Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

In tornado’s wake, the financial burden is also devastating

It’s so hard to see the pictures and video of the aftermath of the tornado that hit an Oklahoma City suburb this week claiming the lives of two dozen people and injuring hundreds more.

The 1.3-miles-wide twister damaged about 2,400 homes in the cities of Moore and Oklahoma City and directly affected some 10,000 people.

The Latest Color of Money Columns

Paying off today’s debts boosts your retirement tomorrow

Paying off today’s debts boosts your retirement tomorrow

Retirement planning includes setting yourself up to have the least amount of debt and expenses possible.

Best way to fix your credit? Pay your bills on time

Best way to fix your credit? Pay your bills on time

Another effective way to improve your credit score is to pay down your debt.

Headache-free retirement planning

Headache-free retirement planning

Sorting through your retirement finances shouldn’t require a bottle of aspirin. This book can help.

In addition to lost lives, it’s hard to fathom the personal property loss so many have experienced.

“Homes where, they once stood, now look like bales of hay,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo said during one broadcast.

More than 1,000 people have already registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which sent hundreds of workers to Oklahoma to help with the recovery, reports the Chicago Tribune.

I have to give kudos to one insurance company that saw a broadcast by CNN’s Piers Morgan and took action. Suzanne Haley, a teacher who protected students when a piece of furniture impaled her leg during Monday’s tornado, was being interviewed by Morgan and said she was worried that bills for her medical stay wouldn’t be covered because emergency personnel took her to a hospital not normally covered by her insurance company.

The picture of the metal table leg stuck into Haley’s leg is horrific. How brave she was.

Hours after Haley was on “Piers Morgan Live,” the insurance company notified “the selfless teacher that they would in fact be handling the hospital costs for injuries sustained during her moment of heroism,” Jason Kurtz posted on Morgan’s blog.

No one can be truly prepared for a tornado because the destruction can be so devastating. But there are steps you can take to “protect your home and property and speed your recovery along as quickly as possible,” wrote Ilyce Glink for CBS MoneyWatch. “It all starts with understanding the limits of your homeowner’s insurance policy,” Glink says.

For example, make sure you have enough homeowners coverage. Take an inventory of your possessions. To read more of what experts advise, click here.

RGIII Wedding Gifts Gaffe

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is getting a lot of backlash for accepting wedding gifts from fans for his upcoming nuptials to Rebecca Liddicoat.

Earlier this week, Griffin, who is guaranteed $21 million from his rookie contract and will earn more through endorsements deals, tweeted a picture of himself standing in front of a pile of open boxes that apparently contained the gifts he has received from his wedding registry at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Griffin tweeted: “Thank you to the Fans who are helping buy ALL the items from our wedding registry at Bed Bath & Beyond …”

The registry includes gifts that range from a two-piece outdoor wicker set at $439.99 to jubilee napkins for $1.99.

Some weren’t feeling Griffin’s gratitude.

@MaskedSuperstar tweeted: “Fans keep buying gifts you would keep them all? I wouldn’t, middle class w/term disease. Think less fortunate could benefit? ‪#selfish”

Some Twitter users then berated @MaskedSuperstar for calling Griffin greedy.

“He didn’t ask for anything from fans. Reporters posted the registry. Fans took it from there. Quit whining,” posted @David Bovey.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz tweeted, “Nice to know that so many people who probably wouldn’t give can of soup for food drive will buy new sheets for RGIII.”

Griffin has taken issue with the criticism, responding in one tweet: “Because you are rich you are not allowed to receive gifts and any gifts you receive should be donated to charity???? ‪#WOW Smh...”

RGIII went on to tweet, “Haters gon hate. Theme of the day. They always say more money more problems. Or mo’ money mo’ problems. Yea I’m cultured ‪#DealWithIt”

But Griffin is missing the point. Although he seems like a nice guy, showing off the gifts – even the swaggered way he is standing in the photo -- makes him seem more boastful than grateful. If he wanted to thank fans, a handwritten private note to each giver would have been more appropriate.

It’s not that you shouldn’t receive gifts if you’re wealthy or that you don’t deserve them. And certainly people are free to buy presents for the couple, but why were they registering for gifts at all? Really, they want people to buy them $9 flatware? It’s yet another example of how people treat their special occasions as an opportunity to profit. With so much already, why couldn’t the couple communicate — without a gift registry — that they have so much already?

By the way, I don’t agree that we should suggest that the couple donate the money or gifts they receive. Once given, it’s theirs to use it as they please. I also don’t think the couple should ask guests to donate money to a charity in lieu of gifts. Basically, stop asking people for stuff or money. Period!

I agree with Judith Martin’s take on gift registries. She writes The Washington Post’s Miss Manners column providing common sense advice on etiquette.

In one column, Martin sarcastically asked: “What is the social pay scale? How much will it cost you if someone you know gives birth, graduates, marries or dies?”

“People anxious to be spared the thoughtful efforts of others to please them have long been selecting their own presents by means of the gift registry. Many now want to skip even that blatant bit of laundering to get their hands directly on the cash. Some declare frankly that they expect their guests to help pay the wedding or honeymoon expenses, or their mortgage. Others explain that they already have everything they need, in which case Miss Manners would have thought they would be counting their blessings and thinking about helping the less fortunate.”

Griffin should read the entire column. And if you are having a party to celebrate getting married, graduating, moving in together, or having a baby, you should read it, too.

I’ll leave you with these wise words from Miss Manners to people wondering what to give or how much to pay those being toasted on such occasions: “Just go pick out something nice that you can afford. Or skip the whole panhandling event — there are more worthy charities than people putting on expensive weddings.”

Color of Money Questions of the Week

What do you think of gift registries and the response to Griffin’s gift explosion? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “RGIII Wedding Gifts Gaffe” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

Live Online Chat

Join me today at noon ET for my live online discussion.

It’s just you and me, so send your money questions in early.

Brides on a Budget

Here’s an interesting twist on the wedding tradition of brides wearing something old and something new.

A new bridal company, BridalBrokerage.com, is offering budget-conscious, soon-to-be brides canceled wedding packages. The company finds new couples to take over canceled wedding contracts, saving money for buyers, sellers and wedding vendors alike, according to the company’s Web site.

Sounds like a good deal.

“Today Show” contributor Amy Langfield reports that most couples who buy canceled wedding packages can still have some things their way – food, flowers, cake -- depending on how close it is the wedding date. However, in some cases, they incur extra fees for changes or upgrades to the originally purchased package.

Just in time for summer: New airline fees that will make you hot

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What do you think of all the add-on airline fees?”

Carriers such as Frontier Airlines will start charging customers up to $100 for carry-on bags if the flier fails to book through Frontier’s Web site. And American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways and United Airlines have increased the change fee of most discount fares from $150 to $200.

“I completely agree with your assessment of the airlines,” wrote Russell Brown of Arlington, Va. “At this point I have completely ruled out ever flying again. As an example I had to go to [Arizona] twice last year for work reasons and drove both times. A more comfortable, less cramped atmosphere, no fees, no lines, no waiting around for connections, no aggravation. I was able to take all the baggage I wanted, and upon return the cost of gas and vehicle maintenance was about the same as the airline ticket.”

C. Lillian Virgil of Walkersville, Md., wrote: “I think this is just unthinkable, insulting and horrific that the airlines are trying to milk as much money as they can out of their customers – even in these horrendous economic times. The airlines made over $6 [billion] dollars last year on baggage fees alone! And struggling travelers, some who can barely come up with the high cost of an airline ticket, are left to scrape up whatever they can just to take luggage on a trip.”

Nicole Smith of Milwaukee said, “It’s this type of stuff that will make me (very unfortunately) give up my semi-annual and annual trips to Jamaica because whether I have the funds or not, these fees are very ridiculous and out of hand.”

Here are some Facebook responses:

Maryanne Sanderson wrote “Eh, actual ticket prices are quite low. Airlines are a business. The market will decide.”

Kerrie Wolf Piechota said “When are these airlines going to understand that the reason there’s no overhead bin space anymore is because you have to pay to check bags on flights that are already overpriced and overbooked? Or do they realize it and just don’t care? Flying has gone from fascinating to frustrating. And trying to find a reasonably-priced flight that doesn’t involve an entire day of traveling & 3 layovers is a full time job if you’re not flying out of a major city.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071 or singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

 
Read what others are saying