Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Sure, I Have Some Ideas

From this week's Yated:

Dear Editor,
I was thrilled to see last week’s letter regarding frum families in debt. I guess it means that we are not the only ones. We have a large family, kein ayin harah, and my husband does have a well-paying job. I am at home, since it would be impossible to have both of us working with all the demands of a full house. There is nothing more that either of us can do, but we have the problem that my husband’s salary alone cannot cover all our bills. I am talking about the basics, including tuition, mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, car expenses, groceries, clothing, and minimal cleaning help.
You will notice that I am not including any luxuries and yet the paycheck is already
long gone.
Does anyone out there have any ideas?
Thank you.
Struggling To Pay My Bills

Here are some ideas that are bound to be unpopular:

1. Drop the cleaning help. With a large family, you have cleaning help. Yes, it won't be easy and despite plenty of arguments as to why cleaning help is so super important, it still isn't a "basic."

2. And speaking of basics, I don't know that we really can call tuition a basic. Tuition certainly makes most of ours lists as a high priority. But money only goes so far. If you were faced with a choice between necessary medical treatment or tuition, would tuition still be a basic? At least the writer didn't include camp as one of the basics. Perhaps a first when it comes to letters I've published.

3. Drop the attitude that there is nothing more you can do. There is always something you can consider to either cut costs or bring in additional income. Look at every budget item and consider an alternative. Reprice all services. Call providers and ask for discounts. Look into bulk buying. I am always amazed by the areas I can find to save the pennies and dollars. I reprice our car insurance every 6 months. Recently we signed a contract locking us into lower utility rates. If you really want to get out of a rut, consider the big ticket items.

4. Look for additional sources of income that you can generate while the kids are asleep or otherwise occupied. Emergency babysitting springs to mind as something that is always in demand. There are plenty of families who could use a daily babysitter. Check your state's laws and regulations regarding paid babysitting, but don't discount it. I can think of plenty of at home mothers, even mothers with large families, that have taken in a child needing care part time. If you have a specialized skill, print up free business cards at Vista Print and make it known that you are now freelancing.

5. Get everyone on board and go on a financial diet. Getting out of debt and then sticking to a budget, even a hand to mouth budget, is a quick way to increase your income because you will no longer be paying interest.

None of this will solve the tuition factor of course. At some point the community as a whole will have to face the fact that large families + universal private schooling doesn't quite add up.


LeahGG said...

"it would be impossible to have both of us working with all the demands of a full house."

says who? nothing is impossible. Truthfully, I whine about how I can't work because I have health issues, but when my choices were working or being in debt, I managed to work full-time. Not well, not happily. I was sick a lot of the time, and went to work with fevers sometimes. I often came home from a 9-hour day and slept through until the next morning without even eating dinner, but I managed to pay the rent and keep the electricity on. It's a matter of determination.

Sima said...

Leah GG, it depends where you live. In my community, school starts at nine and ends at 4. The work culture in this city isn't like NY -- If you aren't at your desk at 8 it's as though you turned up at noon. My husband works from 8 to 7 each day. Any job for me would run roughly from 8 to 6 (there's nothing part time available except nursing shifts, and I'm not a nurse) and the extra hours of babysitting would eat up anything extra I brought home. Never mind the fact that babysitters aren't thick on the ground in this town. YOu may as well look for a dinosaur. That said, If I took a job like that I'd never see my smaller kids at all.
I do have a job in my kids' school, which doesn't pay well but defrays tuition. HOwever, I happen to be an experienced teacher from before and during my college days. NOt everyone has that option.

LeahGG said...

Sima, She doesn't say "it wouldn't be practical for me to work, because the babysitting would eat up my salary." She doesn't say "I haven't been able to find a job that wouldn't leave my children alone for hours at a time." She says "it would be impossible to have both of us working with all the demands of a full house."

Guess what? That's a wrong attitude. Anyone can work part-time from home. ANYONE. If you have internet, you can work on Amazon's mechanical Turk. You don't need any skills.

If you have any skills - sewing, knitting, crocheting, quilting, anything, you can turn it into a side business without going into an office daily. Think outside the box. Are you good at organizing? Become a home organizer. You can set hours around school hours because no one wants you organizing their house when their kids are home anyway. If you're frum, people who are frum will want you davka because you'll be able to help with their kitchens without triefing it up(for example).

A friend of mine who enjoys scrapbooking just gave a class on how to make greeting cards.

If you have *any* talent, hobby, or skill, you can monetize on it. People who say "it's impossible" doom themselves from the outset.

tesyaa said...

Sima - I'm curious what frum community has no available babysitters or other domestic help. It seems to me that the frum community is a prime consumer of domestic help, despite complaints of debt & poverty.

In fact, an NYT article last week about women desperate for work lining up for domestic jobs in Williamsburg, spoke of the women's optimism for work on Thursday and Friday as the "Jewish Sabbath" approached. I am sure Sima is not commenting from Williamsburg, but even in that less than wealthy neighborhood, Jewish women are paying $7-10 per hour for domestic help).

Abbi said...

Sima, not everyone may have that option of teaching but everyone has options. There are hourly jobs like medical/legal transcription, real estate/insurance document processing that can even be done at home at flex times. The internet makes flex time at home work a reality for everyone. You just have to be open to it.

I think the point is, throwing up your hands and saying "It's just not possible" is not going to help you balance your budget. Creativity and perseverance will.

Anonymous said...

Another legal scam! Ms. Accountants out there--is this legal? Is it barter without the right IRS filings!! I don't work at the school and work for a nominal hourly wage yet I have to pay taxes. Another way of stealing taxes.

LeahGG said...

(and to clarify, I *do* work, from home. I just work less than my husband and I had planned on, so that in order to remain on track financially, we have to live without a car... a major inconvenience, but life was not designed for our convenience.)

tesyaa said...

Anon, if tuition is offered as a benefit to all workers of a certain group, it is a benefit, not taxable income. It has to be offered uniformly, e.g. to all teachers who work 21 or more hours a week - just an example. If it's privately negotiated and offered on a case-by-case basis, or certain workers WITHIN A CLASS get a better deal, then it's not a qualified benefit.

I'm not an accountant, but I have asked these accounting questions many times, because I'm always curious about what's really allowed and what's not.

David said...

Orthoniomics wrote: "large families + universal private schooling doesn't quite add up. "

Unless most people were wealthy. Alas, this is not the case. Change will come. Plus many of the Orthodox schools are spending 12,000plus per child.

Anonymous said...

Why do people only talk about babysitting jobs? There are also a lot of hourly elder care jobs available -- either privately by advertising or through agencies -- it takes very little time to be certified as a home health aide or personal care attendant. Some hospitals hire "sitters" to stay with patients who are agitated, at risk of falls, pulling out their iv's, etc. People are needed to fill evening and night shifts. The same goes for CNA's at nursing homes. The pay isn't fantastic and the work is not glamorous, but if you have no other way to earn money its worth looking into for say 20 hours/week. You are also doing a mitzvah.

Orthonomics said...

Re: bartering from one of those pesky accountants. Any income from bartering is income. E.g., if I receive a $100 target gift card in leiu of $100 cash/check, I need to claim that as income. The legalities regarding free tuition/discounted tuition for private school staff are more complicated. Here is an overview from IRS Pub 970. I'm not going to make any determinations. This is a complicated area of law.

Qualified Tuition Reduction
If you are allowed to study tuition free or for a reduced rate of tuition, you may not have to pay tax on this benefit. This is called a “tuition reduction.” You do not have to include a qualified tuition reduction in your income.

A tuition reduction is qualified only if you receive it from, and use it at, an eligible educational institution. You do not have to use the tuition reduction at the eligible educational institution from which you received it. In other words, if you work for an eligible educational institution and the institution arranges for you to take courses at another eligible educational institution without paying any tuition, you may not have to include the value of the free courses in your income.

The rules for determining if a tuition reduction is qualified, and therefore tax free, are different if the education provided is below the graduate level or is graduate education.

You must include in your income any tuition reduction you receive that is payment for your services.

Eligible educational institution. An eligible educational institution is one that maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and normally has a regularly enrolled body of students in attendance at the place where it carries on its educational activities.

Officers, owners, and highly compensated employees. Qualified tuition reductions apply to officers, owners, or highly compensated employees only if benefits are available to employees on a nondiscriminatory basis. This means that the tuition reduction benefits must be available on substantially the same basis to each member of a group of employees. The group must be defined under a reasonable classification set up by the employer. The classification must not discriminate in favor of owners, officers, or highly compensated employees.

Education Below the Graduate Level
If you receive a tuition reduction for education below the graduate level (including primary, secondary, or high school), it is a qualified tuition reduction, and therefore tax free, only if your relationship to the educational institution providing the benefit is described below.

You are an employee of the eligible educational institution.

You were an employee of the eligible educational institution, but you retired or left on disability.

You are a widow or widower of an individual who died while an employee of the eligible educational institution or who retired or left on disability.

You are the dependent child or spouse of an individual described in (1) through (3), above.

LeahGG said...

Taking care of disabled/ developmentally disabled actually pays quite well for untrained work, at least in NY state.

Families who really want the mother to stay home can also consider offering foster care. Foster care for developmentally disabled children comes with a stipend from the state. It's obviously not without its difficulties, but for some families, it might be worth considering.

Orthonomics said...

I'm not sure if you are a long time reader or not. Those who have read my blog for a long time know I favor mothers being available to their children. Therefore, I'm loathe to suggest fulltime desk jobs, especially where the idea is to maximize income in the short term. Unfortunately, when the primary income earner makes a good living, the after-tax and after-babysitting dollars left are often few and far in between.

This is precisely why I suggest work that can be done with no babysitting cost or minimal babysitting cost. Babysitting an extra kid if needed or just providing after school care for a kid whose parents are both still at their desks is income that is available.

After hours retail, seasonal employment, etc, are also options that can work where needed. I think the key is attitude. If you say "it is impossible" than it is impossible. But, if you recognize the necessity and start making some adjustments to current work schedules or whatever is needed, the equation becomes different.

Anonymous said...

Ortho: That was why I was suggesting elder care/ "sitter" jobs in hospitals, etc. You can get hours nights, evenings, sundays, etc. when, presumably, Dad is home and can look after the children. Also you can decide to work limited hours. Even one shift every sunday, or one 8 hour overnight shift (i.e. saturday night, which can be hard to get people to fill) can make a dent in those credit card bills.

Orthonomics said...

Also, registering with a temp agency or two isn't a bad idea. You have no idea what is out there until you have explored it. My roomate worked all sorts of odd jobs.

Anonymous said...

Another question is whether the older children are taking any odd jobs to pay for any of their own treats or special things they want. I was taking babysitting jobs by age 13 and many boys that age (and a few girls) had paper routes, shoveled snow and raked leaves and mowed lawns. I'm not talking about sending the kids out to support the family, but to make a little spare change to cover some of their own wants -- like saving up for a new bike or dress -- and learn some good lessons about money and work at the same time.

Anonymous said...

In some frum neighborhoods, people take in boarders, such as young single frum women going to school in or near the community. I don't know if there are any legal issues in renting out a bedroom.

Orthonomics said...

You'd have to check with the local housing agency to see if you would need a rental license. You would probably need to up your homeowners' insurance coverage. On the tax side, the rental income is taxable. But, once you depreciate the room the boarder lives in and deduct utilities either by square foot and/or by head count, you may very well knock out much of the taxable income. Yet another possibility to think about exercising if things aren't looking too great.

tesyaa said...

At some point the community as a whole will have to face the fact that large families + universal private schooling doesn't quite add up.

I believe the true tuition crisis is the unwillingness to face up to this fact. If we could face it, we could work on alternatives. But we don't, so we can't.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to answer the writer's question without knowing what the family is spending on cars, food and clothing. For example, are they shopping for clothes at Target and Marshalls or Lord & Taylor? Are they buying used clothes? Are they buying new cars or used? What type?

Sima said...

I'm not going to say specifically where I live, but I repeat -- there is a domestic help crisis here. We're a young community, with no older empty-nesters who might want to watch our kids. We have no network of previously used and trusted babysitters. We have no before-school or after-school programs. Employment here is difficult to find b/c we share this city with a large illegal immigrant population who will work for next to nothing. The primary employers in this city are the hospitals and health services, and there is a shortage of jobs available.
Orthonomics lady, I am a long-time reader and I'm aware of your opinion towards parental availablity. I feel the same way, which is why I chose to work in their school for far less than I could have made in a college teaching my subject. As a college instructor, I would have to work mainly when my children are home (early morning and evening) which would first of all would cause a childcare issue, and result in my children being raised by proxy. That's not why I had them.
We do okay now. I don't send them to camp, and we don't have some things we'd like to have, but it works for us.
Abbi, a lot of these flex time jobs have vanished with the recession. Some aren't worth the time you'd put in, and your household will fall apart as a result. You're right, the letter-writer shouldn't throw up her hands, but employment isn't always the answer. Sometimes a much closer look at how the money is being spent might help.

Anonymous said...

Sima: It's none of my business, but if you taught on the college level as an adjunct just one or two nights a week, you really wouldn't be depriving your kids and you would be staying current in your field and building a resume so that when you children are older you can get a full time teaching job. If you are or in the future will not be able to pay full tuition for your children or if youaren't saving adequately for retirement (something that is not doing your children any favors), that might be something to think about.

JLan said...

SL- One note on your post above from Pub. 970- it covers free/reduced tuition, but there's another benefit that a school can offer for employees in addition to reduced tuition. A school can offer a plan under Section 125 (Cafeteria Plan), which would allow employees to elect to withhold tuition pre-tax from their paychecks. Like tesyaa noted, this must (likewise) be uniform within a class (eg working 21 hours per week). It can also be restricted to workers with more time in, but that restriction is limited to a maximum of 3 years in; you can't prevent people with more time than that who meet the qualifications from participating. This isn't for tuition reduction, which you have described above, but rather for the remaining tuition which is not reduced. Doing so, of course, requires the school to have a formal plan set up (and will probably get you audited if you have more than 50% of your paycheck going towards tuition pre-tax).

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

tesyaa said...

I am a long-time reader and I'm aware of your opinion towards parental availablity. I feel the same way, which is why I chose to work in their school for far less than I could have made in a college teaching my subject.

Yes, teaching in a yeshiva definitely has many lifestyle benefits, including yom tov and erev yom tov off, which other jobs do not offer. That's an intangible benefit that goes a long way to defraying (intangibly) the lower salaries yeshiva teachers commant.

Anonymous said...


Forgive me if this is inappropriate, but would you mind sharing how much of a tuition break you receive?

BubbyT said...

Another benefit of teaching or working in a school your children attend is actually "being" with them more than even the "stay at home" mothers. I taught at my daughters' school all the years they were in school and we drove together in the morning, if they needed s/t during the day...they knew where to find was great!!

tesyaa said...

Bubby, I see your point, but as a parent, I am sometimes irritated when one of my children tells me that a teacher was interrupted by her preschooler needing something. I'm not saying that your kids did anything to interrupt your classes ch"v.

Again, this is an "intangible" that counts as part of a yeshiva teacher's compensation, and offsets the low salaries. I am sure that teachers take this into account and therefore, don't complain about their low pay.

Anonymous said...

Buuby: Be very careful. My mother taught in the school I went to. Other students were very resentful, and sometimes mean -- picking on me for being a teacher's pet and saying my good grades etc. were the result of my mother working at the school even though we ignored each other during the school day. Your children and other kids may hide this from you, but it is inevitable some resentment toward your child will be there. Other children of teachers have had similar stories.
There should be a complete hands off no contact rule during school hours. If you kid forgets his lunch or lunch money, it should be handled the same as for any other child -- not running to Mommy.

Anonymous said...

Tessya and Bubby: Teachers should be doing that work because they are talented teachers and love teaching, not for the perks.

sethg-prime said...

Recently posted to Craigslist: “WANTED: One Rabbi versed in the Dark Talmudic Arts to create one Golem for household of three. Golem will perform rudimentary household chores such as dishes & sweeping, basic Math Tutoring for our daughter in 3rd grade and basic household security.”

That’s one way to get “minimal cleaning help” for free...

Sima said...

Anon 12:41 -- My children all attend the same school, which is small, OOT, run on a shoestring, and has a reasonable tuition. My salary goes a very long way in defraying it, especially b/c I work nearly full time for them. The main perk is that I'm only working when they're in school.
Anon 10:56, if I worked as an adjunct in the local college,(assuming I could get a job, b/c they are thin on the ground at the moment) I'd have the babysitting problem, a huge one here, and the money is negligible. Then how will I pay tuition?

LeahGG said...

"Tessya and Bubby: Teachers should be doing that work because they are talented teachers and love teaching, not for the perks."

I'm left scratching my head. Teaching is a job. It has a salary and perks. While I agree that it would be ideal if only those who are good at it remained as teachers, if schools don't pay well and/or give good benefits, then those who are talented will certainly find greener pastures.

Anonymous said...

Sima: I was referring to teaching an evening class when your husband would presumably be home. Your email suggested you could teach at the college level, but decided not to for now. All I was suggesting was a way for you to move to college-level teaching in the future. If you stay out of the field for 10 or 15 years, it will be hard to get back in.

ProfK said...

Both Sima and Anonymous 6:31 are right about adjuncting on the college level. Sima is right because the pay is truly negligible. Adjuncts are paid per course. Depending on where the college is located geographically and on the years of experience and degrees obtained, as well as the subject area, an adjunct can make from 1600 to 2300 per course. That's before taxes. And you don't qualify for the benefits that full timers get. And that pays for both the teaching in class as well as work done at home for preparation and marking work. Adjuncts don't get a choice of what time slots they teach in--basically they teach the time slots and courses that the full timers don't usually want to fill, like 8:00 in the morning and 9:30 at night. So no, adjuncting one or even two courses won't pay for tuition or much of anything else either.

But Anonymous does raise a good point. If you ever want to get back on track as a college teacher then showing some adjuncting on the college level is preferrable to work experience on the elementary level.

BubbyT said...

My kids are now grown and don't seem the worst for me having taught there, and now actually are thrilled that I teach their kids!! I don't think they would have encouraged me to take this teaching assignment (one class/week for 5 of my grandkids) if they had negative experiences...I don't think any of my friends' kids who went to same school their mothers taught in were negatively picked on or resented far as disturbing class...I can only remember one time when my daughter got sick and needed me...otherwise, it was a visit during recess or lunch!! All in all, I found it a very positive experience and really think it added to our very close relationship now...because we did see each other so much!! (and my daughters are in their mid 30's now) so I would not discount it!! and the tuition break helped a lot!! and so did the "cafeteria" plan!!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Great post.

Drop the cleaning help.

That was also the first thing on my mind when reading this as well.

In the worst case -- have a messy house. Its better to have a messy home, than be in debt. Clean it yourself -- and have your kids help out.

Do they get allowance?

Sima said...

ProfK -- well said. I am looking actively for an adjunct position, but all I've found are for classes at impossible times, such as 4-7pm. I'm going to keep looking, maybe for a weekend class, adult ed or something.
Jameel -- unless you have daily help, cutting the cleaning help isn't terribly significant. I (and most of my friends) have one day a week, for 4-5 hours. I go without in the summer, when things are more relaxed, but during the school year when I work, giving up the 4-5 hours I have will result in fairly severe quality of life/emotional/shalom bayis issues. I hardly think it makes sense to expect my 11 yr old and 9 yr old to scrub the bathrooms and vacuum when they have a full load of homework, and I am out all day and busy with cooking/shopping/basic housekeeping the rest of the time. That said, my family is expected to keep the house neat and basically clean. But the heavy cleaning is done in those 4-5 hours a week. Perhaps you'd be correct if I was at home all day. Perhaps the woman writing the letter has twin infants at home, in which case she might need some extra cleaning help. This isn't as easy a call as you think.
As for allowances, they seem to be a thing of the past, at least in my circles. I don't know one child here who gets one. Some do get paid nominal amounts for unusual chores, such as raking, mowing, ironing.

LeahGG said...

I don't think of vacuuming as heavy cleaning, and a toilet takes five minutes. The big jobs (that rarely get done) in my house are washing tile floors and washing windows. The insides are easy, but the outsides just never get done because I can't lift them to bring them in and we're not ground floor.

When I was a kid, I certainly vacuumed from the time I was 9 or so, and I was a total lazy bum about household chores - I doubt I spent more than 10 minutes a day on household chores, but vacuuming a medium-sized room takes 5 minutes if you have an upright and know how to do it.

tesyaa said...

I have a pretty big house, and work full time, and 6 kids including special needs kids. I thought I could never give up my cleaning help, but I did, 18 months ago, and we are surviving! My kids DO help with bathrooms: cleaning a house doesn't take much time when everyone does a little bit, and you know what - they are learning life skills. They will need these skills in a college dorm or in their own homes iy"h. (And they have a lot of schoolwork to manage, just like your kids). The savings of $3000 per year in after tax dollars is SIGNIFICANT to us.

But, maybe to you the cleaning help is more needed than the money. I happen to be makpid on cleanliness and neatness, and I was one bemoaning a room that I thought was too messy/dirty, and my daughter told me straight out that most houses she goes to are dirtier than ours, despite the fact we're doing it ourselves.

And I have to give credit to Orthonomics, because without this blog I would never have thought about giving up cleaning help - I had it for almost 20 years.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Sima: Our 11 year old cleans 2 bathrooms on Fridays. The vacuuming is done by our 17 year old.

We have a Friday afternoon jobs list, in which each job takes no more than 15 minutes, and every kid gets 2 jobs. Some of the jobs are easier (like setting the table for Shabbat, straighten up the coat/school bag area) some are more difficult; wash dishes, laundry, vacuuming, etc).

I also have jobs as well...washing floors, doing whatever jobs the kids don't do, etc.

Twin infants is a challenge; yet it seems from her letter that she has a larger family, and older kids should be able to help. 5 out of our 8 kids can hold our infant; bathe him, etc.

As for allowance; if its a thing of the past -- where do your kids get pocket change from? They have none?

Sima said...

Full disclosure -- if I gave up my cleaning help, my mother would freak out and insist on paying for it herself, which I do not want her to do. Yes, my kids are capable, and during the summer we don't have the help (she goes home to the DR) and we do it all together. Except, in the summer we all have the time -- no one goes to camp and we have all week. My children have a heavy load of homework, and academics are a priority in our house. Several need extra help, and their time and mine is used to review, drill, etc. so going without the cleaning help during the school year would leave my house a pit. I personally could not deal with that.
Jameel, my kids don't get pocket money b/c they have nothing to spend it on. There are no candy machines (thank G-d) in school, we live in a suburban area so there are no walking distance shops. If they want something out of the ordinary we work something out with their birthday money from relatives or they get it for an occasion. They're too young to shop for themselves anyway. They never eat out on their own (or with us -- we rarely do) so there really is no need for a regular allowance. My older one occasionally earns money babysitting, but she has little time during the school year, so she saves what she earns from the summer.

Dave said...

Full disclosure -- if I gave up my cleaning help, my mother would freak out and insist on paying for it herself, which I do not want her to do.

How does she get the cleaning help into your house?

Commenter Abbi said...

Sima- I have the same type of mother who would insist on paying for cleaning help if I wanted to give it up.

Dave- yes, she could lock the door and not let the help in, but it's more complicated than that. I think it's a particular type of mother daughter relationship that if you're not in it, it's hard to understand.

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