"Life Or Debt" On Spike TV Depicts How Real Financial Struggles Can Be

Spike TV’s latest show, is tackling a subject that too many American’s shies away from discussing: finances. We’re reminded of this as each show opens with the fact that 75% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. In each episode, Victor Antonio, a business expert, works with a family who is financially struggling. He teaches them how to run their family finances like a business.

The team at Wela was able to work with the producers of this show to help provide tools and advisors to help the families follow through on the plans that Victor Antonio put in place.

Considering how universal this experience is for many families, we’ve decided to reach out to Victor Antonio, and talk about some of the biggest themes he’s seen while working on this show.

Matt: So Victor, after working with all these families on Life or Debt, does you have a general idea of why it is that so many American families struggle financially?

Victor: Most of the families on the show, and probably around America, are trying to keep up appearances. Well, overspending will eventually grant you an appearance; in front of a bankruptcy judge. Couples spend on themselves and their kids knowing full well they can’t afford to do so. The culture of long-term or delayed gratification has been replacing by a culture of, “I want it now.” The justification used by these families, “Because I work hard and I deserve it.”  It’s my job to remind them that unless they’re financially stable, they don’t deserve (and can’t afford) to live beyond their means.

In the episode with , you can see Megan overspending on clothes and plastic surgery to fit in with the people at her workplace.  When I confronted her about her spending she said that she worked hard and that she deserved it. I had to remind her that she and her husband were broke and they have two boys with no college funds.

Matt: You worked with a number of families to turn around their financial situation for this show. Did you notice a larger overarching problem that these families had in common?

Victor: They don’t know their numbers, and you have to know your numbers. Every single family we worked simply didn’t know what their expenses or debts added up to.  When we finally do a full roll-up, the result is usually shocking as to how much they spend and owe.  Knowing your numbers and your desired goals are what latitude and longitude are to a GPS system; it tells where you’re at and where you need to be.

Interestingly enough, every family we dealt with had a hard time coming up with an accurate number. I have a feeling it’s like that for many families.

Matt: Are you able to pinpoint a reason that led to that problem?

Victor: The obvious issue with these families is their lack of communication with each other. But the issue behind this issue is the simple fact that neither the husband nor the wife has the plan to escape the debt spiral.

  Since neither of them has a plan, they stop talking about money altogether. Communication is the symptom, but not having a plan to move forward is the root cause of why they stop talking about money.  In other words, neither wants to discuss the elephant in the room because neither of them knows how to deal with it; it’s best to just ignore it and hope it goes away.

You can really see this in action when you watch the episode with .  When we rolled up the numbers, Steve was surprised to find out that this dual income earning family was in the red by over $1,000 every month.  Steve was visibly stunned by this revelation.

Related: 3 Options For Newlywed Money Management

Matt: What would you recommend families do to be sure they don’t have to call you and appear on Life or Debt?

Victor: Families need a financial safety net.  The majority of families I work with have less than a thousand dollars in savings, or worse, zero.  The majority of bankruptcies in American are caused by the change in marital status (widow, divorced), medical issues or a job loss.  I like to call this the ‘Bankruptcy Trinity.’  These three things can strike at any time and will leave a family financially destitute. But too often families are worried about keeping up with appearances rather than in investing for retirement.  The majority of these families have no more than $30,000 in their 401K retirement account if they’re lucky.

A great example of this is in the episode with . They were both previously separated, and Pat had filed for bankruptcy after her business failed.  When her business failed she lost her investment in the company and her job.  After that, she was having a hard time accepting that her business (and in her mind, herself) had failed. Unfortunately, in this episode, you can also see how blind some people can be about their own financial realities.

You can learn more about . Be sure to tune in Sunday nights at 10 PM EST to Spike to watch the latest episode. You can be a part of the conversation by following and tweeting the hashtag #LifeorDebt on Twitter.

This blog was written by Matt Reiner the CEO of .

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