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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Guest Post: Debt is Harmful to All Those Around Them

With thank to my Guest Poster who would like to remain anonymous.

When my wife and I first started dating, we marveled over how similar our families are. Every time we spoke about our families and compared notes, it seemed they were more and more alike.

Looking back, it's amazing that it took several years before we discussed one key issue in which our families are as different as can be: finances. I come from a family where discussions about money, how much things cost, why certain purchases were or weren't being made, and budgeting and saving were the norm. We knew that money was tight, that yeshiva cost a whole lot of money, and therefore we had to sacrifice and spend money intelligently. We weren't poor and we weren't deprived, but we knew there were monetary limits and we had to live within them.

My wife's family is the polar opposite. Money is never, ever spoken about. And if it is mentioned, it is likely to cause a major scene leading one to learn very quickly not to bring it up again. It's not important how much something costs as long as it makes the purchaser happy. If you want something, don't wait, just go and buy it. Planning and forethought are unnecessary. If you're not sure which dress you want, buy all 3 and sort it out later. Suddenly want to visit family in another state? Buy a ticket and go.

This difference in attitudes has had dramatic effects on our respective families. My parents both work in good, but not great, paying jobs. But, because of their financial approach, they have managed to save a lot of money for retirement, have almost finished paying off their house, and are finally enjoying the financial freedom to travel. While my MIL does not work, my FIL works in the type of career where people immediately think they must be well off. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are drowning in tens of thousands of dollars in debt, have no equity and no savings (not even retirement), and spend their days and nights stressed out over whether the bank balance is high enough to cover the $100 payment just made to the credit card company over the phone after they threatened to close off credit or impose another fee.

It's been hard to get a complete sense of what my in-laws finances look like. As I mentioned above, they refuse to discuss it. But, you pick up bits and pieces despite their attempts to keep things secret. What's amazing is that while there were large financial mistakes that were made, the biggest contributor to their debt has been the many small, seemingly insignificant decisions they made along the way: spending too much for holidays, staying in nicer hotels, giving larger than necessary gifts for simchas, refusing to accept second best when purchases are made, and the like. When paid for on credit, those little purchases add up.

The problem with my in-law's situation is that their fierce desire to protect their family from their financial woes, is actually causing financial misery that they don't even see and that extends far beyond their personal issues. My wife is an apple that fell far from the tree. She is naturally frugal and saw the mistakes her parents made and didn't want to repeat them. Her siblings, though, are another story. Without having learned even basic financial responsibility they have fallen into the same patterns as their parents: no budgets, no planning, spend on what makes you feel good, don't seek out advice, and don't talk about money at all. Even when my wife asks them simple questions like, "Did you lock in the rate of your federal loans?" she is brushed off. They say she is stressing them out talking like that.

But, in the end, it's me and my wife who are really stressed out. Like when we hear something that leads us to think her brother is overspending and isn't paying off his credit cards in full every month. Or when her father jokes that it's good we have extra bedrooms in our house so they can move in when they're older. We worry how her parents will possibly retire, whether they really will have to move in with us, or what will happen if her father gets sick and they have no income. We worry that her siblings are following in the same path.

I'm not writing this looking for solutions. I just want to share our experiences and show how harmful debt is not just for those in debt but for everyone around them as well. Here, it doesn't just affect my in-laws, and it doesn't just affect my wife and I who may have to pick up the pieces down the line and possibly upend our lives to do so, but it affects their other children who never learned the skills necessary to make intelligent financial decisions.


Anonymous said...

Very sad and depressing to read first thing in the a.m. If its any help, your poster is not alone. I would add that all adult children should plan on needing to help their parents (sometimes quite a bit) at some point for lots of reasons even having nothing to do with parents' fiscal irresponsibility or just old age, illness and/or bad luck. It's our chance to try to return a little of what they have done for us. Also, as for the comments about saving a spare room, it is only in very recent times that homes had only one or two generations. For most of history, extended families with multiple generations lived together with the young caring for the old. That was one of the reason why people felt it important to have large families.

Finally, even though the poster was not asking for suggestions even though it sounds like his parents cannot afford things like life and disability insurance, I suggest that the kids get together and buy a good disability policy for dad and life insurance for both. It will save the kids money in the end and help provide some peace of mind as to what would happen if Dad got sick or if one of the parents died. Perhaps they could also buy their parents some sessions with a financial planner.

ProfK said...

It sounds like the poster's in laws fit that old saying: you can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink. If these are people who will not discuss money and whose spending is out of control, it's doubtful that they would consider going to that financial planner and would probably get highly insulted. As to getting together with the other kids to pay for disability insurance, if those other kids are like their parents they are highly likely not to agree to the purchase.

I've seen a similar situation in a relative's family, where the parents are working on the assumption that what they do now doesn't matter since their children will all pitch in and take care of them as they want to be taken care of when they get older or if things fall apart financially. The oldest son, the only one who could even attempt to provide financial assistance and pay for the parents, has given his parents an either/or ultimatum. Either get your house in financial order now, get help to straighten out the mess or don't count on me when it comes time to pay for your refusing to be financially responsible.

The parents are upset with this son and the relationship is strained. Some parts of the family believe the son is not being properly respectful to his parents and "owes" them the support for all the years they took care of him. A few members feel the son is right to push the issue--why should the children pay for the sins of their parents?

And that highlights the problem: family relationships and money. Some people will opt to put incredible strain on themselves financially to help out financially inprudent parents because they want to keep the relationship solid. Others cannot see endangering their own future and that of their kids because their parents are reckless with money. They'd like the relationship to remain but they can't take the strain if things don't change. No easy answer here.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: Giving ultimatums is all well and good, but what are these kids going to do when (G-d forbid)Dad is 74 and is recovering from a heart attack and Mom broke her hip and uses a walker which is tough because its hard for her to hold the walker due to arthritis and now they are living on $20,000/year in social security and even basic living expenses once you figure in Dad's special diet, and Mom and Dad's uninsured medicals, and some assistance at home for things they can no longer can do like laundry, groceries and driving to doctor's appointments, eyeglasses , dental (did I mention the cataracts and all the old crowns that now need to be replaced) and physical therapy runs them $45,000 (even assuming the home is paid off but there still is tax, insurance and utiities). The resonsible children will be just as miserable and unhappy if they turn their backs on their parents than if they dig into their pockets or have mom and dad move in with them. Unless you are made of stone, there is no escape, so start saving up.

Paying Parent said...

I am in a VERY similar situation as the poster. My in-laws were always completely financially irresponsible, living way beyond their means. They never saved for ANYTHING- not weddings, bar mitzvahs, colleges or retirement. Everything went on the credit card.
They took out as much credit from their house as possible and have little to no equity.
I am only in a better position than the poster, because my father in law had a government job and therefore has a nice pension and life insurance plan that is there eventhough he never contributed to it.
My husband never learned anything about personal finances. He didn't even have a bank account till we were married. He has had to learn pretty quickly, and is now a frugal and responsible purchaser.
He is the only one. His siblings are a lost cause. Both leech off their parents and inlaws and government handouts. They come to us to invest in this and that "get rich quick" schemes. One sibling is only married 2 years and has already used all their wedding money and sunk themselves in credit card debt. This is despite their in laws giving them a free apartment! (And of course this couple uses no birth control and already has a baby - but I digress)
My in laws claim that they are so "generous" because they buy things for our kids all the time. We put a stop to it saying that if you spend $100 on crap at Amazing Savings then you haven't saved anything. Of course, that didn't stop my husbands siblings from putting their hands out. I think that their financial situation has been a bit better- either that or they stopped talking to us about it because it would lead to arguments.

Avi said...

I was blessed with fiscally sane parents, in-laws, and, subsequently, a fiscally sane self and wife. Income levels between my parents and in-laws is not the same, but nobody has made repeated stupid decisions that jeopardize their future and ours. This post makes me realize -- despite many other stresses -- how lucky we are. We should probably thank our parents right around now.

Anonymous said...

For those of you with the siblings and sibling in laws who are not responsible, there's hope. I have seen people change quite a bit once they grow up a little and begin learning to understand what credit card debt can do. What's scary is that so many of those who are both young and irresponsible will soon be facing tuition and the scholarship system does not provide great incentives for responsible decisions and frugality if everything that's saved just reduces the scholarship amount.

Anonymous said...

Great post. My wife worries about her family as they have 7 children and don't make that much money.

They don't spend too much on things (except simchas) but just the money is not there for a large family. Tuition is expensive and their house is falling apart. Sad.

Scraps said...

B"H my parents were, and continue to be, frugal and fiscally responsible. They instilled those values in their children. I remember the first time I went to a friend's house and the parents and child (my friend) were discussing which credit cards she could and couldn't use because some were maxed out and some weren't quite there yet. I was absolutely horrified that anyone could live that way. And bear in mind, this is not a friend who I would have thought comes from a family with financial troubles - she's always wearing nice clothing, often from stores I wouldn't dream of even stepping into. It was quite a shock.

JS said...

I think there are two aspects to any problem with debt. There's a lack of financial knowledge (no idea how to make a budget, what compounding interest is, how to track expenses, etc) and there's an ingrained behavioral issue. The behavioral issue is most important, in my opinion. Objectively speaking, anyone can learn the basics of personal finance. It's not rocket science. But, behavioral issues can be so extreme in some cases that a person finds it too stressful or gets too anxious to even look at their latest credit card statement let alone discuss it.

That is an extreme case, but behavioral issues exist in more subtle ways that can be just as devastating financially in some cases. A person may simply have a fixed notion of what a yom tov should look like. A yom tov must include new outfits or new jewelry. It has to have a luxurious spread with food for 20 even if there are only 5 people. Without these things it simply isn't yom tov. Or a person may believe that a simcha has to look a certain way. Anything other than elaborate flower centerpieces is shlocky and not befitting the joy of the day. Or perhaps when giving a gift it must be extravagant lest the person think you're cheap or not doing well financially. There are countless examples of this type of behavioral issue.

I think it's very hard to deal with these behavioral issues because they're not rational and often they have very strong emotions attached to them. A person may feel like a failure as a mother, for example, if she can't provide for her family a yom tov like her own mother gave her. You can't just tell a person like that "Well, you have to budget and then monitor your expenses..."

I don't know how you overcome that, if it's at all possible. I think if the person is unwilling to get psychological help (and then financial help), it's likely a lost cause unfortunately.

tesyaa said...

A close family member lost all his savings due to mental illness and related gambling issues. He's now mainly supported by his wealthy child. It's very sad. But when he was going through those issues (which have only been resolved by his lack of money), you would never have guessed it. He always gave nice gifts to his children and grandchildren on their birthdays - yet not TOO extravagant, which would have raised red flags. You can really never tell a person's financial situation from the outside, and it's very dangerous to draw conclusions about how people can live on a certain income from such superficialities.

JS said...


I think an interesting point in the post, and one that you make also, is that being in a good financial position is a COMBINATION of income and expenses. The guest poster noted that his parents don't make astronomical amounts of money, but his father in law does (or at least is in a profession where people assume he does). And yet, his parents seem to be in good financial shape and his in-laws are up to their eyeballs in debt.

Income is only half the picture. And I think it may be the less important half at that.

Anonymous said...

JS: You are correct. There are many psychological issues involved, not just financial. It probably is even more complicated in the OJ world because so many expenses (i.e. excess splurging on clothes and food for Shabbat, Yom Tov rather than just making it a little nicer than a weekday), Simchas, etc.) are treated like religious obligations.

tesyaa said...

Anon 11:27 - the problem is not just the (often misguided but understandable) feeling that these are religious obligations; it's the fear of doing something that others in the insular Orthodox community will disapprove of.

See this recent post:

dvorak613 said...

JS- you're absolutely right that income is only part of the picture, and you need to work with expenses as well. In fact, through all this talk about financial crisis in our communities, I think a lot of people are focusing on getting people to get better educations and therefore more income. Unfortunately, that's all meaningless without seriously reducing expenses. You could send every OJ child to law school, but they won't all get jobs at big firms making big money (heck, you couldn't send all of them to law school in the first place because they wouldn't all get in!) Not everyone can go to Harvard, not everyone can become an investment banker, corporate lawyer, or hedge fund manager. Yes, there are definitely people who don't do as much as they could be, and there are whole segments of OJ that eschew a proper education and the income that comes with it. But that's only half the problem (if even that much). The biggest problem is that orthodoxy is too expensive. Promoting law school or business school is not going to solve that problem, making things less expensive will. I don't know HOW exactly to do that, but that's the crux of the matter.

tesyaa said...

The biggest problem is that orthodoxy is too expensive.

The only thing that makes it too expensive is the expectation of universal private school. Miami Al has convincingly pointed out how much non-Jews spend on their holidays and on other material goods. In general, though, people who aren't well off don't choose private school, or if they do they sacrifice like crazy and don't complain.

We want something for everyone that only the relatively wealthy can afford.

And yet, yeshiva education is not mandated by the Torah. Chinuch is. We are utterly lacking in creativity if we insist on one model and only one model to provide chinuch.

dvorak613 said...

Tesyaa- public school may be an alternative, but I don't think that's an excuse to leave the day school system as it is. Yeshivas can be revamped and made significantly less expensive. Public school may be an option, but it is just that, an option, not a solution. It does not get us off the hook for devising low-cost Yeshiva models, cooperative learning models or what have you.

Other big issue as relates to income- MO is having a serious chinuch crisis in that not enough MO become teachers, so all those spots get filled with chareidim- and we wonder why there is such a seismic shift to the right?

tesyaa said...

Yeshivas can be revamped and made significantly less expensive.

Possibly, but not without sacrificing educational quality. A commenter on another blog - not a right wing blog - suggested cutting AP courses as a way to cut costs. Great for upward mobility.

And I'm all for MO schools hiring MO teachers, but MO teachers generally have better educations and other career options, so they command better salaries. That doesn't go hand-in-hand with reducing tuition.

Homeschooling and homeschooling cooperatives - that I can see as a significant savings, especially in the elementary grades.

Miami Al said...


There is absolutely a low cost Yeshiva model. It looks like the diocese run Catholic Church schools that charge $3500-$4500 depending on region/fund raising.

Those schools are BARE bones, as many clergy as possible as teachers -- not much anymore, this used to be a part of it, and their clergy take vows of celibacy and poverty, ours produce double digit families with private schooling and expensive housing, focus on the basics, no frills.

If you look at who attends those schools? Poor minority students, who may or may not be Catholic, whose parents sacrifice EVERYTHING to give their kids a better life.

Do those schools look like the Yeshivot from Brooklyn 60 years ago? Absolutely.

But American Jewry are NO LONGER poor immigrants trying to get into American society. American Jews that live in expensive suburbs will not pay a DOLLAR for their children to go to a low cost Yeshiva, because a low cost Yeshiva doesn't look like any school that they recognize.

dvorak613 said...

I never said I knew HOW to make Yeshivas cheaper :-)

That being said, we still have to try to find those ways. Regarding concerns about the quality of education: public school doesn't address that in every situation. If you don't have good schools in you're area, you're pretty much getting what you pay for if you use the available schools. If you want to live in an area with good schools, it's going to drive up your housing costs and property taxes. Public school is not a silver bullet any more than anything else that's been proposed.

Regarding MO teachers, it's a real catch-22. Teaching doesn't pay enough, so MOs generally don't choose that career path; but how will we get the money to pay enough to attract them? I would give 2 suggestions- again, not a silver bullet, but still helpful- agree to larger class sizes (thereby necessitating less teachers) and hire teachers who can teach both kodesh and chol, which is something you would think you'd see more of in MO schools than you do.

Of course, once again, if we cut expenses, maybe more MO would become teachers instead of feeling like they have to be lawyers.

JS said...

I don't want to get into the yeshiva tuition debate since I think the overarching issue of debt is more important, but it cannot be denied that they have a large intersection.

There is no doubt that yeshiva tuition is causing many families (often over two generations) to go deeply into debt. The yeshivas make this worse by allowing people to charge tuition to their credit cards.

I just wonder how the younger generation can possibly take care of the older generation when they too are saddled with debt.

Dave said...


They can't.

Miami Al said...


This isn't about debt, it's about living beyond ones means and the resulting debts. Not wanting to face up to limitations of income and not setting goals is a general pattern of irresponsible behavior.

If you don't make much money, you can responsibly choose a RW school that is low cost, or you can use state supplied education and supplement. Paying for an education you can't afford on credit is NO DIFFERENT than paying for patio furniture on credit.

Either money works for you, or you work for money. If you own money, other people own your time, it's a terrible situation to be in, and anyone in it should try to get out as soon as possible.

JS said...

"This isn't about debt, it's about living beyond ones means and the resulting debts. Not wanting to face up to limitations of income and not setting goals is a general pattern of irresponsible behavior."

I agree. I think living beyond one's means is certainly irresponsible and I would even include not having adequate savings as living beyond one's means. However, it's not just irresponsibility, there's often a lot more at work psychologically, as I noted above.

I wonder if religion and supposed religious obligations are the driving factor behind debt in the Orthodox community. In other words, if these people weren't overspending on simchas, and yom tov, and yeshiva would they instead be overspending on cars, nice clothes, and vacations. I tend to think the answer is "yes" since the people who overspend on a simcha have other "secular" things they are overspending on as well. I think the religious aspect is an excuse.

Dave said...

There are two overspending issues.

One is the inability to not buy things that you want.

The other is the inability to be different.

The former is invariant as to your surrounding culture, the latter is not.

Miami Al said...


Disagree. Go into most upper middle class neighborhoods. The families are roughly the same size (2 children, +/- 1). The jobs are roughly the same (lawyers, doctors, finance guys). The wives have similar body types. The cares in the garage are pretty similar.

People ape those around them.

I agree with JS, the people that overspend in a religious area would otherwise overspend in a secular area, and sometimes they do both.

After 9/11, President Bush told people to go shopping.

Overspending and the urging of it by the leaders is an American problem, not a Frum one.

Now the religious leadership preaching American excess instead of responsible austerity is a separate problem, since I've never seen Christian leadership urging people to buy more crap (while the Jewish leadership DOES urge conspicuous consumption), I'm not sure that people really listen to religious leaders anyway.

In America, I think they pick religious leaders that tell them what they want to hear, not do what their leaders tell them.

Some Jews spend a fortune on Etrogim, some Gentiles spend a fortune on Easter celebrations, and others throw a Fourth of July party that will make your head spin. People spend money, we just give it cover by switching to Hebrew/Yiddish and pretending its holy.

Having an Etrog is a Mitzvah. Conspicuous consumption with fancy protectors and expensive sets in conspicuous consumption. "Beautifying a Mitzvah" seems less holy to me than giving money to the poor, but I have a "goyishe cup" so what do I know.

Dave said...


I've spent most of my professional and adult life in High-Tech centers.

Incomes are generally upper-middle class (ranging to very rich, for the people who were at the right companies at the right time).

In my experience, the people who didn't cash out big in an IPO are not trying to match the houses and lifestyles of the people who did, and in my personal and professional life, I see an enormous variety in what people spend money on and what activities they pursue.

Perhaps I'm just self-selecting for working with people with a strong and idiosyncratic sense of self.

Dave said...


There is an entire branch of Evangelical Christianity which follows a "Prosperity Gospel" (also sometimes referred to as "name it and claim it"), in which prosperity is proof of God's favor, and the way to prove that you deserve it is to make massive donations to the minister in question, which will then be returned to you.

Zach Kessin said...

A few comments,

1) The Frum world needs a Dave Ramsey, (Yea thats not going to happen)

2) The frum world seems to justify a lot of overspending by "If its for a mitzva it doesn't count/ G-d will provide". Its sort of like saying cookies
which are broken in half don't have calories.

I think in order for things to change for a lot of people what has to happen is that they have to hit Rock Bottom. I mean really rock bottom, kids in foster care because there is no food rock bottom. That will by definition be really ugly

Anonymous said...

Zach: I thought SL was the Dave Ramsey of the OJ world :) The problem is that mostly those who have their finances under control seem to view and comment here, as well as those are smart enough to ask good questions. Unlike Dave Ramsey or Suze, you can't just find SL while flipping through the remote. It is too bad because if anyone needs to learn and value frugality its a community that has large families and private school tuition. I wonder if the tuition burden and big families makes frugality seem pointless other than for those at the top?

tesyaa said...

Zach - there was a letter on Matzav that I believe this blog linked to in which children went without needed dental care because their parents were tapped out from paying tuition. Those kids SHOULD be in foster care.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: depriving your kids of food and/or health care in order to pay yeshiva tuition is not normal; it's a form of mental illness.

But you're right: I can imagine it will become more prevalent, because people will stop at nothing to keep their kids in yeshiva (read: keep their kids OUT of public school).

Avi said...

"I wonder if the tuition burden and big families makes frugality seem pointless other than for those at the top?"

It does. It also explains the notion that tuition assistance is an expectation, not charity provided by others. If everyone is expected to have large families and send them to expensive private schools, then everyone needs to be a successful hedge fund manager, or everyone needs to be in families where both parents are extremely successful professionals working full time. This is an unattainable goal for the vast majority of people - there aren't that many hedge fund manager positions (and there aren't many people capable of being hedge fund managers anyway), our schools' schedules make dual full time careers extremely difficult, and our cultural expectation of early marriage + frequent time off for pregnancies + the obligations of large families often precludes our women from entering/succeeding in high pressure professional careers.

So, yes, if you're in your early 20's, married with 2 children and another on the way, you know you aren't going to ever be able to pay for tuition. You expect that the school will just ask you to pay whatever you can afford - that's the way it works, right? So what's the point of frugality? If you save up anything, it's just going to go to the school. So you either save like mad for the biggest house you can get before tuition bills hit, or you spend spend spend and have a grand time. Ask them how they plan to pay their bills and you'll literally hear, "Hashem will provide" and get a bunch of psuedo-hashkafa about bitachon and how your income is predetermined and how everything they buy is either necessary or "on sale."

I've also seen this attitude among people in their 30's who were reasonably frugal and paying tuition just fine when it was one or two kids, but when tuition went up by 9% a year and the third entered the system, they gave up.

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa-Dov Bear linked to a second reponse by Jennifer in Mamaland. Same thing with the dental. I really hope this neglect on health is not uncommon. I have no way to make that determination, but it makes me very sad.

Miami Al said...

If you are prioritizing private schooling over medical care, your kids should be taken away.

At that point, you are no different from the Christian fundamentalists with sick kids that refuse medical care because they don't believe in it and only believe in faith healing.

You are allowed to neglect YOUR health for your religion, you are NOT allowed to put your children in danger for your religious views.

If a Jehovah's witness child needs life saving surgery, the courts have ordered it.

It is one thing to say Torah study is paramount, it's another to say Yeshiva is paramount. If Torah study is that important to you, home school and get proper medical care.

Dave said...

Since all discussions seem to converge on tuition these days, I went and dug up some demographics on my local school district.

Roughly half the households in the district have children under the age of 18, and rougly one third of the population is under the age of 18.

So, half the households have no kids, and roughly speaking the other half have two children. And this is an a region, where demographically, most of the adult population is of child bearing age.

In short, I'm not sure that even the public system (and we have reasonably good schools and a very educated population base) would look anything like it does today if the average family size was significantly larger.

Miami Al said...


Bingo. The Orthodox world is child heavy, so more children being educated with fewer incomes providing the resources.

The public system is child-light, more sources of income, and given high divorce rates, higher tax bases (a divorced couple may destroy LOTS of value, but there are two property tax bills now), etc.

As a result, the dollars/child have been shooting up in the public school system.

The MO Day School system needs to keep up to not turn the community downwardly mobile, and that's putting massive pressure on the system, just one of the cost drivers.

Jennifer in Mamaland also makes a COMMON BT mistake, you think that the FFBs you know are telling the truth, and not full of it. Lots of hand waving a Yiddish expressions about faith, but the FFB families all seem better at family planning than the BT ones (well, most of them). They may not have had sex ed, but they know that what they say and what they do may NOT be the same thing.

Jennifer drank the Kool aid, and is doing what she thinks that she is supposed to do, but she's NOT doing what her pears are doing, and it's how she's all messed up.

Child אִישׁ Behavior said...

I may have mentioned this a long while ago but here it goes:

Look how the government is spending money. Democrat or Republican, both use deficit spending when they feel the cause is right.

We learn from our leaders.

If spending can make the economy better as a whole, then surely it can make my economy better too.

No matter what Kaynes has to say about liquidity traps in the Aggrigate, when the government sets a bad example for the people it is not forgotten. People don't see a government doing something for specific circumstances to help the economy as a whole, they see a simple idea- spending helps the economy.

I see this story as an analogy for how the economy as a whole is being run. If I didn't know any better I'd think this is a veiled criticism of government policy as well as a personal story.

JS said...

In terms of the DovBear post linking to Jennifer. I think this exchange is telling:

In the post, Jennifer wrote:
"Funny you should mention dental work. Even with an excellent plan, I have five teeth now with root canals which I've been told will soon crumble without crowns. Crowns are cosmetic; they're only reimbursed at 50%. School tuition came first last year, and every year before that."

Then, in the comments:

"I feel for you and your family, but your situation has gone far beyond the point of rational decision making. I beg you to pull out of yeshiva, get your finances in order, take care of yourself and your family, and come up with alternatives to give your children a Jewish education. No one ever got into heaven because they chose to send to yeshiva and let their teeth rot."

"Nobody's teeth rot and nobody goes without basic dental or medical care. That doesn't mean we're not constantly on the edge, but then, so are many families. I don't really think these are extremes in society at large, though it doesn't feel that way in the frum community."

I just don't know what you say to that. The person doesn't even see that there is a problem. Further, she justifies it by saying that most families are "on edge." If I understand her correctly, I think she's further pointing out that such decision making is not "extreme" in the frum community though it may be considered such in society at large.

Simply unbelievable.

I would argue that forgoing medical/dental care and driving yourself deeper and deeper into debt because of tuition (or any other "religious obligation") is merely a difference in degree of problem, not the kind of problem.

Fruma Sara said...

We were "on the edge" financially in the 60's with six children, and my mother took the bus long distances to the University dental school to have dental work done. Why can't Jennifer go to a dental school? I asked my father how he managed to send us all to yeshiva with a government job, and he answered, "By the skin of my teeth!"

tdr said...

I've heard you can even get good braces at the dental school in Baltimore.

I agree it's lunacy to forego medical procedures in favor of paying tuition.

Anonymous said...

Fruma: Your father had 3 things going for him in the 60's - tuition was much less expensive then even after considering inflation, he had a government job so he didn't have to worry about saving for retirement, and out of pockets for the employee's contribution to health insurance, co-pays and deductibles were either non-existant or miniscule. Now, for a family with 6 kids, its probably $7-10,000 a year before dental and eyeglasses.

Upper West Side Mom said...

While reading Jennifer's post I found this quote from her about her teenage son very interesting:

"Sure, he got social stuff. In-Shabboses, played basketball, sneaking around with his iPhone"

Jennifer's son has an Iphone. That set them back about $400 when it was bought plus she has to pay a data fee each month for him to be able to use the phone which runs close to if not $50 a month. She would have an extra $600 a year if she canceled his smart phone that she could us to pay her dental bill or her tuition bill with.

I pay full tuition and my son does not have an Iphone (and we don't have any dental insurance). This is another one of those things that makes me feel resentful of those who are receiving scholarships.

tesyaa said...

UWS Mom - yes, it's ridiculous, but forcing people to economize only goes so far. If the scholarship committee allows a certain level of expenses, and a family chooses to spend it on in iPhone for a kid (ridiculous) rather than proper medical care or nutrition, there's not much you can do about it. If a family chooses a tiny house and a bunch of iPhones, that's their choice. You can't make everyone live on bread & water rather than take charity - although sometimes it seems unfair to the full payers.

Have a good Shabbos.

Ariella said...
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Ariella said...

I put up a link to the post because it is something couples should bring to light before getting married. That doesn't mean they must nix the match if they have different views on money but that they have to brace themselves for conflict. That was the underlying idea of my Saver or Spender quiz on the Money Matters page of

Anyway, I do know of families who get scholarships to camps, as well as schools, who feel cell phones are necessities and indulge their children in trips to Israel on the grounds that it reflects a nice spiritual proclivity. In the mean time, they have bare bones insurance and skip dental care until their kids' teeth call for root canals and extractions.

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