Maxed Out!

I just finished watching Maxed Out – a documentary about predatory credit card lending. Or, as Jay Antani from stated on the review site I linked to: ” a Dante-esque descent into a distinctly American form of Hell.”

If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you check it out from your local library. It was interesting, although I think I enjoyed “Super Size Me” a bit more, at least from an entertainment standpoint.

As with any documentary, I’m careful to keep in mind that the film is not an unbiased source. And there were portions of the movie that were obviously edited to provide the greatest emotional and logical response. But I think the importance of a film like this lies deeper.

“Maxed Out” really focused on the credit card companies and how the government has failed to protect the consumers adequately from irreputable lending practices.

But what they only hinted at was the other half of the problem – we have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. We don’t want to wait, and we don’t want to consider whether or not it’s a smart purchase. It’s so easy to just drive down to the local Walmart and get whatever we want. If it’s not at Walmart, it’s on the internet. And if we don’t have cash? No problem. Just charge it!

When we get to the root of consumerism, it’s this exact mentality that destroys our financial freedom – not the credit card companies. They are definitely a problem, and there is no doubt in my mind that predatory lending practices take advantage of consumers. But when we start to look at our own behavior, it’s easy to see that the desire to have things – to store up for ourselves – is what very often puts people in a position to start thinking of credit as an acceptable means to acquire. Obviously, there are also people who had no choice but to finance necessities – medical care, car repairs, etc. But what I really want to concentrate on is the “Acquisition Mentality” so many of us have. What can we do to combat it?

I don’t know when I started thinking as if I deserved and should have every little thing. That if I am bored, an acceptable way to pass the time is to go to the mall and shop. I don’t think it was my childhood, because we simply couldn’t live like that. But somewhere between my teen years and today, I started to believe that it wasn’t a big deal to use credit for every little thing I didn’t have cash for – and that’s exactly what the credit card companies want you to think.

It’s been hard to change that mentality. I can finally say that shopping for entertainment, especially at the mall – holds little allure for me. And I believe that change came when I started really thinking about my wants and needs. Do I need it? Or do I want it?

When it comes right down to it, I need very little. I need food. I need water. Shelter, and clothing. Heat during the winter. If I have these things, I’ll survive. There are other things that are needs, but just barely – I’ll survive without them, but they really do make life more pleasant – toilet paper, shampoo, hot water. A computer with internet access. These are my priorities if I have to make a choice.

And there are lots of things I want – junk food, or a new outfit. A new car, or curtains for the dining room. Those come last.

But the funny thing is that when I start to think about each item I want to get and try to decide whether it’s a want or a need, more and more I find myself deciding I don’t even want to buy the things we don’t need – for the most part anyway. I want to wait until we have more money in the savings, or we pay off a credit card. I’d rather make do with what I have. I don’t want to buy on credit anymore. I want to own it free and clear. I don’t want to be “Maxed Out” because I’ve bought things I think I need when really I need to get out from under the thumb of other, richer people and corporations.

To close, I wanted to share something that happened in a conversation between me and a new friend of mine. I really respect her and her husband – they don’t do things conventionally, and their choices often go back to a poem I quoted in my very first post:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.

My friend came up to me after church on Sunday and showed me a rash on her hand. She was wondering if I knew what it was from. I didn’t, but I asked her if it itched, and if she had tried hydrocortizone cream for the itching. She said, yes, it did itch, and she had tried using a baby wipe on it to see if the alcohol would kill the itch. She didn’t want to have to buy a tube of hydrocortizone.

What would I have done? I would have driven to Walmart just to pick up a little tube of cream! What a difference! And yet, she found a solution that worked just as well (even if it did dry out her hands a bit) and didn’t have to pay a bit extra or make an extra trip.

Now, if I could just always think more creatively!

And how does it relate to the movie I watched tonight? Well, it really doesn’t. But it does have a lot to do with my thoughts after finishing the movie. Our debts inevitably come down to our own decisions about what we want and need. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. But so much of it is from buying things we don’t need! What gets me most when I think about this, is that often we think we do need those things!

It was a reminder to me that I need to think more and buy less!

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4 Responses

  1. Maxed Out is really the only mainstream film/documentary to crusade against credit cards. I enjoyed seeing some of the anti-debt celebs like Dave Ramsey, and the female professor (Elizabeth Warren, maybe?) – I’ve always enjoyed listening to her ideas on the consumer debt crisis.

  2. You are so right about the gotta-have-it-now mentality. When I was making decent money, I just shopped for fun, because I was bored, because maybe I’d like a new t-shirt. But now that I have no income, I don’t even find shopping to be fun anymore. There’s always this agonizing choice once I find things I like. “Should I spend $25 on this new cardigan, it is really nice and it would go with things, and $25 isn’t a lot, but on the other hand, I need new shoes, or maybe I could just wash my old shoes…” etc etc. Ahh, it sucks.

  3. @JewishGal- “or maybe I could just wash my old shoes…”

    lol, that’s exactly it. On the other hand, I often get a sense of satisfaction when I think of something like that and do it – it’s like I’ve saved my wallet one more day, lol. I’ve got a broken plastic laundry basket that will probably cost me $5 to replace. My husband and I decided that we’ll replace it when the bottom or the side falls out, since until then it’s still usable!

  4. You know what would be even better than going without the hydrocortizone cream would be if you had a network of close friends and family with similar ideals. Imagine how great it would be if instead of going out and buying a new tube, you could use your neighbor’s for a couple of days. Then when she needed something you had, you could return the favor. Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of relationship with anyone local; it’s too bad. I think even my closest local friends would be resistant to the idea because it’s so outside of their idea of what the norm is. Blah.

    I think one of the reasons your example struck a chord with me is that that kind of cream is the kind of thing that I am always losing and replacing! Then one day 5 years from now I find myself with 5 expired tubes and they all end up in the trash. Boo.

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