Personal Finance: Money Manners

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 9:53 AM

I'm a huge fan of Judith Martin, who is otherwise known as Miss Manners. We share a similar, no-nonsense way of communicating our dislike of habits that are ridiculous and most certainly rude.

This week, Martin hosted an online discussion about a topic that always seems to get my blood pressure rising: weddings. I always wonder why people, who can least afford it, spend so much money on a wedding. It's just one day. I get that it's supposed to be "the day." But why, oh, why are people shelling out thousands of dollars for a party when they are saddled with student loans, credit card debt and sometimes a mortgage they can barely afford? Some have children with no college funds. Others spend freely on their celebration only to come back from the honeymoon to face the large wedding expenses put on credit cards.

But what really ticks me off is this growing trend for destination weddings. The truth is, for many of these weddings, guests are goaded to attend because if they do, the marrying couple get their expenses covered. How nice for them!

At any rate, Miss Manners deftly dealt with a number of questions centered on weddings and money. Here are some of the questions and her answers:

Q: If guests are spending substantial amounts to travel to destination weddings, are guests expected to bring gifts of the same value of attending a local wedding without travel costs?

Miss Manners: The two expenses are not related. People who cannot or do not care to spend the money to travel should not go. Those who choose inconvenient locations should not expect everyone to swallow that inconvenience. In any case, wedding presents should not cost more than the givers can comfortably afford.

Q: How many gifts am I supposed to give when I attend a wedding? I used to think one (a substantial one, usually from their registry), either given at the bridal shower or sent prior to the wedding, but now I've heard I'm also supposed to bring a gift to the wedding regardless. I thought that the gift table was for those people who didn't send one prior to the wedding, but maybe I'm wrong. Essentially, the rule I've heard is now a substantial wedding gift is expected upon announcement of the nuptials, and another if you actually attend the wedding.

Miss Manners: And the expectations become larger and greedier by the minute. Anything beyond a small present if you attend a bridal shower and one wedding present is ridiculous, no matter what people seem to expect.

Q: My fiancée and I are getting married in a few weeks, and we're having trouble paying for it. Her parents have each said how much they are willing to pay, but my parents haven't said a word. Is it wrong to keep asking when they are going to help us out?

Miss Manners: Yes. You should be putting that effort into re-planning a wedding you can afford.

"Re-planning a wedding you can afford." Powerful words, don't you think?

So, here's the Color of Money Question of the Week: What is the most ridiculous and/or rude wedding and money situation you've personally come across? Come on, dish! Send your comments to Put "Wedding Money Manners" in the subject line.

Last Week's Color of Money Question

With unemployment benefits being extended, some critics are wondering if this money is a security net that's keeping folks from working again.

In last week's Color of Money Question, I asked if you thought unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work? Here's what some of you had to say:

Erica Dixon of Upper Marlboro, Md. thinks the extension of unemployment benefits is a mistake. She wrote: "I believe that it does discourage people from looking for work because it can build a 'temporary' sense of comfort, especially if you have relatively little to no bills, and others are taking care of you."

Most respondents disagreed with Dixon.

Mary Zawoysky of Woods Hole, Mass. said, "Unemployment does not 'pay' enough to discourage anyone from looking for work for the long term. It helps with subsistence, but that's about it."

"The benefits I've received in two past bouts of unemployment were so small as to actually serve as an incentive to step up the search for real work," said John Kenyon of Laurel, Md.

Jim Shaffer of Indianapolis, Ind. wrote: "I think the unemployment system is working as designed. It keeps money in the pockets of the unemployed while they search for a new job, so the 'trickle-down' effect of unemployment does not turn into a massive wave of further layoffs. It keeps body and soul together, prevents unnecessary foreclosures, and avoids mass migration of workers from one region to another, supporting stability in bad times."

"The current situation is worse than anything in my lifetime," wrote Dick Estel of Clovis, Calif. "Extended benefits aren't needed when there are plenty of jobs, but right now, the jobs are just not there."

Let's Chat

Join me today for another live money discussion. It's just you and me talking about your finances. The chat starts at noon ET. If you can't join me live, send your question early or read the transcript later.

And instead of waiting two weeks until the next live discussion, I'll be chatting again on Thursday, March 25th at 1 p.m. ET with the authors of this month's Color of Money Book Club selections. For March, in honor of Women's History Month, I wanted to highlight financial books written by some dynamic women.

Here are the authors scheduled to join me:

Deborah Owens, author of "Purse of Your Own."

Marianna Olszewski, author of "Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom."

Elisabeth Leamy, author of "Save Big."

Carla Harris, author of "Expect to Win."

Whom Do We Blame?

Every recession needs a villain. So how did we get into this economic mess?

Michael Lewis answers that question in "The Big Short," which provides an "authoritative analysis of all the misdeeds and misjudgments and missed signals that led to the biggest credit bubble the world has known," writes Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein in his review of Lewis's book.

"What's so delightful about Lewis's writing is how deftly he explains and demystifies how things really work on Wall Street," he writes.

Try recommending this for your next book club meeting.

Tax Tips

Are you one of those people who wait until the last minute to do just about everything? Well, when it comes to your tax return, being late can cost you a great deal of money.

Here are some reasons that should motivate you to file and pay your taxes on time:

-- If you do not pay by the due date, you could face a failure-to-pay penalty. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you cannot pay all the taxes you owe, you should still file your tax return and explore various payment options.

-- The penalty for filing late is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late. This penalty will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

-- Pay late and a failure-to-pay penalty amounts to ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid. This penalty can be as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

For more information about the penalties for filing late or not paying your taxes, click here.

Upcoming Events

Interested in prospering? Join me at one of my events that are free, fun, and informative.

-- March 20, 10 a.m: Financial workshop at Greater Mount Nebo AME Church, 1001 Old Mitchellville Road, Bowie, Md. 20716. 301-249-7545. I'll be covering topics from my new book, "The Power to Prosper."

-- March 27, 1 p.m.: Book signing at Barnes & Noble located at 7851 L. Tyson's Corner Center, McLean, Va. 22102. 703-506-2937 (This is a rescheduled event canceled because of inclement weather).

-- March 29, 7 p.m.: Celebration of Ideas Lecture Series, Fairmont State College, Turley Center Ballroom, 1201 Locust Avenue, Fairmont, W.Va. 304-367-4215.

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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