DEAR HARRIETTE: I went to a business conference this summer and met several people who know my older brother. When they heard my name, they asked if my brother and I were siblings. I was happy to meet people who were connected to my family. Later in the evening, after everybody had had a few drinks, these same people let loose and started telling me terrible stories about my brother. One guy told me that my brother had stolen money from the job and was fired as a result. Another guy told me my brother was known to be rude and loud on the job and, even though he is smart, many people didn't like working with him.
I knew my brother had lost his job, but he said he was laid off because of budget cuts. I feel so bad for him. I'm also worried about my reputation. So far I have done well in my career. I don't want my brother's bad behavior to impact me. What can I do? -- Guilt by Association, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR GUILT BY ASSOCIATION: What you can and must do is your best on the job. You have to build your own reputation for the way that you work and interact with others. People may look at you skeptically at first, but in the end it will be your performance that counts the most.
You can also ask that people not bad-mouth your brother to you. Make it known you love your brother. You are sorry for anything he may have done that rubbed them the wrong way, but that is in the past. You should also tell your brother what these people are saying about him. He has his own reputation to repair. If he has any doubt as to how much work he has to do, you will be doing him a favor, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, by giving him the heads-up.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I came home from work today to discover that my electricity was not working. I checked the breakers and everything seemed OK, but nothing worked. I was about to call and yell at the super when it occurred to me that my husband may not have paid the bill. I called him, and sure enough that was it. We paid right away but lost most of the food that we had just bought.
I am livid. This points to how poorly we have been managing our money for quite some time now. We need to have a serious conversation about our finances, but I haven't been able to get my husband to participate. What can I say to start the conversation? -- Last Straw, Syracuse, New York
DEAR LAST STRAW: Ask your husband if he will give you 30 minutes to talk about family business. Point out that you think it is necessary for the two of you to create a budget that you both follow and that includes dates of when bills need to be paid.