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.
THE FINANCIAL CRISIS: HOW IT AFFECTS THE YOUNGER GENERATION
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
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.