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Paying to pee

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The Dow hit a record this week.

The “sequester” spending cuts weren’t avoided.

But it’s the little things that can really get people talking money and seeing red.

 For example, take the restaurant that wanted to charge a woman $5 to use its restroom.

 I’ve been in cities, typically in heavily trafficked tourist districts or off busy highway locations, where restaurants have a policy that you can’t use their bathrooms if you aren’t a customer. But is it going too far when a restaurant’s policy is that non-customers have to pay if they want to relieve themselves?

 That’s what one restaurant in Tennessee tried to do, reports Laura T. Coffey for Today.

In an interview with the “Today” show, Patricia Barnes said that she used the restroom at the Flood Gate, a small roadside restaurant in Erin, Tenn., after getting permission from one of the employees. But, days later she received a handwritten note from the management of the restaurant indicating that she owed the establishment $5 for her restroom break.

“I just thought it was unbelievable,” Barnes told “Today.”“I’m like, what type of people are these?”

The restaurant was able to track Barnes down by writing down her vehicle license plate. Managers gave the information to the sheriff’s office,which then traced its owner. After being contacted, Barnes tried to pay the $5. I would have done the same after being tracked down by the cops. I don’t play with the police.

But the restaurant owners apparently changed their minds about the bill, telling the “Today” show (off camera) that they only wanted to make a point that their facilities are for customers only. Point taken. Potty elsewhere.

Charging people to use their bathrooms is “totally ridiculous” said celebrity chef and restaurant owner Bobby Flay, who was asked about the situation following the “Today” show segment. It’s just part of doing business, he said.

“Today” took a poll on the practice. The results weren’t surprising. Overwhelmingly, people thought non-patrons should be allowed to use restaurant bathrooms for free.

Here’s a slightly different take on the question. This week’s Color of Money Question: Have establishments gone too far in crazy charges for customers? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to put “Paying to Pee” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Celebrity Cash

I keep passing along these stories because it’s still unbelievable to me that people who make so much money still mess up their finances. Their financial woes serve as a lesson for us all.

 So here we go.

 TMZ.com reports that “Mummy” actor Brendan Fraser is asking that his $50,000 monthly alimony payments be lowered because he just has too many other expenses.

Fraser makes about $206,000 per month, but he comes up short of about $87,000 when all his expenses are included, according to documents reviewed by TMZ.com.  

Making light of a situation bypointing out that Fraser earns more in a month than what most Americans earn in a few years, Richard Lawson of The Atlantic Wire says, “If something doesn’t give, “he'll have to do The Mummy 4: There's a Mummy in My Soup! and I'm not sure anyone wants that. I mean, I want that, but probably nobody else.”

Chat Live With Me Today

Join me today at noon ET for live online discussion.

It’s just you and me, so let’s talk about your financial issues or about celebrities and their financial woes or if you think restaurants should start charging extra for napkins.

 Okay, kidding about the last point but it’s only a matter of time. If you can’t join me live send your questions in early or read the archive later.

Foreclosing on Military Members

On a more serious matter, more than 700 members of the military were wrongfully evicted from their homes by major banks, according to a report by The New York Times.

“Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo uncovered the foreclosures while analyzing mortgages as part of a multibillion-dollar settlement deal with federal authorities,” the Times reported.

 Regulators told banks to identify military members and other borrowers who were evicted in violation of federal law, according to the Times.

Should we all really be surprised? Many consumer advocates have protested that banks were illegally pushing people out of their homes.

“The banks had long maintained that, although they had relied on faulty documents to push through foreclosures, they rarely forced people out of their homes by mistake,” wrote Natasha Lennard of The Salon.com. “The discovery that over 700 active duty military members — protected by federal law — nonetheless faced foreclosure serves as star riposte to such claims.”

 “It’s absolutely devastating to be 7,000 miles from your home fighting for this country and get a message that your family is being evicted,” Col. John S. Odom Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer in Shreveport, La., who represents military members in foreclosure cases, told the New York Times. “We have been sounding the alarms that the banks are illegally evicting the very men and women who are out there fighting for this country. This is a devastating confirmation of that.”

Tax Season 2013

If you’re getting a tax refund you might want to watch Money Talks News founder and CPA Stacy Johnson’s video on seven ways to maximize your refund.

Here just one of the tips. Use the money to pay your insurance bill all at once. “Many car insurance companies offer a discount if you pay the six- or 12-month premium in full,” Johnson says.  Or you can park some of the refund in your savings account and “raise your deductible – a simple way to save 10 to 20 percent on your premium.”

It was also nice to see a recent poll found that the overwhelming majority of adults don’t believe it is ever okay to cheat on their income taxes, reports The Washington Post’s Stephen Ohlemacher.

When asked how much, if any, is an acceptable amount to cheat on their income taxes, 87 percent of respondents said “not at all.” Only 11 percent said “a little here and there” or “as much as possible.”

People polled said theirpersonal integrity influences them to honestly report their taxes.Ohlemacher spoke with Elizabeth Maresca, a former IRS trial lawyer, who said most taxpayers don’t have much of an opportunity to cheat anyway.

Two-thirds of individual filers don’t itemize their deductions. And for those who do itemize, many of their claims are verified by financial institutions that are required to notify the IRS.

Yahoo!

The buzz continues over an order from Yahoo’s new chief executive, Marissa Mayer, that Yahoo employees may no longer work from home.

“It is my firm and unshaking belief that the only reason a company ever alters its policy or creates a new set of guidelines is because there was one incident that ruined things for everyone,” wrote The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri.

As I wrote last week, for many this has become an “Oh, no she didn’t” moment for Mayer.

But just one week after news about Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting, Best Buy is making changes to its own flexible work program.Best Buy announced this week that it has ended its program that allowed corporate employees to control their schedules and how often they showed up at the company's headquarters, reports BusinessWeek.

Yahoo ended its program arguing that it hurts creativity.

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Do you think working from home stifles creativity?”

“Generally, when employees provide a service, it's critical to have consistency in quality and support,” wrote Renalda Stallworth of Ellicott City, Md. “When people in adjacent cubes don't communicate the way they should to work effectively and now we allow them to telework, it just exacerbates the problem. If Yahoo is trying to get back on its feet, it makes sense that Mayer would go this route.”

Linda Kichline of Phoenix says demanding all Yahoo employees to work at a desk will harm its business rather than help it. Kichline wrote: “The young and talented people needed to make an operation like Yahoo continue to evolve are often the people who sit side-by-side and text each other. Forcing them into an office environment will not change how they communicate.”

“Different individuals can adapt to being productive in working at home,” added Patrick Dunne of Naperville, Ill.

Upcoming Events

-- If you’re in the Washington area, join me on Wed. March 13, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for a seminar on the five steps to financial freedom. The event is free with a donation of a nonperishable food item for Manna Food Center, which helps fight hunger in Montgomery County. The seminar will be held at The Universities at Shady Grove, 9640 Gudelsky Drive, Building 1, Rockville, Md., 20850. For more registration call (301) 944-1800 or click here to register online.

The workshop is part of the "Learn to Earn" seminar series for college students and young adults, which features financial experts. It is sponsored by Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union in partnership with the Universities at Shady Grove and the Gazette newspaper group.

Jet Magazine’s is giving away 10 copies of my book, “Spend Well, Live Rich: How to Get What You Want With the Money You Have.” To participate in the sweepstakes go to http://jetmag.com/spend-well-live-rich-giveaway/ and fill out the official entry form. One of the 10 winners will also receive one free coaching session with me. The sweepstakes ends at 12 p.m. CT on Sun. March 17.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

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

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