Every once in a while, if I’m lucky, I stumble onto something that intrigues me and I feel like I must share it with you. That is exactly what I’m doing today, when I share the surprise I had in discovering the new reality TV show “Life Or Debt” last month on Spike which airs Sunday nights at 10 pm Eastern.
The show is a reality show in the truest sense possible. It deals with real life, real people and real problems. It’s the kinds of problems that most of us have dealt with at some point, but in this show it’s magnified with a huge lens that puts the problems under the microscope for all of us to view.
What is Life or Debt?
The host of the show, Victor Antonio, is a personal finance consultant who is called in each week to help a couple or family. He studies the situation they’ve created to see how their finances got into such a disastrous mode and then tries to motivate them so they can fix it. There are some pretty major changes to their lifestyle that need to be done right now! Victor’s approach is simple. Running your personal finances like a business is his way of taking typical families from the brink of bankruptcy and financial ruin back on their way to good management of their finances and recovery.
Who is Victor Antonio?
Victor Antonio is highly successful Personal Finance Consultant who is taking his successful business acumen and experience and now focuses on helping the vast majority of debt ridden Americans who live from paycheck to paycheck. And he really knows from where he speaks.
Coming from a family who migrated from Puerto Rico to Chicago back in the 1950’s, Victor grew up in one of the poorest, crime-ridden areas of the city. His parents were poor, but hard working. His mother eventually became disabled and it didn’t take long for him to realize that the situation he was living in wasn’t a good one. He quickly learned he would have to fight his way out of poverty to turn his chances at a good life around.
He worked hard and eventually got an MBA, plus a record of overachieving as an officer and eventual CEO of a major international business. No doubt his own motivation to succeed has lead him to be what he is today, a published author and highly-paid, successful motivational speaker in the corporate Fortune 500 world. And now he’s the host of a national TV show.
What can you learn from this show?
According to Mr. Antonio’s own words, “75% of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and spend most of their time and attention in trying to impress their neighbors and friends into thinking they’re successful”. “Keeping up with the preverbal Joneses, not realizing that the Joneses are almost broke just like them”!
Each week the show is a real eye opener, detailing how bad the habits of middle class couples and families are when faced with the realities of their finances. In most cases they are simply in denial of the facts and are unwilling or unable to see of the depth of their problems. They don’t want to deal with how close they are to losing their homes and ruining their lives.
The program is an attempt to turn this frightening situation around and help keep it that way by making the subject family understand how they got into this mess and how they can fix it.
First, Victor assesses where the damage is by examining what the debts are. In most cases, the damage is caused a path of credit card abuse and the thinking process of “I want it so I buy it”. This occurs when people don’t track or budget or worse don’t care to know what they can and can’t afford.
Second is an evaluation of income, its sources, and the potential to earn. That evaluation often finds that people are working hard, but not very smart. A hard working mentality breeds the thoughts that they deserve to have “things” that in reality they just can’t afford. So much so that they drive expensive cars, have expensive clothes and live in big houses that often are way behind in mortgage payments. Finding the way to cut their expenses and live within their means is mandatory for these families to survive.
Once they numbers are crunched (people are shocked to learn what they owe and what they earn), they must do 3 things right away. In the 4 days that Victor spends with the family, he insists that step one is to raise some money by recognizing what they can do without and sell it or donate it (for tax purposes). That money is often used to begin paying their bills. This act gives him insight on whether the couple sees and gets it. Usually it’s a real fight.
Step two’s focus is evaluating how they earn their money and what can be done to improve income. Understanding your skill set and your potential is half the battle. Working long hours and working hard are not any guarantee of success. It is a combination of having a plan (budget), tracking your income and expenses, good communications and having goals. In every case I have viewed in the show this just isn’t how they operated before the takeover.
Step three is about the concept of reducing expenses and increasing revenue (income), just the way a business would operate. The numbers are what will determine success or failure for these people. By the end of day four, Victor has assigned a title to each person like Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or even cleverly finding a Board of Directors for a single mom to report to. They are also given their “magic number” money goal, a dollar amount that will cover their monthly expenses, progress on their debt, and saving for short and long term goals. Usually this number is quite high, but can be reduced by reducing expenses. Victor promises a return in 90 days to see what has happened and we see these results before the end of the episode.
Since the show began airing in March, I have watched 5 episodes (8 have aired, but I’m behind on my DVR watching). In all but one, the situation was vastly improved by the Life or Debt takeover. Although it’s honest and refreshing to see that not everyone was magically fixed, some people just don’t get it even when the light is directed right at them and that is really sad. The show may be a tad hokey and formulaic like a lot of “rescue” shows are, but I liked it and it is interesting.
I think there is something to see and learn in this show for almost everyone, even those of us who understand that being a responsible adult means be financially responsible. Seeing how many people fail to plan and thus “plan to fail” motivates me to never be that way and hopefully you as well.
I don’t know at this point if Life Or Debt is going to stick around and be a ratings success. I think from what I have seen and read it’s doing fairly well and could be renewed. If you have the time, catch an episode (or 8, they’re available online) and see what you think. If you do, you will probably feel better about your own situation and wonder how people can be so foolish and unrealistic with their lives and families future just like I felt. Don’t feel too smug though, we can all stand to improve our situation and hopefully this show will help motivate you to drop any remaining excuses.
Are you living currently paycheck to paycheck? Are your income and/or expenses causing you potential heartbreak and disaster? What do you do to prevent bad things from happening to you and your family? What can you share with us that can help others?
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)