3/03/2008

Have We Learned Nothing?

I know that we are weird. We watch the news, and not just for the weather and sports. We have no credit cards, no debt other than the house. We rarely eat fast food. By American standards, we are weird. We know it, and we're ok with it. So help us with this one, because the wife and I are really having trouble with this. Have people heard about this 'mortgage meltdown' thing? Are people aware of the 'credit crunch' and what caused all of this mess? Have we seen the mistakes of others played out in the national media and learned from it? We've watched this coming for years.

The foolishness of home builders - overbuilding, over-inflating prices, then suckering people in with ARM mortgages. The foolishness of home buyers - putting nothing down and thinking that it was a good thing. The severe debt of the middle class - growing and growing year after year, spending more and more with little to no savings. The banks and lenders throwing all intelligence out the window and creating this sub-prime mess. People bought it hook, line, and sinker. And now they are sunk. Foreclosures are through the roof. Bankruptcies higher than during the Great Depression; completely undaunted by the new bankruptcy laws. As this was gathering steam a few years ago, we discovered Dave Ramsey.

My wife got us started on Dave's plan, got me on-board, and kept us on track. Together, we got our lives in order and our finances under control. Eventually we got out of debt. But even more important than that, we stopped doing 'dumb with money'. We opened our eyes to all of the dumb ways we mishandle our money in this society. We questioned financial products and services rather than signing up after a slick sales pitch. Thus, the current 'credit crunch' has not affected us. But we are aware of it. We thank God that we did what we did, when we did it. And we know that could have easily been us in that mess.

So, it absolutely baffles us that anyone, anywhere in this country would be doing what I am about to describe. Some friends are buying a house. Ok, good for them. My wife is talking to our friend on what happens to be the day before the closing. If you've bought before, then you know, at this point in the game, that you are committed - you're buying the house, for all it's qualities and in spite of its defects. You know what you are getting, and you probably have some plans for it. Well, they have plans alright - spend spend spend spend spend.

Our friend starts talking about how the house has wallpaper on every wall, which is coming down and giving way to paint. Pricey and time consuming, but not a bad move. The carpet is coming out, though nothing is technically wrong with it, and will be replaced and perpetuated into the basement as well. I haven't seen this carpet, but seems like something I'd have cleaned and tough it out for a bit. Moving on, our friend describes how all of the furniture in they are using now will go in the basement along with their current TV. Nothing wrong with any of it, but new house = new stuff. The furniture has been bought, and there is one of those fancy flat-screen TVs that they have their eye on. I'm not sure how she kept it together, but my jaw would have been on the ground. The real kicker came when our friend made reference to the fact that putting nothing down on the house would help enable them to do all of this. My wife was polite enough to not press for more details, but it's not tough to imagine:
  • New Furniture - no payments, no interest till whenever
  • New Carpet - on payments
  • New TV - no interest if you use your 'Whatever' card
  • New Paint - on credit card
  • Mortgage - ARM
Now that list is ALL speculation, but totally fits the rest of the behavior. We sincerely hope and pray that this is not the case, but we're not holding our breath. Maybe (and I certainly hope this is not the case) you don't see the issue here. It's very likely that during this year, these first-time home owners will get their clock cleaned by unexpected or unplanned expenses. Home inspections are a must, and they had one done. But what about all those things that inspectors do not inspect? A/C units. Water softeners. Mold problems. Or those little needs that come up. Appliances, a lawn mower. Are they aware of the increased living expenses in utilities, insurance, and taxes alone?

People argue that credit cards are "great for emergencies". Really? So besides the stress and financial hit, you're going to add debt to the list? So once they've maxed the cards out on everything they bought but didn't need to and items they didn't plan for, what happens when the the furnace goes stinko and the roof starts leaking right after the property tax bill comes in? Where's your precious plastic card then? I know what happens, as no sales pitch is complete today without mention of their financing plan.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of people who are able to avoid debt in spite of frequent credit card use. They are usually the ones who just can't understand how someone racks up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. This is how - or at least one way. A couple wrong turns, no plan, and living emergency to emergency, debt payment to debt payment.

This country has lived and died on debt for decades. No-one looking at this situation from a 1000-ft view (like we are) would sign up for this. But debt in small chunks is easier to justify. Another example of this same behavior can be seen in a childhood obesity TV commercial (can't seem to find right now!). It shows a time-lapse of a family's day, focusing on a young boy and the food his parents put in front of him. "It's just a donut", it starts. "It's just a donut and some pop. It's just a donut, some pop and some chips." The commercial ends with the father bring home fast food for the family. And we wonder why our kids are fat and developing diabetes. Translate that junk food into debt.
It's just a car loan. Its just a car loan and some credit card debt. Its just a car loan, credit card debt, a home equity loan, some medical debt, and my financed furniture. Oh! And my old student loan - almost forgot about that.
That is a recipe for massive debt. If we all don't take something away from this mortgage meltdown mess, then who is to say that this won't happen again?

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2 comments:

****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

This blog post has been included in the "Carnival of Money Stories #51" at Life Lessons of a Military Wife. Hope you will drop by and read some of the many other wonderful entries received this week!

Debt Free Revolution said...

I see we think a lot alike. Hope your friends can come out of this situation unscarred. There is just entirely too much debt in the average person's life nowadays.

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