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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Frugality is the Best Training

A commentor with the screen name Thinking posted a question to me on my post regarding my post on a conversation with my son where he asked why we don't have a cleaning lady. Thinking writes:

Just a thought: IY"H your children will grow up and get married. The odds are that one of your children's spouses may prefer to have cleaning help then cleaning themselves and may even be willing to give up something else not to have to do the cleaning. How are you going to make sure that your children are open to that possibility? As an aside, as a bochur I ate out at peoples homes 100's of times. I can assure you that both my friends and I, many of us who grew up with housekeeper at home, were no less likely to be willing to come over before shabbos to help clean or watch the children or clean up on shabbos then our friends who did not have cleaning help at home. This was based on our upbringing not our socioeconomic status.

I found the question interesting because it would be the exact opposite of the question I might ask which would be how are we as a community steeped in relative luxury preparing our children to survive on less? While I hate to be doom and gloom, I think this is a likely scenario for a variety of reasons.

But back to the question: I am not, nor do I intend to prepare my children for taking on this luxury or that luxury. A few things:

1. We cannot prepare our children for every scenario in life, we can only give our children survival tools.
2. Frugality is a survival tool. A person who is frugal is far more prepared to search for alternatives, substitute one product for another, and cut back, than one who is not accustomed to doing so. Frugality equals flexibility.
3. Living with more is far easier than living with less. If my kids decide to add a cleaning lady to their budget either by finding more income, saving less, or taking it from somewhere else in the budget, than that is their own decision to grapple with (although I really don't know where all the money for cleaning help is coming from). But if there is no room in the budget, at least they won't feel like they are taking such a hit in "lifestyle."

P.S. It does not surprise me one bit that children who grew up with housekeepers have nice middot and are willing to help out where needed.


Anonymous said...

I know a woman who grew up in poverty. Her friends as teens asked her how she could be happy wearing such cheap clothes and used clothes from other families. She answered that she felt prepared for the realities of marriage where her friends were not. She married young, as she thought she would, and her husband was also from a very poor family. The two worked hard to provide for their family. Their children look happy in their consignment store clothes and always have a cheerful attitude. At least she didn't have to reduce her lifestyle when she married.

Leah Goodman said...

There is a certain relevance to Thinking's point.

I suffer from fibromyalgia, so washing floors is very hard for me. At one point, I was dating someone who said that he didn't care how much money we earned, we were not going to have someone else cleaning our house.

Frugality, particularly in the situation of not "keeping up with the Joneses" is a very worthwhile value to teach your kids, as long as it is accompanied by critical thinking.

For example, if you regularly spend 5 hours on a Friday scrubbing floors and toilets, etc, when you could be working for $20/hour and pay a professional cleaner to do the cleaning for $15/hour and they'd do it in 4 hours, then you're not actually being frugal.

If you feel that you do a better job, or you feel more comfortable cleaning up yourself, that's a different issue. If you've set up your schedule so that you do bits of cleaning here and there when you wouldn't be working anyway, again, different issue.

I know a woman who has a personal nanny instead of using daycare. You could say that's a waste of money, but she has triplets, so she actually pays less to have her own nanny than she'd pay in most daycare situations.

I know a man who regularly has his collared shirts cleaned, ironed, and boxed, at serious expense (it's not cheap in Israel). You could say it's insane, b/c his wife could wash them and iron them, but he's the CEO of a business, so he has to look "mesudar" for meetings even when he's out of the country, and a boxed shirt always looks like it just came off the rack. Add in the fact that his wife is a dentist and can earn enough money to have 10 shirts cleaned, ironed, and boxed in an hour, and you see that what would be an insane luxury for one person is a reasonable expense for another.

My point is that what's frugal for one family may not make financial sense for another.

I think the point is more to explain the decision-making process to your child rather than taking one position over another. (Which SL did nicely in her talk with her son)

Anonymous said...

It's important to point out to your child that frugality is not a point of moral superiority (moral virtue), rather a rational financial choice. People who are less frugal are not necessarily less righteous (unless they are burdening others with their debts).

Also, I am not sure if your plan to inculcate frugality will necessarily work. I was raised by parents who were excessively frugal given their income level. (they probably couldn't hlep it, having grown up with a lot of deprivation themselves). However, it led me to have a lot of social problems. I was definitely made fun of in school (public school) because of my bargain basement clothing. I know how to economize, but I do not live nearly as frugally as my parents. I have definitely rebelled.

I also think that my upbringing affected my relationship with my parents, since they were really focused on money and not on my emotional needs. (They had money, but were obsessed with saving). I think today that they would happily have spent a little more on my desires during my teenage years in order to have a warmer relationship with my parents today. I love my parents and we have an OK relationship, but it could be a lot better. I think some of their frugality might have been penny wise and pound foolish as far as relationships go.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a pretty modest house, whereas my wife grew up pretty comfortably with a nanny when she was younger and a cleaning lady coming in a few days a week to clean her parent’s house. We are, like many people now, struggling to get by (yet getting by) however she is in grad school and I work full time. For her sanity I bring someone in to clean the house every other week. We made the decision to cut back on other things so she can have the sanity of knowing the house, for the most part will be clean (as well as we clean it, it never seems to feel as clean as after the cleaning lady leaves). I believe it is based on personal choices. Our kids are too young to recognize if they are being "spoiled" or not but I hope that we can instill the proper virtues and midos in our kids and I do not think a cleaning lady will take away from that.

Ariella's blog said...

Based on what I see and what another mother told me about her experience, children with regular housekeeping help (more than the once or twice a week cleaning lady) do not learn to clean up after themselves. I recall a mom in Passaic saying that she was letting her housekeeper go primarily to save money but also because she saw how her daughter got in the habit of just leaving her garbage behind her based on seeing there was always someone else to clean it up for her. I also see in my daughters' schools that many wrappers, etc. are just tossed on the floor. Do you think the kids who dump the stuff live in squalor at home? I don't think so. I think that Juanita just picks up after them, which is why they don't pick up after themselves even in public places. The mothers can get equally lazy. One in the area leaves food-stuck stuff out in her kitchen until the cleaning woman comes. I've seen J&J ice coffee containers on park benches, as well as candy dumped just inches from the garbage pail.

And most recently, I had to tell my daughter to clean up the Monopoly she played with a friend who did not offer to clear it after their game. The girl has very nice parents, but she also has regular cleaning help. That's why I think it does not occur to her that good manners dictate offering to help. Even my daughter- no neat-freak herself - -commented on it.

Ariella's blog said...

I also wanted to comment on this:
For example, if you regularly spend 5 hours on a Friday scrubbing floors and toilets, etc, when you could be working for $20/hour and pay a professional cleaner to do the cleaning for $15/hour and they'd do it in 4 hours, then you're not actually being frugal."

in connection with SL's previous post. When you are earning $20 an hour, you are actually not taking home $20 an hour if you are working "on the books." There are withholdings for federal, state, and sometimes even city tax, as well as social security, medicare, and sometimes other withholdings as well. Not to mention the fact that working 5 hours usually costs more than 5 hours of the day, as there is some commuting involved. One more thing, in my experience, cleaning ladies do not work faster than I do. Perhaps they would if they are paid by the job or a flat rate. But otherwise, it is in their interest not to hurry too much. Scrubbing floors and toilets may be considered unpleasant, but they don't actually require a type of skill that makes the job go faster for the pro than for the layperson. But it 's ok to make the tradeoff. If you are happier working at what you do to earn the money with which you pay the cleaning woman for the same time, even if she clears the whole $15 while you may actually come out with $14 by the end of the day, you can go ahead.

But I think that for many people it is really a kind of attitude that declares "I'm above menial labor." or didn't someone claim "a bas melech should not have to scrub toilets." Well, as I have a very flesible work schedule now, I do it in my house. It's just another chore like laundry or vacuuming that just has to get done. Why should I think it diminishes my dignity to do it any more than changing my babies' diapers did?

Dave said...

Most people aren't able to monetize their time at will.

You may get paid a certainly hourly wage, but unless you are able to add additional billable hours as and when you desire, it isn't accurate to say that you'll just do that and pay someone to do the housecleaning.

Dave said...

Why should I think it diminishes my dignity to do it any more than changing my babies' diapers did?

As far as I'm concerned, if it is a job you would pay someone else to do, it cannot be "beneath you".

You may not want to do it, and you may be fortunate enough to be able to pay someone to do it for you, but the only way it can be "beneath you" is if it is something you would never have anyone do.

Anonymous said...

In my house the kids have to clean up before the cleaning lady comes (every other week) so that she can get to other stuff (cleaning floors, bathrooms, etc.). We also play a flat rate...

Ariella's blog said...

Dave, your sentiments of "As far as I'm concerned, if it is a job you would pay someone else to do, it cannot be "beneath you"." are very admirable and certainly an ideal people should aspire to. But that is not the attitude of most people. In a local small minyan, the person who had been put in charge of fundraising demanded more money from all who daven there in part because they had to hire someone at a few thousand dollars a year for cleaning because the rabbi had had to clean the bathrooms himself. That was something that the writer declared we would not even ask of our wives, let alone the rabbi. I can quote from my response to him at the time:
"And BTW J____, I do clean the bathrooms at home. That is not to say that the rabbi should do it in the shul, but it is not unheard of for a member's wife to do such a thing. We have no hired help in our home at all, so please do not make assumption that everyone who attend the should maintains as extravagant a lifestyle as you take for granted"

I really did not appreciate his assumption that everyone has maid service. And BTW the rabbi's family actually did, so I don't know why they didn't just arrange for her to take on the shul (just a couple of houses away) too. But this J___ took pride in having hired an "ani" (in his words) to do the job that he would not dream of asking a wife to do.

Orthonomics said...

It's important to point out to your child that frugality is not a point of moral superiority (moral virtue), rather a rational financial choice.

I'd argue that frugality/thrift is both a virtue and a rational financial choice. This week's parsha we have a mitzvah not to waste. The Ben Ish Hai in his book for women talks extensively about being careful with resources. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter lists Thrift as one of the 13 Middot to develop.

Commenter Abbi said...

SL, I really don't think you understood Thinking's point. You have no idea where your children's career choices will take them or what kind of pple they will marry, so it's a little presumptive to say "I have no idea where all the money for cleaning help is coming from." Maybe they will start their own very successful companies or make it big in stock market.

Or maybe they will marry someone is either not very good at housekeeping or is physically incapable of doing it or is working a full time job and simply can't?. Then what? The point is, are you inculcating the belief that cleaning help is an unnecessary luxury that's never ok to have or another household need that can be budgeted for by cutting back on other things? Your comments seemed like you wanted to be open to the latter but that you really believe the former.

Dave said...

Cleaning help is a luxury.

You can either have a messy house, or do the work yourself.

It may be a nice luxury, it may be a reasonable luxury, but make no doubt about it, it is a luxury.

Orthonomics said...

Abbi-I hope my kids will at least enough financial sucess to own a nice home, save up money for retirement and their own kids education, pay Yeshiva tuition, and enjoy some luxuries to boot.

But they live in our house and will have to pitch in because that is our reality.

Commenter Abbi said...

SL: I'm not sure where how you understood that I was implying your kids shouldn't be helping in the house. I think that's great and absolutely necessary. I hope I have the zchut to educate my own children in such a way when they get old enough to pitch in with the chores in a serious way.

My only point was that just as you have made life choices according to your personal set of priorities, other people make life choices according to their priorities. and needing cleaning help is not always about being lazy or spendy or spoiled. That's all.

Dave- I'll be sure to inform my friend with MS that she's just being lazy by not cleaning her own house.

Leah Goodman said...

I absolutely agree that a person should make an effort to clean up after themselves, and children should be taught that from an early age.

Ariella: true, most people don't have my situation. I work from home and basically have an "unlimited" amount of work that I can do, so my time really is easy to monetize, and since I've been a WAHM with no outside help with the baby, my earnings have been below the tax threshold for the last year or so. Again, I have fibromyalgia, so if I clean the house, it takes longer and I often end up having to sleep it off for several hours or else I'm in pain for a day or two.

Regarding cleaning a shul bathroom, it should be a paid task. Cleaning a public toilet is generally much more unpleasant than cleaning one at home. It's not that it's beneath one's dignity, it's that it's not a task people should be expected to happily volunteer for.

Dave: I agree that cleaning help is a luxury. However, it's really a matter of the family's overall situation whether it makes sense to have cleaning help or it's an extravagance.

As long as a family is meeting all of its financial obligations and isn't asking for help from anyone, no one should judge them negatively for having cleaning help.

alpidarkomama said...

Frugality is ABSOLUTELY one of the life skills we intend BE"H to pass on to our children. We exercise the ability to discriminate between wants and needs on a daily basis.

Dave said...

and needing cleaning help is not always about being lazy or spendy or spoiled. That's all.

Dave- I'll be sure to inform my friend with MS that she's just being lazy by not cleaning her own house

Would you care to show me where I said it was lazy? Or spoiled?

It is a luxury. I'm not arguing for a monastic lifestyle, I'm pointing out that it is in fact a luxury.

Even in your friends case, having a cleaning service is a luxury; having medical care is not.

As long as a family is meeting all of its financial obligations and isn't asking for help from anyone, no one should judge them negatively for having cleaning help.


My point is that few if any of us will have the ability to enjoy whatever luxuries we desire. For most of us, we have to weigh one choice against another.

Having a home for your family that is safe and sturdy is a need. Redoing your living room is a luxury.

Having enough food for your family to eat is a need. Eating meat every day is a luxury. Eating gourmet foods is a luxury. Eating out is a luxury. My personal definition of "not broke" is "if we ruin dinner we can make something else rather than have to eat it or do without".

Having warm clothing to wear in the winter is a need. Having clothing that is appropriate for school or work is a need. Having designer clothing is a luxury. Having "trendy" clothing is a luxury.

Keeping your house clean enough that it is not a health hazard is a need. Keeping it spotless is a want, and keeping it spotless by hiring help is a luxury.

In my family, we eat quite well, but the house is not so neat. Other people would choose their luxuries differently.

My great-grandmother sold her hair during the depression to put food on the table. I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate that my choices at this point in my life are instead of the nature of "which luxury" do I want.

But I don't make the mistake of thinking that they are anything other than luxuries that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford.

Leah Goodman said...

Having designer clothing is a luxury. Having "trendy" clothing is a luxury.

If you're talking about kids, sure.
Kids should be dressed in clean, unstained clothes which fit correctly, match, and meet the school dress code. If it's second-hand or came from Wal-mart, anyone who says a word against the child or the parent should be beaten.

If you're talking about working adults, that may not be true - as in my example of the businessman who gets his shirts pressed and boxed, he also has to make sure that his suits are reasonably fashionable - albeit, he's the type to make use of the Sym's Bash to get end-of-season suits and wear the same small number of suits until the fashion changes enough that it would be noticeable that he's out of style.

Another acquaintance worked as a shopper for a high-fashion shop. She had to wear $1000 suits to work. It wasn't a luxury, it was her work uniform.

Dave said...

That's why I said "Having clothing that is appropriate for school or work is a need.".

Some jobs have clothing requirements that are far steeper than others.

Leah Goodman said...

In terms of choosing which luxuries you want, I absolutely agree. My husband had some forced vacation days to use up last winter.

We had a certain amount of budget for our vacation. After carefully looking at our options, we realized that we couldn't afford a vacation that we would really enjoy, especially with a baby.

Instead, we spent 2 days visiting relatives (by bus), one day at home alone, one day in Tel Aviv hanging out, and on one day we went up to IKEA and used up most of our vacation budget on a dining room table & chairs, a living room carpet, and a few other pieces of furniture and knick-knacks to make our house nicer.

Some people would say that we were foolish to give up a vacation, while others would say we were brilliant, because we enjoy our new furniture a lot (we couldn't really have shabbos guests before, b/c our old table barely seated 4.)

It's all a matter of perspective and priorities.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone out there believe that luxury is relative? I truly believe that indoor plumbing is a luxury; most people in the world don't have it and they get along without it. But my toilet is not on the list of things I give up when I'm financially strapped.

Ariella's blog said...

trilcat, I just want to clarify that, as I said in my response, I was not saying that they had no right to hire cleaning help for the shul. I took umbrage at the writer's assumption that NO ONE cleans their own bathrooms and EVERYONE hires someone for this job. He was wrong to assume that everyone operates the way he does in his home. I usually use qualifiers because just about every sweeping generalization would turn out wrong. [Note there were two qualifiers in the previous statement.] And I get annoyed by other people's false generalizations, particularly when they end up making wrong assumptions about my own situation.

Though certain luxury items may become common, that does not make them necessities. For example, many teens are given cell phones of their own. Nevertheless, my children's schools have a rule against having them on the premises (as did my daughter's camp). Parents have tried to argue that they feel the phones are needed (what if there's an emergency) but the principal holds firm against them. Yes, I know the ban is for the sake of distraction rather than a statement about luxury. But the point is that people can get by and sometimes are forced to get by without things that they may have learned to take for granted as necessary.

Orthonomics said...

Abbi-My only real point about cleaning help is that it is a huge drain on a budget.

Dare I tell the story of saving a client from insolvency and possibly bankruptcy by twisting his arm to get rid of the cleaning help???

Ahuva said...

"I suffer from fibromyalgia, so washing floors is very hard for me."

You know, there is absolutely no conflict between "frugality is a moral virtue" and "understanding a spouse's physical limitations is a moral virtue."

A loving spouse, yes even a "frugal" loving spouse, will understand when physical limitations make assistance a necessity. I assume that we also have the goal of raising sensitive, considerate children who are aware of the needs of those around them.