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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Advice: Collect Door-to-Door for your Vacation

Hat Tip: Google Alerts

Before I allowed the latest (Lakewood) school closing hit my radar, a little reader question over at TLS hit my Google Alerts titled "What Comes First--Tuition or Summer Vacation?" [Update: Link corrected, my apologies]. After reading the question, all I could say was Good L-rd, no wonder things are starting to unravel.

A few things struck me about this letter:

1. The entire "negotiation" process regarding tuition discounts is simply bad business practice. This man states " Like many people in town, at the beginning of each school year, I call up the schools to negotiate a lower price for tuition, and then try to make quarterly payments to fully pay up." Earth to Lakewood and any other locale that allow such negotiations to take place after a cutoff date, you are engaging in a TERRIBLE business practice. No wonder school can't set and meet a budget when registrations/tuitions contracts are treated as meaningless.

Because of where we are vis a vis tuition, it would be near impossible to go to an industry standard private school practice and collect all tuition for the school year by the mid-year point, but there simply must be a cutoff after which the agreed upon tuition stands. It is simply not right to allow tuition negotiations at such a late date. While leadership argues whether or not parents take tuition seriously, I will just make mention with policies like these, it is no wonder that some don't take tuition seriously.

2. On the personal finance side, it is no wonder that so many people are in a mess of their own. What struck me about the question is that the person asking the question seems to think his situation is unique, and therefore worthy of consideration. You see, he commutes and doesn't get to see his children during the week. Come summer, his kids expect to do something. So, perhaps given these facts on the ground, a different answer than the expected one should be considered so he can cover vacation expenses, nothing fancy mind you.

My personal finance advice of the day: if you want to get out of your personal finance mess, start viewing yourself as average instead of unique. Once you are average, it becomes a lot more difficult to justify whatever it is you are justifying (in this case, a tuition break on the backs of donors and other families. . . some of which might be doing their utmost only to find themselves without a school for their sons on the 1st day of school, as one of my readers has found himself).

3. The writer mentions negotiating down tuition a few thousand for " 'extras’. (And by extras, I don’t mean a new Lexus, I mean extras to spend on the family)." I don't know what the writer was intending to do for a few thousand, but this just points to an inflated lifestyle. I'm not certain what the writer was intending on spending a few thousand on, but a family should be able to have a nice summer without breaking the bank, especially if they live on the East Coast where so much is within a reasonable drive. Here are some buzz words: Staycation. AAA Member Discount. Room Saver Magazine. House Swap. Library Reading Club.

I suggest that a Yeshiva Administrator who tell any family that comes begging for a discount because they prioritized summer vacation over their tuition obligation to suggest that the parent go collect door-to-door for their vacation!

Related Past Post: Tuition vs. Vacation where R. Feurst gives a "maybe" answer on tuition vs. vacation. Sleepaway camp got a yes, retirement got a no, and retirement, a family vacation got a lukewarm maybe.

28 comments:

tesyaa said...

In Lakewood, if this guy commutes and actually works, he may not be unique, but he's in the minority. So he feels that his case is special. On the other hand, if he is one of the relatively few who is actually working, and he is also negotiating discounts, then WHO is actually paying the bills? No wonder schools are closing.

Honestly Frum said...

When my wife was younger someone came to their house to collect to send their daughter's to camp.

Orthonomics said...

If a person sends their kids to camp with money that could have paid for school, they too have fundraised for camp. My preference is direct fundraising. I can't really say no to the tuition increase we got (although I can say no to school entirely). But if someone asked me for money for so-and-so to go to camp, I can say no to that.

LeahGG said...

Here's another exciting word: Camping. It's very popular in Europe. (We just spent 2.5 weeks camping in Finland - it was incredible, though with 2 toddlers in a place where temps regularly drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night , we opted for camping cabins - they ran about $650 for the two weeks) Bring up a grill and a good cooler full of meat/chicken. Buy veggies when you get there. Pile into the car, and enjoy!

JS said...

By the way, the link for the letter is wrong. It's http://www.thelakewoodscoop.com/news/2010/08/readers-scoop-what-comes-first-tuition-or-summer-vacation.html

I read stuff like this and it's hard for me to believe we were ever once referred to, respectfully, as "The People of the Book." It's really hard for me to understand how stupidity and selfishness became a communal value. What's more amazing is that the same nonsense happening in Lakewood is happening in Teaneck - just that instead of $20k in tuition for 5 kids, it's $60k in tuition for 4 kids. Numbers are different, but the same problem.

Yeshivas will follow one of two paths: 1) They will become more and more expensive as they try to fund the school on fewer and fewer full tuition payers; or 2) They will close when they can't squeeze the full payers and donors any more to make up for the shortfall of everyone else who's getting a deal.

Everyone knows this, this isn't new information. But, people are either too selfish to care or too committed to the yeshiva system to seek alternatives. Administrators are either too busy to solve the macro problems as they've got hundreds of micro problems to handle or too incompetent to even know they're running the place into the ground. Rabbis and leaders are either too separated from their congregants to understand the depth of the problem or too weak-willed and impotent to enact real change (summer camp over tuition? vacation over retirement? really?).

In my opinion it's a sinking ship and those who stick with it because it's "what you're supposed to do" are going to drown.

Fruma Sara said...

You can't compare people in Lakewood to those in Teaneck. Lakewood has a totally different hashkafa - I am related to people from Lakewood, and their philosophy is - no means maybe, let's talk, talk enough, I'll get a few thousand off. They are emotion oriented. They are not bean counters, they have a grand hashkafa, a total worldview, and money doesn't enter into it. They are not accountants, Sephardi Lady. You can criticize this worldview all you want, but what they have is emunah, the belief that Hashem will take care of them, and until that day, donors will take care of them. This may be shocking to your readers, but Lakewood has survived because of the pure emunah of its residents, without dirtying of hands through what one yeshiva bochur described to me as "coarse work". Lakewood is a unique place - it is supported by Hashem and the Torah. The rest of us, meaning the relatives of Lakewood who live in Teaneck, are deeply inferior in our emunah, though our donations are eagerly accepted. In fact, Lakewood expects its modern orthodox relatives to support its large and needy families. This has been communicated to me directly - why aren't you supporting me? If I betray a certain cynicism - forgive me, I lack emunah.

Anonymous said...

If you think of full time private school as an entitlement, rather than a luxury, or you are using that schooling option because you feel that you have no choice due to community norms and expectations rather than because you have explored all of the alternatives, feel that you have a choice and have made an informed decision to go the yeshiva route rather than using other accepted options, then it makes sense that you will feel that others should pay for it and you shouldn't have to sacrifice things like a family vacation. In other words, as long as yeshiva is not truly voluntary, its hard to expect that tuition will be the utmost priority.

Miami Al said...

Anon 10:57,

It's not about voluntary/mandatory. Taxes are mandatory, we pay them.

It's about who is obligated to educate the child. If it is the parents (father), then the school may offer a discount, but he either comes up with the money or the child is not educated. If that was the system, the "abuse" would end tomorrow, people would either pay or leave.

However, if the obligation is on the school, then if the parents don't pay, oh well, the child is still there. Tuition is quasi-voluntary, it's all a joke.

Why should he pay to educate other children (more than he needs to to avoid his kids getting kicked out) and deny his children a vacation.

I hope they had a great summer holiday, there were some great deals in Miami Beach this year.

JS said...

I have no idea if you're praising Lakewood or mocking them. They have emunah, but they demand donations. I suppose it's easy to have faith that "God will provide" when there's always someone there bailing you out.

Regardless, I don't care if you think Lakewood is holy and Teaneck is profane, or vice verse. They are identical. They just use different language to describe the same problems.

Summer Camp: In Lakewood the concern is the kids will go off the derech if they don't go. In Teaneck the concern is the kids won't have enough friends and will be socially stigmatized. In the end, same thing. Money is spent that should go to the schools.

Retirement: In Lakewood, retirement is treif so no one saves for it. In Teaneck, there's no money for 401(k)'s or IRA's except among the more wealthy of the full tuition payers. In the end, not enough people save for retirement.

Yeshiva: In Lakewood, yeshiva is a necessity as a frum yid cannot be exposed to goyim or secular ideas. In Teaneck, pretty much the same plus it's socially awkward if you're the weird home school family or send to the wrong yeshiva. Same thing. Everyone bankrupts themselves paying the bill.

Scholarship: In Lakewood, everyone haggles for a deal since nothing is set in stone, only a sucker pays full price, and I'm just as holy and learned as the other guy who gets a break. In Teaneck, you have to fill out embarrassing forms and you're forced to draw down savings. In the end, everyone is broke and the full payers are jealous of the "luxuries" the scholarship recipients have that they don't (vacations in Lakewood, HDTV's in Teaneck).

Do I really need to go on? You want to veil things in Yiddishisms, fine, but it's fundamentally the same thing whether you call it "salary" or "parnosa," for example.

Dave said...

It's not about voluntary/mandatory. Taxes are mandatory, we pay them.

Given the evidence with Spinke and Deal, I'm not so sure there is a difference in attitude between tuition and taxes...

Anonymous said...

Tuition is like taxes -- you resent things that are viewed as mandatory.

tesyaa said...

you resent things that are viewed as mandatory.

I don't think it's resent as much as you just expect to have it. No one gets pleasure from paying his or her utility bill - you EXPECT the lights to be on the the gas to light. Now, a vacation or a remodeled kitchen, you get pleasure from that. Yeshiva is like the electric bill - people can't live without it, it's always there, yet they resent paying for it since it doesn't add any incremental enjoyment.

Lion of Zion said...

LEAHGG:

jews don't do camping

"Buy veggies when you get there"

don't count on it if you're in an area with extreme temperatures and/or remote (or poor transportation). we were in alaska and the vegetables/fruits were *very* expensive and not too appetizing, and that's if they were even available. (and just for comparison, i think a 2 liter bottle of soda was about as much 6 bucks in the far north!)

Anonymous said...

LOZ: There are plenty of places to go camping that are within 30 miles of regular grocery stores and farmers markets. The topic was inexpensive vacations and I don't think anyone would consider taking a family to Alaska or Finland from the lower 48 as inexpensive, even if you are camping. Try Bear Mountain State Park, Acadia National Park or the White Mountains or the Poconos, not Denali, if you want to be frugal.

Miami Al said...

JS,

Lakewood and Teaneck are TOTALLY different. You read the blogs.

In parts of Teaneck, you can go to Shul without a Jacket!

Also, there are lots of restaurants in Teaneck that the scholarship families can go to (since they just bounce a tuition check from time to time).

But yes, at this point, Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidism are increasingly identical in outlook, mentality, and approach.

But the MO families can watch television...

Lion of Zion -- because clearly the group she is encouraging to try camping instead of staying in hotels is going to go camping in Alaska or (or Hawaii -- same issue) as an alternative to a bungalow up state.

Lion of Zion said...

ANON/AL:

obviously. i was just making some friendly conversation with leahgg.

but my point is that jews generally don't do camping. even locally.

Dave said...

I grew up going camping.

These days, a swivel chair profession and middle age spread (and middle age knees) mean I don't want to get into a tent on the ground anymore, but we are considering buying a camper-van in the next year or so.

Anonymous said...

On a positive note, to echo the ideas frequently touted here. I sit on a scholarship committee.

Our school asks about both camp and vacations on financial aid forms, and treats them seriously. With allowance if applicable, i.e. both parents working.

Another criteria for scholarship is to have both parents working, with potential to appeal, i.e. where daycare cost is much higher than potential income, physical limitations...

It is interesting/amazing to see what comes through. However, overall, the applications appear to be filled out honestly, with reasonable responses by the scholarship committee. There are varying expectations which are sometimes not realistic. There certainly is room for improvement, but overall people are doing the right thing.

JS said...

Anonymous,

This is what I'm getting from your comment. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

In order to qualify for scholarship, both parents must work unless the income from one parent would be less than the child care costs incurred from that parent working.

However, if both parents are working, then the family applying for scholarship is allowed to spend money on camp for those kids and vacations. In other words, the school allows them to pay for camp and vacation instead of having them apply that money to tuition.

When you compare child care costs due to both parents working versus the income of one parent, do child care costs also include the need for camp?

Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me the way scholarship works is:

1) Both parents work, get a scholarship, and get to spend money on camp and vacations; or

2) One parent works, get a scholarship, and may be able to spend money on camp and vacations.

That's quite a system if I'm understanding you correctly.

LeahGG said...

LOZ: It's quite uncomfortable on Shabbat, but during the week, it's really not so bad.

As for veggies being expensive, yeah. When we camped in Ireland for our honeymoon, we got low-quality, high-priced produce and didn't have adequate cooking facilities... We ended up being hungry much of the trip.

In Finland, we were able to buy at farmer's markets. It was awesome.

btw, for those curious as to how we pick our destinations - juggling conventions - my husband has a second profession as a juggler, so we go to the European conventions when they're not during the 3 weeks.

Miami Al said...

Dave,

Went camping as a kid, it was a lot of fun. I expect to take the kids as they are older. And we usually went with another Jewish family or two.

On my block of 30 houses, two Jews own RVs, one Frum, one not. The Frum one uses it to go to traveling sports activities and other activities with his kids, so he always has a kitchen with him, but also uses it for camping.

The non-Frum one uses it for vacations, and has a trailer to tow his motorcycle to locations.

There ARE Jews that are not scrawny, scared of sunlight, pencil necked geeks... they just don't live within 15 miles of NYC. :)

Miami Al said...

Anonymous,

I am sorry to hear that scholarship recipients are "doing the right thing?"

It would be really nice if most of them were abusers that were taking advantage of the system.

If people are "doing the right thing" and the system is imploding, then the leadership is truly playing the fiddle while the system burns.

Sima said...

Jews don't do camping? In my (quite small) OOT community, which is, incidentally, pretty RW, at least ten percent of the families camp yearly or have in the past. Cheap, fun, low pressure, and local!

Miami Al said...

Sima,

New Yorkers don't "do camping." Some New York Jews that only know other New York Jews got confused and thought, "none of the Jews I know go camping," without realizing "none of the gentiles I know go camping" and confused a regional behavioral bias with Jewish behavior.

It's quite common. Most of the negative stereotypes of Jews are really those of New Yorkers. If you were Pakistani and only knew other Pakistanis in New York, you'd think that everyone was rude, pushy, and ate too many bagels.

Chaim said...

I've thought of this already. I have an HDTV Fund on Facebook :-)

http://www.causes.com/causes/499254?m=1a240be5&recruiter_id=17249888

megapixel said...

Sadly, many schools in Lakewood are quicker to accept children of Kollel families, therefore the majority of their parent body is learning.
do not think that working fathers is a minority in lakewood. simply not true. However the children are many, the expenses great...

Anonymous said...

Miami Al,

Time for an Elul attitude adjustment.

Ariella said...

Excellent post. Sephardi Lady. People like to think of themselves as worthier than the next guy; let him foot the bill, while I get the special treatment that is coming to me. But, of course, when everyone is doing the same thing, no one is left to foot the bill.