Lessons Learned from “Life or Debt”

I am low key obsessed with the new show Life or Debt on Spike TV – in fact, my fascination with Sunday Spike TV (usually a mix of Bar Rescue, The Profit, and Life or Debt) was a sign to me to start blogging on the topic of personal finance.

Life or DebtOn the surface the premise of Life or Debt is a little depressing – people who are deep in debt tell stories of failed businesses, sudden illness, or other circumstances that have led them to be where they are. Business strategist and former CEO Victor Antonio helps these people develop a road map to getting back on track.

The people on this show are often spending more money than they are bringing in and, as Victor himself often says, they are “one bad day away” from financial ruin. The show has featured a variety of financial and personal situations, from a former business owner who lost her six figure salary and refused to readjust her lifestyle to a couple running a restaurant who weren’t bringing in enough cash to support their family.

As a viewer, it can be easy to see the people featured on this show as far removed from where you are financially and personally, especially for us young adults without families. While you may not be in a place where you require a financial intervention to get back on track (and may have a hard time relating to selling your Louboutins at auction to make your next mortgage payment while your home is in foreclosure) (which really happened in an episode), there are absolutely lessons we can all learn from this show.


Victor often asks people to sell some of their items to turn them into cash on hand, ready to be used to tend to expenses or kept on hand in case of an emergency (which is what the term “liquid assets” refers to – the ability to turn your assets into cash quickly if needed).

People have sold minimally used gaming tables online, turned around old business inventory to new retailers, and auctioned or consigned high-end clothes and shoes (including the aforementioned Louboutins). Even those in the deepest of debts typically have plenty of items on hand that hold some value.

Every once in a while, look around your house and see if there are things of value that you don’t use that you could sell on eBay, Craigslist, or elsewhere. Particularly if your savings are running a little low, it’s best to have cash in hand in case “one bad day” hits, and you never know how long it will take to get money for your items if you need it. And, you’ll be able to get more for your items since you can be patient and wait for the right offer instead of selling to the first buyer because you need cash quick.


Victor advocates the “Rule of Thirds” to the people he works with – a third of your monthly income should go to rent or mortgage, a third should go to your expenses, and a third should be put into savings.

There are tons of different theories about how much you should spend or save, but there is no denying that it is always a good idea to have some money in the bank in case of that “one bad day.” Each time you get a paycheck, transfer a portion of it to your savings account, or take out some cash and put it in a piggybank on a high shelf if that’s what is going to work for you.


Families on Life or Debt are always surprised to learn that they are ending each month in the red, spending more than they are bringing in. It is tempting to be judgmental here – but it’s very easy to overspend when you don’t know what you’re spending (granted, it’s even easier to overspend when 80% of your paycheck goes toward your Tesla payment, but I digress).

There are a number of tools you can use that automatically keep track of your spending. I use mint.com, and Victor recommends getwela.com on the show. You can also keep track of your spending by hand or in an Excel document. You don’t have to necessarily track every penny, but it can be eye opening to see how much of your money is going where each month (like how much you are spending on food).


In each episode, Victor presents a challenge to the people he is working with to complete a project in a short period of time. These challenges not only exercise the ability to generate and save money, but they also require relationship building, business savvy, and frugality.

Victor challenged his most recent clients to raise $2000 and acquire furniture and food for a woman in financial distress, with a starting budget of $500. The family called around to get furniture and food donations, sold some of their personal items, and even set up a lemonade stand with their kids. In the end, they exceeded their goal and outfitted three full rooms of this home.

Consider turning your next saving or spending adventure into a challenge! If you need cash for an upcoming vacation, set a goal and see how creative you can get to earn that money. Or, if you are redecorating a room in your house, set a strict budget and see what you can find at thrift stores or online for cheap (this serves the dual purpose of also pretending like you’re on your own HGTV show, or maybe that’s just me).

Have you seen the show? What do you think? Chat about it in the comments!