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Friday, May 05, 2006

Introducing Your Children to the Financial Realities of Frum Life:
The Hows and the Whens?

BeyondBT features an article entitled "Financial Realities in the Frum World." This article reminded me of yet another subject that I have been planning to write about for a while now, the subject being Introducing Your Children to the Financial Realities of Frum Life.

Recently I ran into a very likeable student who graduated recently. Being that she had a few moments before jumping on the bus, I took the opportunity to catch up and find out what she has been doing since high school. After high school, this particular young lady went straight to the local junior college and, in addition, she works part time. Needless to say, she is on a very different path than the rest of her classmates. While they were returning from their 1st year of seminary, assuming they do not stay for a second year, she is already finishing her pre-requisites for her chosen

Baruch Hashem, she seems very happy with her lot. I don't know her family well, but my impression of the family is that they are on the lower end of the income scale and, to their credit, they do not try to pretend that this is not the case.

What surprised me, however, is that despite the fact that these parents had never introduced their daughter, who is of marriageable age, to the realities of Yeshiva Tuition. How do I know this? The young lady told me how surprised she was that her mother told her, in passing, that the junior college tuition was far less than the tuition for the elementary yeshiva school [that her brother attends]. When I inquired a little further, I found out that she was unaware of what her college tuition was, as well as unaware of what yeshiva tuition runs.

While I can understand why a family would not want to expose their children to the downright frightening realities of the cost of tuition prematurely, I am also sure that there is also a time when the a conversation about the realities of tuition is far overdue. I'm not sure when the appropriate time to introduce this particular discussion is, but I am fairly sure that by the time a child is an adult, capable of applying for their own loaded weapon: a credit card, who will be entrusted with the monumental task of choosing an appropriate spouse and financing their own bayit ne'eman, the conversation is far overdue.

So, now I turn to my readers (especially my older and wiser readership) for your insights and thoughts about the hows and whens of this important topic.

I also want to note that I think it is extremely important to introduce your children to the concepts of living within your means and saving for the future from a young age. But, this is not at all the scope of this conversation. I want to specifically talk about tuition.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Shabbat Shalom!


queeniesmom said...

lShavoah Tov!

My kids were introduced to the economic realities at a young age when one said "we don't want you to go to work." I sat them down and explained that mommy had to work to pay for food, buy them clothes, etc. We are very truthful and blunt with the kids about being able to afford things. Ex: All 3 needed new sneakers and one picked out a very expensive pair, said child was told that it was too much and to find something else because I wasn't spending that much. A pair 1/2 the price was found without hystronics.

They don't know the dollar amount of their tuition (don't think they can comprehend that #) but all three know that we have to pay for their schooling, so we can't afford to go away, etc. I was very blunt with them that if I didn't work at their camp no one was going because we couldn't afford it now that all 3 are eligable to go. There is no point in pretending to have what you don't have because eventually you will be found out or has v'shalom in such a deep hole that you can never dig yourself out.

We give the kids an allowence in return for completing most of their chores. They are learning to save money and look more carefully about buying things. When they ask if they can buy something with their money, we usually ask "is it worth x amount?" you would be amazed at how many times they decide it is too expensive or not worth it. These lessons have started carrying over when I go shopping with my oldest, one of the 1st things that is checked is the price. Frequently, things are discarded as being too expensive and not worth it.

Sorry so long; hope it helps.

TuitionRefugee said...

as a tutition refugee who made aliya because I could no longer pay for my childrens education in American yeshivos as a senior government employee, one of the most important taboos to break in the cycle is an open discussion of the rabbinic and staff compensations of the yeshivos in America. Our ueshiva secretary (the rov's wife) made over $100,000, and he made over $200,000...and the community was threatened and embarrassed into silence. While the Lawrence initiative is important, so is an honest discussion of true income earned when it is double the baleh batim income. This turned out to be the greater revlution of reform in the catholic archdiocese than state aid to parochial schools. The valid argument that the rabbonim have 8 kids each and need to earn a decent income has been used to hide real income abuse, particularly at senior educator levels, and it is literally bankrupting families

bluntly stated, our yehivas in America are plagued with educators earning undeserved levels of compensation

SephardiLady said...

Queensie Mom--It sounds like you are doing an excellent job introducing your children to the real world. I agree that it is NEVER a good idea to pretend you have more than you have. Sounds like you are doing a great job with the basics, but what about tuition? I agree the numbers are incomprehensible.

SephardiLady said...

>>>bluntly stated, our yehivas in America are plagued with educators earning undeserved levels of compensation

Tuition Refugee, I think that we (the parents and shareholders in our community) need to insist in no uncertain terms that hiring be open and subject to the competition in the market, and that pay scales are instituted and not overridden without board approval. If a pay scale needs to be increased due to supply and demand issues, so be it. But employees should be on a pay scale.

Even if everything is squeaky clean (as one would hope it is) the level of trust in the community is extremely low when pay scales are secret (or non-existant) and when certain families treat their yeshiva like a family business or an employment agency for the "right" people.

I'm Haaretz, Ph.D. said...

You don't ever want your kids to think they're a burden on you, or that putting them through the yeshiva system is costing you unfairly. Children are very sensitive about these things; a parent's complaint/comment about the exorbitant cost of tuition will make the child feel negatively toward the yeshiva, or worse- towards frumkeit which puts such strain on their family. Teaching children to be frugal and responsible with spending and saving is of course vital, but it's not fair to make the finances of the household their concern.

SephardiLady said...

I agree with you PhD that you don't want your kids to think they are a burden on you. But, I am looking at an older child that could well be married themselves that is missing some major pieces of information that they should know to make good decisions, like where to go to school, how to finance it, what to major in, etc.

Anonymous said...

Ever since that post on Beyond BT, I have been considering home schooling my daughter, when the time comes (At 16 months, she's far from ready yet).

Is this considered an option in the frum community? Would it diminish her marriage prospects? (Shidduchim, another raw deal of frum life...)

Often I thank G-d that the Torah is true, because frum life often a raw deal. Thankfully, I did not become a BT because of some silly emotional issues, as the emotions are often strained by financial hardship. Thank G-d I did not become a BT because I wanted to run from materialism, because it's pretty much a mitzvah to be rich, otherwise, children go without education.

I figure I can home school our child(ren), and end run that issue altogether. After all, I know pretty much all of the secular subjects better than pretty much any teacher I've ever met, and the religious subjects better than a few rabbis I know. Maybe I'll put that knowledge to good use.

queeniesmom said...

Re: Tuition

Like everyone else we pay, don't live extavagently and hope for the best.

Re: Salaries of teachers

This is treated as a state secret; according to a friend who is an adminstrator in a yeshiva, it seems deals are cut with different teachers so no one can know how much the other is making. There is no pay scale, therefore 2 teachers of similiar experience and qualifications can be making totally different salaries. This is probably why they refuse to open their books. That fact makes my husband crazy!

We, the hard paying parents, need full disclosure and a willingness to brainstorm more effective methods of financing our school. Doubt this will happen soon as each Rosh Yeshiva treats his school as his fiefdom. He's the king who just keeps leveling more and more taxes(tuition). Maybe we should all take off to Sherwood Forest?!

Anonymous said...

I trust you will agree our children need a different type of education at a much younger age, correct?

SephardiLady said...

Anon 10:26--If you have the strength to homeschool, all the luck in the world to you. There are many people doing such and I'm sure you won't be alone. Unfortunately, this is not a mass solution, but sometimes it is near impossible to wait for solutions. :)

QueensieMom--I've always suspected that different staff in certain schools get FAR different deals than others. Parents should definitely ban together to get the schools open the books. If a comprable service can be had for less on the free market, we need to allow it for the sake of all involved. The trust issues from closed books are enormous and hurt the schools in terms of fundraising and more.

Anon 12:49AM-I can't access the link and have no idea what you are trying to convey.

board_member said...

to tuition refugee:
I don't live in the NY area but in a large city on the east coast. we do have a pay scale which is transparent that all senior members of the Board know.when a new staff member joins, he is asked for his years of experience and paid accordingly. While I can't speak for all yeshivos I don't think its a fair statement to say that rebeiim are earning undeserved levels of compensation.(a "rosh yeshiva" that controls the purse strings and runs a yeshiva as a family business is obviously abuse,but that is not the norm )In our yeshiva a high school rebbi with 15 years of experience working until 9:00 at night (when ma'ariv is over) is making $60,000.That is not overpaid. I have two brothers teaching in the NY-NJ area and they're not earning undeserved levels of compensation either.
As to the topic at hand, we have 2 children post high school and have discussed with them the costs of tuition as well the larger picture of the econmics of living a kollel life for a number of years. The yeshivos and senminaries are not doing justice when they espouse such lofty goals but leave out the financial side of the story.

SephardiLady said...

Thanks for leaving your comments Board Member.

Anonymous said...
or cut and paste.

Lakewood Venter said...

There is no question that today's children have no concept of living within their means! They get whatever they want, and have no concept of not being able to afford stuff.

Ariella said...

"Ever since that post on Beyond BT, I have been considering home schooling my daughter, when the time comes (At 16 months, she's far from ready yet).

Is this considered an option in the frum community? Would it diminish her marriage prospects? (Shidduchim, another raw deal of frum life...)" from Anonymous comment above
I believe that if frum people turned to homeschooling and did so in a cooperative group, many problems -- financial, as well as educational would be eliminated. I actually did do it for 1/2 year. The children do learn much faster, as one-on-one or even one-on-two is more effective than one-on-twenty. However, when we moved and sought to register the girls in a yeshiva, there was a strong bias against us. It was automatically assumed that we home schooled b/c the children were not fit for school due to behavioral or learning issues. One principal even had the chutzpah to suggest I put one of the children in the CAHAL program. (not to put it down, but it was completely inappropriate [and if you think regular yeshiva tuition is high, think double or even more for special ed programs]) They were quite young at this time. I imagine that it would have been nearly impossible to get them into a school when they were even older. So the real problem with homeschooling -- other than never getting a break from your children ;-) is that the frum world looks askance at you. It is assumed it is everyone's respnsibility to support the yeshivas financially and by sending children there. But I think that what really bothers them is the threat of a person who thinks for him/herself and will not automatically tow the party line -- no matter what party tht is. So there may be something to schools not wanting me in as a parent. However, the child the principal would have thrown in CAHAL has proven to be a good, diligent student.

FrumGirl said...

Thank you for this. It is certainly something I will take into consideration when the time comes. As a kid I never thought much of tuition. But my parents raised us with a work ethic. It isnt like we expected everything. Todays kids... a whole different story.

Charlie Hall said...

Regarding homeschooling:

There are now enough data that we now know that homeschooled children do on average at least as well -- and maybe quite a bit better -- than kids who attend conventional schools. I'm not sure I believe that homeschool advocacy groups statistics because the homeschool statistics are a select group and are probably not comparable to the general population. But if there were a real problem, we'd know about it by now.

A lot of the homeschool kids are in evangelical Christian families who are trying to avoid contact with the sinful secular world. Many of the homeschool curricula are targeted at that population and are thus totally inappropriate for Jewish kids. However, there are some excellent secular curricula that have a long track record of success such as that used by the Calvert School:

Calvert's curriculum has changed relatively little in a hundred years; it is nice to know that there are a few folks out there who don't latch on to every fad that comes down the pike.

The main problem, academically, that I see is that most parents are not equipped to teach advanced math and science courses that high schoolers will need, and that almost no parent is going to have acceptible science lab equipment in his/her home. There are ways around that problem but they take a lot of work. Inadequate math and science education at the high school level closes off many career path unfairly and unnecessarily.

There many be the same problem for advanced Jewish studies at the high school level, but in most frum neighborhoods there would be a lot of learned people who could probably serve as tutors. I've known some parents in out of town communities who had to send their kids to public schools and were able to arrange successful tutoring for their children's Jewish education at a reasonable cost.

Of course, if you have a bunch of home school parents who combine resources, you've essentially started a new school!

I wish you all the best in these endeavors.

SephardiLady said...

Charlie, Glad to see you back.

I just want to tag onto your comments and make mention of the fact that homeschoolers can use public services like adult education or junior college classes, which run at free to minimal cost.

If you want to isolate your child from the general world completely, this would not be an option. But, if you would just prefer your child not be caught up in the typical American high school social scene, attending adult education or junior college is a completely different experience since it is virtually non-social.

Based on the interest in homeschooling, it probably deserves its own post and comment box. I am not at all opposed to homeschooling and a handful of Jews and non-Jews who are or have homeschooled and think their children are just fine.

Unfortunately, it is not a solution for the massess and the more that leave our current schools, the fewer heads there are to cover the massive overhead. But, when you are faced with $10,000-$20,000 tuition bills per child, you have to think about yourself too!

SephardiLady said...

P.S. Thanks Ariella for your personal experiences. Just goes to show the deep level of group think within some of our communities.

Steve Brizel said...

Homeschooling has its pluses and minuses. It can allow for super brilliant children to learn and absorb material and subject matter across the board at their pace, as opposed to a class's pace in which the super-brilliant and less than average suffer from. I question whether there is enough evidence on whether homeschoolinhg enables or detracts a kid from socializing and making friends,etc.

In our community,most of us support yeshivos because we lack the training and time to impart more than the basics, unlike the fathers of Gdolim in Europes such as RYBS who was home skilled before he entered university. Yeshivos, OTOH, view themselves , rightfully and wrongfully as the only source for the transmission of Torah-even for the children of Gdolim today. I can see where they would be threatened by any legitimate threat to this well-entrenched monopoly or even have a jaundiced view at a homeschooled student.

SephardiLady said...

Steve Brizel-I have found that the word homeschool strikes fear and anguish in the hearts of educators, be they public or private.

My personal experiences with homeschoolers have been very positive.

Steve Brizel said...

I don't doubt that homeschooling can be an effective and positive way of educating a child. However, are most parents or even a substantial minority willing to undertake it?

Ora said...

Homeschooling: I can see why some schools are nervous about home-schooled students. It's hard to know if the parents are competent teachers or not, what exactly they've been telling their kids and whether it's accurate, etc. Still, I think that homeschooling is a great idea and hopefully communities will be more open to it. I think that the most important thing, as always, is making sure that the educational path you've chosen works for your child. Some children do wonderfully being taught by their parents, but others will miss having a more standard school experience.

As for the original question, I think that kids need to be taught financial responsibility from a young age. However, the actual numbers for tuition will sound huge to children (sounds like they are huge! My husband's family paid around $900/year for an excellent semi-private school here, I can't believe $10,000!). Even $1,000 sounds like "a billion gazillion" to an eight-year-old. As someone said, you don't want your kids to feel like a burden. In general, I would say that once your child is a teenager they should know how much things cost (before that is usually too young). I had a fairly good idea starting from around age 14, and it's helped me with financial planning since then. Certainly once a child is considering their future (college/army/kollel/etc) they should know what tuition costs are, in order to make a fully informed decision.