Life or Debt: The Help You May Need to Face Reality!

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.

Life or Debt: The Help You May Need to Face Reality!

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 (with changes)


  1. I’ve never heard of this show. I’ll have to add it to my DVR. I enjoy these type of shows. I used to watch the Gail Vaz-Oxlade show. I don’t think it’s on anymore.

    Anytime you see real life situation I think it helps others relate to their own lives and helps them understand they are not alone. It’s part of the reason reality TV is so popular, people like sticking their noses in others business. 🙂

  2. Miss Thrifty

    Grr! This makes me miss cable. This show came on my radar when someone tweeted about it. I’ll be procuring (read: pirating) the latest episodes.

    There’s something so cathartic about seeing people in way worse situations than me. Is that bad?

  3. Prudence Debtfree

    Sounds like a great show. It reminds me of “Til Debt Do Us Part” – hosted by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I’m not sure if it’s available in the US, but it’s very similar to what you describe. It’s so helpful to see these real-life situations that so many can relate to – and to hear the real-life advice that so many need.

      1. I think Gail did “Till Debt Do We Part’… unless that is someone else. I suppose the point is that these types of stories resonate with enough people to make multiple shows out of the concept. Most don’t stay on the air long though. I think it is because unlike weight loss, money problems actually take a lot longer to overcome (in most cases, not all) and you can’t just look at the ‘before and after’ as easily as you can with physical appearance and a weekly weigh-in.

  4. I watched a couple clips and now I’m dying to see it, and I checked and it’s on hulu! I was practically living paycheck to paycheck as a freelancer (although I did have retirement savings), but it’s a horrible feeling to always feel like you are on the brink. People tell me I’m being too hard on myself for my current savings rate, but I never want to go back to that feeling.

  5. Thanks for pointing out this show! I can’t wait to start watching it. I love to see how other people address the debt issue. If it is successful I hope someone follows up with these folks. I recently heard that 12 of 13 Biggest Loser winners have put most of their weight back on. Debt and fitness are very similar. It all goes back to self-discipline and, attitude and taking action!

    1. I definitely agree with you, Bill. I hope that when people are faced with the problems of their debt, and the solutions are in their grasp, that they won’t revert to their old ways. When you really come down to it, it’s up to the individual. Even if he gets a helping hand, ultimately it becomes a personal choice of how they’re going to manage their finances.

  6. I’m definitely going to have to check this out-this sounds like something I would love!
    Not living paycheck to paycheck really has so much of an impact on your life – you are no longer so focused on work and earning more and spending more to keep up that you have time to relax, give to others and enjoy the things you have. Your health is better, your family is stronger, your whole life is better. Money is such a problem but also such a great thing. Love this.

  7. Perhaps a reality show about personal finance is what our country needs to start talking and thinking about financial literacy. It can’t hurt. I’ll look into watching an episode or two.

  8. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    The show is really good! I have watched it for many times. I must say that we can learn a lot to improve our finances from this show, Gary. He once said “your attitude determines your direction,” which is undoubtedly true.

  9. I’ve never heard of the show (probably because I don’t have cable) but it sounds awesome! There are so many shows about people’s physical health, it is about time there is one about financial health! I will have to try and see if I can find it online to watch!

  10. Andi Beyers

    My husband and I were drowning in California when I first saw this show. I watched all seven episodes that had been made at the time, and started putting that advice to work in our life. We moved to Oregon, where the cost of living is lower. I got a job doing exactly the same thing here that I did in California, but making five times more money per hour doing it. Appointing myself the family CFO, I opened a second bank account where I funnel all the money we earn until we have enough to pay the bills every month. Whatever is left goes into the main account, which we have managed to be able to use to eat at an honest-to-God sit-down restaurant once a month for the past year or so. Both our FICO scores came up over 200 points in the past two years since we moved north, and the only debts we have left on our credit reports are student loans and car loans.

    I can afford a monthly internet connection, but not yet cable TV, so I’m not able to watch anymore for a while yet. Still working on our short and long term goals, but I know our magic number, and we’re closer to it than ever!

    Thank you, Victor! With the grace of God and your advice to seven other families, we have saved ours from the brink of starvation and bankruptcy! Gratitude is priceless and you have ours in fullest measure!

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