By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed Friday, March 11, 2016
A 2013 Bankrate.com survey revealed a whopping 76 percent of American households live paycheck to paycheck, lacking enough liquid cash to survive six months without new income.
That’s where a show like Spike TV’s “Life or Debt” comes in. Over 11 episodes starting Sunday night, Alpharetta financial host Victor Antonio helps out families with crushing debt dig themselves out of a hole and get their lives in order.
His strategy: approach a household like a business. The goals: cut costs, increase revenues by maximizing income-earning potential and improve teamwork and communication. He gives family members titles such as chief financial officer and chief operations officer with others are placed on a “board of directors” to keep them honest.
“Nobody in these situations like to look at the numbers,” said Antonio over breakfast earlier this week. “Nobody wants to talk about it. They think if they don’t look at the numbers, they’ll just go away. They don’t.”
One family, he said, had white garbage bags packed with mail. They claimed it was just junk. But in reality, they were packed with ignored bills, bankruptcy paperwork and overdue parking tickets.
Antonio, a 53-year-old Puerto Rican native who grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, became a successful sales and marketing guy and for a time, ran a technology company. He has lived in Argentina, Minnesota, Miami and the past decade in Atlanta. (He loves the Southern hospitality and hates the traffic, of course.) He is currently a financial strategist and advisor for major corporations.
He said many people who loses jobs have a difficult time downsizing their lifestyle. “There is major pressure to keep up with the Jones,” he said. “People don’t even want to give up lattes at Starbucks. Taking that away is like losing status. We’ve lost that Midwestern Protestant ethic of paying things off. We’re a debt society.”
The production company sifted through 500 different candidates for this show before finding Antonio, who appears gruff and stern but ultimately has a soft heart.
On the show, he can be verbally tough on the families but not mean spirited. “I feel like part Dave Ramsey, part Dr. Drew, part Dr. Phil with a little Tony Robbins sprinkled in,” Antonio said.
In the first episode airing Sunday, Antonio faces a bickering DeCarlo couple on the verge of divorce, partly over finances.
Johnny DeCarlo runs a meatballs food truck and relishes his “Johnny Meatballs’ persona. But Johnny’s management skills are suspect and the food truck is hemorrhaging money. As a result, he tests the patience of his wife Megin. But she’s no financial saint. She who works at a plastic surgery business and feels pressure to spend like her wealthier clients.
The result: they’re $30,000 in debt and spend nearly $1,500 a month more than they make.
During the episode, Antonio assesses the family’s dysfunctional communication issues, digs through their finances and figures out how they might be able to dig out of their morass. He puts them through a “business boot camp” where he tests them in a real-life situation with Johnny’s food truck.
He then gives the DeCarlos a 90-day plan, providing them tools and guidance to shave costs and boost income. “I don’t make emotional decisions,” Antonio said. “I make rational decisions.”
Atlanta’s Wela Strategies with Wes Moss also help the families during that time period.
Without giving away the actual results, Antonio’s advice worked. After 90 days, the DeCarlos are in sync. “It’s a weight off our chest,” Megin said.”We’re proud of each other.”
“It’s teamwork,” Johnny said.
“The important thing is you’ve changed your mindset,” Antonio said.
“He brought my husband back to life,” Megin said.