Personal Finance: Standing by your man

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 3:26 PM

I've always loved Tammy Wynette's song, "Stand By Your Man."

Although many feminists have criticized it and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said she "wasn't some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," I like what the song represents. It's a battle cry for women to love their men and forgive them even when they mess up.

But standing by your man doesn't mean joining him in his mess. It means being there for him when you find out he's in trouble. So I've made it clear to my husband that if he ever decided to go into a life of crime--rob a bank, take a bribe or commit financial fraud--I would stand by him, but I wouldn't go to jail for him. No, sir. I am not standing by my man in my own set of handcuffs. Prison gray is not a good color on me.

I'm joking, but considering some high profile criminal behavior in the last several years, this is a reality for some women. The conversation came up again after news broke that Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie, were charged with tampering with a witness in connection with a criminal offense and destruction of evidence in a federal investigation. Each offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Here's where the story moves into personal finance territory.

The FBI alleges that in a cellphone call to his wife, Johnson instructed her to tear up and flush down the toilet a check for $100,000. The agency says Leslie Johnson also asked Jack Johnson what to do with a stack of cash. He suggested she put it in her underwear. FBI agents entered the Jackson's home and upon a search found $79,600 in Leslie Johnson's underwear, according to charging documents.

"If the allegations are true, Johnson will join a very rare creature in popular American culture: the wife who allegedly knew about the scandal under her nose and also served as an uber-accomplice," wrote Post Metro columnist Petula Dvorak.

Dvorak goes on to write: "So much for the old-fashioned clueless wives who flitted from social event to spa appointment with no knowledge of where the dough was coming from."

You have to read Dvorak's take on the role of wives in recent financial scandals.

However, I've been thinking. There's been much media attention about how Leslie Johnson could stuff so much cash in her bra. There's even now a video about it.

This is all interesting fodder for many dinner or water cooler conversations. But my question is: If the allegations are true, why would this couple, who earned good salaries, risk so much? They would have done it to get more money to do what? Buy more houses, clothes, cars, jewelry or vacations?

This is also something I talked about with my husband. How many people stretch themselves, not by committing a crime, but by spending too much or failing to budget or save, to get what? More stuff.

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