Irin Carmon, a staff writer for Salon.com,wrote a piece that asked an intriguing question: Was Ginger White, the single mother of two who claimed she had a 13-year affair with former presidential hopeful Herman Cain, a victim of sexual politics, or a savvy player in a transactional economy?

“Even if there’s no reason to pretend that Herman Cain matters anymore, it’s worth stopping for a moment and pondering the peculiar story of Ginger White — and what it tells us about transactional sex in our age,” Carmon wrote.

Carmon goes on to say the story behind Cain and White is “how lack of money made White feel powerless, and sex (which, yes, she didn’t much enjoy) proved the next best commodity.”

We get a deeper look into White’s background and how she says she got involved with Cain from an interview she gave to Leslie Bennetts of The Daily Beast. That’s also a fascinating read. In Bennetts’s article, White says: “I was getting divorced, and I had two small kids. He would send me extra cash and things like that. When he first started, it was pretty sporadic, but the last 2 1/2 years, there was consistent financial help every month. It was ‘Here’s something to help with this; here’s something to help with that.’ I was appreciative of that. I said thank you, every time.”

Cain has denied he had an affair with White and said they were only friends. White admits in her interview with Bennetts that she received financial help from a number of men. “I’ve supported my kids, and I never wanted to let my kids go without,” White told Bennetts. “When I was having trouble making a payment on something, there was this powerful man saying, ‘I’ll help you out.’”

There are so many money-related issues that come up in the Cain/White story. In my column Wednesday I wrote that although Cain has denied White’s claim, at the very least he had what could be called a financial affair. He was slipping White money on the sly, something a spouse should never do. As Johnnie Taylor sang in “Take Care Of Your Homework,” “the downfall of too many men is the upkeep of too many women.” Surveys continue to show that a great number of spouses keep financial secrets.

Then there’s White’s role in all this. Based on her interviews, I think White was playing Cain as much as he may have been playing her. She was using her body as a commodity as so many other women, unfortunately, feel they are forced to do. But as those women eventually find out, such transactional behavior can still leave you emotionally and financially broke.

I want to hear from you. What do you think of Carmon’s question? Send you response to the Color of Money Question of the Week to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Friends with Benefits” in the subject line.

Toys to Go

Here’s an interesting way to give your kids the Christmas they want, without the hefty price tag: Rent a toy.

Eve Tahmincioglu of MSN.com reports that among the growing trend of renting consumer items, now some parents are renting the latest toys. The consumer product rental industry generates about $20 billion in annual sales and is growing at a 3 percent annual rate, the article says.

How does toy rental work?

You add toys to a wish list, and the toys are delivered to your door for a monthly fee. For example, rental plans at Toygaroo.com cost from $24.99 for four toys to $52.99 for eight toys. Babyplays.com has monthly memberships starting at $19.99. And if you can’t manage to pry the toy out of your children’s hands, the toy rental companies will allow you to buy it at a discounted price.

I certainly understand why there is a market for consumer product rentals. It’s similar to why people lease a car -- because they want a nice vehicle they often can’t afford to buy. But when the lease is up, what do they have to show for all those payment? Nothing. As for renting toys, it just doesn’t make financial sense to me, either. For some of the monthly fees being charged, you can buy a few nice toys for your kid.

Have you or would you rent a toy for your child? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state and put “Toys to Go” in the subject line.

Responses to “The Malls are Watching”

Two malls were recently criticized for tracking consumers’ shopping habits via the shoppers’ cellphone signals.

So for last week’s Color of Money question I asked: “How would you feel about malls tracking your shopping habits?”

“I am totally against being tracked via my cell phone,” writes Lorna M. Gilkey of Alexandria, Va. “It goes beyond invading my privacy into a territory indistinguishable from stalking. Additionally, in a mall, I’d more than likely be with my teenage sons, and, if we separate briefly, we need our cell phones to stay in contact with each other. Being forced to turn off my phone to avoid being tracked by the mall means no communication with my sons, which, in turn, means I would never patronize any malls or stores that do such a thing.”

Jack Heir of Freehold, N.J. says: “It’s just one more case of big brother looking over my shoulder and I don’t like it one bit. Let the mall surveyors ask me if I want to answer a short questionnaire so I can choose to say yes or no.”

Paulette Marshall of Richmond agrees with Heir: “I think it’s pretty scary to know that the mall I plan to shop in is tracking my every movement. It’s frustrating to know you’re being tracked down to your very precise physical location. Why should I turn off my device that I pay for to be excluded from tracking? I would love to know if and when a petition hits the masses, I will be the first to sign.”

But M. Preston of Columbia, Md., says that “as long as I can turn it off, I don’t care. Then again, I try to avoid the mall during the holidays like the plague.”

Debt Defeaters

If you’ve gotten rid of a lot of debt, I want to hear from you. Send your debt defeater story to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include the amount of debt you got rid of, how you paid it off and a statement describing your new debt-free life. Also include your full name, city and state.

You will receive a free Debt Defeater T-shirt if I read your story during my live video chat.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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