Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another Reason We Are In a Pickle:
Two generations of Unflexed Muscles . . . and the beat goes on

Note: Please note the Guest Post below. I don't want this discussion to override the previous one.

The discussion on visiting day continues over at Rebbitzen Jungreis's column (see original column). I already commented that the reason we are in a pickle can be summed up by one sentence in the column, namely ""we do not want our children to feel deprived or different from their friends."

A second reason we are in a pickle can be summed up by a response to visiting day from a grandmother (her letter really isn't about visiting day but all the expenses related to camp, including camp itself). She asks "when will this all end?" in regards to the high associated costs of camps that include canteens food replacing regular camp meals (the kids just don't like the camp food), going out to eat in Woodmore, expensive trips, designer sheets to be amongst the "in" campers, etc. Yet, she feeds into her own children's hyperconsumption by funding it not once, but twice. She funded camp for her children even when her husband was out of work, and she now helps funds it for her grandchildren.

Although she seems to hit the problem on the nose when she writes, "As for the parents, it seems to me they have abdicated their role - the kids run the show and parents just do not know how to say no," yet she has not yet put a stop to this writing, "I see this with my own children - both parents work and struggle to send their kids to camp, and now my children pressure my husband and me, the grandparents, to help out with the expenses."

So here we have two generations of hyperconsumers with completely underdeveloped (perhaps even disintegrated) frugality muscles and no memorable history of doing without. Just like it is super difficult for an adult year who has never had an exercise regimen to start developing strength, it is super difficult for those who were raised in relative affluence to start exercising their frugality muscle (and the correlating creativity muscle), separating the needs from wants and finding alternatives for the needs and wants.

The grandmother (and plenty of others) asks "when will this end?" I have no doubt that it will end (saying no would help!). Simply, the money is running out. You can talk to anyone who has ever involved themselves in the finances of members of the frum community either as a volunteer (tuition committee, Tomchei Shabbos, etc) or a professional, and they will tell you there are large cracks in the foundation. Change is practically inevitable. . . The real question is how do we want the change to occur?

Do we want to the changes to shock individuals involved and the entire system? I don't. I think sudden change could leave a weak generation very hurt and lost. I don't think most of us could run a marathon tomorrow if it became necessary.

Or do we want to take the bull by the horns, exercising a higher level of control which is far more attractive of a quality than kvetching about how impossible it is to afford being Jewish? Do we want to start getting in better financial shape by making frugality fashionable and taking on a different mindset voluntarily? Do we want to find that our financial footing was permanently eroded, ruining the shalom bayit and simchat hachayyim in many homes, not just because of tuition (which can't be ignored), but because of hyperconsumption because we overspent in far too many categories from clothing, to food and "nosh," to Chol HaMoed trips, to engagement gifts, to wedding expenses (is it really necessary to serve 2 meals at every wedding), to household help, or flowers for Shabbat, to cars, etc, etc, etc.

If I were to answer the grandmother's question "when will this all end" with a question I would point her to Hillel in Pirkei Avot who says "if not now, when?" The economy is slowing down, credit is less readily available (I would add baruch Hashem as the availability of unreasonable amounts of credit helped contribute to growing debts ). Now is the time to end the madness and take control. . . . .and perhaps even learn to say, "no" or at least "I'm sorry, but no."


Lion of Zion said...

"no memorable history of doing without."

i think you hit the nail on the head here.

shabbat shalom and happy tu be-av

queeniesmom said...

Parents need to practice saying "no". The 1st few times will be hard and there will be tantrums but as time goes on this will become the norm.

Schools need to stop pressuring parents to send to camp. Certain schools will not accept students if they go to camp......

If you truly want your children to go to camp, then work there! Many camps have parents working inexchange for free camp tuition.

Again, it is a question of priorities and facing economic reality.

tdr said...

People, not just kids, but adults, too, need, no *want* limits. Part of what is so refreshing about Dave Ramsey is that he has re-introduced the "No" into so many people's lives. Many people call to ask "do you think I should do this?" *knowing* he's going to say no and still they call.

Just listening to him helps give my "no" muscle a workout. I highly recommend it for inspiration.

Here's a question though. Do you think there is some reason to give a different answer to the "why not?" other than "we can't afford it"? For example, my son was the only kid in his camp who didn't get to go on an extracurricular camp trip to an amusement park* that cost $45. He survived not going and in fact his best friend who *did* go had a terrible time because he was scared of the rides.

When he asked why he couldn't go I told him we could not afford it. I want him to realize that if you want good things in life you have to have money to get them. And that there are no free rides. But I read something once where the author prefered to not emphasize the centrality of money to their life and instead prefered to emphasize certain values. So I could have said "well, we think you're too young to go on a trip that will get back at 2 AM" or something like that. But really the central reason was we couldn't afford it. AND even if we could afford, would we still have said no on the principle that it's an unnecessary extravagance? Probably not, but I think there is value to that as well.

* Yearly amusement park trips have somehow become obligatory. my kids' daycamps all do them and they feel genuinely deprived if they don't get to go.

dariasmama said...

@tdr: I don't understand why "We can't afford it," isn't a good reason. If your kid is old enough to go to camp, he's old enough to get that everything costs money.

A variation on the theme (for the times when we *can* afford it, but it doesn't line up with our values) is, "That's not something our family spends it's money on."

tdr said...

I don't have a problem with "We can't afford it" I was just curious what other people thought. So people think you should hide these things from kids. I say it very often in fact.

I talk about money and the evils of debt to my kids ALL the time. My son came in while I was paying bills and I told him how much we are paying per month toward debt. He was quite astounded (it is an *astonishing* amount) and I hope he takes away a lesson from it.

My daughter used to be ready to spend whatever money she had. She has been working for me every day all summer and she doesn't want to spend ANY of it now that she has earned it. And she's only 7.5! I'm proud of her.

As for the work she does -- every day I leave for work very early and she takes care of the 4 yr old while my husband gets himself and our older son ready. She makes $1/day for her effort. She has earned something like $25 so far this summer. Quite a decent sum for a 7 yr old!

Anonymous said...

My favorite Dave Ramsey quote, "You people are buying things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like!"

There are some rays of light in the frum community. Here in Baltimore, the owner of 2 kosher restaurants (Accents and Cocoaccinos) are actually running an internship program. Yes, it's a job for teens, but it comes with requirements to open a checking and savings account, and to attend monthly seminars on money management, saving & investing, etc.

Dave said...

wedding expenses (is it really necessary to serve 2 meals at every wedding)

It isn't necessary to serve one.

SephardiLady said...

Dave-I'd be thrilled to see some family put on the first Cake and Punch wedding.

TDR-I think "we can't afford" it is a perfectly fine answer if the kids see that "can't afford" is consistent. That means everyone should be cutting back, including the parents. A mother that says we "can't afford" but goes out for weekly manicures isn't going to get the message across.

Now what about those who have the money (or at least from the kids perspective has the money)? I think need and wants have to enter into the conversation, as do value and values, as do alternatives/budgets, as does delayed gratification.

When everyone is living on less: "we can't afford" should work fine, although I always recommend discussing tradeoffs and budgets.

When the kids know there is money, the conversation would look different, i.e. is this trip a good value or would it be a better valueto take everyone for the price of say 3 kids, and get to enjoy the entire day at the park as a family.

Dave said...

I'd be thrilled to see some family put on the first Cake and Punch wedding.

It happens all the time. It just doesn't seem to happen in the frum communities (at least not in New York).

Part of the problem also seems to be the strong social pressure for conformity in parts of the frum community. It takes decisions from "is sending the children to camp a wise use of our money" to "if we don't send the children to the right camp, what are the long term ramifications in terms of social pressure, schools, jobs, and weddings".

Not that the inability to say "no" is an exclusively frum problem by any means -- but there do appear to be stronger social penalties for nonconformity than in mainstream society.

qsman said...

We've used darismama's approach with our family (sometimes the other one too). Now that my older kids earn babysitting money we tell them the same thing - is it really necessary to purchase item "x" (fad/trinket/something).

I know that a few camps west of the "Catskills-Poconos line" take the non-visited kids off grounds for the day.

And I found this comment in todays NYTimes

“It’s very difficult for one advertiser to come to you and change your perspective,” said Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist at Harvard who has studied persuasion in financial advertising. “But as it becomes socially acceptable for everyone to accumulate debt, everyone does.” A spokesman for Citigroup said that the bank no longer runs the “Live Richly” campaign and that it no longer works with the advertising agency that created it.

rachel in israel said...

"Here's a question though. Do you think there is some reason to give a different answer to the "why not?" other than "we can't afford it"?"

Do you mean if the real reson is that you can't afford it and you make up an excuse to your kids? That's bound to fire back in the future, since the kids will not understand the concept. Hiding the real reason will make your kids feel that it is shameful to not be rich (I don't want to say poor since living under a roof and having food is not being poor).

Kids ususaly feel bad when they have less than their peers. Having the same message coming from home will make things worse.

stopthemadness said...

Great another Orthodox drug post!

According to Hamercaz the kids are still in jail

Selena said...

I tell my son (who is 6) that we can't afford certain things. But it can make kids very nervous. My son started worrying that we were not going to have somewhere to live or food to eat, because I told him we didn't have the money to go to a restaurant. You just need to make sure young kids understand that just because we don't have money for one thing, doesn't mean with don't have ANY money for important things.

Also, we went to a frum wedding on Wednesday. 1st of all, there was no shmorg before hand. There were some cut veggies and soda. 2nd there was no sit down meal. After the chuppa, they brought in a few deli trays and some hot food (noodles, rice, etc) and set up a small buffet.

I thought it was a really lovely wedding, the chosson and the kallah looked really happy and I don't think anyone went home feeling deprived. Best of all, I would think the whole wedding cost less than 5K, probably less than 3. I was very impressed. Of course, we do live out of town :)

suppy said...

Hailiger said:
Great, another Orthodox drug bust!?

According to Hamercaz the kids are still in jail.

Hailiger -

Let's face it -

Goyim eat, Jews eat.
Goyim sleep, Jews sleep.
Goyim do drugs, Jews do drugs.

Stop getting so excited each time you hear about it

SephardiLady said...

Dave-I had a post log ago about cake and punch weddings in the non-Jewish world. I have told my husband that I'd love to do a "kiddush" for the weddings we put on someday and just invite everyone. I hate cutting people off the invite list and would rather just put in an annoucement in the weekly shul annoucements saying come as you may.

Selena-Sounds nice. Now imagine how much debt could be wiped out (and how many education trusts could be build) if this type of wedding was more standard. Sign me up.

SephardiLady said...

Selena makes an excellent point about being careful with "we can't afford." Good topic for another post.

Anonymous said...

you sometimes wonder where the responsible adult is. not commenting on the post prior to this one about the important issue of substance abuse. if you can't say no to your child, how are your disciplining them? or are they disciplining you?

Dave said...

It would seem to me, and please take this with a grain of salt as we have no children, that part of this has to be getting children to make age-appropriate financial decisions as their growing up.

You have to stick with it (they don't get to pick one thing and then also get another by whining), so you will probably want the decision window to be small enough that they can recover from bad decisions (i.e. don't say "you have this much for the year" ).

And you have to model the same behavior. Let them see the adults making hard financial choices and sticking to them. It doesn't have to be that big either, it can be showing them that you could buy one book or another, but not both, and so on.

triLcat said...

My parents sat down with me when my 8th grade trip to Wash, DC was announced. It was $250.

They said "We can afford this trip, if it's very important to you, but that's a lot of money, and we could do X, Y, and Z if we don't spend money on this three day trip. Can you give up this trip?"

I didn't take the trip.

I think it's better to say "it's not in our budget" than "we can't afford it," and explain to children how budgeting works.

If you continually say you can't afford things, kids will really worry that you can't afford things like food.

Besides, how can you say "I can't afford it" about a $5 toy, and then spend $100 on groceries? The kid simply won't understand it if you don't explain about budgets. It's better to say "it's too expensive," or "We don't need this" or "It's not in our budget."

It also gets into "midvar sheker tirchak." Let's face it, tdr, the $45 for the trip wouldn't be the thing that would throw you into bankruptcy. Saying "we can't afford it" is almost a lie. Saying "I'm sorry, but we have to be careful with our money, and $45 for a trip to an amusement park is too much for our family's budget." is more honest and helps your child understand better.

Mike S. said...

I am not sure the dicusion is properly focused. I don't think the issue is saying no or discussing budgets with kids.

I think the real issue is a willingness to resist the pressure for social conformity. The major obstacle here is the perception that social conformity helps keep people frum. This is why when it comes to shiduchim, admission to schools and the like, there is such a price exacted for nonconformity.

Dave said...

Part of the problem is that nonconformity carries an enormous (and potentially irrevocable) social cost in many frum communities.

The penalty for being the risk taker is potentially familial ostracism.

Ariella said...

A woman I knew who had 8 children and really could not afford camp for them did without. I remember her remarking on giving tzedaka to an organization that funds camp for children who can't afford it when she herself did without. But when her oldest entered a certain yeshiva, it was the school that insisted the boy be enrolled in camp for the summer. So she had to somehow cover that cost. I understand that they wanted the boy in a program that had learning on the schedule, and no doubt there are benefits to such. Yet, the whole thrust of keeping children programmed all the time indicates that only the "authorized experts" who run yeshivas and camps can be entrusted to keeping a child on the path -- not the parents. Unfortunately, it is true for some parents, but having that expectation would reinforce their view that bringing up their children properly is other people's jobs.

Shira Salamone said...

The Out of Step Jew in Kfar Saba was complaining about this all the back in the ancient year of 2004.

I remember a conversation I had with my husband when we heard that the residential yeshiva in which some Orthodox friends of ours had enrolled some of their kids would let said kids go home for only about one Shabbat each month despite the fact that their home was quite nearby. Apparently, the administration thought it was more important for the kids to spend Shabbat in school than with, heaven forbid, their own parents and siblings (gasp!). My husband's reaction was that the kids were basically being "released on good behavior." What did these frum parents--both, as yeshiva graduates, well educated Jewishly--do to deserve to be treated as if they couldn't be trusted to raise their own children frum?