Will Work for Free

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, June 18, 2009; 11:10 AM

With paid jobs still hard to find, laid off workers, post-graduates and career professionals are increasingly choosing to work for free.

Some of these people may be hoping for a rags to riches story just like Chris Gardner, the subject of the book and movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." In the book and subsequent movie featuring Will Smith, Gardner recounts his six-month unpaid internship that lead to a great full-time job and a wealthy life. However, unlike the movie, not all internships result in a happy ending.

"Thanks to the economic downturn, some job seekers say they are lucky to land an unpaid position at a small company or startup where they can leverage skills while keeping a toe in the job market," writes Jill Priluck in The Big Money. Read more about this intern trend and the pitfalls in "Intern Nation" (June 10).

Next Live Chat: The Mortgage Crisis

My next chat will be Thursday, July 2 at Noon ET. Author and New York Times reporter Edmund L. Andrews will be available to discuss his controversial new book "Busted," this month's Color of Money Book Club pick.

Andrews gives a personal account of how he and his wife, Patty, ended up with a nearly half a million dollar mortgage that they couldn't afford. What makes the book so fascinating is the fact that Andrews is a highly paid, well educated economics journalist. After an excerpt of the book appeared in the Times, many in the blogosphere criticized him. If you are curious about how Andrews ended up in this situation join us. I'm sure it will be an exciting discussion.

Facebook Fan Page

If you're interested in following me on Facebook, I now have a fan page.

You can learn more about my new book, "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom," which will be released January 2010, view my calendar of upcoming events and appearances, and click your way through my current and archived NPR segments. I also provide a sneak peek at upcoming columns.

I'd love it if my regular e-letter readers became part of my Facebook family so check it out for yourself.

Not a Facebook user yet? Well try it. You might like it and catch up with some old and new friends.

Frugality Reaps Increase in Seed Sales

One sign that Americans are reverting back to Depression Era tactics to save money, is more people are growing their own food.

Seed sales are up 75 percent over last year at D. Landreth Seed Company. Wal-Mart reported that their March seed sales increased 30 percent over last year and sales of seed-starting supplies rose 40 percent.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama has a vegetable garden.

What are people planting? Customers are purchasing staples like potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, beets and lettuces -- survival food. So much so that seed producers and merchants are struggling to meet the demand.

Read more in "Demand for Vegetable Seeds Is Rooted in Recession" (June 15) by The Post's Adrian Higgins, who writes for the Home section.

Also, in Home this week, there's a piece about a new magazine that gives a fresh, new perspective on decorating your home at a reasonable cost.

Cheapskate Clarification

Last week's e-letter featured your responses to my Color of Money Question of the Week -- what's the weirdest, cheapest, or most miserly thing you've done to save a buck or combat the recession? However, Melissa Low of Springfield, Va., thought the cheapskate tip from DC Smith of Grand Rapids, Mich., about using condiments stored in the company refrigerator was tantamount to stealing.

"I know of few if any companies where they are stocking the fridge," Low wrote complaining about that miserly tip. "The reason I pack my lunch and store condiments in the work fridge is to save money too."

But to clarify, Smith wasn't or isn't using condiments brought in from his co-workers.

"The company I work for decided to have a lunch barbecue and bought all the fixings at the local grocery store," Smith wrote in his first entry. "When it was done, there were some bottled condiments (mayo, mustard, relish, etc) left over, which they just stuck in the office fridge. They've done this before, and I watched those items sit there until their expiration date, then get thrown away. So for some time after the event I was making dry sandwiches at home and applying the mayo and mustard from those leftovers in the work fridge. Miserly would have been taking them home to use."

This Week's Color of Money Question

In Slate's Dear Patty and Sandy Q&A, one reader asked how she should incorporate the needs of her struggling siblings into her giving plan. She's doing pretty well in this economy -- "solid savings, great job and great income," she wrote. Patty tells her that helping out with needs such as shelter is reasonable, but helping with wants (i.e. your mother needs a new car) is up to your discretion. Sandy agreed: wants should be handled based on the reader's personal preference but needs are understood.

This week's Color of Money Question is: Should you help a relative who has fallen on hard times because of the recession and how far should that help go? Here's something else to consider. Should you help a relative pay rent or past due mortgage payments? Please send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com, put "Family and Money" in the subject line.

Michelle! Where's Your Column?

As many of you probably know, the rough economy has hit the newspaper industry especially hard. Several of my newspaper clients have downsized their business sections to save money.

As a result many of you have seen my column disappear from your local newspaper and have written to me expressing regret. But management has been known to reverse such decisions when they hear from readers So if my column has been cut from your local paper and you'd like to get it back, send me an email at colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line put "Where's Michelle." Please include your full name, city, state and the paper that used to feature my column. I plan on forwarding your comments.

If you've missed any of my recent columns, they're also stored online in my archive.

Charity Brown contributed to this e-letter.

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.

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