Color of Money Live

Apr 21, 2011

Need advice about how to handle your personal finances? Whether the struggle is saving for retirement, organizing your bank files, or talking about money responsibility with your spouse or loved one, Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary offers her advice and answers your questions on Thursday, April 21 at 12 p.m. ET. She will be joined by Anne Kreamer, author of "It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace," this month's Color of Money Book Club selection.

Welcome. Glad you have joined me. We'll talking about the Color of Money Book Club selection which focused on emotions in the workplace. Have you ever cried on the job? Did you regret it? How do you feel about people who cry at work? Talk back to me. So let's get started

Michelle: My husband and I have always been very responsible and proficient money managers. We've made many sacrifices to get to where we are now financially. My sister and her husband have made many different choices than us and are now in a precarious financial situation. I see the reason for this is because they usually make emotionally based decisions, which turn out not to be good financial decisions. Now she wants my husband and I to finance her next adventure, all the while framing it as an investment opportunity for us. Needless to say, the answer is no, but I also want to send her a message that she is not handling her finances well, and that she should take some responsibility for the situation she is in. Is that beyond what I should do? Or just a simple, "No, we can't do that" and leave it at that?

I would choose option B. Just say no.

Unless your sister asks for help with their finances, it probably won't go well for you to jump in and tell her what you she needs to hear.

I would say nope, not investing. Thanks anyway.

My parents seem to always be making bad financial decisions, and in my years as an adult, I've struggled to learn how to handle my finances without a good role model. I'm in my mid-twenties, and doing pretty well, but still recovering from silly mistakes. Now, my father has been out of work for nearly a year, and my mother indicated that there will be problems with the house soon, if there aren't already. I'm trying to figure out how I can help, or what I can do moving forward. If their house gets forclosed on, I'm not sure what their next step is. I live more than a thousand miles away, and I'm not in much of a position to help, and I certainly can't host. What's next?

Just talk to your parents about your concerns. Tell them just what you told me. That you are concerned and wonder if there is anything you can do.

But don't over promise what you can do. You are just starting out and if you can't help financially be there for support.

Again, just talk to them. They may be relieved to get it out.

Thanks for chatting, Michelle. I'm proud to be one of your tribe of people who try to make good financial decisions and ignore the pressures of our culture. With some hard work, a little luck, and your good advice, I have been living debt-free for over a year. I also have excellent credit. I just started a new job and I think I'll be in D.C. for a while, so I am looking into buying a condo. The amount of debt is terrifying, but I think it is a good investment for me if I do it right. Along those lines, I have been saving for a good downpayment and closing costs, but I know that the purchase will wipe out all of my savings and I'm bothered by that. Still there are deals to be had and I really want to do this. Do you think I should leave my emergency funds alone and restart saving for closing costs and downpayment or keep counting what I already have? Gosh, I think I know the answer...

I think you should keep your emergency fund. That shouldn't be your house fund not matter how good the deals are.

Then save separately for down payment and closing costs. That way when you move it you won't start off broke.

Also, as you are looking and wondering how much house you can afford use this formula: Don't buy a house in which the monthly morgage payments including insurance, taxes and condo fees is more than 36 percent of your monthly take home pay.

Anne,

Why do women feel so bad when they cry? It's part of who many of are and quite natural. Why do we -- women included -- look upon this as such a bad thing?

Great question, Michelle.  And like many things, it's complicated.  There are two main reasons -- one is none of us really understand the neurochemistry of tears -- they are a basic regulatory function in the body -- like breathing -- that allow us to reset our emotional equilibrium.  But did you know that women's tear ducts are literally anatomically different from men's?

And that women produce 6 times the prolactin, the hormone that causes tears, than men?  What this means is that a man might be feeling the same degree of emotional distress as a woman, but he only will look like he's tearing up, while for the woman tears will course down her cheeks.  It's not that we're "weaker" we're just built differently.

I moved here from Florida where there is no state income tax. The $3k+ that Maryland takes leaves me, literally, with no discretionary spending money, let alone such luxuries as a trip to the hair salon. I became a vegetarian. I don't own a car. But I have a child in college recently diagnosed with an incurable illness that may or may not go into remission. This is a long way to say I am stressed. Though I'm not usually an emotional person, there have been times when I feel the tears coming at work (such as when my child is experiencing a flare-up.) Is there any mantra to repeat? Pinch oneself? I'm of an age where the cardinal rule is "don't cry at work!" but I feel myself edging ever closer to that point.

Dear living on a shoestring:  Boy are you experiencing what all of us are in this economy.  There's a fiction that work is a place where we're supposed to be supremely rational and home is where emotions live but your experience illustrates just how ridiculous that notion is -- we all work 24/7 with home struggles seeping into work and work drama seeping into home.

One thing that might help you with tears is knowing that in my research I discovered that tears do not actually mean you are weak, AND this is REALLY important -- people who cry are successful at all levels of management.  If you are feeling that way it is a good opportunity to sit down with your boss or colleagues and explain what is going on in your life and ask them to help you deal with it.  I wish when I was dealing with a similar circumstance with my parents I'd talked to my boss about how to handle time away, what they'd need, what I'd need.  I'd be clear about it and not feel bad if sometimes you need to reset your equilibrium by crying.  The book has lots and lots of advice for you.

We just found out we are expecting and aside from a healthy baby, we are already focused on college savings. When can we start a 529 for the little one? We live in Maryland. Do we have to wait until he or she is born? Are there college savings calculators that you recommend? Thanks!!

You can start putting money in a 529 plan after the baby is born and has a Social Security No. If you really want to get it started now you can open the open in your or your spouse's name and then transfer it to the child.

And I like the Vanguard saving for college caculator.

Hi Michelle, I love your column today. I think those who benefit the most from our complicated tax system are those with a political agenda to make people not like taxes/government. There is no reason why people who receive W-2s cannot have information transmitted by their employers to the IRS electronically at the same time that employers give it to us (January 31)...

Totally agree. Keep it complicated and we all lose.

I think any strong emotion whether anger, crying, despair, etc. are inappropriate for work. Whether intentional or not, these types of emotions often create a feeling of attempted manipulation and influence of business decisions by emotion which is usually a poor guide. While I understand that one sometimes cannot control one's emotions, I do think it is appropriate for someone who is having extreme emotions to excuse themselves and find some place private to collect themselves and then return to the discussion. I think it can be difficult for both the person experiencing a strong emotion and for those around that person to execute good judgment in the fact of strong emotion. Better to let the emotion pass and then return to the situation when you can address issues without the strong emotions.

Dear Crying at work:

You are correct that emotion can get in the way of smooth operations, but I think one of the issues I'm trying to address is that emotions are there all the time, informing every single decision made (in fact there's really interesting research now showing how we cannot make a single choice without using emotion).  What's also true is that none of us are every taught how to handle the expression of strong emotion in a work environment.  Usually just ignoring it won't make it go away, it tends to fester and then erupt even more powerfully another time.  I hope the trick is to know what you are feeling, figure out how to address that before something explodes, and move one.  Anger is definitely an emotion that can be powerfully demotivating to people.  What do you think?  Is there a way people can manager their emotions more effectively?

There's also a lot of research with positive emotion and how essential it is to a company's performance.

I cried on the job. In hindsight, I was depressed and the job was a really bad match for me. I did my best to control myself but the depression sometimes let the tears leak out during a conversation with my manager. When I left that position, it was the most liberating thing ever. When I left the company a year later, my life really got better!

Dear crying on the job:

You've just described one of the functions of tears on the job -- they are a tool to help us understand when things are not going correctly -- an early warning signal.  When we were kids we'd cry different tears to let our parents know we were hungry, tired, hurt or angry.  The same is true with tears -- there are an infinite variety -- if they are about frustration or feeling like you're in the wrong job -- figure out what they are telling you and try and act on that information, as you did.

So glad life got better!  :-)

Except those who can afford to pay tax attorneys to find their loopholes.

Exactly!

Michelle, thanks for the chats! I feel like you've been holding my hand for the last 2.5 years. I wanted to let you know that I have one of my 3 CCs in a debt management program paid OFF, and am making my way through the rest. It's slow, but it can be done. I feel for the Adult Sibling writer. I've never asked for family members to finance anything of mine, other than a brief loan once (which I paid off), but I can imagine they feel uncomfortable. Money Management International has been a big help to me, maybe there's a way the siblings can offer emotional support if the sister wants to financially retrench?

Thanks for our testimony. And I try to hold a lot of hands. This stuff isn't easy and I hope I never make it sound like it is. But you are so right about time. It takes time but in the end oh what a wonderful feeling to get that debt monkey off your back.

I still say the sister has to tread lightly. People are ready for help when they are ready. 

I cry very easily, although I consider myself a pretty tough person. I once had a therapist tell me that I should consider medication, but I don't exhibit any other signs of depression. She though that crying was a sign of depression. What to you think?

Hi I cry a lot but never at work:

One of the really interesting things I discovered in my research is that people roughly fall into two categories:  those who tend to cry easily and those who tend not to.  So you (and I) probably fall into the "criers" category.  It doesn't mean you are depressed, it doesn't particularly mean you're unhappy, it's simply part of who you are.  Sensitive.  And sensitive people in a work environment can be very successful and very helpful to an organization -- a sort of canary in the coal mine early warning system that issues might need to be addressed.

Put me in the cry a lot box too. At times I hate it because I do cry so easily. But you know what. I cry. I do try to do it privately but sometimes it doesn't work. But I also let my work speak for itself. I'm good at what I do and I'll cry if I want to!

I've done it, a few times. I work in politics and we deal with a lot of highly-charged, emotional issues. Usually if I know that I'm going to lose it during floor debate, I excuse myself and go to the bathroom! (and yeah, I'm a woman.)

Hi crying at work: 

If you do that, do you end up feeling refreshed, able to tackle the issues when you return?  Or do you feel like you wish you hadn't cried at all? 

My male boss said "don't be so sensitive." And I am sure that event makes him think of me as weak (even though the crying was justified...).

Boy of boy do I HATE when men say that. They often really mean, "Your weak and I'm not."

As they used to say in my old Baltimore neighborhood: "Poot you!" 

Yes, I now that's not sophisticated response. But crying can be a very helpful and healthy release. Doesn't mean you are weak.  

I well up extremely easily, even if I'm not terribly upset. I well up during TV ads, random moments, stubbed toes, just, well, a lot. It's just how I'm wired. Weirdly enough, I am very composed when extremely upset (job loss, divorce, etc). I've found male managers usually see it as really distressing (they can't bear to see a woman cry, and want to make it better). Female managers appear annoyed, like it's a sign of weakness. What works for all coworkers is a simple, "Oh, please do try to ignore the tears. I just well up very easily, and there really isn't anything I can do about it. It doesn't mean I'm extremely upset, it's just something my body does." Then I just continue the conversation as normal.

Hi crying at work:

I'm exactly the same.  I cannot watch Homeward Bound or Titanic without just weeping, but one of the interesting things I discovered in my research is that men actually judge women far less harshly for crying at work than do other women.  Men  just sort of thought, it's something that happens, while other women judged the crying woman as a moral failure.  It hink there is something to learn from this.  Perhaps cutting us all a little slack.  And if you've read It's Always Personal, then you'll know all about the underlying biological differences and whey we should all just get rational about emotions, right?

 

I love, love your response. Good for you. 

And I'm the say way. I might cry but I still get the task done.

during my first job out of college, I got bad guidance from a security officer at my goverment agency and ended up not getting proper approval on a task. The head of security acted like this was a Wikileaks-level incident and didn't believe that his staff was at fault. Since I was young and didn't know any better, I cried at my desk, convinced I was going to be fired. Everything got cleared up in the end, but now that I'm older and wiser I have the confidence to deal with these types of situations without the tears.

Crying at work.

You've identified one essential aspect of emotion at work -- all of us, men and women, develop greater emotional resiliency tools the older we get and the longer we work.  the real crux of the issue is wouldn't it have made you happier if you'd been given the tools to know how to manager you feelings before you had your first drama? 

I think part of the problem for me is that once I start crying, I can't talk clearly, so I get more and more frustrated, and whoever is there doesn't know why I'm upset. Nothing gets resolved.

A great thing to do in this kind of a situation is say, aha, we've clearly touched on an important nerve, please give me a second to pull my thoughts together and I'd like to try and express what's behind the tears -- they can be about frustration, feeling overwhelmed, feeling undervalued -- whatever it is try to think clearly (as best you can under the circumstances) about what is so upsetting to you and then discuss those issues as clearly as possible.  If you don't feel you can do it right then, then say, look, this is important to me, obviously, I'd like to talk about it -- can we make time tomorrow?  that usually works, too.

I've known people who have cried at work due to a personal difficulty -- illness of a friend/family member, the loss of a beloved pet, etc. I have sympathy for them. It is very difficult to keep all of your personal life out of the work place. On the other hand, I have little sympathy for people who cry over a work-related issue. To me, that means you are overly invested in what is going on in the office. (FYI, I have never seen someone be fired; then I could understand tears!) It is admirable to care about your work and want to do a good job, but the world will not come to an end if your boss overrules your decision on the contract or if the other guy gets to go on the important business trip. I actually once promised myself that if I ever found myself crying over work that I'd find a new job.

I think you raise a great point about tears at work -- particularly if you are a person who doesn't tend to well up easily.  They are telling you something pretty important.  It's like the warning signals on your car dashboard -- if they go off you don't necessarily have to do anything that minute but if you don't pay attention at some point the car is going to fail.  For you, your tears would be a good sign that something fundamental was wrong at work and if you couldn't address it while on the job, then it might make sense to figure out a place where you felt like your talents would be appreciated.

 

My dad and I are not close, geographically or emotionally. He lives overseas, and I spent my childhood being shuffled from one city to another so he could chase his next get-rich-quick scheme. He has spent my adulthood taking no interest whatsoever in me as a person, but always sniffing around for a free place to crash (don't get me STARTED on the time he turned up at my apartment on no notice, and refused to leave after I told him I had a three-day limit for guests). He also cries poor in every phone call, even though he could get by on what he has if he lived more simply. I'm not writing this to make him out to be a demon, we all have our flaws. I'm just giving some background as to why I'm not much of a daddy's girl. I got married recently, and my new spouse makes a good living (his salary is more than double my wages). Ever since Dad found out about my husband's occupation (no, he doesn't know the exact salary), he's started assuming we are quite wealthy. He's making noises about how we need to "arrange for his care," and "make sure the family benefits," which from him sounds a lot like, "pay me money, NOW, or I'm coming to live with you." I've demurred with "we have other financial priorities, we live in an expensive area, we're newlyweds and don't have space for more people," but I can see this becoming an issue. My husband finds my dad's lack of real interest in us (aside from as a potential gravy train) and self-absorption utterly infuriating, hates how much it upsets me, and wants to limit contact as much as possible. Any advice for me?

Wow. So sorry. Haven't had great luck in the parent department myself.

Finally, I got therapy. Learned how to deal with it -- actually still learning.

What works for me is being straight up. Tell you dad just how you feel. Be respectful but clear. He is not entitled to your good fortunate. You will help if and when he may need help. 

And you are not a hotel!

I am a person that cries easily in any situation - I have all my life - happy, sad, frustrated, etc. At the office I had a boss who just did not like me and essentially told me so. She dealt with tough situations in her position and often took out her frustration on me with a short temper and snappish comments. I do believe I teared up several times but tried my best to stop it (no full on crying, but wet eyes). I feel so angry with myself but physically can't hold back tears at times. What is a person to do? I realize tears are perceived as pathetic and unprofessional.

Hi crying at work.

You've identified an essential aspect of tears on the job -- there are those people who say, "well, I'm a crier....." and there are those who say "I'm not a crier, so....." and the two different groups have real difficulty appreciating each other.  One views the other as weak, the other views the other as unfeeling, or rigid.  And it's neither.  It's just different.  I hope if we were all taught how to manage those differences the workplace would be a better place for all.  It's sort of a goldilocks kind of thing -- you don't want too much or too little of emotion in a workplace -- t here's some "just right" amount.  If you know your boss dislikes the expression of tears, then you should work to develop strategies to help you manage them.  I've got lots of suggestions in my book.

Why are people punished for 7-10 years for late payments on their debts? It seems excessive when there are murderers who get less time for taking a person's life? Please explain. I know that you are responsible for your debts, but in the broad scheme, it seems that a late payment should not be punished more than taking a life. Seriously.

Seriously, you make a good point. 

Send your objections to Congress and Fair Isaac, the creator of the FICO scores, which are most often used by lenders.

But do know that the further you are out from that 7 year limit the less impact the bad debt has on your scores.

Usually I end up feeling better and more able to handle things.

Tears are our best emotional reset valve.  They help us produce more dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that helps elevate mood, they also help reduce prolactin which is the hormone that contributes to tears.  There really was a reason Socrates said, "tears ease the soul."

It's good to know there are other people who well up so easily. I must not get out enough because I felt like I was the only one.

I hope you buy the book -- I was fascinated through my research to discover just how much emotion at work was misunderstood. 

What I did and really recommend is figuring out what the mortgage payment would be when I bought the house I was looking at. Then for the next 6 months, I "pretended" I was paying a mortgage payment. I paid my rent and put the difference between the rent and the anticipated mortgage payment in a seperate savings account. That allowed me to get used to paying that amount every month. By the time I bought the house, I knew I could make that payment each month, and I also had some extra saved that I used for moving expenses, closing costs and other things that come up when you have a new house.

What a great idea!  I've often told people do this.

Thanks for reminding me. 

Michelle, love your articles and chats. The federal government is having an open season to allow workers to sign up for long term care insurance, see www.LTCFEDS.com. It's pretty complicated - we have to select coverage levels and future increase options. An article dispensing some patented Michelle Wisdom and a chat with an expert would be most welcome. Any plans to do so before the open season ends June 24? Thanks!

Thanks for the column idea. 

I'm putting it on my list.

Would you be willing to e-mail me with your concerns and how you are making the decision? Love to have real people in my column. My e-mail is singletarym@washpost.com 

And I'll be facing this very decision soon, so it's a good time to explore it further. I've written about it in the past but not lately. 

Thanks.

I would do a little research into debt advisers for your parents in their local area. There are some that are low-cost and in some urban areas, there are ones that a free services. Debt advisers can teach your parents how to learn to make better financial decisions that may mean that they can learn not only how to stay in their home, but also how to manage for retirement and how to manage on the income that they are on. You can do the research from 1000 miles away and give them the information. After that, it is up to them to take the next steps (actually contacting the advisers).

Thanks. Good advice for the parents. Also go to www.debtadvice.org 

You can find a credit counselor in the area thu that site as well.

I cry at work pretty often, but only when I laugh or smile really hard. It can be pretty awkward because some people (who don't know me) think I've gone bonkers. Is that better than thinking I'm weak? :)

Sounds to me like you're expressing tears of joy which is awesome!  There are so many many different kinds of tears -- which simply are the way the body expresses having experienced something important -- tears of joy, awe, anger, frustration, sadness, grief, and on and on.  I bet people love having you at work to jolly things up.

I cry so often it's a joke in my family. During the holidays when we go around to say what we are grateful for before praying over the meal and eating, someone will say: "Oh Lord, don't let Michelle go first. We will be here all night!"

It's who I am. I don't use my tears to manipulate. I just feel deeply and it shows. 

Some managers understand, others haven't. I still press on. But I show the naysayers by working very, very hard.

Doing well at what you do at work if you tend to cry easily is proof that you should still be taken seriously.

I'd love to know how many of you are feeling anxious at work an what you're doing about it?

I'd also like to know if any of you have had someone blow up at you at work recently and how that made you feel.

I don't have a father looking for cash, but I have my own issues with my Dad. Whatever you do, be honest, and be the person YOU want to be. If that means telling him how you feel about your childhood, do that. If that means limiting contact, too, fine. Just make sure you are true to yourself and in agreement with your husband over what to do!

Oh you just made me cry :)

Love this comment. So true. So true.

but even those who can afford the tax attorneys aren't 'winning' with this tax code. they have to pay the tax attorney, they have to waste time (like the rest of us) figuring all this out (but may waste more time, because they have something more complicated). And we all lose...because presumably someone who's earning enough to hire a tax attorney is doing well, and hiring people, etc, but they are wasting time and money complying with a crazy tax code.

Good point. 

But there are many -- individuals and corporations -- you have the money to avoid paying their fair share. That's what burns me up.

I love these chats and hearing from all of you and getting your suggestions/comments. So the hour seems to go so much faster.

But it is up. 

Thanks to all who shared about their emotions on the job. It can feel at times that it's just you. It's not. I just hope this discussion helps you whether you are the one who cries or the one who hates to see tears flowing during work hours. 

Have a wonderful day and be financially safe!

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday. Her award-winning column is also carried in more than 120 newspapers. In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges.

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Anne Kreamer
Anne Kreamer is the author of "It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace," this month's Color of Money Blook Club selection.
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