Sandy scams, cellphone bills and bad bosses

Super Storm Sandy Scams

Natural disasters bring out the schemers, and don’t expect any less following the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

U.S. News & World Report offers some tips for people hoping to help out without becoming a victim. Here are a few:

-- Give to familiar organizations. Established nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross, are already well positioned to start assisting storm victims.

-- Just say “no” to phone requests. Not only is it hard to verify just who is on the other end of the telephone when someone calls to solicit money, it’s also likely that a big chunk of any donation will go to that middleman instead of the charity itself.

-- Delete e-mail solicitations immediately. Charity Navigator also warns that e-mail requests for funding—especially those that come from alleged victims—are rarely legitimate.

If you were in the path of Hurricane Sandy, I provide tips for homeowners to stay clear of “storm chasers” or con artists targeting people who need home repairs following the storm.

Talking Your Money Away

According to a recent survey by CTIA Wireless Association, the average monthly cellphone bill is $47.16, reports Brad Tuttle of Time Magazine.

But “the numbers don’t factor in the cost of handsets,” Tuttle writes. “What the numbers also don’t reveal is something that many cell-phone owners know all too well: Verizon and AT&T, the two biggest providers, aren’t getting less out of customers each month.”

A survey sponsored by CouponCabin found that 46 percent of people with mobile phones said their monthly bill was $100 or more, and 13 percent said their monthly bill topped $200 per month.

“So, yes, it is possible to pay $47 or below monthly for cell phone usage,” Tuttle says. “It’s just fairly likely that doing so would require you to switch phones, and switch providers too.”

Guilty Gift-Giving

If it’s the thought that counts when giving gifts, why do so many of us get so stressed during the holidays?

It’s because you often feel guilty for not giving more even if you can’t afford it.

“There’s a lot of guilt and social comparison in holiday shopping,” psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst told Karen Cheney of Money Magazine.

Cheney says: “Want to beat your psychology and that post-holiday hangover? Simply use these strategies to get the names crossed off your list -- without crossing into the red.”

-- Give your time. Instead of buying a gift card, offer your services, such as babysitting or house cleaning, as a gift.

-- Look at the long term. Here’s a sobering way to set a shopping budget: Run a retirement projection just before you shop. Or forecast the cost of your child’s college education, writes Cheney.

--Take more than one trip to the store. Televisions and T-shirts should not be purchased during the same shopping trip says Scott Huettel, head of Duke University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Decision Science. “When you start out with big decisions, your brain has a harder time discriminating with smaller decisions.”

The Color of Money Question for the Week: How do you avoid overspending during the holidays? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Guilty Gift Giving” in the subject line. Please include your name, city and state.

Sugar Mama Money

Speaking of giving too much …

I’m continually shocked at the money that women give to guys they are dating. One woman wrote to me asking for help after she took out a loan from her 401 (k) plan and gave the cash to her boyfriend. He then skipped out, leaving her with the loan to repay.

So, when I read “The Trouble With Being A Sugar Mama” on The Washington Post’s Root.com by Janelle Harris (blogging for Clutch magazine), I could only shake my head again.

Harris said her mama warned her “that trying to keep a guy content with material things and all kinds of special favors was only going to leave me broke, busted and disgusted.

“Matter of fact, the holidays are about to be winning season for plenty of Diontays out there,” Harris wrote. “But inasmuch as we give of ourselves and our checking accounts, we need to look out for number one.”

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s still true that you can’t buy love.

Bad Bosses

A recent survey by workplace psychology specialist Michelle McQuaid found that employees prefer a better boss to a bigger bonus.

So, I asked you last week: “Which would you prefer?” Here are some responses:

“I definitely would prefer a better boss over a higher salary,” said Susan Dickson from Montgomery, Ala. “Who can enjoy going to a job, no matter what it pays, in which your boss is incompetent or treats you like dirt? Years ago I had a boss who was absolutely wonderful, one of the best supervisors I ever had. My job did not pay much, but when I was ready to move on, he gave me a wonderful recommendation which put me in a new job that paid $10,000 more.”

Nan Terry of Fort Worth, Tex., simply said, “I would take a better boss over money.”

“As one who has had cartoon-like evil bosses in the past, I can honestly say I’d prefer lower pay if it meant I had a boss that was decent and respectful,” said Lorna Gilkey of Alexandria. “The intensely high stress of dealing with a boss or company that treats you in a demoralizing and disrespectful manner means more stress, health-related problems and absenteeism. Less pay is difficult to deal with, but when you feel content, valued and appreciated during the day, then you are able to go home with a positive attitude (which promotes happier families), that makes the lower pay worthwhile.”

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.

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