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Friday, November 27, 2009

First Response to the Young Couples: Just Downright Mean

I have to say I am a bit disappointed that this letter below is the first to be published by the Yated in response to the young couple that wrote in recognizing that the "help" they received from their parents turns out to be of little help at all. I think I might have to edit and send in my own response for publication in hopes that some advice be published that is not only practical but sympathetic.

Clearly the newest letter writer does not understand that the parents did more harm than good by helping. Had the parents NOT lavished them with financial support and a monthly check that I think is one of the most terrible ideas out there, these young couples would have likely been able to see that their situation was headed out of control far earlier and they would have been able to take steps that are far more difficult to take at a later stage in life. It is far easier to correct financial missteps before having 2 or 3 children.

Now a handful of kids and a large mortgage later, their hands are essentially tied. It is very difficult to go out and rent a basement apartment or even a small apartment because of limitations on the number of occupants. If they had been renting that apartment before the children were born the children would be "afterborn." If they do default on their mortgage and leases or car loans, the default might not just cost them their good credit, home, and/or car, but the possibility of future employment opportunities and advancement as employers today are more and more likely to run credit checks for employment, security clearances, and advancements in jobs where the employee is responsible for handling money.

This isn't about managing without a bugaboo, which the smart couple will sell or consign. This is about finding out that the entire lifestyle that served up on a silver platter was an illusion and picking up the pieces. Personally, I find it far easier to put together the pieces going forward than to pick up the pieces going backwards.

I'd rather be the couple in the rented apartment without support than the couple with the far too large mortgage who just found out the well has run dry. The letter writer didn't come with a " 'tude," just questions about where to go a handful of kids later when no one ever bothered to fulfill the mitzvah of teaching the son a trade? Giving mussar to these couples about their obligation to be supportive of their parents trials and tribulations and saying other people have worse problems is rather cruel in my opinion. If anyone should be getting mussar, I think it best to direct that mussar at those who perpetuated this mess.

Recommended reading: The Millionaire Next Door which takes a look at the spending habits of the truly affluent (i.e. those who don't overleverage themselves and their children) and the differences in income an spending between those who were given "economic outpatient care" and those who were not.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your amazing newspaper. I greatly look forward to it each week.

I’m responding to the letter which discussed certain young couples who aren’t sure what to do now that their parents are in a financial crisis. For some reason, I’m not too sympathetic. Welcome to the real world in which not everybody has money. Appreciate that your parents were generous all these years when they supported you lavishly. Lots of couples start off their married lives with almost nothing and don’t have rich parents to support them. They could be your neighbors, coworkers or friends. They don’t have fancy houses at the outset of their marriage, they live in rented apartments.

Now that your parents are going through some hard times, be sympathetic and supportive instead of complaining. Believe me, you can manage without your Bugaboo stroller and designer clothes.

Now, I really don’t know your individual circumstance and situation, but please. These should be the worst kinds of problems that anyone ever experiences. Frankly, I’m a little disgusted by the whole thing.
L. Y.


Miami Al said...

Agree 100%, this couple is over leveraged and in a bad situation. As a result of parental support, they got themselves in a bad financial situation, and they are looking for a path out. The writer didn't seem ungrateful for the support to date, or unsympathetic, just unprepared for life.

The parents were "generous" with support but stingy with "parenting," because they didn't prepare their children for adulthood. This young couple, in their mid twenties, now has to grow up and prepare for life, but they are absolutely doing so from a bad hand...

Are there people with worse hands? Sure, but the parents with their "generous" support would have been better of insisting that the support be directed into education (qualifying the young couple for better paying jobs) or bankrolling a business venture... instead of investing in their children, they supported their children's consumption, which is counter productive.

Rather than preparing their children to sustain their OWN upper middle class lifestyle, with a good education through a Masters level in a good field, they subsidized them living an upper middle class lifestyle while not earning it.

Being sympathetic to the parent's financial situation is easy. But the children should have SOME sympathy for being in a bad situation, set up by the parents, and now no easy solution.

Ditching the Bugaboo Stroller and Designer Clothes doesn't change the fact that they can't pay for their house or leased cars. To get out of this mess probably involves turning the keys over to the bank for both the homes and the cars, taking the credit hit, and starting over in a much smaller place, and trying to get the husband the skills he needs to support their family.

Getting his income upprobably involves him working a crappy job and picking up an AA, then a BA, which would have been 4 years had they pushed that instead of Kollel, instead the father will likely spend 6-8 years getting to where he could have been at 22 if the parents thought about their children needing to support themselves, instead of how they could support them.

The strangest thing to me, in becoming observant, was meeting adults my parents ages with children my age that were my parents peers economically, whose kids weren't close to my peers. The parents paid for Day School, year in Israel, etc., but not a good college and graduate school path. The underside of the Day School for all has been resources that could be invested in preparing children for a financially independent adulthood has been spent on them being told by others NOT to strive for that.

When I meet Doctors/Lawyers that had a secular education and send their kids to the local Yeshiva that doesn't prepare them for college and then support them as adults, I don't see generosity, I see people that pulled the ladder up after them.


Anonymous said...

To be honest, I wasn't as sympathetic to the original letter writer as everyone else was. They might have realized that the money doesn't go on forever, but they chose to ignore that fact.

And I don't think they're as worried about the credit hit in giving up the houses and cars as they would be about "losing face" with their friends. Going to a clunker from a nice minivan or Suburban is just so gauche.

There are a lot of young couples on my street where there is a husband working, but the grandparents bought the house for cash (often putting a big addition on too). The wives don't work and have nice sheitels. If the original young couple (whose parents are cutting off help) live in this kind of neighborhood, you can see how they might have a great deal of anxiety about losing their lifestyle, and maybe, their friends.

Moral: don't want what you can't afford.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I like this letter. It points out the obvious - living beyond your means is like being on vacation. Eventually you have to go home to a responsible lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al, Great point and unfortunately one that sometimes has to be made from someone who didn't grow up in the Orthodox madness. Educated successful people raising children that need entitlements or lifelong support should not be the "new" paradigm of success.

Unfortunately, the next shoe to drop (in 10-20 years) will be how we orthodox after living very successful upper middle income careers can't retire as all our resources have gone into Day School systems. The only question remains, will some Jewish community leaders have the guts to tell it like it is before it's too late?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'd take it a step further. Will the Kiruv movement have the guts to tell young and middle aged baal tshuva's about the cost of being frum--how overwhelming it can get in a very short time? how you will never have as much (materially) as your relatives, friends, and co-workers? How retirement is not even a possibility for families who (in the real world, have no business, but do anyway) have been paying yeshiva tuition for so many years? These are the same people who couldn't send their children to public schools (in many cases) even if they wanted to because the public schools in the area are so abysmal (partially due to the fact that all the people--frum--in the neighborhood are sending to private schools so they have to bus in the children who want to use the schools)?
Oh, and speaking of marriage--how, unless you've got quite a bit of money--don't even try to bring up your child with a 'yeshivish' or chareidi outlook because they probably won't get a shidduch anyway! We personally know two very well off families whose daughters got engaged within a month of being 'out there' and the husbands are 'learners'. Another family (who is barely middle class) has two daughters (who also want to marry 'learners') is still waiting two years down the line...
It would be amazing to see some up-front-honesty wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with SL's observations. The parents, although well meaing, did not do their children any favors. The real question is at what point does a young (or not so young)couple have to take responsiblility and think to say "gee, if I'm relying on my parents/in-laws, I should know something about how stable that source of income is. perhaps I should have a back up plan for employment and get some training even though my parents never made sure I learned a marketable trade. perhaps we should live way under our means and not get the bigger house just becuase Mommy and Daddy are paying the mortgage." In other words, at what age should this generation be expected to grow up? Maybe the silver lining to the current economic situation is that the next generation will be raised a little differently.

Anonymous said...

Tessya: Maybe losing those "friends" would be a good thing for couples like this. There is not (or should not be) any shame in not being well off financially. (There perhaps should be some shame in living off of parents or the government if you are capable of working, but that's a different issue.) Good friends aren't those who make you feel like you need a large or fancy home or nice cars to designer clothes. Besides, this couple might be surprised to learn that many of their peers are having the same rude awakening that they are having.

Miami Al said...

Anonymous, when our life was spiraling downward, and our marriage suffering, and the Orthodox cultural practices (not the religious ones, mind you) were stifling, I'm very fortunate that my wife and I communicate well and figured out what we were liking from Judaism and what we weren't.

As my brilliant wife pointed out when we were fighting with a crappy school about our kids (at the pre-school level, and aghast at how terrible it was at higher levels), my wife was ready to throw in the towel entirely, "This wasn't what I signed up for."

A change in lifestyle, ditching some friends and making new ones, and Judaism plays a MUCH more reasonable role in my life. We kept what we liked, but if we were in a community where we couldn't "pick and choose," we'd have left, because the unsustainable path of poverty at $250k/year of salary is asinine.

I think that the REAL telling point was coming from families that sacrificed with the American Dream of their children do better than them, we found ourselves surrounded by people who were setting their children up to do worse.

Demanding that the younger generation "grow up," instead of demanding that the PARENTS of the younger generation "PARENT YOUR CHILDREN," you are setting up for failure. For 18 years you keep them sequestered, don't prepare them for life, and let them get filled with nonsense by "teachers" that have no qualification other than "frum person with no job skills, let's employ them," then have the nerve to demand that the children "grow up, they are spoiled."

The crime is the spoiling of them. A generation taught that they don't need to work for a living cannot be faulted for being unprepared for adulthood when they get there.

In my secular world, high school was competitive and about achieving to get into college. College was about growing up, living on your own, and learning to make choices. Choices had consequences. The "frum" kids don't learn to make choices when in their parents home, and you expect them to do 25 years of growing up in 1 month at age 25 with 3 kids.

Grow up, the Day Schools and Yeshivot (a few elite schools in NYC aside) screwed up an ENTIRE generation of kids with warped values, poor skills, and no ability to sustain it. This generation needs help being "taught how to fish," because you kept giving them fish because the Rabbi said if they learn to fish they'll run off and marry gentiles.

Anonymous said...

OK Miami Al. You make some valid points. Its hard to fault a generation that not only wasn't taught to fish, but was taught that fishing was treif. However, that generation is now raising children of their own and making choices about what values and skills their children will be raised with. If this couple is in their 20's, as seems to be the case, I would rather tell them it's not too late, you can change and improve not only your situation, but that of your children, then to tell them its too late and they have no responsiibility because of how they were raised. Sure, it will be hard for them, but its not impossible. The letter writer seemed to be asking for concrete advice, not just sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: How can you say that $250,000/year would mean living in poverty? Let's say 5 kids at 15,000/year tuition, requiring about $110,000 in pretax income. That still leaves 140,000/year putting a family of 7 well into the top 10% of american families.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Miami Al: Right there with you. If people don't stop "playing the game" there won't be any Judaism left to save.

Anonymous said...

Post tax income after two cars, a house big enough for that many children, summer camp (because I am assuming both parents work),and all the other expenses, does not leave you with much. Moreover, let us not forget that lovely 'year in Israel'.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Anon 2:53

After taxes and insurance, you'd have less than half that - only about $70,000 a year - to actually live on. With two parents and five kids that's only $10,000 a year per person. Try buying a house in a frum neibhgorhood and still having enough to live on with only that.

Anonymous said...

Ahavah Gayle: I think the net would be a bit more. However, more to the point, most families in America manage on $70,000/year after taxes and insurance. It's certainly not living in luxury, but lets not exagerate and call it poverty. We need a little perspective here.

Anonymous said...

Anon: three words - Alternative Minimum Tax.

Dave said...

Most families have far fewer children, and don't send them to expensive private schools.

Anonymous said...

Dave: The 70K net figure was after tuition.

Miami Al said...

Anonymous, right, but the families on 70k don't have to sustain the lifestyle of a 250k family. At 70k, you can drive 10 year old cars, it's a little less plausible for you dual 6 figure family. At 70k, you're working in clothes that don't need dry cleaning.

Also, at 250k, you need to save for college, at 70k, you can expect much more financial aid.

So our $250k family has the after-tuition income of a $70k family, but most of the expenses of the $250k family.

Gee, that's really appealing.

It's easy to rationalize not taking fancy vacations because you had 3 extra children and gave them a step up on life. It's way less exciting that your co-workers took the family on a fancy vacation, and you're putting your 5 kids, plus 10 of your neighbor's kids, through Yeshiva.

Anonymous said...

Al: I don't buy the argument that someone who earns 250K has to spend more than someone who earns 100K, particularly on cars or dry cleaning. Believe it or not, there are many lawyers who make 100K or less (think government attorneys as well as many in private practice) who need to wear a clean suit, starched shirt and shined shoes each day. You choose yeshiva for your children in lieu of the fancy vacations. You may feel you do not have a choice, but it still is a choice, just like having a large family is a choice. I'm sure you will reap the rewards even if the reward is not in the form of a fancy vacation and a new BMS.

As for college scholarships, you might have a point, but there may be schools that take your private school tuition into consideration.

LeahGG said...

Back to the original letter writer. As children and teens, we're raised to believe that if we do what our parents/teachers expect of us, everything will be ok. These kids did and now it's not, and now they're shuffling to make it ok. They have nothing but my respect at this point. Their parents and educators messed up, and we as a community have an obligation to re-educate them as much as possible.

Charlie Hall said...

"When I meet Doctors/Lawyers that had a secular education and send their kids to the local Yeshiva that doesn't prepare them for college and then support them as adults, I don't see generosity, I see people that pulled the ladder up after them."

The local yeshiva in my neighborhood is full of the children of doctors, lawyers, professors, and people in finance. It has an outstanding college prep curriculum. It is also co-ed. So of course it is judged to be insufficently frum.

Miami Al said...

Anonymous, sure thing. People earning 250k/year spend $60k - $75k on fancy vacations and other self indulgences. Absolutely. People I know in that income range spend $10k - $20k/year, tops, but you can absolutely believe that there are no increased costs in the lifestyle to earn in the top 5% of America, and it's all fancy vacations and more expensive cars, absolutely.

In fact, everyone in the top 5% of the country is just rolling around in self indulgence waiting to be taxed by the Federal Government and support the Yeshiva bills for people that don't want to maximize their earnings.

Anonymous said...

Let's not let the modern orthodox schools off the hook on this one. It is isn't a chareidi only problem. We teach our kids that college, professional jobs, self reliance, and success is important yet the modern orthodox lifestyle though not entirely dependant like the couple under discussion, is only available to the 250k income earners.

We teach our children to have families of at least 3 children and to live in the jewish suburbs. Well guess what, as has been pointed out in an earlier blog here, you can't afford a family of 5 or 6 or 7 (3-5 kids) and pay for your obligations on less than 250k. Let us fear for our own children who will write a simmilar letter in 15 years to a modern Jewish newspaper.

Sure, they'll be working, and sure they won't blame us for them having no skills. They will make a living BUT are we all sure that all of our kids will earn 250k plus? If not, they'll be working modern orthodox poor. How sad...

megapixel said...

I think we have moved off the topic. It is highly impossible to expect all our children to earn that kind of money. $250K is like, outrageous. Not all our children have that kind of ability. the average american earns $65K I believe, how can we expect to earn almost 5 times that amount?

I think Tesyaa was being a little overly harsh. "Moral: don't want what you can't afford."
We all want what we cant afford. Its human nature. maturity is either saving up for it, or telling ourselves NO.
And it is certainly difficult for a couple used to certain standards to come down - she mocks that, but it is real thing. That is why the halacha is (which I never understood, but whatever) that if a wealthy man loses all his money, tzedah is obligated to provide him with a guy running in front of his horses, cuz that is what he is used to. so clearly it is not something bad, but quite natural. This couple may have been smart had they figured, hey we have all this money coming in let's put some into savings, but if they were given to believe that it would always be that way - with dad shtupping money at them, why should they? So yes, they have to make some serious changes, but it could be done. No different if it would be a guy who said, okay time to leave kollel, I will now go out to work. He would be cut off support also, or govt assistance as he started to earn money. the only difference is that they were led to believe one way and the bottom dropped out on them.

Anonymous said...

Megapixel: There is a difference between wanting what we can't afford (which I agree is human nature) and buying or getting into long term leases for what you can't afford. That doesn't mean I don't feel badly for this couple, but unfortunately they will have to lower their expectations for at least the next few years.

I also agree that the notion that every family has to earn $250K is entirely unrealistic. However, if both parents get degrees and work full time, by the time the children and school age a family income in the neighborhood of $130K-150K is not unrealistic (i.e. both parents could be registered nurses or pharmacists). The problem is that not enough couples are even aiming for that, pushing up the tuition costs for others.

Anonymous said...

My point is not that it is likely that our kids will earn 250k, but that unfortunately if they don't, they'll be begging for scholarship. I don't think they will earn 250k, and it's sad that we are setting them up for that shame.

The schools are too expensive. Many others have written about why they are expensive, but to date our leadership do not want to make hard choices to fix the system.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:16: So what are the hard choices you refer to? Even bare bones schools that cut out the excess administrative costs, fancy buildings, sports, art, smartboards, etc. are still going to be expensive (I'm guessing in the 8 -10K range if there are qualified teachers), and there are always going to be some parents (especially those with college educations and gradulate degrees) who are going to want some of the extras for their children to help make sure their kids can get into good schools and are prepared academically for demanding college programs.

megapixel said...

and you are also assuming that both parents work full time, which I believe is not a healthy thing. (my oldest is 17 so I have had some time to make mistakes and rethink them)
The more I think about it the more I am convinced of it...
where I live tuition is more like
5Gs for elementary. but families tend to be alot bigger.(my neighbor has 14 kids)so I guess this all evens out in the end.
Maybe the 5 towns and teaneck school administrators should come here and get some pointers about how to run a school with alot less.

Anonymous said...

megapixel: I don't think it is unreasonable to assume both parents work. If private school is in the picture, then why shouldn't both parents work to be able to pay tuition? Part of the problem is that people want it all -- private school, large families and a SAHM. That's fine if you can do it on your own dime, but if you can't, that probably means there is some other family with either both parents working or a dad working 60+ hours a week to help subsidize the tuition of others.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:18, thank you. The reality is that a lot of working mothers would prefer to stay home or cut down to part time, but work full time because of tuition.