb is on a mission to improve financial literacy and stop everyday Americans becoming marks for exploitative products and succumbing to their own bad habits. 

As you might expect, the format shows complete discipline. One hour, twice a week; every episode built the same: in depth diagnosis, a new budget, a scorecard to end. 

Whether getting out of debt or building a successful show, consistency is key.

What’s the magic that makes it special?

Caleb Hammer sees through your bullshit. But he’s also the friend you need at rock bottom. 

His own journey out of debt is referenced in passing and covered in just enough detail to make him credible. But equally, much of the show’s success is down to his enormously entertaining on-screen presence. 

Caleb’s tough love is delivered with caustic sarcasm. You watch the show to see him blow up. When this happens, his face contorts, his voice rockets up several octaves, and he is a picture of disbelief at a situation he’ll describe as ‘pure DEATH.’ 

Thumbnails milk these tantrums and many go viral as short clips, but they also seem to serve a larger purpose. When Caleb’s popping off, the humour neutralises some of the shame guests feel. 

The rage is fun but it’s never cruel. You don’t have to watch long to know he’s genuinely on the guests’ side. 

People reveal the most personal things because he makes them feel comfortable enough to do so. The real ire is saved for the lenders who prey on his guests’ lack of knowledge. 

Another part of the fun is the myriad of ‘Caleb-isms’ that have grown up around the show. 

There’s no dense financial jargon here. Instead, we’re making a plan to retire before we “die on the Wal-Mart floor.” Frivolous transactions like “Taquitos” (a stand-in for all fast food), are scored out as ‘Bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT!” In kinder moments, maybe you “just aren’t a credit card person.”

There’s a voyeuristic pleasure in watching people defend their spending and the self-delusion can be staggering. But we all tell ourselves lies to justify bad habits at the expense of the future. Whether takeaway coffee and Uber or overreaching on loans for courses dropped and cars written off, there’s something of ourselves in every guest.

The advice is solid too. Hammer devotees regularly detail how they became debt-free following his steps. That’s because those steps are tailored for today’s world. Caleb recognises two key truths; the raw economic deal presented to young people, and that financial strife is usually a symptom of something bigger like addiction, abuse, or mental illness. Guests are offered therapy and other professional advice post-show. 

Ultimately the tension between ‘tough’ and ‘love’ is what keeps you watching, reflected in a comment section where even the most feckless subjects receive genuine encouragement alongside a little mockery. 

That feels rare and it’s impressive to have created such a community so quickly on today’s internet. But as the show description states, Caleb is simply “having the conversations that I wish someone had with me a decade ago.”

Favourite Episode

27-Year-Old With More Debt Than Anyone Should Ever Have.

Similar formats?

A vast personal finance industry exists around getting out of debt and Dave Ramsey is the biggest name in this space, hosting a US radio phone-in on the topic for decades.

While similar in many ways, the tone couldn’t be more different. Compared to Caleb, Ramsey is polished, paternalistic, and muddies his advice with a host of other views aimed squarely at conservative Middle America.  

British viewers may also remember the era of shows such as BBC Three’s Spendaholics, which dealt with similar debt situations but felt much more sneering and exploitative. 

What’s unique about Financial Audit is how it avoids these pitfalls, feeling well-designed for both its guests and our times.

Thanks Callum!

Make sure you go and check out some of his work over at Tyler the Creative.

If you’d like to unpack a favourite format like Callum get in touch. We’re always looking for writers with interesting perspectives on formats.

If you need help developing content formats we have a brilliant Fromats Unpacked workshop to help you. Just hit the button below if you’d like to know more.

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See you all next time,Hugh

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