Boxers or Briefs?

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 3, 2009; 10:13 AM

Can I brief you (pun intended) on the economics of men's underwear?

Fact: Men need underwear.

Fact: During hard economic times, men's underwear sales may dip as guys try to purchase less and utilize what they already have.

"Of course, there are more conventional indicators of the nation's economic health. But sometimes it is the little things that can be the most telling," Post retail reporter Ylan Mui writes in Blue Chip, White Cotton: What Underwear Says About the Economy (Aug. 31).

He Made Off With the Money

Convicted and in prison, Bernard Madoff is still at the top of the news.

In the latest drama, a government report found that the Securities and Exchange Commission failed miserably in following up on tips that Madoff was a crook, which Post reporter Zachary A. Golfarb details in The Madoff Files: A Chronicle of SEC Failure (Sept. 3).

"The SEC received more than ample information in the form of detailed and substantive complaints over the years to warrant a thorough and comprehensive examination and/or investigation of Bernard Madoff, the report says. "The SEC actually suspected the investment company was operating a Ponzi scheme. . ."

The report has some pretty damning evidence that the SEC had plenty of opportunity and leads to shut Madoff down. It's a read that will leave you shaking your head and questioning your faith in the SEC.

This report comes just as a number of books on Madoff hit stores. Read Post editor Carlos Lozada's review of three books on the Ponzi king, Was Bernie Madoff an Evil Genius? That's Just Half Right (Aug. 30).

In May, I reviewed "Catastrophe: The Story of Bernard L. Madoff, The Man Who Swindled the World" by Deborah and Gerald Strober. The book delves into the story of the individual investors, many of whom lost their life savings.

The book provided a juicy platform for the online discussion. Read the author Q&A transcript.

If you've already had your fill of reading about Madoff and his scheming ways, it appears you may not be alone. None of the books are selling particularly well, according to tracking firm Nielsen BookScan.

Celebrity Cash

I'm starting a new feature in the e-letter.

Occasionally, I'll write about the failings, folly and the financially inapt lives of the celebrities we adore (or used to).

I've heard people say so many times, "If only I made more money."

Well guess what?

If you're triflin' with the money you have now (even if it's not much), making, inheriting or winning more won't necessarily make your life better. Your problems will just be more expensive.

I'm starting this feature not to criticize celebrities, but so that their money mistakes serve as examples of what my grandmother Big Mama used to say: "It's not how much money you make that matters but how you make do with what you have."

So this week, let's start with Michael Vick, the NFL player who went to prison for 19 months for financing a dog fighting ring.

In 2008, Vick filed for bankruptcy with $20.5 million in debts and $16 million in assets. Last Thursday, Vick's plan to repay creditors $20 million was approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Santoro.

Sports columnist Sally Jenkins reported that Vick was broke in part because he was taking care of everybody and their mama. She wrote in one column that "He kept at least six homes in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, and provided living expenses and about 10 vehicles for friends and relatives."

As a condition of approval, the bankruptcy judge ordered Vick to retain a financial planner, citing Vick's mismanagement of his own finances.

Poor thing. He now has to live on $300,000.

For the man who at one point was the highest paid player in the NFL, this is a drastic change. Vick will earn an estimated $5 million a year over the next few years with the potential of earning $8 million in 2010 with incentives.

So, the Color of Money Question of the Week: "Should Vick be commended for taking care of his extended family and his homies?" Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please put "Color of Money Question of the Week" in the subject line.

Back to School

The Post has launched a new online education page.

Please check it out. While most of the page will be devoted to all things education, The Answer Sheet, by veteran education reporter Valerie Strauss, will also venture into my territory -- money, specifically the cost of educating kids. The page offers interactive tools for local parents, students, teachers and school communities.

Leftover Q&A

Web chat guests and career experts Sharon Black and Reesa Staten dispensed valuable advice on surviving the tumultuous job market. Staten is a career research studies expert at Robert Half International (RHI), and a contributor to this month's Color of Money Book Club pick "Job Hunting for Dummies." Black oversees a team of recruiters at RHI.

They were nice enough to answer a few leftover questions from last week's online discussion.

Laurel, Md.: I was just reading how much less expensive housing is in Texas than in the coastal states. Do you find that many people are happy if they take moderate pay cuts, but come out ahead by living where it's cheaper?

Staten and Black: In areas where there are significantly lower housing costs, workers who take a job for less pay can come out ahead from an overall quality of life standpoint. For example, you could move to a city where housing costs are half that of your former town, yet take a pay cut of just 20 percent to 25 percent. The "best place to live" lists that you often read about place a spotlight on cities where the pay is competitive, real estate is affordable, and the quality of life is good for individuals and families.

But happiness and job satisfaction are tied to many things, not the least of which are liking what you do and who you work for. Having a support network of friends and family is another consideration.

You will have to rebuild your network in a new city. If you live in a two-income household, job opportunities for both of you in the new city should be taken into account. You also will need to look at the overall job market in the new city. What if you lose the job you relocate for? Is the job market strong there? It's a big decision, and really a personal call. There are many examples of people who took a job for lower pay in a more affordable city and never looked back. But you should carefully weigh the pros and cons and consider not just the job, but the overall life changes it will bring so that you can make an informed decision.

Bethesda, Md.: When I was a hiring manager, I tossed resumes with typos because I needed someone who could write an email to a client that I didn't need to proofread. I was in the education field and these errors were definitely noticed by clients and commented on. If "putting your best foot forward" included typos, I needed someone with better feet. What do you think of this comment about perfection?

SB: A number of hiring managers we surveyed recently shared your sentiment. When asked how many typos it would take to rule out a job applicant, 40 percent said just one and 36 percent had a "two-strikes and you're out" rule.

The reality is with so many people applying for fewer job openings, employers are looking for ways to shorten their list of prospects. We advise our candidates not to make themselves an easy target by submitting resumes with errors. Job candidates should proofread their resumes carefully and, because it's hard to spot your own errors, ask friends to review them, too. Just about everyone has an English major in the family or knows someone who does. Employers view the resume as a reflection of the applicant, and most would concur that if a job candidate shows a lack of attention to detail on a resume, he or she may demonstrate this same behavior once hired. If you are a job seeker, why take the chance?

Washington, D.C.: I realize a lot of brilliant people can't spell, but in this day and age, when there are dozens of highly qualified applicants for every opening, one or two typos can in fact have a significant negative impact on your chances. And a single grammatical error can be the kiss of death. I work for the Federal Election Commission. Anyone whose cover letter is addressed to the "Federal Elections Commission" gets no further consideration. Should there be any forgiveness if an applicant misspells the company or agency's name?

SB: I would find it pretty hard to look past that one. Surprisingly, it is a very common mistake. We have a website where we collect examples of resume errors and provide advice for avoiding mistakes (www.resumania.com). The examples can be humorous (e.g., "Dear Sir or Madman," "Hope to hear from you shorty."), but they illustrate how important it is to get these details right. A newspaper that prints erroneous information issues a correction. Job seekers don't have this opportunity. Once it's out there, you can't take it back.

Resume proofreading tips:

*Get help. Enlist detail-oriented family members, friends or mentors to proofread your resume and provide honest feedback.

*Take a timeout. Before submitting your resume, take a break and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. You might catch something you missed the first time.

*Print a copy. It's easy to overlook typos or formatting mistakes when reading a resume on a monitor, so print it out for review. Read through it slowly and pay close attention to font styles and sizes, in addition to spelling and grammar.

*Try a new perspective. Sometimes readers inadvertently skip over parts they have read previously. Review your resume backward to help avoid this problem.

*Read it aloud. Your ears might catch errors your eyes have overlooked.

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.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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