In 2000, Telemundo star Alejandro Chaban was blowing through his paychecks and living the luxe life. "I enjoyed spending money on what was important to me then: clothes, shoes, cars, clubs, Champagne," he says. "I didn't have a financial education or clear plan."
When the economic crisis hit eight years later, most of the TV shows the 35-year-old actor was working on were cancelled, and his bad habits caught up with him. "I went from being a television personality to selling chicken at El Pollo Loco and dressing up as a clown at kids' birthday parties," he says.
Drowning in thousands of dollars of credit card debt, the Venezuela native was forced to sell his car and house. Many of his so-called friends vanished when the cash dried up, and he fell into a deep despair.
But during what he calls his "dark moment," he underwent a metamorphosis. A year later, he emerged with a new attitude, a solid business plan—and a smarter approach to his finances.
Chaban launched "Yes You Can!" a popular weight-loss program and product line aimed at the Latino community, which proved to be even more lucrative than acting. (Today, his net worth is in the millions.) His new book, "Think Skinny, Feel Fit," chronicling his unique strategies for shedding physical and emotional weight and getting his life (and finances) in order, was released June 6.
Here, for the first time, he opens up about his money struggles and successes.
What did it feel like to go from living extravagantly to being totally broke?
It was humbling. [But] I finally came to the conclusion that I had to change my perspective about what it meant to be rich and poor. Instead of mourning what I didn't have, I started being grateful for what I did have: My heart was still pounding; my mom, dad and sisters were alive. I went from a feeling of scarcity to feeling completely wealthy.
At the time, it felt like the worst moment of my life, but now I think it was the best. Having hit rock bottom, I gained all the necessary tools to rise up and make sure I would never go back.
What are some strategies you used to get back on the right track financially?
I became obsessed with reading books by successful individuals like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and Napoleon Hill. I knew that to follow in their footsteps, I needed to find the clues in their books and apply their principles. I also visualized everything I have today—my business, my financial investments, the house I'm living in—many times before I achieved it.Now I'm making more money than ever, but I value it. I save as much as I can and invest in wise opportunities. Before making a financial decision, I analyze the pros and cons, and get advice from people.
Crushing debt isn't the only challenge you overcame. You suffered from obesity as a child, then fell victim to anorexia and bulimia as a teenager. How did struggling with your weight shape your career trajectory?
It made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. In order to lose 150 pounds, I needed to discipline myself and empower my mind. Every day my brain tries to fight me [about going] to the gym and [being] lazy. But I'm the one who has the willpower to say no.
What money lessons did you learn growing up?
My dad was a teacher and sold fruit and shoes door to door. My mom was a housewife and manicurist. I am grateful to them for showing me that to have a better life, I need to work for it.
But I [also] had negative associations with money. My father told me that money doesn't grow on trees, and rich people are evil. I learned to change this ingrained mentality, but it wasn't easy. It was only after I tripped, fell and picked myself up again that I was able to see what I had been internally debating my entire life.
Your book talks about the powerful role of emotions in a person's life. How do your feelings influence your finances?
Your mindset can either triple your efforts or resist them. One of my mentors is Tony Robbins. He taught me that thoughts become feelings and feelings become actions—so if you pay attention to what you're thinking, you'll be ready to face any challenges. I don't set limitations or make excuses. I fly high, set record-breaking goals and never settle for anything less than outstanding.
In some ways, your health issues have mirrored your money problems. Have you used any weight-loss steps from your book to transform your finances?
I tried so many weight-loss programs and would go in on the first day wanting to lose 100 pounds. It was unrealistic, so I failed over and over again. I finally learned that I needed to start with an achievable goal of losing five pounds a month. When I did that, I gained the confidence that I could lose five more.
It's the same with business. You can't expect to become a millionaire or lose 100 pounds overnight. I had to make small goals in order to reach medium goals, and set medium goals in order to reach high goals.
The hardest part was sticking to my plan even when I didn't see any results. When I had just 10 clients and was afraid of failing, I still woke up before everyone and did the extra work nobody else wanted. People say that Yes You Can! is an overnight success, but it was seven years in the making. I'm still giving 300 percent.