Mega Millions letdown

Michelle Singletary
Columnist April 5, 2012

You didn’t win.

Dream over.

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

There were three winning tickets in the recent Mega Millions drawing and so far no one has officially claimed their money, reports The Post and every other news outlet that has been telling us we didn’t win.

Nonetheless, all of us who played for a chance at the $656 million jackpot have to return to reality.

Don’t look at me with that tone of face, as my pastor often says. Yes, I played. I took a walk on the wild side and wrote about what my children dreamed we would do with the money, had we won.

When opportunities for instant riches come along, I like to reflect on the larger lessons we can all learn. So I point you to a story in the Baltimore Sun about one lottery winner, Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett, who won a $32.6 million lottery jackpot in 2007. Bartlett talked about the good, the bad and the ugly of becoming instantly wealthy. Bartlett, a former accountant, admitted that, even with his financial background, he made lots of mistakes, including some bad business decisions.

“One of the mistakes I made was giving money to help other people realize their dreams instead of my own,” Bartlett told The Sun. “Then, when the businesses crashed, I looked like the bad guy.”

As I wrote before the numbers were announced, there are plenty of examples of former lottery winners who end up losing their millions because they overspend. I always say: How do you go broke on $200 million?

You spend $201 million.

Quick money is often not a good thing for folks. If you aren’t handling the money you have very well, getting more often won’t change that situation: Your problems just become more expensive.

Party Like You Just Don’t Care

Top government officials were recently fired for spending more than $820,000 on a conference in Las Vegas, reports The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein and Joe Davidson.

Martha N. Johnson, chief of the General Services Administration, resigned from her position, two of her top deputies were fired and four managers were placed on administrative leave for hosting a training conference that featured a clown, a mind reader and a nearly $30,000 reception.

This is a “significant misstep,” wrote Johnson in her resignation letter. “Taxpayer dollars were squandered.”

You think? They spent like it wasn’t their money.

Here’s how some of the money was spent:

●$44 per person per day for breakfast

●$75,000 for a “team-building” exercise that involved building a bicycle

●$146,000 on catered food and drinks

●$6,325 on commemorative coins in velvet boxes to reward all participants for their work on stimulus projects

●$31,208 “networking” reception featuring a $19-per-person cheese display

●$7,000 for sushi

This week’s Color of Money question: Do you have examples of a company that spent too much on an office event or convention? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to put “ Party Like You Just Don’t Care” in the subject line.

Let’s Chat Today

Join me live online today. My guest will be David Wolman, author of “The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers and the Coming Cashless Society.” Wolman’s book was the Color of Money Book Club pick for March.

The online text chat begins at 1 p.m. ET.

Be sure to send your questions in early or read the archives later.

Tax Freedom Day

According to the Tax Foundation, the average taxpayer needs to work 107 days to pay off the federal, state or local taxes which average 29 percent of their income, reports Blake Ellis of CNNMoney.com.

The foundation pegs the day people finally work long enough to cover their taxes as “Tax Freedom Day,” which is calculated each year based on income, Social Security, sales, property and other taxes. The latest-ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1, 2000. In 1900, Tax Freedom Day came as early as Jan. 22 because people paid just 5.9 percent of their income in taxes, according to the foundation.

Ironically, Tax Freedom Day this year is April 17, this year’s deadline for filing your tax return.

If you are still working on your return, here are some recent tax stories that might be of interest to you:

Protect yourself as scams spring up during tax season.

11 tax audit red flags

April is National Financial Literacy Month

In recognition of Financial Literacy Month, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association released the results of a financial literacy survey that found that people don’t know enough about personal finance.

The following are some of the results from the survey:

●More than half of U.S. adults admitted that they do not have a budget.

●One-third of survey respondents do not pay all of their bills on time.

●Thirty-nine percent of adults carry over credit card debt month to month.

●Twenty-five percent of those who do not currently have non-retirement savings indicated that, if they did begin to save, they would keep their savings at home in cash.

“This year’s survey unveiled some disturbing trends, showing that a significant number of Americans are saving less, spending more and carrying credit card debt over from month to month, suggesting that the painful financial lessons of the past are quickly being forgotten,” said Susan C. Keating, president and CEO of the NFCC.

I had hoped that the Great Recession would change people’s behavior. However, this survey, conducted March 16-19, shows that people are going back to some old ways.

“Making well-informed decisions about money is a key life skill,” said David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Financial Literacy Month is a great time to learn your financial rights – or teach someone you care about.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a new initiative, called Ask CFPB, to help consumers get clear answers to financial questions.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is kicking off the month by hosting a Money Smart Week from April 21-28. The bank will have a series of free classes and activities designed to help consumers better manage their personal finances. To find out whether there are free financial education events near you, go to the bank’s Web site at www.chicagofed.org and click on the link for Money Smart Week.

Responses to “Facebook”

Last week, I asked you: “What do you think of being required to give up your Facebook username and password to a prospective employer? Would you do it? Have you done it?”

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that companies are requiring potential employees to submit log-in information for their social media networks. Some companies say the virtual vetting helps to assess the character of potential hires.

Here are some reader’s comments:

“I have nothing to hide on Facebook,” wrote Rebecca Pellot of Monroe, N.Y. “But if it’s a choice of getting the job, I would give my password.”

“The only way that I would agree to this grossly intrusive requirement for employment is if I were applying to be a CIA or FBI agent,” said Nicole Leonard of Baltimore. “The vetting process for those jobs is so extensive they are likely to find out about anything on my Facebook page anyway. Any other job? No way. I am an asset and it is their loss.”

Brian Busenbark of New Fairfield, Conn., thinks requesting Facebook passwords is an egregious intrusion on personal privacy. He wrote: “I have nothing to hide, and viewing my Facebook activity would probably bore them to tears, but I would not give out my password on principle. Further, I would make the case that an employer should not want anyone that would so readily give up (his or her) password. I contend that giving up my password for the mere prospect of a job makes me a weak businessperson – not the kind of person they should want representing them in front of clients and negotiating contract terms on their behalf. In my opinion, the value to the employer of asking for the password should be to weed out the people who actually would give it to you!”

“Prospective employers are requesting access to password-protected Facebook accounts? Sounds like a sneaky way to discover information they aren’t supposed to ask for during interviews — marital status, parenthood, pregnancy, and illness. It would be difficult to prove discrimination if such information was used in making the hiring decision,” adds Michelle Carter of Minneapolis.

Those are very good points by Carter. I suspect she’s right on the money.

Spend Well, Live Rich

My PBS pledge special “Spend Well, Live Rich” is still airing on various PBS-affiliated stations. Here’s a link for a video preview of the special.

Watch for the program in your local area. Even if you missed the program, order it and support your local PBS station.

Upcoming Events

On Saturday, April 21, at 11 a.m., I’ll be speaking at Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio. The library is sponsoring “Money Smarts for You: A Day of Free Financial Help.” The event is open to the public. The address is 96 S. Grant Ave., Columbus 43215. There will be free parking and child-care for children 3 to 9 years old. To learn more, call 614-645-2275 or click this link (www.columbuslibrary.org/moneysmarts).

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

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

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