In the comments section of a previous post, a reader asks for advice:
Please expert budgeters out there--HELP! Maybe I am doing something wrong. I earn $100,000 per year and have ten kids (eldest is 18). My wife earns enough money to pay for a cleaning woman once a week and is a stay-at-home mom. Groceries, tuition, car expenses, simchas, gifts, clothes, health and dental costs not covered, medication and orthodonture are not at all covered, etc. total more than our income. I am posting from a friends computer as we have no tv or internet at home.
Anyone with experience raising a super-sized family should weigh in. Anyone with real life experience on how to stay debt free (excluding a mortgage) while raising a very, very, very large frum family on a limited income should chime in and offer their advice. If you have real-life experience, whatever you are able to say will be far better than what I have to offer (especially without a previous year's budget in hand). In the meantime, I hope the advice I can offer will not completely fall upon deaf ears. (Also, please see the Budgeting Label for past material).
The first thing that I think is crucial to discuss is expectations. In general, I would say that those in the Orthodox community expect to provide their children with a "upper-middle-class" lifestyle regardless of circumstances. Playgroup/Pre-school, Camp, and a year in Israel (and usually years in Beis Medrash for boys) are givens in frum families. Cleaning ladies and other household help are near staples in most frum households. But not everyone can live the "(Frum) American Dream." And I believe it is important to make peace with that fact.
In the frum world, there is little diversity of experience. For the most part, we expect parents to "help" post-marriage and certainly pre-marriage. Attend any shidduch meeting and you will see that this assumption is practically written in stone.
Rarely, if ever, do you meet Jewish teenagers who are expected to work to help the family put food on the table, take a full time job immediately after graduation, or take a job during high school and save the money (not spend it on stuff) to pay for college in cash (not student loans). I'm sure most of our grandparents/great-grandparents were expected to do one or all of the above, but in today's Jewish world we just don't see these things happening and probably haven't even considered them as options. Yet there are American teenagers doing all of the above and they live perfectly functional lives (I went to high school where most parents expected their children to be somewhat self-supporting shortly after graduation, so I still experience culture shock when young married couple's parents are paying their car insurance).
I think the first thing that any family that can't meet their expenses must do is sit down with their children and discuss the situation in the most non-threatening way possible. They need to reassure their children that they will have shelter and clothing, but that they will be making cuts and that it is important to come together as a team and decide how to support each other while expenses are cut and income is perhaps increased.
I know many parents who just don't want to let their children know they can't "provide." But, ultimately lack of funds/debt catches up with a family and my own opinion is that it is best for children to live with the reality of the situation rather having whatever fantasies the children have built up (a 400 guest wedding, parents paying for college, uninterrupted years in Beis Medrash, etc) come crashing down.
Truth be told, I'm not sure a family of 12, with 10 school aged children can avoid "the red." But, I'd like to think that it is possible. I think the most important thing to understand is that commitment to take the budget out of the red isn't going to be easy and will most likely require a major overhaul.
Here are my semi-solicited ideas:
1. Find a Financial Coach: Hopefully there is someone in your community who is willing to serve as the "bad guy," by reviewing your budget and receipts. Having an outsider serve as the "bad guy" brings in a new set of eyes and ideas and takes some pressure off of the team. Lately, I'm reading more about "financial coaches" and I think it is an idea worth exploring.
2. Increase income: All household members that can babysit or can work outside of the home can contribute to the budget. Babysitting on evenings so mom can work in or out of the home or so that dad can work overtime is an extremely valuable contribution.
3. Cut the Extras: The author mentions his wife works just enough to pay a cleaning lady. This expense is probably the most obvious expense to go. Any child over 5 should be able to join the cleaning team. I personally can't imagine how to keep a house with 10 children even somewhat clean and understand the desire for help. But, something has to go. I don't know what the author does for simchas, but since they were mentioned, I would say if the money isn't there, a kiddush will have to suffice. Orthodontic work is another expense mentioned that I would say is extra.
4. Cut the Utility and Food: Get everyone in the habit of turning out lights, taking short showers, turning off the facet while brushing teeth, running full loads of laundry, etc. Get the kids involved in reading the circulars, cutting coupons, collecting the neighbors coupons where possible, and cooking inexpensive meals. Coordination is key, so all teenagers should get involved. Consider the (possible) change a valuable lesson in home economics. Challenge the kids to come up with a healthy inexpensive dinners that will feed 12. I have a few "Three dollar meals" that are filling. And if you are keeping chumrot in kashrut, consider a change (I know this is never popular advice).
5. HaKarat HaTov: Make sure to show appreciation for all the team members and find small way to reward everyone as goals are met (e.g. ice cream).(I'm reposting readers comments in the comments section. Thanks to all the readers of this blog!).