Personal Finance: What about me?

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 11:47 AM

I love reading the Ask Amy column. The syndicated columnist gives witty and straightforward responses to a wide variety of questions from her readers. In one of her recent columns, I was cheering the advice she gave to a woman complaining about money that was given to her sister by the sister's in-laws.

Here's what "Irked in Illinois" wrote: "I have a sister who is married to someone who has been out of work for more than a year. They have more than $100,000 in the bank and he decided to work on getting an MBA to make himself more marketable. The problem I have is that they 'let' his parents purchase big-ticket items such as a furnace that costs more than $5,000. This is irritating. I have a degree and am trying to keep my head above water. Unlike them, I don't live in a place that I cannot afford. Do you think it's right for grown adults with money to accept money when they should be spending their own? Aren't adults supposed to be completely self-supporting?"

Man, oh man, did Amy let one of the sisters have it. And maybe not the sister you think.

Read Amy's answer. What would you have said to "Irked in Illinois?"

Send your response to and put 'What About Me?" in the subject line.

Paying For Work Experience

Landing an internship is costing some college students a pretty expensive penny.

In More would-be interns paying thousands to land a coveted spot, Post writer Jenna Johnson reports on the growing number of college students paying companies to find them unpaid internships.

"There has never been a harder time to get hired," Lev Bayer, chief executive of The National Internship Program, told Johnson. "There is such a need for internships. We have more students than we can ever deal with."

Some programs charge student up to $9,000, which includes finding the internship and housing.

Here's where I have a problem with this arrangement: Many of the students are using loans to pay for these pricey internships.

Really, who is benefiting from this?

As Johnson reports, the internship payments add up to millions of dollars of revenue for the companies, many of which operate as nonprofit groups and pay their top employees six-figure salaries.

I know the job market is tough, but I wouldn't pay for an internship and certainly would take on a loan for it.

Desperate times don't mean you have to do such a desperate thing.

Worshiping for Free

The recession has hit a lot of people in a lot of ways.

In the case of many Jewish families, less income or a lost job may mean missing the upcoming services for the Jewish High Holidays -- Rosh Hashanah (the start of the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur.

Although there are synagogues that offer discounted rates and free tickets for the High Holidays, many others require people to have a paid membership or buy a ticket to attend services. The membership fees can range into the thousands. As Lisa Miller reported in a Newsweek column, one study put the average yearly synagogue membership at $1,100. In large cities, membership can be two to three times that amount.

"The high cost of the basics--synagogue membership, in particular--is troubling, both outdated as a business model and onerous to families having to choose between Hebrew school and math tutoring," wrote Miller, Newsweek's religion editor, in her piece The Cost of Being Jewish.

Other publications and blogs have also highlighted this issue for Jewish families.

"Over the next few weeks, even those who manage to put dinner on the table each night might be unable to shell out the sometimes $500-plus for tickets to High Holy Day services," reports Amy Spiro for the New York Jewish Weekly.

To remove the financial barrier for worshiping during High Holidays, some synagogues are choosing not to charge membership fees, writes Nathan Guttman in High Holy Days Are Free at Some Shuls, And Worshipers Flock.

For example Guttman, writing for The Forward, a Jewish weekly publication, profiled Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in downtown Washington, D.C. Sixth and I had so many requests for seats for its free High Holiday services it had to book space at a nearby Chinese Community Church to handle the overflow of worshipers.

"We are trying to create a new vocabulary for Jewish life," said Esther Safran Foer, director of Sixth and I.

Online Chat Today!

Join me today at noon ET for my online text chat.

If you are unable to join me, send your question early or read the transcript later. The live video chat is not replacing the text chat. It's just an extension of our financial conversation.

Debt Defeaters

Have you a knocked out your heavy debt load? If so, I want to hear from you.

Send your debt defeater story to . Put 'Debt Defeater' on the subject line. Be sure to include:

-- Your name

-- City and state

-- How much debt you've erased (the total amount)

-- How long it took you to get rid of the debt

-- How you got rid of the debt

-- Finally, tell me how it feels to be rid of that debt burden.

Reponses to Color of Money Question

For last week's Color of Money Question, I wanted to know, "What unreasonable expenses have you ever had to bear because of a crazy wedding situation?"

I asked this question after D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson decided to scale back their wedding, telling uninvited guests that the original festivities were "not what we had intended."

I get many complaints from people about the increasing cost to attend a wedding. Here's how one reader is handling the increase in invitations to attend destination weddings:

"My husband and I recently made the decision to decline invitations to destination weddings and instead, use some of the money we save towards purchasing a nicer gift for the newlyweds than we could have afforded if we had paid for airfare, hotel, and rental car expenses," wrote Karen Thomas of Alameda, Calif. "However if the bride or groom is one of our immediate family members, we will spend the money to attend the wedding and take advantage of the opportunity to visit with our family members that we may not have seen for quite some time."

Upcoming Events

--Saturday, September 18, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.: I will be reading excerpts from my latest book, "Power to Prosper: 21 days to Financial Freedom," at the Capital BookFest in Harrisburg, Pa. at the State Museum of Pennsylvania located at 300 North St., Harrisburg, Pa., 17120. Capital BookFest is a free one-day literary festival. For more information, go to

--Thursday, September 23, 7:30 p.m.: I'm appearing at the 2010 Fall for the Book Festival in the Johnson Center lower level (in Dewberry Hall South) on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University.

--Saturday, October 2, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Come see me at the Boulevard at Capital Centre, located at 900 Capital Centre Blvd., Largo, Md., 20774. For more information, go to

--Thursday, November 4: I will be facilitating the Money Madness session at the Essence Women's Conference located in New York City at the Marriott Marquis. For registration and ticket information, go to

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.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company