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Friday, November 20, 2009

What Now? Unpopular Advice for Young Families that Will No Longer be Receiving Support

This letter appears in the Yated and I'm hoping that somehow the advice I am going to try to offer will make its way into the circles wondering "what now?" I want to make it clear from the outset that I realize that the advice I offer isn't going to be popular, nor are the solution I offer going to be easy. And the advice might even appear to be insulting. But, I'm trying to deal with the numbers for those who see no solution while their life seemingly crumbles around them.


Dear Editor,

As we are all well aware, the world is falling apart financially. Yesterday’s millionaires are poverty stricken today. The lists of tzedakah organizations are endless, and there aren’t any more donors. I can’t imagine anyone possibly saying they haven’t yet been affected by this crisis, because we all have.

I am writing this letter on behalf of the younger generation. For those of us who are married for about five years (give or take) and have around three children, our lives are really “just starting” in a way, whether our husbands are in kollel or not. At this point, we need a lot of money just to get by, no matter how simply we live. We have children to feed and our expenses are only growing.

When many of us got married, our parents and/or in-laws were wealthy. They bought us whatever we needed. They told us “Yes” to whatever we asked for, they agreed to buy us a more expensive house, and they leased us the nicer cars. It was all working perfectly. There were no problems.

Now, however, things are different. Our parents’ finances have changed drastically over the past two years. They can’t give us what they used to, and we now have huge mortgage payments, car payments and child care expenses with no way to pay for them. Although the women may have degrees, the husbands have nothing. They have no way to make a decent living now. No one ever thought about the future, and we didn’t have to, because we were rolling in dough! The husbands don’t have the time or money to start a business or go to school at this point. They need the money now, and the wives can’t work so hard anymore, as they have large families to take care of.

This letter is not coming to blame anyone or to sound ungrateful. Parents, we are so thankful for what you’ve done for us and we have no taanos that you can’t give us anymore. We’re just
asking, what should we do? What is the answer? How are we supposed to manage?

There is probably no answer to this question, but one thing I can say is that when my children get married, I’ll probably do things a lot differently. Maybe the way we’ve done things until now didn’t make as much sense as we thought they did…

A Grateful Child
Strapped for Cash

A few comments before the advice comes:

*I've written before about my thoughts on better and worse ways to help adult children, and I believe a monthly check is possibly one of the worst ways to help adult children. I think this letter further reinforces the pitfalls of monthly support (especially where the money was not actually available indefinitely). I believe that monthly support feeds into an inflated lifestyle due to its normally fluid arrangement, often I comes with strings of dependence, and it hides many of the warning signs that a financial situation is headed in an unsustainable direction. Hence, where support is offered, I think it is best to either make a lump sum gift(s) or fund a specific purpose such as college, funds to start a business, etc.

*Note the language regarding these wealthy parents, "Yesterday's millionaires are poverty stricken." I believe that what the writer is referring to is Hashem's hashgacha over our financial lives, a concept I firmly believe in and a concept that is pivotal in a relationship with a personal G-d. That said, I continue to hear and read about wealthy people who are no longer able to put food on the table and make their mortgage payments. I certainly don't intend to rub salt in wounds, but I hope we take a lesson from the current status quo and start to understand that an over leveraged lifestyle that indicates "wealth" is possibly an illusion.

*Re: "The lists of tzedakah organizations are endless, and there aren’t any more donors." This I believe and I hope this letter helps those who administer tzedakah agencies that it is critical to shorten the lists by funding first things first. I am still amazed that I am receiving solicitations where apparel, sheteils, and pricey sheva brachot for a kallah is mixed in with basic food for families that have no bread on their table! Incredible. But more on that later.

Now, let's talk about solutions. The writer seems to think there are no real answers. And, I'm almost certain that these answers would be laughed at and dismissed out of hand. But, I'm just going to present them anyways. I'm always thrilled when I receive emails from readers of this blog who have taken some of my advice and reported a positive change!

From the outset I think it is important to emphasize three things: 1) Some solutions I might suggest to piece together the puzzle are short-term. Short-term solutions may be unpleasant, perhaps very unpleasant. But, sometimes you have to plug the holes up before draining the boat. 2) I am not going to suggest taking on more debt or any "juggling act" to deal with the problem. Others are free to suggest such solutions in the comments. It isn't my style. My apologies. 3) It is an obligation for a father to teach his son a trade, so I don't think it is beyond the scope of this post to suggest that the parents who provided their children with all sorts of luxuries before fulfilling a most basic Torah obligation now help pick up the pieces.

So here we go in no particular order:

1. Complete the Role Reversal. I'm starting with the most offensive solution first! As the writer mentions, the husbands are ill trained and ill prepared for working, the wives are overworked by their growing families [and careers], and the expenses (including childcare) are out of control. The kollel lifestyle is extremely inefficient when it comes to preserving income. While many a kollel wife/husband has argued that stay-at-home-mothers also are part of a single income arrangement, the situations can rarely be compared. Normally the stay-at-home-parent does not have massive childcare expenses as their job is to take care of the children (!) and maximize the earnings of the income earner through frugality and availability so that the income earner can advance in his/her career by being able to work late into the night or travel where necessary.

Where the wife is already established in a career, a family may be well served to teach convert the kollel husband (or underemployed husband) to a "stay-at-home-dad." Short-term solutions are going to be about maximizing every dollar and putting away cash so that the long-term can be tackled.

I don't think many men have envisioned themselves as a homemaker (Mr. Mom) and I am fully aware that many men lack the skills, and desire for that matter, to run Daddy's pre-school, Camp Daddy, clean the home, cut the coupons, bargain shop, and engage in frugal cooking. But, minimizing large expenses is key. And, no matter how you cut it, day-care, preschool, and camp are large expenses that likely have to be cut out of the budget.

So there you have a possible short-solution to (significantly) increase cash, which I am labeling as "completing the role reversal." Of course, in a full role reversal world, the bargain-shopping, frugal cooking, Super-Dad would be able to roll into the hospital, birth the baby, and be back to running Camp Daddy within 2 weeks of giving birth. But at the very least, wives like the one who wrote this letter, should get a bit of relief.

Like I said before. . . . short-term, short-term, short-term. I believe Hashem designed the world with different roles in mind for men and women. On a long-term basis, this solution would likely be detrimental to the these familyfamilies. But, going broke can do that too.

2. Start from Scratch. The writer mentions leased cars and mortgages that are too large to handle. An important concept in business is to know when to stop throwing good money after bad. The leased cars can clearly go. In some cases they will have to be replaced by a "clunker." Just remember that many a tuition paying parent has driven a clunker to get from point a to point b to make their own ends meet.

It is difficult to imagine selling a home, but sometimes this is a worthwhile solution to investigate, especially where the mortgage payment can be traded in for a far lesser rent payment (although that will likely mean bunking up for quite a while).

The writer mentions cars and homes. She does not mention other assets. But chances are good that the parents who said "yes" to everything spent a tremendous amount of money funding the laundry list of engagement items from jewelry to silver, to say nothing of "push presents," fancy strollers, designer clothing, and sheitels. I try to listen to the Dave Ramsey Friday Show online while I cook for Shabbat (Friday is the day where people call in to scream that they are debt free), and have learned just what an impact a garage sale can have in getting the dominoes to fall while trying to get out of a sticky financial situation.

I certainly think that where expensive items can be converted to cash to change the financial footing, it should be considered. I understand that some of these items are sentimental and that I am stepping into sensitive territory. But if you need to rid yourself of the expensive lease and have something to pay for the clunker, or get rid of credit card debt, or actually come up with cash to start a business and/or fund a college/vocational education, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Cold hard cash is helpful.

3. Different shifts. Back to eliminating those pesky daycare expenses, working different shifts can be tough on a marriage, but can be another good short-term solution for increasing cash in the short-term. I know of families that have arranged for long-term telecommute positions and other families that juggled children and graveyard shifts, all while keeping day care costs minimal. Those of us whose parents and/or grandparents owned small businesses likely spent a good deal of time being cared for on-sight. Once again, this is far from a desirable situation. But, in the short-term it can make a large dent. Of course, the long term solution is not just about cutting expenses, but increasing income.

4. Sharing resources within the family. I hate to place more work and responsibility on grandparents, but it seems to me that where the grandparents created a dependency situation, that playing a role on reserving the situation might just be the right thing to do. I do know of a number of kids with kids that have moved back in with the parents. Normally both the parents and grandparents are thrilled when such a situation ends!

I do know a number of grandmothers who provide unpaid daycare. Creating cooperative arrangements between siblings from the same families is another way to work together. Any such arrangements should be as formal as possible. Open ended arrangements are partially what got many of the families in these situations into trouble. So many grandparents look worn out as they care for little ones. And I know it isn't easy for these grandparents. I wouldn't make such a suggestion where an education and opportunity was provided. But where it was not, it might be worthy of consideration.

Siblings can also enter into agreements of their own. I recently met a mother who was out and about with her kids and her sister's kids. Turns out that the sisters share a purchased home (perhaps a duplex?) and everyone shares the childcare arrangements while the husband's complete their schooling and residencies. I believe that the wives each work part time. She told me that the arrangement is tough at times, but it is the best solution for them at this point.

Read about cooperative camps here. Such arrangements can be tremendously helpful in minimizing large expenses.

5. Don't lay down and play dead! The writer states: "The husbands don’t have the time or money to start a business or go to school at this point." Please, for your sake, stop making excuses because it is holding you back! You are young. You are healthy. You can make a dent in your situation. Don't convince yourself that you can't do anything at this point because plenty of people have changed course in life. But I do suggest getting out there and asking questions, listening to people, cooperating other families. The solutions aren't going to come from people who are in lock step with the thinking that has brought a good number of people to the place they are in now.

I'm going to conclude now before touching on any other sensitive subjects. We can deal with those in a future post. I'm also not detailing long term solutions as I think that it is fairly obvious. Also obvious is that tuition is a HUGE problem for these families and everyone else for that matter. Part of alleviating that problem will be to lessen the tzedakah roles and move people from dependency to work.

Commentors: offer up your own solutions and experiences in turning around a touchy situation. I have no monopoly on solutions and there is plenty more to talk about.


Anonymous said...

This is a terrific post! The suggestion about parting with expensive gifts via a garage sale or similar is interesting to me because I often see ads on Jewish message boards. Invariably, a young woman is trying to sell a Shabbos outfit, a sheitel, or jewelry at unreasonable prices, 80-90% of the purchase price. What people don't realize is that these items depreciate the moment they leave the store. A realistic asking price might be 10-25% of the purchase price, sadly. If the item is really desirable, eBay might provide a better price.

For example: I would not pay $150 for a Shabbos suit used when I could find a new one for less than that price. On eBay, gowns, suits, and skirts can be bought starting at $0.99 (plus an average of $8-$10 shipping costs). Who would buy a young woman's used Shabbos suit for $150 when such bargains abound? Better to buy frugally in the first place. If you decide later you don't like or need the item, at least you didn't waste a lot of $$$.

I'm sure there will be a lot of interesting comments on this post.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks tesyaa. Happy to get a complement before all the posts about why none of this is possible start coming in.

Agreed on your comments of what things are worth.

And I certainly don't want to be self-serving. But some of these ladies have an incredible wardrobe. I'd love to attend a group garage sale!

Consignment stores are a great place to drop off merchandise and pick up some extra money. The consignment stores normally offer 50% of the sale price. There are very classy stores for women.

The stores that specialize in children know how to move pricy strollers, clothing, and stores. These stores definitely have a following.

Ebay is great too, but more labor intensive.

Dave said...

First step when you are in a hole, "Stop Digging".

Needs: Food, Shelter, minimal required clothing. Health care. Transportation only as required for employment or to meet any of the above.

Wants: Everything else.

If the father is going to be home with the children (and I agree, absent job skills, he has to be), then start the process of home-schooling as well. He had best be qualified for the religious teaching, and if nothing else should be able to "learn ahead" of the children when working through any of the myriad available home schooling curricula out there. That this may double as a needed secular education for the father is ironic, but beneficial nonetheless.

Additionally, cut out as much meat in the food budget as possible. Save what meat you are going to buy for Shabbos. In parts of interwar rural Lithuania, being "rich" meant that you could have butter with your potatoes during the week. We can certainly drastically reduce the use of meat.

Communal assistance: Cooking lessons. Cooking is a learned skill, anyone can learn it. A good cook can feed a family well on less money than an unskilled cook.

Communal assistance: Exchanges. Bring things you don't need, swap them with other people for things they don't need. You can declutter (perhaps) and still get new-to-you things. Everyone wins.

Anonymous said...

I am sure others will provide far better specific advice for the couple than I can, but how sad that a parent with three children feels stuck in this bubble they created for their lifestyles. Does anyone know when it became "ok" to have three children and not be able to support yourself? How sad.

I find the interesting thing is this letter writer is now shocked they can't afford their lifestyles. How many in our Jewish communities approach their personal family business plan knowing full well that their future is going to be exactly like the one listed in the article and yet do nothing? Either too many kids or too little lifetime income.

As stated above, and also a Dave Ramsey saying, they should be eating "rice and beans" until they figure it out. Question for the group, are kids going to be different after living through this Great Recession?

Anonymous said...

Great post. As much as I am angry at this young couple (and their enabling parents) I also feel for them. So many people start adult life without a basic understanding of financial planning and budgeting, and even those with some knowledge make mistakes when young. I agree that the mortgage and car lease are probably the biggest stones around their necks and have to go it at all possible.

Second, this father has to step up to the plate. If the mom is currently the only one with arketable skills, he needs to provide the child care and take care of the home so she can work full time. In addition, he should be going to school nights or getting job training so they can eventually change the situtation and he can either support the family or at least provide more of the support.

If things are really dire and they can't sell the house because of the market they are in, an upside down mortgage, etc., they should consider taking in borders. Perhaps out of town students attending a local school or even another young couple who in a financial bind.

The elephant in the room that the post doesn't address is having more children while not being able to support the three they already have. This is something that needs to figure in to planning for all families in this situation. If family planning is not an option for them, then they need to redouble their efforts on what they are willing to do -- i.e. giving up kollel in favor of work/school/stay at home dad options, selling the house, etc.

Finally, there are always ways for a healthy young man to earn at least $100/week or more, even if it means mowing lawns, raking leaves, cleaning gutters or shoveling snow. Just put up signs and ads in local papers or on Craigs list. This is no time for pride.

nuqotw said...

If the kids go to public school, and religious education is from the father at home (which, after years of kollel, should be pretty straightforward) you can save a fortune on tuition. Some tuition dollars could go to the bottom line, and in some cases, could go to classes for the the father to improve his earning potential. Alternatively, it could free up the father to get a part-time job when the kids are at school.

I realize this will be an incredibly unpopular suggestion, but tuition is a huge chunk of change, and putting the kids into public school saves money in so many ways.

Orthonomics said...

"Communal assistance" as Dave suggests is absolutely necessary and it would have to extend far beyond cooking. A lot of skills that come more naturally to women, are very difficult for many men (with apologies to my husband who may or may not see this post).

Classes geared for men that dealt with practical skills obviously aren't popular with men or these classes would be offered. But I can almost guarantee that many women would sign their husbands up for classes on practical skills despite any protests! The classes could easily be funded by the non-kollel crowd.

I find the interesting thing is this letter writer is now shocked they can't afford their lifestyles.

I used to find it far more shocking than I do now. At this point I believe that the monthly "help" shields the warning signs that things are traveling South and quickly.

A couple I'm friends with told me that they realized that things were not working out when they were doing the post-marriage year in Israel and despite the kollel stipend and her employment, they were dipping into their savings every month.

When you have a monthly check, you are spending current income, not past income and the warning signs are lessened. Just my theory.

As much as I am angry at this young couple (and their enabling parents) I also feel for them.

When a "'tude" doesn't accompany the letter, as in previous letters, I feel a tremendous amount of sympathy. Most of the couples the letter writer refers to probably aren't even 30 and they believe that their situation is hopeless! How sad is that? They feel powerless and choked no doubt. It is very sad.

The elephant in the room that the post doesn't address is having more children while not being able to support the three they already have

That is the controversial subject I alluded to in the post.

Finally, there are always ways for a healthy young man to earn at least $100/week or more, even if it means mowing lawns, raking leaves, cleaning gutters or shoveling snow. Just put up signs and ads in local papers or on Craigs list. This is no time for pride.
Absolutely! And don't forget janitorial services. There was another letter in the Yated where someone estimated the amount of money each family spends on cleaning help.

Personally, I think the day has come where instead of the Rabbis standing up and insisting we spend double on groceries through frum grocers, that we employ underemployed people in the community to mow our laws and clean our bathrooms.

Nothing should be below anyone when there is a family to be fed and an education to be funded.

I realize this will be an incredibly unpopular suggestion, but tuition is a huge chunk of change, and putting the kids into public school saves money in so many ways.

Certainly no more unpopular than suggesting that men stay home! :)

Dave said...

A lot of skills that come more naturally to women, are very difficult for many men (with apologies to my husband who may or may not see this post).

I don't think these skills come naturally to either gender. They are learned.

I'm a better cook than my wife. I should be, I cook every day. This is, admittedly, because I love to cook -- a skill I was taught by my mother. (*)

For that matter, my mother will tell you, I'm a better cook than she is, at this point.

(*) Admittedly, if I loved to clean I'd be working on the Thanksgiving prep right now, rather than being lazy and online instead.

Anonymous said...

Dave: I second your comments. Cooking and cleaning are no more natural to women then they are to men. My husband is far better at grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry than I am and he does most of those chores. I have physicial limitations and he stepped right up to the plate. He did not need lessons or classes. He had observed his mother over the years and just figured out what to do, and used a cookbook when necessary. I know many other families where men do most of the cooking and where both parents share in household chores.

Anonymous said...

No offense, but if I were to take a job as a cleaning lady I would make an effort to look for a non-Jewish employer. They treat their help so much better...

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I think the day has come where instead of the Rabbis standing up and insisting we spend double on groceries through frum grocers, that we employ underemployed people in the community to mow our laws and clean our bathrooms."

I can't wait to see that. Have any of you ever lived in another city from your elderly parents and tried to hire someone who would show up to shovel and sand walks and steps when it was snowy or icy? (The snow plow guys wont do it.) Or some basic raking and things that elderly or ill people can't do? It's impossible to find someone other than perhaps a way overpriced lawn service. I think that even in this economy there is some money to be made for people willing to work up a sweat.

Orthonomics said...

I second your comments. Cooking and cleaning are no more natural to women then they are to men.
Perhaps I'm projecting. I think women tend to juggle the various things in a household better than men. But if I'm wrong, call me out.

No offense, but if I were to take a job as a cleaning lady I would make an effort to look for a non-Jewish employer. They treat their help so much better...
Few in the kehillah are likely to higher someone frum to clean their toilets anyways.

Personally, having employers/supervisors that I didn't like provided motivation to keep on truckin'.

I think that even in this economy there is some money to be made for people willing to work up a sweat.

I agree. Besides move-outs I have yet to hire anyone to clean. But I just paid a small fortune for someone to get all of those leaves off my property. I do shovel my own snow and remember that it isn't always a bad thing not to have a sidewalk.

Anonymous said...

While I feel quite badly for these young families and am sure that it is very painful to have to give up things you have become accustomed to and particularly giving up a home can be devastating, I hope it will make them feel better to know that how they have been living is not the real world. Before the bubble years (and even during the buble years for many), most young families (I'm guessing the letter writer is between 25 and 30) were still either in an apartment or in a small starter home/fixer upper, driving used cars and sitting on used furniture. Their situation is by no means hopeless. They have one person capable of earning a decent salary and a second parent who, with some time and work/study can do likewise and they also have a lot of room to cut back.

Avi said...

I feel no anger toward the letter writer whatsoever. Poor thing. She did the right thing, and like a good girl never questioned anything, and now discovers that the parents/Rabbeim/system/culture she trusted were not sustainable. Who could possibly have known that you might need significant income to support a family, and that sitting and learning Torah indefinitely in lieu of advanced education does not prepare you for a career? I mean, there were no warning signs that her parents or Rabbis could have seen! None of our Sages ever worked, they were all supported by their wives and in-laws. The system has worked for millenia! Oh, wait, that's not quite true, now, is it... I'm sorry, but this girl's parents and Rabbinic advisors were idiots.

That said, SL's advice is fine. Don't despair. Drop pretenses that you can live an upper middle class lifestyle any time soon, figure out where you can get more income/lower expenses in the short term, and begin to plan for the future.

Charlie Hall said...

This program has helped a lot of people I know:

G*3 said...

> Finally, there are always ways for a healthy young man to earn at least $100/week or more, even if it means mowing lawns, raking leaves, cleaning gutters or shoveling snow. Just put up signs and ads in local papers or on Craigs list. This is no time for pride.

I recently figured out that to cover babysitting costs for two kids plus five dollars a day for commuting, I have to be making net almost $20,000 a year. Before I was married I worked at ‘undesirable’ jobs, and I did again after my wife and I finished school and neither of us had a regular job. Once my wife found a job, I found myself at home watching the kids. I would take a low-level job again now, but it just isn’t worth it to make a couple thousand a year after babysitting and commuting.

I have a few talents, and I’ve tried using them to make money, but its very irregular. And work in my professional field seems almost non-existent now. So I play house, and my wife works. We didn’t plan it this way. We supposed to both be working, and have a house by now. Oh well.

So anyway, I’m very much in favor of role-reversal if that’s what it takes to keep your family clothed and fed and pay the rent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, their mentors who led them down this path were incredibly irresponsible. But unfortunately, even more irresponsible will be if the community(not their family) who will break their backs to pay for their follies.

These kids have never been taught personal responsibility. Let's hope that they learn soon.

Orthonomics said...

G*3. Thank you for sharing and yashar koach for taking the road less traveled.

I'm glad to see my readers agree that this isn't hopeless if they take some drastic action. The thing that makes me most sad is seeing such young people ready to throw in the towel.

Commenter Abbi said...

"On a long-term basis, this solution would likely be detrimental to the family."

I think this is your own bias peeking out again. Stay at home dads are far from a new phenomenon and plenty of kids in Generation X have been raised by dads at home with no more detriment than stay at home moms.

Orthonomics said...

Perhaps it should read "detrimental to these families."

I know only a handful of at-home dads in the Orthodox community and it seems to be more of circumstance than choice. There is little support for these men and few role models. It is mostly uncharted area even if there are homemaking dads in other segments of society.

The many stay-at-home-dads I have met at kid's activities share that they became the at home parent because they strongly believe that a parent should be home and they made an active choice to be that parent because it was the most practical choice.

We all have our own bias and personally I think that most men have a real need to get out there in the world and I believe that fewer men than women have the tempermant to be the at-home parent. Plenty of women today talk about how they don't have the temperment to be at home all day with kids. I certaintly don't expect men to magically find such a temperment. Where they really aren't cut out for it, or even interested, it could be to the detriment of the family.

The letter writer sounds like many of the lovely young ladies I know. So many of them figure that they will do the breadwinning and be able to cut hours or drop out of the workforce as their responsibilities in the home grow. Few of them would ever consider asking their husband to take over the duties of the home. Many of the husbands would view themselves as failures for not being able to meet what is an unreasonable expectation, but an expectation nonetheless.

I feel bad for these couples who are just starting to wake up to the hard knocks.

Commenter Abbi said...

"The letter writer sounds like many of the lovely young ladies I know. So many of them figure that they will do the breadwinning and be able to cut hours or drop out of the workforce as their responsibilities in the home grow."

But what doesn't make sense to me is if the couple is living in the yeshivish velt and her husband is learning indefinitely, where did she get this notion that she could cut back hours? Who was going to fill in the gap.

I am able to work flex part time hours because my husband does the bulk of the breadwinning. So I have this luxury to be flexible. If the women are the sole breadwinners, why would they have this luxury to cut back?

As for the husbands being failures, I have to ask, failures at what? Not making a living? But that was never even a hava amina. So how exactly was this all supposed to work?

It's just a huge pile of irrational exuberance, to quote the less than esteemed former Fed chief. No logical rational thought was involved in this lifestyle whatsoever.

As for men or women being more able to be at home: Again, the choice is a luxury when you have at least one steady income coming into the house. These families made their beds and now they will have to lie in them.

I feel bad for them too, though. It will be interesting to see if there will be a relaxing of the shift to the right, chumra of the week lifestyle now that the bubble has burst.

Upper West Side Mom said...

There is probably no answer to this question, but one thing I can say is that when my children get married, I’ll probably do things a lot differently.

I hope she realizes that this needs to start now. The children need to get a good secular education from the beginning. Their boys can not be schooled the same way that their fathers were. I know that my kids who are in a MO day school are getting an excellent secular education and the high school where my son will be going next year has an expectation that 100% of the kids will go onto college after they graduate.

These families also need to understand that they can not afford anymore children right know and perhaps they won't be able to afford anymore kids at all if they want to send their kids to a yeshiva for school. Hopefully their Ravs realize this also and will make the right decision if they come to them asking for a heter.

Offwinger said...

Here are a few other tips:

1) Find out how others have managed & what other experts recommend - It's great that the couple realizes that their situation is unfeasible. Now, they have to recognize that they are not the first people ever to have built an unsustainable lifestyle.

Writing to the Yated is all well and good, but do they really think that is how they are going to get solid financial advice? From the Yated? They need to go to the library & take out some quality books on living frugally & clearing out debt.

Any excuse that secular or non-Jewish authors can't understand the frum lifesyle is merely that: an excuse.

2) Carefully re-examine your social circle - People believe they *have* to have something when other people are telling them this or other people have the same thing. We are extremely influenced by the norms around us.

This family needs a radical change in their lifestyle, and they need to recognize that some of their friends will be supportive and understanding, while others won't. Some friends have not suffered from the recession and are still living on Mommy & Daddy's tabs and may not understand why you can't do the things you've done before.
There are acquaintences who will talk about their trips and menus and clothing & wonder how anyone could possibly live without.

I'm not suggesting that this family cut out genuine *friends* - that is, people who will be supportive of them through trying times. However, they need to purge anyone who can not understand the lifestyle changes or will make this family feel bad for the choices they make in how they are taking responsibility for themselves.

Orthonomics said...

Abbi-There is an assumption out there is that when working outside of the home and working inside of the home becomes impractical, that the husbands will step up to the plate and take a job.

Many of these women want someone with an undergrad degree. There seems to be little knowledge and recognition of what it takes to be able to "get a job."

The fault doesn't really lie with these kids. Their parents don't tell them they are living in an alternate universe. Perhaps some of the parents believe this is possible. And, perhaps at one time it was more doable. The mentors in Yeshiva aren't there to explain life in the real world. And the kids often see "everyone else doing it" and don't know what goes on behind the scenes.

Offwinger-I've addressed all of those subjects. Good comments. And I will add that there are many people in the frum community who do know how to make a dollar stretch. I've given many young people advice on savings and those of us who are on a different path certainly can help those who are looking to learn.

ProfK said...

Certainly approaching this young woman's dilemma on a personal level can be helpful, and there has been some good advice given here. But the problem is far wider than just this young woman; there are hundreds, thousands just like her. Yes, we could "patch" this woman's problems, and yes, the patch might hold. What is needed is a system wide approach.

Parents are not the only ones culpable in this mess: yeshivas have a large chalek,as do the rest of us. There are any number of people who comment here (and lots who don't) who are more than capable of giving a workshop or a series of workshops on basics of family living vis a vis the economic aspects. I'd bet such workshops would be well attended. Don't send someone "out there" and tell them that material is available to help them. Give them the basics face to face and give them a list to get started. I bet SL could give an excellent workshop on couponing and how to cut the bills. I bet others could as well.

Volunteer for a PTA information seminar. Volunteer for a shul seminar. Push the schools to change their tunes, or at least introduce more than one song. Do you know a group of young marrieds who have been living the privileged life? Organize a shopping tour and take this group on a learning expedition.

Real change could come from the bottom up, but effecting that change one family at a time isn't going to solve the immediate problems of all the others.

To borrow from your last posting on vaccinations, we have one case in front of us. It's contagious and has already spread. Time to innoculate everyone we can get our hands on.

Miami Al said...

I wish this family well, they took the first step, acknowledging a problem. They now need to make the hard decisions to do right by their family.

If their "spiritual adviser," to use the secular term for their Rav, is steering them toward a path that is a failure, it's time to find a new Rav. If their peer group is undermining what they need to do to do right by their family, they need to find a new peer group.

Their life is NOT over, but each week/month they spend digging a hole is probably 4 times as long to dig out.

They need to fix the financial drain, everyone needs to do what they need to to right their family.

They have to make non-ideal choices. The idea that living within ones means is a "sacrifice" is VERY dangerous. If you can't pay the bills, giving up private school/cleaning help isn't a "sacrifice," they need to scale back to a lifestyle they can afford IMMEDIATELY, then chart a course for fixing the earning power.

This might mean, dad drops out of Kollel, watches the kids, and goes to community college to get a GED then an AA and job, then a BA. They can ABSOLUTELY pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they just have to be determined to do so and chart a course.

I wish them luck and bear them no ill will... I think that the revisionist history that they were taught is VERY dangerous, but it's time to get moving!

anon1 said...

Some of our Jewish-societal innovations in the last few decades are now seen in retrospect to have been a naive, wrong turn. Gifts, general expenditures, and employment patterns were encouraged that depended on the permanent existence of a very large wealthy class. A few generations made it through the system OK before this lifestyle began to unravel, but current and future generations will face the inevitable downside unless our society gets back to basics.

Ariella said...

I think the fact that the letter writer is able to say, "We’re just
asking, what should we do? What is the answer? How are we supposed to manage?

There is probably no answer to this question, but one thing I can say is that when my children get married, I’ll probably do things a lot differently. Maybe the way we’ve done things until now didn’t make as much sense as we thought they did…"
is actually a positive thing. She'elas chacham chatzi teshuva -- a wise person's question is half an answer (because he frames the issue correctly). While asking this question, the person is taking note that raising children with the expectation that their needs will forever be cared for by others is not the way to go.

gavra@work said...

I like the suggestion to sell gifts/jewelery to raise quick cash until the family can get back on its feet and figure out a plan instead of wringing its hands in dispair. Like others have pointed out, this woman has realized that she needs help (a good step) and will now be in a different financial situation. Paring down on luxuries will only help her realize the value of a dollar, and will make her think twice about EVERY dollar spent. Gold & silver are up and many couples married 4-10 years ago (when silver was down) could be sitting on 2-3K (if not more) of silver MELT value (@18$ an ounce its not so much silver), let alone the actual value of the items.

Dave said...

At the risk of sounding like a cliche, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

This couple can be helped.

Those who are convinced that things will go back to "the way they were" or that they do not need to make changes -- we have to unfortunately wait until they hit bottom.

I'd offer to help, but I'm very very far OOT, we couldn't use my kitchen by definition, and a lot of the ways I would teach them to "eat well, cheaply" aren't going to produce kosher meals anyway.

David said...

Obviously this is a tough situation that many in the Orthodox world are suffering through.

Change is cleary needed!

There were many excellent suggestions above.

JS said...

What's interesting about letters like this is how obvious the solutions seem to those on the outside who don't live the kollel life.

What I think that means is that the people in the situation are completely blinded to the options that are open to them.

The question is: where does this blindness come from?

I think it is shared by the community which has instituted a certain lifestyle by pressure to conform and by the rabbis/leaders of the community who cannot effectively lead.

Despite the financial pressures, you still see the same ridiculous tzedaka requests that SL pointed out, you still have the bochurs looking for girls with money who can support their learning, you still have lavish weddings with multiple gift-giving opportunities and lots of pre and post wedding parties as well, etc.

You don't hear new takanas for the rabbis about when to have children or how many to have or about birth control, nothing about increasing secular education or job training, nothing about limiting time spent learning, nothing about how to better balance family life, nothing about lowering expenses, etc.

In short, everyone's oblivious - everyone's in la la land.

The emperor has no clothes and no one's ready to point it out yet. The most you'll get is "doesn't the emperor look cold?"

Miami Al said...

JS, one of the problems is that the particular can't be generalized...

Kollel society is an economic dead end, it will not continue as it has, and the shakeout will be interesting.

That said, there absolutely ARE wealthy families that could support a son-in-law for life... families with tends of millions in real estate holdings that may have survived the downturn in tact. So an individual bochur looking for that isn't unreasonable, there just isn't a large quantity of families that are going to do that.

While the "Kollel system" will collapse, some of it will remain, and any Rabbi running one may see the "system" collapsing but assume that their Kollel will be a survivor, and it is perfectly rational for him to fight to preserve his personal fiefdom.

One of the weaknesses of the Orthodox world is that we lack "communal leaders," there is no Chief Rabbi of the United States. Even our umbrella organizations aren't umbrellas over "Judaism," "Orthodox Judaism," or even "Yeshiva Judaism." A Rosh Yeshiva has a primary responsibility to their Yeshiva, a Shul Rabbi is primarily response for his congregation, etc., etc. Nobody is responsible for the overall well-being.

This results in Rabbeim who come from a particular perspective and miss out on the picture from other sides.

I REALLY wish this family well, they absolutely can survive, but if they go to a Rav with a conflict of interest instead of a financial planner, they will likely get bad advice given in the name of "Daas Toirah," not personal finance.

Liquidating Jewelry might solve some short term cash flow problems, but won't solve the needs of this family to fix their budget.

I think that the myth that things have "been this way for generations" has served the community poorly, and the belief that we need "inspiration from our elders" not "historical truth" since "historical truth includes Lashon Hara" has been very dangerous. When the history of post-WW2 Judaism is written, the Kollel movement may be a footnote, the learning that brought a new Jewish renaissance, or it may be the defining event that led to the collapse of neo-Orthodoxy in 20th/21st Century American Judaism, time will tell.

Ahavah Gayle said...

The Ravs in kollel communities really do believe that THEY are the pillars of society and the foundation of Judaism precisely because their students "learn" full time and won't work. As several commentors at UOJ have lamented, when the kollniks told their Ravs they wanted or needed to get jobs, they were ridiculed and denigrated not just by the Ravs but often by their in-laws as well! When we urged these young men to stand up and do the right thing for their families, get a job anyway, move away, or whatever it would take, they despaired and didn't post again. The sense of hopelessness is truly great in some areas - this woman's feelings are replicated all over. The young couples really are between a rock (reality) and a hard place (pressure from their Rav, parents, or community). It takes a LOT of strength to say "enough" and move on - often it involves being estranged from your family or friends and having to find a whole new circle of support - which they are just too afraid to do. The Ravs tell them it's their own fault for not studying enough, not having enough faith, not praying correctly, or whatever. Never is there any admission (as someone mentioned above) that the whole paradigm was a house of cards to begin with. I feel so sorry for this girl. She knows what she needs to do but can't bring herself to do it.

Offwinger said...

While I do think there are unique elements regarding the sustainability of a kollel lifestyle, I hesitate to blame this solely on the insularity of Rabbeim, UOJ or the frum world.

After all, there are plenty of families outside of the kollel world who are also suffering in the current economy, because they have been too deeply immersed in a culture of entitlement, easy credit, and materialism.

There is nothing about the kollel system per se that dictates people needing to live in McMansions in expensive neighborhoods, driving newly leased cars, pushing fancy strollers, and wearing expensive clothing. The idea that dressing like a "ben torah" (or "bat torah") or using material items to create a "hidur" of any sort is a newfangled interpretation of Torah and Judaism, and it seems to link directly to the American entitlement cultural landscape.

Dave said...

There are certainly plenty of people suffering in the current economy.

Some of them, certainly, are suffering because of the same poor financial planning being exhibited in the Kollel families.

Many are suffering simply because of loss of jobs or hours in the economy -- they weren't living above their means before, but a loss of income has pushed them into that state. I suspect that most of these did not have an adequate safety cushion, but some of those that did have also exhausted it. Six months living expenses goes in six months of unemployment.

I have more sympathy, I must admit, for people who did everything right, and were unlucky, than for those who were making all the wrong decisions, and unlucky.

Zach Kessin said...

You know everytime I think of this I can't help but have the Stan Rogers tune "The Idiot" run threw my head.

For those of you who don't know it its about a guy who faced with job loss moves from Nova Scotia to Alberta to work in a Refinery. There is a wonderful line near the end "The Government Dole will rot your soul back there in your home town" Seems pretty spot on really.

Anonymous said...

Simple answer:


Anonymous said...

What am I missing here? A man cannot feed his family and doesn't want to work. He'd rather hang around school and live off his or her parents, but the well is dry. What is the chiddush? Where I grew up we called people like that Bums.

Avi said...

Anonymous 10:49 and 10:55 - no, that's not it at all. At this point, the man does want to work. The problem is that he already has high expenses and no marketable skills, no graduate education and most certainly no post-graduate education. Thanks to an incredible lack of foresight, he isn't qualified to do anything that pays well, and he needs a lot of money. The answer isn't "get a job," it's "cut back your expenses, stop adding to your expenses, raise cash, maximize current income, and create a long term plan that maximizes future income."

Orthonomics said...

"Get a job" isn't advice because it is far too simplisitc. Chances are just as likely that additional income will drain all of that income and some more. Each situation needs to be evaluated with the short term goal of maximizing available funds.

Secondly, I don't see anything in the letter saying that the husband won't work or doesn't want to work, just that he is ill prepared to work.

Avi is right on. This letter doesn't demonstrate any entitlement or attitude, just an incredible lack of preparation. We need to reach out and hope that good advice can penatrate. "Get a job" isn't advice because it doesn't consider the whole picture. (But, yes, ultimately getting a job is part of the picture. . . . but perhaps not in the short-term where cutting expenses and downsizing a lifestyle is far more important).

Anonymous said...

Yes but you have to start digging yourself out somewhere.

Orthonomics said...

Absolutely. And sometimes "getting a job" results in negative income after taxes and babysitting. If a family can't handle additional expense, the jobs available have to be either jobs that will allow the children to tag along (janitorial, family business) or jobs that come with a different shift from Mom.

Other options would include forming small babysitting co-ops with families looking to maximize income, or relying on babysitting from grandparents.

No an easy situation in the least.

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