Say It Loud, I'm Broke and I'm Proud

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, April 2, 2009; 8:13 AM

I loved that so many of you wrote in about your favorite money-themed song. Many of you said the current recession reminded you of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" ( This version on YouTube is sung by Bing Crosby) or that great Tennessee Ernie Ford classic "Sixteen Tons." (The Platters made an awesome version of this song, too).

One of my favorite's is Johnnie Taylor's, "It's Cheaper to Keep Her."

Here's what some of you said about your money music:

"A couple of tunes that have been around through a recession or two and still echo what a lot of folks think about money is "Money" by Pink Floyd to and "For the Love of Money" by the O'Jays," said Wally Feldt of Dillon, Mont.

Marsha Rattermann from Cincinnati said her favorite is the Bing Crosby version of "Pennies from Heaven." I also like Billie Holiday's version. "Maybe a little too sweet for these times, but I like the theme of not appreciating what we have until a storm comes along," Rattermann said.

Listen to Crosby's version here or Holiday's version here.

Betsy Gorman of Big Flats, N.Y., said her favorite money song is "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)" by Simply Red.

I bet Betsy, who is a housing counselor for the Tri County Housing Council, has seen a lot of people in money tight situation these days.

(By the way Besty, I listened to the song. Loved it!)

Alan Letzt of Purcellville, Va., said his favorite is "Danny's Song."

Here's the refrain: "Even though we ain't got money
I'm so in love with ya honey
Everything will bring a chain of love
In the mornin' when I rise
Bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything's gonna be all right"

"I don't have a favorite song, per say, but one cannot let the nation's current financial situation go by without remembering rap videos with expensive bottles of champagne flowing and hundred dollar bills floating in the air," said Ajani B. Husbands, who lives in Washington, D.C., but is on assignment in Eritrea, east Africa at the U.S. Embassy. "Perhaps the new wave of videos will be more conservative: store brand bottled water? One person assigned to gathering any bills dropped during the shooting of the video and depositing them into an online savings account? Who knows, hopefully audiences will pick up on the idea."

A Challenge for Challenging Times

It's that time of year again. The annual Color of Money Challenge is underway. In past challenges, I've spent a year helping individuals and families get their money straight. For the most part, it's been an easy task. It's something I've done with dozens of others. The advice is generally the same: I first make them do a budget. They then have to get rid of their credit cards and face up to their spendthrift ways.

For this year's challenge, I decided to specifically focus on people and families impacted by job loss. The theme for the challenge this year is "down but not out." Over the next nine months, I'll be sharing the struggles of Rick Rose and Juan and Bobbie Wilson as they look for new and sustainable work.

Rose made $85,000 a year and has an affordable mortgage, but he lost that job a year ago and is close to exhausting his savings. The Wilsons both lost their full-time jobs, which paid a total of $98,000. They have five children between them and no emergency fund.

They are the faces of a recession that has taken families down all over this country. Follow along with their struggles and achievements throughout the year on our Color of Money Challenge special report page.

I also want to hear from you. If you've lost a job, how are you coping with your unemployment? What tips do you have for others? Send me an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put "Down But Not Out"in the subject line.

Making Small Changes

As I mentioned in last week's e-letter, The Washington Post's daily business section has folded into the A section of the newspaper. We're still committed to bring you the latest business and personal finance news, so we're increasing some of our online offerings. First up, is a new daily blog written by retail reporter Ylan Q. Mui and personal finance writer Nancy Trejos (most recently she wrote the Your Money Help Desk column, too). Their goal is to provide tips on how to be frugal in this changing economy, and discuss the "small changes" you can make in your daily life.

Already this week, the Small Change Blog has reported on 'unfair and deceptive' credit card practices, the retail industry's biggest rip-offs, and tips for helping your kids deal with debt.

Do you have your own tips to share with their readers? Just leave a comment in one of the posts to join their daily discussions.

Still Need Tax Help?

An early reminder to join us next week for my online chat. Once again, Jim Dupree, an IRS spokesman, will join me in answering your questions. If you need any last minute tax help, he can help! I'll also answer any other money related questions you may have. If you can't make the chat, you're welcome to send us your questions early. More tax time advice, is available here.

Chat Leftovers: Focused on Student Loans

Right about now, parents and prospective college students are receiving their letters about financial aid. During my last discussion there was some disagreement about how far in debt people should go to attend college or send their children to school. Several people weighed in, but I didn't have time to post their comments. So let's continue that debate here.

The online conversation about college costs started with the following question:

Reston, Va.: I grew up in a single parent household and I was lucky to get a scholarship to the college of my choice. My younger sister wants to go to a big public university that is out of state, but her financial aid package gave her very little. She's very upset because she thought she had a good chance at getting a scholarship or need-based aid. I don't know what to tell her or how to help because I don't have the money and neither does our single parent. I told her that going into debt would be a bad idea but I don't think she agrees. Advice?

Michelle Singletary: You've told her the right thing. But you can't make her listen. So help as best you can. Help her compare costs of hopefully an in-state school she's chosen. Show her what she would make given her career choice and how much she would need to make to service a lot of debt. Perhaps the numbers will show her the right path.

Well as you may expect, there were some who thought little sis should go into debt. Later in the chat someone wrote: "Why would taking a student loan be a bad financial decision? If the resulting education leads to greater earnings that offset all costs of the loan, there is a net gain. While I agree with the idea to seek less costly options such as in-state schools, many education investments pay off, long-term. My college degree has been important to me in terms of earnings, and was paid off very quickly. Even a loan in the $150,000 region could be paid relatively rapidly with a top job."

Part of my response was this: "Why is it bad even at $150,000 if you get a top job? Because most people don't' earn that kind of money -- EVER! Only a small part of our population earns six figures. I get lots of letters from doctors and lawyers who are crumbling under their debt. Just like a lot of things, we've bought this baloney that you should pay whatever it takes to go to whatever college you want. It's a lie. And it's a lie that is hurting a lot of people."

Here are some of the comments that came into the chat that I didn't have a chance to publish:

-- "I had student loans and paid them off in 10 years. Those loans enabled me to get a degree in computer science that enabled me to get a job paying well north of $100,000. It can be done. You have to understand what the career opportunities are for the degree you pursue."

-- "Doesn't it depend on which school? For example, if you could go to UMichigan or UC Berkeley, isn't there a good chance that the extra investment (approx $120,000 over 4 years) will pay off in the long-term compared to other schools?"

There were many who would have answered this last question the way I did. Here are some of those comments:

-- "There may be some prestige with a Harvard degree. But my experience is that just about any degree will get you a job and the first year or two of performance determines how well you do to move up and that is what it takes to succeed. If that is true, State University is just as good and a lot less expensive."

-- "I am so with you on the no student loan advice! You don't need to go to a $40,000 a year college to get a good degree and job after. I had the choice between going to a top-ten law school and taking on $150,000 or more in debt, or going to a less prestigious school on scholarship and incurring about $15,000 in debt. I am so glad I went to the less prestigious school. People don't tell you that the average lawyer makes $50,000 to $60,000 out of law school. The $150,000 jobs are few and far between and are generally not the jobs people can tolerate for more than a few years. Young people can't anticipate what a burden it is to know they have to make six figures to keep up with student loan payments. I have no doubt my life is more fulfilling and I'm in a much better financial position than if I had gone for the $150,000 in debt."

-- "I totally agree with you. For my undergraduate my father said I could go to any college I wanted as long as it was in-state (as it was less expensive) and this was back in the 80's. Both big state colleges were and ARE fabulous institutions, where one could get a great education without spending a zillion dollars. I also worked during the school year and the summer to save money, and had small student loans that I paid off easily over 10 years (small payments). I went to a slightly more expensive grad school but I saved for it, worked while going and again took out minimum loans to help get through (also worked for the school to help cover one whole year tuition). It can be done without going into HUGE debt. I got a very good education."

-- "I had a friend who told her son that she wouldn't contribute a dime to his college education if he went to a school where he needed loans to cover the cost. He wasn't too happy but ended up getting a good education at a "lesser known" school and will graduate debt free. Sometimes parents just have to put their foot down. Eighteen-year-olds can't appreciate the consequences of having debt hanging over their heads."

I would like to continue this debate but change the subject just slightly. I want to hear from people who deferred their student loan debt. What have been the consequences of that decision? I've been running into a lot of people lately whose deferral of their student loans ended up nearly doubling their debt. Do you regret putting off paying your student loans right away? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put "Deferring The Debt."

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.

Yamiche Alcindor contributed to this report.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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