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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Other Ways to Say "I Can't Afford It"

Sometimes we adults use the phrase "I can't afford it" to try to convey the message that we aren't spending on something. We might say it because we cannot objectively purchase such a thing. We might say it because it just isn't prudent to purchase such a thing. We might say it because we simply aren't spending that type of money. We might say it to fill in for the word "no" for whatever reason.

Some believe that using this phrase can induce anxiety in children, and where there are larger money issues I imagine that this can be the case. My own mother used the phrase often enough that when my teachers started talking about college, I was worried that (going away to) college--a near given since there were no Universities within commuting distance--would be far out of my parents reach. I never had any anxiety about my parents ability to afford food, utilities, a home, or many other things from needed shoes to some extracurriculars. But, I was convinced that college was simply out of reach. After all, they said no to so many other things that "everyone" else had.

In my parents defense, had they known that the 8th grade math teacher would try to scare us into higher academic performance by creating fears that if we were not straight A students with a boatload of honors classes and high SAT scores that we would never get into a top public University (we weren't exactly the wealthiest crowd of honor students), I'm certain my parents would have addressed the myths and facts of college admission and affordability sooner than later. Truly they were blind sighted. Being from blue collar backgrounds, they also didn't know that in more middle income segments of society, that the college frenzy begins as early as middle school.

For the most part, we try not to use this phrase in our home. I'm not worried so much about potential anxiety attacks if we were to use the phrase, but the phrase doesn't really work well for us, a middle class family, surrounded by more of the same. I believe that for families like us, the phrase is fairly meaningless to financially dependent children of all ages, if not somewhat deceptive.

We don't live in a time where money (or the equivalent) is visible and understandable. I can't point to the dollars underneath the mattress and explain that the $100 underneath the mattress need to last until the end of the month. Nor can I point to the cow in the backyard and explain that it only gives so much milk and therefore we only have so much milk to barter with/drink. Money is a rather vague concept when day-to-day transactions are mostly electronic. (This is a good argument for using cash as much as possible). Additionally, when credit is added to the picture, it is even more difficult to understand what "afford it" actually means.

Not only is money hard to visualize, there is a good chance that whatever the littler set asks for is actually affordable (so long as we simply define "afford it" in terms of the (electronic) cash being available to us). On top of that, most of us spend plenty and our kids see us spending plenty, and it makes little sense to tell them we can't "afford" whatever ridiculous thing they are asking for when we just dropped three times as much for something else. Where our children do understand that we have the money, I don't want them to think we are holding out, being cheap, what have you, on their accounting, or anyone else's accounting (a related subject is what to say to the myriads of organizations and individuals that call/knock on the door at all hours of the day and evening).

Since I'd rather not throw meaningless and/or slightly deceptive phrases around, here are some other ways to say "I Can't Afford It":
  • "Just Say No." (E.g., NO I will not spend $600 on a pair of glasses frames. Period. End of sentence). Watch for an upcoming post for which this very subject.
  • Say no while explaining why you don't want the item in the home period. (E.g., No I will not buy you a [fill in desirable toy or fashion] because we don't want this item in our home. . . ).
  • Say no and explain that the price charged is beyond its value and invite the child defer their gratification and to search for a better value. (E.g., $60 is a lot to pay for a pair of tennis shoes. But they are nice, and I bet that if you watch the sales, that you can find the same shoes for $30).
  • Point out that they can get much more for their money if they go somewhere else, (E.g., I see how much you like board games/craft sets. I bet you could get four games at the thrift store/consignment shop for the price of a single game at the department store).
  • Just state the rules: "When we go to the grocery store, we are only going to buy what is on the list." "You are welcome to pick out whatever produce you would like for your lunch this week, but remember that we only buy produce that is $x per pound or less." "That is not in the budget for this month." Of course, if you state the rules, you should be prepared to stick to them too.
  • When you do make a large purchase, say a newer car, mention that the car was purchase because everyone passed up things they wanted, leaving money available for such a big purchase.

Readers, what things have you said in place of "I can't afford it"? What things have resonated with your children? What other things have you said that you won't try to say again.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

The best thing to to lead by personal example. I've been in stores with my children and had them ask me why I didn't buy an item I was examining. I pointed out to them that while I might have WANTED the object, I didn't NEED it so I didn't get it.

Orthonomics said...

I agree. I leave items all the time and it is gratifying to see my kids talk themselves out of something eye catching too. (When I do decide to reward them somehow for passing on things they don't need, they get a lot of satisfaction out of the gift).

rosie said...

I recently had to tell a grandchild that the toys that she was clamoring for in a drugstore was overpriced and of poor quality. I basically said, "Bubby does not like to buy toys that break and the store wants too much money for them".
We made them happy with a nice trip to an apple picking farm for chol ha moed and all we had to pay for was the fruit we picked. The animals and climbing tractor was free. I like activities that don't promote commercialism and materialism.
Some of my kids are real minimalists (since surviving their overpriced chassunahs) and have asked us not to make certain purchases for the grandkids. They don't want to get their kids used to feeling fulfilled from shopping.

tesyaa said...

I say "we can't afford it" ALL THE TIME, so much so that I'm sure my kids are desensitized to it. They know what our means are and they know they get plenty of extras. When I say "we can't afford it" I'm implying that this is not how I choose to spend our money.

It's just a phrase. I agree that the alternatives are better, maybe, but it's my go-to phrase and I'm probably not going to change.

If it's something I disapprove of, though, I tell them straight out. I'd never say I can't afford something instead of telling them it's just not allowed.

Meag said...

My parents had a lot of money problems when I was growing up, so I had constant money anxiety. I want to avoid passing that on to my kids. I always liked "it's not in the budget" or "I only budgeted $x for a doohickey."

CJ Srullowitz said...

I don't have a problem with "We/I can't afford it."

The "anxiety" that concerns us is symptomatic of the problem - that there's something wrong with running out of money. God forbid the children should think that there's a possibility of that happening.

I think perhaps this attitude (fostered, in part, by our parents and grandparents) is what's gotten us here to begin with. We never thought that running out of money was a real possibility. That's why running up credit card bills was never considered sinful.

Bottom line: if the truth is you can't afford it, telling the kids the truth won't hurt them. Or to put it another way: ignoring the truth and pretending you have more money than you do, will do far more harm.

CJ Srullowitz said...

As a complementary approach, telling the kids, "Now this is something we CAN afford," when paying your tuition bills or giving tzedakah or buying food for Shabbos (or the weekdays for that matter), might give them a perspective on value.

SquarePeg613 said...

"I'm not going to buy that."
"That's not something I'm going to spend money on. Do you want to spend your allowance?"
"That's more money than I would want to spend on that. If you want it very much I would consider sharing the cost with you." I do this one for things I know my kids really want that I don't plan to start spending on -- say, if a friend invites my child to the movies. It forces them to decide if they want the item badly enough to pay for part of it.
"Oh that looks fun. When I was a kid I wanted one too." My kids get the message.
"We don't spend money on that."

My kids know that I don't often buy things they ask me to buy, so they pretty much don't ask. That's how I grew up too. It never occurred to me to ask my parents to buy me things.

LeahGG said...

I feel like it's almost a lie to say "we can't afford it" if you're talking about an item that you technically could pay for without going into debt. That's (hopefully) not true when your kid is asking for the latest video game or doohickey.

If my daughter (3) wants something that I don't want to buy, my go-to phrases are:
"it's too expensive" (as in, 300 shekels for duplo that costs $25 in the US is too expensive)
"we don't need that"
"Mommy doesn't like things like that" (usually things that make a lot of noise)
"We have something like that at home" (only if we do)
"I know you like it very much, but we don't really need it."
"maybe another time/next time" (I only say this about things that I fully intend to buy her another time, like some type of food treat.)

Another thing I'm trying to teach her is about delaying gratification. If she sees something that she wants and I do think it's reasonable, I'll say:

"I want to go home and check with Tatti before I buy this. If Tatti says it's ok, we'll come back and buy it tomorrow."

I think it's really important to teach children that even yes doesn't mean yes right this second.

Paying Parent said...

We try to buy the kids a "want" rather than a "need" for Yom Tov and the grandparents have birthdays covered. It amounts to about 3 toys a year that we buy them. When we go to the grocery store or pharmacy, they inevitabley ask "can i have this?..." We tell them that they have to wait for Yom Tov to get their next toy, and if they decide they want this pharmacy item for Yom Tov then they would not be able to get the baby doll that they saw in the toy store. By the time Yom Tov rolls around, my kids are VERY sure of what they want. It is a way of teaching them to save up for one really ngce thing as opposed to buying every little piece of junk that tickles their fancy.

Ariella said...

I have nachas from seeing my children having internalized the value of thrift and financial responsibility. For example, the deal is they pay their own library fines. I was very impressed that my nine-year-old handed me the money of her own accord at home after I paid her fine at the library (she doesn't normally carry money). I didn't even have to ask her for it.

I also have a policy that if they want something they really don't need -- like a more expensive school supply just because they think it's cool or a $10 headband -- they have to pay for it with their own money. That makes them think twice about if they really want it enough to pay for it themselves.
They know that no matter how much they beg, I will not spend $150 or more on a pair of Ugg boots, so they don't even ask. It is not always easy saying no to requests, but it pays off in the end -- not only in terms of money but in producing kids who are not as spoiled and demanding as their neighbors. (I live in an area associated with a high level of materialism.)

My older ones know that we do have money in the bank but appreciate that it is not to be squandered on anything that takes their fancy. I also impress on them that there is something very wrong about demanding scholarships from schools and then making very lavish affairs (that exceed a whole year's full tuition for a whole family of kids) for bar and bat mitzvahs.

Leah Goodman said...

Paying Parent -
I'm glad that works for you. How old are your kids? I seem to get my kids lots of little surprises all the time.

Surprises, though, can be coloring pages printed from the internet, new paper to paint on, new paints, gum, sometimes an activity. Of course, if you're three, even fancy Shabbos socks can be presented as a surprise... :)

I've also been known to give a single chocolate chip or jelly bean as a reward or "motivator."

Abba's Rantings said...


"As a complementary approach, telling the kids, "Now this is something we CAN afford," when paying your tuition bills . . . might give them a perspective on value."

the problem is that even many familes that do meet their tuition obligations and seem to be able "to afford it" really can't afford it. so i'm not sure what type of a message that sends to kids that are paying close attention. (e.g., i don't think that paying tuition at the expense of saving for old age means you can afford tuition)

otoh, what i was thinking as i read this post is that many kids are probably aware that their parents can't really afford tuition (either because they hear about it every week at the shabbat table--i'm sure JS will chime in here--or perhaps they're old enough to read about the "tuition crisis" on this blog or in the jewish papers). so what type of a financial education message does it send when kids know their parents say they can't afford tuition but somehow the kids are still in yeshivah.

gavra@work said...

"It is the rule in the house that we only buy things on sale, it will have to wait until then".

We also use the "would you rather have this or another toy that costs the same but is much better" idea.

Anonymous said...

gavra: I would be careful with that one unless it is absolutely true. Some things never go on sale. Also, sometimes its better to buy something that isn't on sale than something that is on sale but is still overpriced or of poor quality. Then there are also those retailers who always have the product "on sale" but its not a real sale, just a gimmick. The buying on sale motto also can lead to people who think they can buy something just because its on sale or over-buy sale items.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to say something that may be controversial for this board. While I agree that it is extremely important to set limits and to be honest with children, and that the far bigger problem with many kids (and adults) these days is the lack of prioritizing, sense of entitlement, obsession with "things" and inability to defer gratification, I also think that always being overly strict with money can also create problems. I know people that even though they have the means, they feel guilty about spending money and it creates great anxiety for them. I think it is healthy to be able to let yourself and your kids have a modest splurge once in a while. Too much rigidity (i.e. toys only for Yom Tov, never ever a pair of Uggs no matter what and no matter what the child is willing to give up in exchange) can also create problems. What's wrong with a $10 kite once in a while just because its a beautiful day to go run on the beach or in the park. What's so wrong with a new jigsaw puzzle once in a while just because its the 5th rainy weekend in a row. Striking a healthy balance in light of the family's resources and what someone already has is key. Kids should not always hear "no." How about instead, "if by next week you still really want that, let's sit down and figure out if there is a way to fit it into the budget. We may have to cut something else out that you want." Teach your kids how to make decisions and let them enjoy themselves once in a while or they might not know how to do so as adults.

JS said...

This is a really complex issue and one I think about a lot given my upbringing and current financial wherewithal. In short, money was definitely tight growing up, but my wife and I, thank God, don't have that problem. With our first child on the way I wonder how to strike the right balance of, for example, spending on the luxuries we can afford while not raising children who are spoiled.

I think the answer stems from what values we are trying to inculcate in our children. First and foremost is the value of living within your means, which includes the concept of budgeting for today's needs as well as the future's. Second is weighing and evaluating needs and wants and learning to delay gratification. Third is the value of hard, honest work.

Based on that, I don't think "We can't afford it" is bad necessarily, especially when it's used as shorthand for other ideas (not in our budget, for example). But, if one truly can't afford something, I think it behooves the parents to actually say so. I think this teaches a very important lesson. Growing up, I was told we couldn't afford sleep away camp or destination vacations, for example. This didn't frighten me since I knew we weren't going to end up homeless or not have food, God forbid. My parents always found affordable alternatives such as day camp or visiting local sites.

Did I feel deprived or jealous of others? Sure. I think that's natural - not just for kids, but for adults as well. But, it teaches an important lesson as well: If you want things that are luxuries or "upgrades" you need to have the money for them. In short, if you want to provide that for your own kids, make sure you earn enough to do so - put yourself on a path where that is affordable.

If you have the money - whether the requested item is expensive or inexpensive - I think this needs to lead to a conversation about values (needs/wants) and/or delaying gratification and/or hard work. My parents could have afforded to buy me $100 sneakers, but they thought that was an absurd amount of money to spend and we were told so - "you don't need $100 sneakers" or "I'm not spending that much on something that only lasts a few months" or what have you. We were told to find sneakers we liked under $50, for example.

However, when it came to my own money, my parents let me spend it however I pleased (I never bought anything "inappropriate" but I'm sure if I asked to, my parents would have said no and discussed it). It didn't matter if they thought it was a waste of money or imprudent. I think this teaches an important lesson - kids have to make mistakes if they're going to learn. Better they make it now when the consequences are small than later when it can do real damage. Better to regret spending an allowance in an arcade than blowing $500 as an adult in a casino. In my case, it was better for me to lose about half of the money I earned over the summer on stupid stock investments than for me to make the same dumb mistakes as an adult with many times that much money (I stick to Vanguard index funds now).

Finally, I think when you do spend on something big or something that would seem to go against lessons you're imparting to your kid, you sometimes need to have a conversation about it. This is why I also think it's important to let kids spend their money - it's easier to explain that you worked hard for this money and saved over time to be able to fit this into the budget (exactly what the kid does saving up allowance to buy X).

Abba's Rantings said...

i think part of the problem, at least with older kids, is that many can go all the way through high school and even college without having ever worked for their money (aside from perhaps some camp counseloring). it's always easier to spend someone else's money


i don't think that's controversial.

Paying Parent said...

We get our kids (ages 4 and 2) little things- coloring books, crayons, etc throughout the year, but NOT when they ask for it while perusing the pharmacy. What I want to instill in my kids is the ability to responsibly measure an item's value rather than just fulfill every instant gratification. My husband's parents never said no to him. He told me that he remembers only 1 time: His parent's took him to a toy store and spent over $100 on a huge lego set. When they got to the counter, he saw a sparkly pen. When they said no to the sparkly pen, he had a tantrum in the middle of the store. He never got that pen, but they still bought him the legos. I want to teach my kids enough that they would know enough to say thank you for the legos and not even think about asking for something so stupid as a sparkly pen.

JS said...

As for tuition (and I'm REALLY not trying to turn this into a conversation about tuition), here's what I think:

If you decide to send your kids to yeshiva, you should do so gladly. You shouldn't complain about the cost. If you don't agree with what is being taught, pull your kids out if it's drastic enough or find ways of "reeducating" your child without denigrating the institution or its teachers - it's a fine line perhaps, but why pay so much money for something you don't like in the first place and is teaching values to your kids that you don't agree with?

Regardless of whether you pay in full or not, your kids should be aware that tuition is very expensive and that you pay it because you value their education and you want them to learn about Judaism and be with Jewish kids. Kids need to understand that yeshiva isn't a default position and that you made a very expensive choice for their education.

If you are on scholarship, I think you should tell your kids and explain to them what that means in a way that makes them feel indebted without being second class citizens - in other words, there's nothing to be ashamed of or feel bad about, but we need to be more careful about how we spend money because of this.

As for those who pay in full at the expense of their future retirement and kids' college education, it's not a choice that I would make, but not everyone shares my values. If you are doing this, I think your kids need to understand what this means when they are older - at least to the extent that it affects their college choices, for example.

JS said...


My siblings and I all worked over the summer as soon as we were legally allowed. While I didn't work as a camp counselor, my siblings did - it's a job: you work hard, you get paid. I don't see it as less important or substantial than the office jobs I had. I agree that having a job (and money from that job) is very important to kids' financial education.

Here's something else my parents did: my parents would cash the checks my grandparents would send for our birthdays and tell us how much it was. Then we'd go to the toy store and could buy a bunch of small toys, a big toy, or save some of the money. Very good lesson in budgeting and thinking hard about what you really want. I think this is far better than just giving a kid a gift-wrapped present to open. And as anonymous mentioned above, my parents weren't all so strict, they'd spot us the money if we wanted something $52 and all we had was $45, for example. You can't let the lesson get lost in the details.

Anonymous said...

JS: Why should kids feel indebted for tuition for something they didn't choose? If, when they get a little older they value the education they had and if family and schools instill the right values, they will feel indebted.

Thinking said...

I like to teach through Yes statements. "Yes, I'll buy that for you, not because it's a good deal or you need it, but because I can afford to" (i.e. overpaying for sneakers). This makes the times you say Yes a choice you are making, not a requirement. They also learn that there are times you choose not to purchase things for them and it's not because you don't love them.
It is important to say Yes and not always say No. While you feel your children are learning some valuable lessons, they also tend to feel deprived (firsthand knowledge, I taught high school for a number of years and work as a mental health professional) even if you don't see it. Let's face it, it's not like your being objective about their feelings if you are saying no.
Another thing I like to do with my kids is split the cost. When they want something, I'll match them dollar for dollar so that they feel like they are getting something from me, but also need to take some of the responsibility.

Ariella said...

If my kids insist that they want to spend their birthday checks, I do let them. But I do try to steer them a bit. The know, for example, that the toy store that is literally on our block is one of the most expensive places in which to shop and that they can get better value elsewhere. When someone gave them a giftcard to there, they had no choice but to pick out there, but $20 doesn't go very far, and I did pay the difference for sales tax on what they picked. But I did once insist on my daughter returning the contraption she had just plunked $20 cash on at the urging of a neighbor whose mother does buy games there all the time (though she claims money is tight, she does splurge on these things, as well as Uggs, though she complained about how much Adventureland cost on chol Hamoed (even though I was the one who drove her kids in -- at their request --and brought them home because I was working for the school-- another case of priorities. )

Leah Goodman said...

Paying Parent - my rule is that I don't get my child anything they cry about. If they ask for something on a whim, I may or may not get it for them (depending what it is, how much it costs, etc, but if they whine or cry about it, they won't.)

I sometimes buy myself something on a whim if it's a reasonable price and something that I'll use. I think it's only fair to treat our children the same way.

JS said...

"JS: Why should kids feel indebted for tuition for something they didn't choose? If, when they get a little older they value the education they had and if family and schools instill the right values, they will feel indebted."

So kids shouldn't feel gratitude or indebtedness because they didn't make the decision to go to yeshiva? This is as basic as saying thank you to your aunt for the weird clothes she got you for Hannukah that you never asked for.

You're receiving a benefit from the school. You should be appreciative of that benefit and act in accordance. Namely, the benefit is bestowed due to a financial hardship, so it would be unbecoming to spend on certain luxuries or flaunt the fact that the family receives a benefit while others pay in full, etc.

Fern Chasida said...

This past year my husband was out of work for a year and there were many times we had to tell our teenage daughter that we couldn't afford things. It made her more aware of the price of things and there were things that she paid for or things that we went halfsies on. For her birthday I didn't know what to buy her and she really wanted boots. But she didn't want the boots as a birthday present ("boots aren't a b-day present") but when I suggested that she could instead buy them with her own money they were a fine b-day gift. I tried to make sure she knew we could afford things like our mortgage, bills, food, etc. but not other non-essentials.

Abba's Rantings said...

my son saves up change here and there. he generally uses it for candy or a little toy, but 2 weeks ago he had enough to buy a $20 toy. my big fear is he will try and save for a DS, which i really don't want him to have


"Why should kids feel indebted for tuition for something they didn't choose?"

perhaps appreciative is a better word?


i didn't mean to imply that working in a camp doesn't count. i just meant that this is the only work experience many kids get, if even this.

Julie said...

Do any of you ever struggle with what are necessities to buy for your kids? How do you define necessities? How many uniform skirts are necessities, and at what point does buying another skirt become a luxury? How about Shabbat shoes? One pair of boots (for those of us who do not live in Florida)? Most of us have read the stories of our ancestors who had only one dress for the week and one dress for Shabbos and ate potatoes for every meal. But I don't think these are the expectations that we have for ourselves in America (or Israel). How do you determine necessities for your kids?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comments. I grew up always hearing "we can't afford it" and also hearing how lucky we children were that my father had a good job. My mother grew up in poverty during the Depression and her father didn't always have work. As a result of hearing "can't afford it" and on the other hand, how lucky we children were, I came to the conclusion that the way to afford things when I grew up was to have a good job, like my father. Excellent chinuch! I'm glad my mother told me both sides of the story - we don't have enough money for everything we want, but we do have enough for the necessities so we are very lucky children. My mother taught us appreciation.

Miami Al said...

Growing up, I never heard we can't afford it. I often heard no, and an unwillingness to spend money on something, but never not being able to afford it. Once I got an allowance, I could spend it on whatever I wanted, and saving up for Nintendo games was a HUGE lesson that was imparted on me. Most of my friends that didn't have an allowance but got gifts all the time never seemed to learn how to save up for things -- an important skill as an adult.

My dad worked hard, got everything his children needed, and bought himself whatever he wanted.

All of their children learned the importance of hard work, because we had a great life, saw our parents have a great life, and worked hard to have that for ourselves.

If my parents worked that hard, and never had any luxuries, I think that I would have internalized that working hard is for suckers and there is no point. My wife has to constantly force herself to have a professional drive, because it isn't instinctive, because her parents worked REALLY hard but were always broke, which instills a lesson of "hard work doesn't pay" in the children. Without any other successful people in their lives, her relatives are much less driven than her. She's driven, but it's conscious, not subconscious, because growing up "we can't afford it" was pretty common.

OTOH, I am more prone to spending problems than her.


Avi said...

I try never to say "we can't afford it" because unless it's a Ferrari or a new house, we CAN afford it as long as we give up other things. We choose not to spend our money on it and prioritize other things, like tuition, tzedaka, and savings. I also try to stay away from "we don't buy those things" or equivalent because there are plenty of times when we *do* buy things we absolutely don't need but enjoy having - whether it's Powerade for the kids on Shabbos or a toy for me or AWD on the new car to make my wife happy - that are small or even large luxuries. So the phrases we use are, "we choose not to spend our money on that," "I'd love one of those, but I love sending you to Yeshiva more," or that old chestnut, "it's too expensive," which translates to "it's not worth the money." "No" is also part of our vocabulary.

Avi said...

So far it's working out OK, but ground rules need to be set. We somehow got in the trap of buying each kid a book or small item at Amazing Savings every time we go, and now can't get out of the place without continuing the tradition or enduring endless whining. We're careful not to set similar precedents elsewhere, so there isn't whining in the grocery store or toy store.

Finally, we always have to remind ourselves that the kids' priorities are not the same as ours - my wife wouldn't pay real money for virtual goods in an online role playing game, but my seven year old will move heaven and earth for that, while equivalent rewards in, say, action figures or LEGO, are not as exciting.

Leah Goodman said...

Avi: I agree with you on the 'we can't afford it' or 'we don't buy things like that.'

When it's things that we really do buy (like your powerade) I say 'maybe next time' and when it's things that we really don't want in the house I say 'mommy doesn't like those.'

Miami Al - I heard a lot of "we're not going to spend $35 for the little blue label at the back of the pair of keds, when the other shoes that look exactly the same cost $7," but very little "we can't afford it."

There was a lot of talk about things being a waste of money - about not buying things you won't use, about not buying things that are poorly made, and about not paying extra money for labels.

I resented it some until I had a friend whose older sister was in Washington State and they hadn't seen each other in 5 years. My father was a lower rank than her father (meaning lower salary), and her parents had only 3 kids. (I'm one of 5). She hadn't seen her sister in 5 years, I saw my sister and brother who lived in Israel at least once a year from the time my brother had been in Israel a year when I was 7 until I made aliya when I was 17. When I realized that, her family's minivan with the tv didn't seem that impressive.

I'd trade in a new minivan for a used station wagon and a few plane tickets any time.

Miami Al said...


Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of "no" or "that's overpriced" and other things. Just not "we can't afford it."

But yes, the spending priorities in different families is VERY pronounced, and you can see it with an adult's understanding of decisions.

But if you and your spouse both work around the clock, and you can't afford anything, the lesson imparted on your kids is that hard work doesn't pay. Especially since their friends whose parents don't work as hard but are prepared to go into massive debt (and suck down massive amount of scholarship money) can afford them.

That is NOT a lesson I want to impart in my children.

JS said...


It's a good point you're making. It's important to show kids that hard work and planning really do pay off. You don't have to shower kids with luxuries, but it's important to show a correlation between the hard work and planning and everything that you and your family enjoy.

As a corollary, I think it's important to explain to one's kids not to count other people's money. Heck, it's an important skill for adults as well. You never know how deeply in debt your neighbor is going to drive that new Mercedes or take that trip to Aruba. Or whether the grandparents are footing the bill. As you're wont to point out, coveting is bad. So many poor financial decisions (not to mention personal grief) are based on looking on what everyone else has.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anonymous, 10/4 3:38 pm. Al's point about working around the clock and not having any luxuries - that it would erode the work ethic rather than encourage work - is well taken. But my father worked 9 to 5 only and enjoyed the intellectual challenges of his job. In the evening he was free to do homework with us and to volunteer for the day school. And we did have luxuries, and I will list them:
1. My family lived in a vibrant Jewish community.
2. 6 children attended yeshiva day school, with difficulty and sacrifice by my parents.
3. Library books! Books were my joy, and to be able to take home 5 free books when I was in 5th grade (before that I could only take 3) was indeed a luxury.
My point is this:
Everyone defines their needs differently. Al has different needs than I do. There is no right and wrong in this - it's a question of what's important to you and what you choose to give up so as to have what you value.

Miami Al said...

Anon 10:43,

Absolutely. You have the luxuries that matter to them.

Telling your children that instead of stuff, you choose to have your evenings with your children and have them in Yeshiva, is completely reasonable.

Telling your children that you "can't afford it" is totally different. Telling them we choose to buy other things is different.

We all have different needs and wants. I'm not suggesting that you adopt mine, I'm suggesting that you make your decisions with a smile on your face.

A generation that said "it's hard to be a Jew," raised a generation that wasn't religious.

The cycle is repeating itself.

Parents should show their kids that they enjoy the fruits of their labor. Martyring for your children/community undermines the work ethic. Not suggesting that you indulge yourself, just that you show that you benefit from hard work, so they do the same.

Otherwise, why not go on the dole and learn in Kollel, if you're going to be broke regardless.

Anonymous said...

I realize there was a logical contradiction in my post of 10/4, 3:38 pm. If my mother always said we can't afford despite my father's having a good job, I could just as easily have come to the conclusion that having a job is a fool's errand - which was Al's point. Instead, I came to the conclusion that I should work so as to have what I need and not be poor like my parents were in the Depression. The reason I think I came to a work-valuing decision was because welfare was absolutely not an alternative, it was for poor people, and we were not that sort of people. Also, material goods were for a different sort of people, too, for people who were not religious and who did not have to pay tuition. My goal was to achieve necessities, to have a life of dignity. Because welfare and begging have become socially acceptable in certain circles, it has eroded the work ethic. The key is, how to help those who have genuine misfortune, yet not create a begging class.

I see nothing wrong with "we can't afford it", but I'm from a different generation. Interesting discussion.

megapixel said...

--I only have ten dollars on me today

--we dont have room in the house for this.

Miami Al said...

Look guys, it's October, and look at this headline on CNN: How to find $500 by Christmas.

Over two months before their holiday, and the finance columns are talking about saving up money for presents.

Not a bad thought for people to copy for Passover.