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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.

Anyway, let's get back to standing by your man or woman. The Color of Money Question of the Week: How far would you go to protect your spouse if he or she was accused of a financial crime? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put 'Stand By Your Man (or Woman)' in the subject line.

Black Friday

I love Thanksgiving. One of our family traditions, before we eat, is to go around the table and have everyone talk about what they are grateful for. It's such a wonderful way to start the season of giving -- to reflect on what you already have.

However, I'm not particularly fond of the tradition of rushing to shop the day after Thanksgiving. And yet I realize that's a routine for many families. So here to help you with that tradition is the Post's 2010 Black Friday Guide.

Here are some feature stories that might interest you:

-- Black Friday Twitter aggregator: Get up-to-the-minute updates on coupons and sales from your favorite stores.

--Smart spending: When to grab best holiday deals

--In a tough economy, old shopping stigmas fall away

-- Best Buy joins the free-shipping fray: In an effort to increase online shopping for the holiday, several retailers are eliminating shipping fees.

--Holiday season's must-buy gadgets: Post consumer technology expert Rob Pegoraro reports on which devices to pass on or purchase.

-- Send us your Black Friday steals and deals: Want to brag about your holiday deals? Send in a picture to share with other shoppers.

Note: Next week you will not receive your weekly e-letter. I'm taking off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and remember stay financially safe.

Plastic Relief

If you are like the many people who will give or receive a gift card this holiday season, here's good news. The Credit CARD ACT of 2009 made some significant improvements to gift cards.

Here are some of the changes:

--Limits on expiration dates: The money on your gift card will be good for at least five years from the date the card is purchased. Any money that might be added to the card at a later date must also be good for at least five years.

--Replacement cards: If your gift card has an expiration date you still may be able to use unspent money that is left on the card after the card expires.

--Fees: All fees must be clearly disclosed on the gift card or its packaging.

You can read more about the new rules here.

Responses to Unkind Cut

For last week's Color of Money question, I wanted to know "Should companies have blanket bans on hiring ex-offenders or ex-offenders with felony convictions?"

The question stems from a column I wrote about an ex-offender who, after being honest about her past, was fired by Hair Cuttery. The firing sparked an overwhelming amount of responses.

Here's what you had to say.

"Each person is different, but who is to assess who is a 'good' ex-con and who is a 'bad' ex-con?," wrote Teresa of Omaha, Neb. "I personally wouldn't want to work with a person who has a temper and is comfortable with a gun, regardless if they are trying for redemption or not . . . When you bring a high-risk, known criminal into the workplace, it makes people uncomfortable."

Teresa's views were in the minority.

"To punish someone who has been honest and is attemping to better herself is a combination of naivety and heartlessness," wrote Joel Wannebo of Annapolis, Md. "I don't care what your religion, race, etc. We should be helping each other, not continually punishing those who may not have been someone's definition of 'perfect' all of their lives. With that in mind, I wish the person well, and I am assuming they will pursue another job in a similar business establishment. In that case, since I would like to support them, and I know that they are not working at the Hair Cuttery, I will bring my business to establishments that do not have the name Hair Cuttery on their door."

Claudius Adebayo of Racine, Wis. says rather that than a blanket ban, employers should exercise caution and reason.

"I would not hire a CPA convicted of embezzlement as my CFO, just as you would not hire a known child molester as your Middle School Principal," Adebayo said. "I work with a lot of felons and young people on probation. They deserve another chance and should be given assistance to rehabilitate."

"I think that employers need to look at the facts behind a case rather than summarily dismiss or decline to hire an ex-offender," says Pat Sabir of Canton, N.Y. "One conviction for a crime committed in fear or anger, for which the offender paid the debt should not automatically disqualify an applicant. The crime and the rehabilitation can be reviewed and discussed in an interview with the employer before any decision is made. The reasons for the final decision can then be clearly documented by the company."

"Do we want these people to continue to be criminals while we pay the costs for their incarceration?" asked Delores O'Mara of Juneau, Alaska. "If a person can't be given a chance to make a decent living once they have paid their debt for past mistakes, then we are not rehabilitating, but only setting them up for more failure. It's hard enough to turn your life around. I see companies reaching out to hire mentally challenged persons; they should also reach out to other marginalized persons, such as ex-offenders. Pair them with a mentor, both to help them and to allay concerns from co-workers."

Update on Kelly D. Brown

Brown, the ex-offender who was fired by the Hair Cuttery, still hasn't found work but she is looking. I asked her about the responses I've been getting from readers.

"I would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers," she said. "I did not believe that many people would sympathize with me. But I must say I was proven wrong."

A number of readers asked for contact information for the Hair Cuttery to voice their outrage at Brown's firing. And the company says it values feedback. So, if you would like to share your thoughts about Brown's firing you can call the company at 1-866-257-8953. Additionally you can e-mail your comments by going to their website.

Tia Lewis 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.

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