Overdrawn, Mentally

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, April 9, 2009; 10:35 AM

Question 1: Are you feeling stressed, depressed, tired and on edge?

Question 2: Are you worried about foreclosure, unemployment and your investment losses?

If so, a new Web site launched by the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration "suggests that the nation's economic woes could lead some Americans to develop problems such as depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior or substance abuse," reports The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe.

In Addressing Economy's Mental Toll (Apr. 1), he reports the obvious: that the loss of a job, investments or a home can trigger an unhealthy mental state and emotional distress.

The site suggests that people look for warning signs in friends, family members and co-workers. If you answered yes to both questions, you may want to visit the new Web site for more information and helpful resources.

Countdown to April 15

It's crunch time! If you haven't completed your tax return, it's time to get busy. If you are thinking about not filing because you don't have the money to pay your tax bill, think again.

IRS spokesman Jim Dupree will be joining me today to answer your last minute questions. So, let's chat today. Discussion starts at Noon ET.

If you can't make the chat, read the transcript to see if someone asked a question that may be on your mind.

By the way, if you can't pay your taxes, at least file your return. You can work out a payment plan with the IRS. You can apply online for a payment plan at http://www.irs.gov.

If you don't file, you will incur major fees. Check out my column, Times May Be Tough, but So Are IRS Penalties (Apr. 2), for more information. Don't end up like Christopher Ranieri from Boston. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay $33,438 in restitution for failing to file taxes for 2005 and 2006.

Down But Not Out

The Color of Money Question for this week was: If you've lost a job, how are you coping with unemployment? What tips do you have for others?

The question comes on the heels of the launch of this year's Color of Money Challenge. For the remainder of the year, I'll be following a single guy and family coping with job losses. This year's participants include Rick Rose, who lost his $85,000 a year income in 2008, and Juan and Bobbie Wilson who were recently laid off from their full-time positions.

Here are some responses to this week's question:

"My wife lost her job and one of the ways that we're coping is by becoming foster parents," wrote Matt Kuzma of Hutchinson, Kansas. "There are lots of children in need of a safe home, even if for short visits."

Nelly Sambra, who lived in Colombia, South America, for 30 years, says she's made cutbacks to save. She revised her telephone service, credit cards, bank accounts and cable service. "I realized that I couldn't watch all those channels." Sambra saved more than $250 and now lives in the U.S.

Tustin, Calif., resident Rossy Sawyer wrote she was laid off from her "handsomely-paid copywriter position" in February and her husband was let go from his software job a few weeks later. "How are we coping? With optimism, I guess."

Sawyer decided to "reinvent" herself and is now learning about social networking and online marketing. She also started a new blog, which features "light-hearted" posts about layoffs. Be sure to scroll down the site and read how she ironically got laid off on Career Day. You have to read it!

Sawyer writes, "Funny enough, I'm really enjoying the ride. I try not to listen to the news and just focus on creating a new life for myself, one in which I am in control of whatever I can control. I work 10-12 hours a day and keep my options open."

Margaret Harris said, "In late July, I came back from a year of teaching in China to find that the U.S. economy was in terrible shape. I couldn't find a job as many of the companies and schools I applied to said they couldn't afford to pay the salary that someone with my experience and education would want."

Harris said a friend e-mailed, asking if she wanted a full time position in China.

"I knew the sensible thing was to go back as I was bleeding my savings account staying in the U.S." said Harris, who now lives in Anhui Sheng, China.

I was quite moved by Ed Bride of Boston, who wrote it's hard to feel like a man when you've been laid off -- twice. "I now understand how much self worth is derived from having a productive job and how much shame is felt when you don't," Bride wrote.

During eight months of unemployment, he said he "sent resumes daily, interviewed whenever possible, stayed active in my Rotary Club and tried to act as normal as I could, but the reality was, I did not feel normal. Our dreams are not as vivid as they once were and I never thought that when I was 44, I would be living paycheck to paycheck with little hope in the future."

He finally found a job that pays 50 percent of what he used to make. Despite the pay cut, Bride is still grateful.

"I feel lucky to still have a job and especially, my wife of 23 years who has stood by me," he wrote. "I hope my wife and I make it through."

I hope so too.

If you are still looking for employment, washingtonpost.com's Jobs section offers survival tips if you are facing a layoff. Here's a quick list:

* Don't Panic

* Negotiate a severance package

* Create a support team.

* If you qualify, file right away for unemployment benefits.

For more advice click here.

Evading Age Discrimination

Age and experience can be an asset once you've snagged the job. But prior to that, it's important for older job hunters to look fresh, professional and enthusiastic for an interview.

Here are a few tips:

* Know the latest cultural and political news.

* Develop your technology prowess. Take a class or ask a teenage relative to help you.

* Use the term "plus" when describing how long you've been working in a particular field. For example, "I've worked in administration for 20-plus years." This way you don't give away your exact age.

* Don't tell anyone they remind you of your daughter or son. It just draws attention to your age difference.

Keep reading for more in Turning One's Age Into a Job-Market Asset (Apr. 5), which was written by Vickie Elmer, who once wrote the "Working Column" for The Post's Business section. She now writes a careers blog that provides more advice.

Color of Money Book Club

Join me for a live chat with authors, Susan Beacham and Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, at Noon ET on April 23. Their series, "The Millionaire Kids Club," is this month's Color of Money Book Club selection.

In the books, four multiracial friends form a club to discuss money related issues. The characters include Sandy, who is a saver; Dennis, who likes to donate; Stephanie, who likes to spend; and Isaiah, who likes to invest. The books are written for children, ages three to 12. My 8 year old and 11 year old loved them!

Talking to your kids about money and finances is essential. Outside sources such as advertisers and retailers are already encouraging them to buy and spend recklessly. Teach them how to manage money while they're still young, and these books can help get that conversation started.

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.

Charity Brown contributed to this report.

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