‘Spent: Looking for Change’ explores the challenges of living outside the mainstream financial system


Recently, I was asked to take a look at Spent: Looking for Change, a new documentary sponsored by American Express, about four families struggling to make ends meet outside the traditional financial system.

Tyler Perry narrates this thought-provoking doc from Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim which shines a light on the millions of Americans disconnected from the mainstream financial system and forced to pay higher fees while missing opportunities to move forward because of it.

Screenings in L.A. and NYC have featured panelists like Arianna Huffington and Tyler Perry discussing these issues and possible solutions. Spent also has people talking online with more than 7 million YouTube views and 11,000 comments.

We meet four families in the film who have issues many of us can relate to:

Alex and Melissa who are now relying solely on Melissa’s income after Alex was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. They also have an autistic son who needs special schooling and testing that can be very expensive. After taking out a $450 Payday loan to get by, they end up paying $1,700 in fees.

Debbie Artaza is a young handbag designer who is trying to grow her business while paying off more than $100,000 in student loan debt. Debbie’s story was the most relatable to me as a small business owner who also carries a significant amount of student loan debt.

Justin Dickenson owns a successful video-production business in Texas, but has bad credit due to financial mistakes he made early in his life. Due to these past errors, he finds it difficult to buy a house – or even get a checking account – and move forward with the life he had envisioned for himself and his girlfriend. Without a traditional bank account, Justin could also end up spending $40,000 just to turn his paychecks into cash over the course of his career.

Tiffany Richardson is a nurse who left her job after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, assuming she could easily find another job with her level of experience and education. After the recession, Tiffany was unable to find full time employment and was forced to use all of her savings, cash in her 401K (worth nearly 100,000), and take out a title loan on her car.

Unfortunately, these families aren’t in a unique situation. According to an AMEX press release, “one in four U.S. households who are not well served by the traditional banking system and rely instead on services like check cashers, payday lenders and pawn shops to meet basic financial needs. The costs for these services can add up, with the average underserved household spending ten percent of their income on fees, the same as the typical American family spends on groceries.”

When asked why he chose to lend his voice to this project, Perry, who has had his own financial problems in the past explained, “when you see the example, you can really learn.”

There is a lot we can all learn from the documentary, but one lesson it leaves out is credit card debit. On average, each American adult has $4,878 in credit card debt which only exasperate these other issues.

That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have value, it does. Especially for younger folks who might not realize how detrimental some of those quick loans and check cashing services can be to one’s overall financial health.

You can check out the entire documentary and learn how you can take action, visit https://www.spentmovie.com/.


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