Personal Finance: Financial Snowmageddon

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, February 11, 2010; 10:10 AM

For the last week, I've been pretty much buried in my neighborhood, thanks to the winter storms that struck the Washington area.

I've been able to telecommute, but I wondered about the many workers who can't do their jobs from the warm comfort of their homes. If these people don't go to work, they don't get paid. I talked to a young woman employed by Target whose mother managed to drive her to work.

"It's okay," she said. "I have to work."

Throughout much of the East Coast and other parts of the nation, many workers can't make it into work because of inclement weather, and missed days mean a puny paycheck.

I am always looking for financial lessons in life, and this "snowmageddon" is yet another reminder of how important it is to have an emergency savings account. If you are missing pay because of snowstorms in your area, this would, without a doubt count, as an emergency.

So with every snowflake that floats down to your area or with every shoveled load of snow you toss, remind yourself that another storm could come your way that may not be as white and fluffy. It may be a job loss, an illness, a major car repair or a sick kid that requires you to take unpaid leave from work.

Let snowmageddon be a reminder that you need to save for other unexpected events that may blow in to your life.

Super Bowl Ads

This year's Super Bowl ads brought many laughs, from a young boy warning his mother's date about touching his Doritos and his momma to the E-Trade babies to Betty White getting slammed for Snickers.

Ads often generate as much buzz as the game itself. Post columnist Tom Shales gives a good roundup of the 2010 Super Bowl commercials.

We know advertisers' ultimate goal is to encourage consumers to buy. So does it work? Have you become numb to the commercials, or do they still make you buy? Send comments to and put "Super Bowl Ads" in the subject line.

You can view all the ads here. Here are some links to specific ads: Doritos Ad, Google Ad, E-Trade Ad.

Career builder

Making a career change requires a lot of work, from researching the position to networking with professional associates. Landing the ideal job requires months or years of outreach and training, reports Vicki Elmer in Visualize a career change several steps ahead. (Feb. 7)

"You need to show you understand yourself and the job you're seeking and how the change really is drawing on expertise you've developed," said Katherine Ponds, Right Management senior vice president in the global transition center in Fairfax.

For tips on changing careers, read Elmer's article.

Perfect Cents

Working remotely may be the perfect fit for you and your employer. How To Deal columnist Lily Garcia answers a reader's question about how to broach this topic with your boss in Before making a case to work remotely, consider how this arrangement benefits your employer. (Jan. 28)

Color of Money Question of The Week

President Obama is no President Bush.

Obama didn't grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth or a rich daddy. But many believe that despite his modest upbringing, Obama has lost his connection with the middle class.

"His first year in office was defined in part by a paradox," wrote Post reporter Eli Saslow. "He is a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it."

In his piece, Despite his roots, Obama struggles to show he's connected to middle class, Saslow explores Obama's recent problems selling his economic plan to middle America. With an economic policy that two-thirds of Americans believe hurt the country, President Obama, a Harvard educated lawyer, is struggling to connect to the middle class.

So this week's Color of Money question is: Do you think President Obama has lost his connection to the middle class? Please send comments to and put "Middle Class" in the subject line.

Chat Leftovers

I didn't have time to post many of your questions and comments in last week's live discussion. Here is one from a retailer who had a few tips for people who want to bargain. The comment came in response to an article I featured in last week's e-letter about a Post reporter who tried haggling to get better prices.

Sugar Grove, N.C.: "I am an independent retailer, and I think that more people feel that independents have more room to haggle than chains. I never mind if people ask for a better price. I do mind, however, when they ask for a ridiculous discount, are rude, or don't buy the item even after I've met their price. So, if folks want a good deal, be polite, don't make disparaging comments about the retailer's merchandise, and ask for a reasonable amount off. Being discreet is also helpful. I may be willing to give you a discount, but I don't want to give the 15 other customers in my store a discount, too. Remember, we are also struggling to make a living."

Really good points, people. Be nice when you haggle.

In the same the discussion, a reader from Atlanta, Ga. talked about the financial fast in my new book, "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."

"I like the 21-day financial fast. I do not use credit cards unless it's an emergency. Though I have several credit cards, I only use one. I never pay the minimum due on a credit card and when I have it, I pay the balance due. Now I don't feel guilty when I see others are giving to charities such as Haiti because I can participate too."

If you live in the Birmingham, Ala. area, tune in on Monday, Feb. 15 to David and Russell in the Morning on WDJC-FM - 93.7 FM. I'll be talking about my new book. You can also listen online.

Tax Time: Donation Deduction

If you were generous enough to contribute to the relief efforts following the earthquake in Haiti, you may be eligible for a new tax break. A new law will allow taxpayers who itemize deductions on their 2009 return to claim the 2010 donations on the tax return they are completing this tax season. A special tax relief provision was enacted on Jan. 22. Only cash contributions made to these charities after Jan. 11, 2010, and before March 1, 2010, are eligible. This includes contributions made by text message, check, credit card or debit card.

To learn more about this tax benefit, go to Haiti Relief Donations Qualify for Immediate Tax Relief.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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