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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mesila Lectures Available Online

With thanks to a few readers, I was made aware that the recent Mesila event, all 85 minutes of it, can be viewed in its entirety at Baltimore Jewish Life. I was able to listen to the speeches while processing some paperwork and I especially liked the message of the first speaker, Rabbi Hopfer:

“There is a way to live as an ehrliche yid,” said the Rav,”and it has to do with building strength of character and living within our means….You are not permitted to take money from someone without knowing if you have a normal, natural way to pay back. If you do not know how in the world you are going to pay it back, it’s gezeila [stealing]….When husbands and wives talk to each other about how they are going to live, there has to be an understanding between them to try to live a principled life. You don’t buy something without being able to pay for it, if it is going to put you into debt. You can’t do something that you can’t afford.”

Rabbi Hopfer continued to speak about raising children to be principled: “When children grow up and know they just can’t have what they want, although others can afford it, it builds character--the bedrock of what family is all about; a house built on principles. A happy home doesn’t mean you just give them everything that they want. A husband and wife have to discuss where their priorities are, and they might change from month to month. If you spend money on something one month, you might have to cut back on spending on other things that month…It’s criminal for us to go into debt if we can’t afford it; it is a source of tremendous pressure and tension between husband and wife…There has to be gevurah, a strength of character, honesty and principle. When a child grows up learning that Mommy and Daddy live like that, with principle and character, that is a healthy family.”

I was particularly intrigued by something that Rabbi said, something that I've noted (i.e., helping isn't always helpful), which is summarized at Baltimore Jewish Life:

The Rav also discussed that it is a Jewish concept not to take money from other people. “There’s a time when you are permitted to take money from other people, but know that it is a b’dieved, especially from a tzedaka. We have become too accustomed because of our tzedaka organizations, or maybe because of our government programs, to being takers, instead of givers; it is not the yiddishe way, if we don’t have to…It’s a noble thing to do, to try to live within our means and not have to come on to someone else. When children grow up seeing their parents having this attitude, they will grow up having the strength of character and withstand the temptations of what their friends have. They won’t feel deprived.”

There is one trap that I think we have to stay away which is the belief that we are so different from other Americans. Mentioned in the introductory remarks is a popular "financial guru" with a radio show listened to daily by 3 million Americans (referenced at the 2 minute mark) who believes that any family can live on less than $40,000 a year if necessary. The comment was "that number for a frum family is laughable!" Similar sentiments abound such as this one at a relatively new blog, The Partial View, where he compares the average price of a Thanksgiving meal: $49.20 for a family of 10 to Shabbos writing:,

As frum Yidden with kosher food prices plus large mishpachos $ 49.20 wouldn't cover the basic Shabbos meal for even 3 people. This just brings out the point when looking at average expenses and challenges we face as Yidden, comparing our expenses with the national average just does not factor in.

Yes, we do face certain higher costs, but I too can absolutely live on less than 40K if it absolutely necessary (note to my husband: don't quit your job or anything like that because I don't want to live in a crunch:). But I've reviewed my budget and excluding tuition and some much appreciated extras, I think it is doable. And, I happen to serve tasty, healthy food, week in and week out, on a "food stamp" budget--and my food stamp budget includes diapers and cleaning supplies too.

I find it empowering to know that we can live on less and I personally view our more expensive life through a more positive lens when I can view our spending patterns--some of which are related to being part of an Orthodox community, as choices, not as a ball and chain.

Overall, I thought the message of the speakers was a breath of fresh air and I hope that the message of self-control and principal continues to spread.


Anonymous said...

JS said...

It's a shame when a rabbi speaking just plain old common sense is a breath of fresh air. Not that it isn't appreciated, but it's a shame. It's like having a 30 minute shiur on how writing a bad check is gezeila, stealing. Appreciated, but sad that it would be necessary.

Orthodoxy has become a middle class, if not upper middle class, religion. It's going to get to the point where people aren't going to have the money to be frum. Maybe that will push some people to the right where costs are cheaper, but incomes are also less.

There's a real problem when every imaginable luxury becomes a religious necessity. You need to eat meat, you need to have multiple fancy dishes for shabbat/yom tov, you need new clothes every yom tov, you need silver candlesticks and menorahs, you need private school, you need cleaning help, you need, you need, you need.

tesyaa said...

If frum communities were more financially homogeneous, you'd have less coveting and less pressure to keep up with the Joneses. I was reading an article in a local frum publication about how to shop for girls' clothing. While I didn't agree with the thrust of the article (which was that girls are judged by their appearance and need to dress in a way that will win acceptance by ther classmates), one good point was that in certain neighborhoods, a girl will be perfectly content with 2 Shabbos outfits because that is what their neighbors have, while in other neighborhoods they will want 4 or 5.

It's lovely that frum communities include families of differing financial means, but it definitely leads people to overextend themselves. Of course they should have more self-control, but they'd probably be better off, and happier, living among people with similar means.

tesyaa said...

Let me make clear that I know we can't hide from materialism in the frum community or in American society. Even kids living in a modest neighborhood will see excess materialism at family simchas or in advertising (even if the family avoids the mainstream media, they'll still receive those opulent brochures for Chinese auctions). But it's better not to be exposed to what you can't afford on a daily, in-your-face basis.

Abba said...


there is good and bad to jews of widely disparate incomes living together. this is the bad part of it.

Dave said...

Let me make clear that I know we can't hide from materialism in the frum community or in American society.

The materialism I see in mainstream society is dwarfed by the materialism I read about in frum society.

Something to think about.

JS said...

The wealthy and not so wealthy living together may be part of the problem, but it would still exist without it. People who live in trailer parks still want nice cars and houses and clothes.

The issue, I think, is the fact that everything is seen as a necessity instead of a luxury. The person in the trailer park wants those things and sees them as something the rich have, he sees them as a life of opulence and luxury. The frum person sees them as basic everyday necessities and feels absolutely deprived if they don't have them.

It's even worse when they get cloaked in the veil of religion. So, you don't see new fancy clothes as a luxury or even as a necessity, they're a religious necessity for yom tov. So, not only do you need them, but it's a mitzvah.

Yannai Segal said...

The problem is that as long as people are fully paying their own way, questionable spending priorities are more-or-less their own (or there lender's) problem.

As soon as a family is receiving a tuition subsidy, or any other form of communal support, then every misspent penny is, in reality, coming out of another's pocket. If they bought the $3 bottle of shampoo instead of the $10 one, they would need $7 less subsidy and that Tzedaka could go elsewhere. For anyone that understands this, the resistance against accepting charity should be immense.

Of course, once receiving support becomes the norm rather than the exception, the social pressure to live extremely frugally under subsidy naturally disappears. This is where the community finds itself now -- since the concept of paying full tuition is so absurd to the average family, they (possible rightly) do not even consider it Tzedaka that they are receiving a subsidy and therefore do not feel any pressure to live a 'poor' lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Actually, empirical evidence suggests that competition in conspicuous consumption goes UP the more homogenous a community. Specifically, poor people living with other poor people spend more on conspicuous consumption than poor people living with rich people. It makes some sense: No one is going to stretch themselves to buy at gap instead of old navy to compete with someone who shops at barney's.

Rhinocerous? Imposserous! said...

You can live on $40k a year? Can you tell me how? Do you own a house? How much is the mortage (+prop tax and ins)? Do you celebrate shabbos and Yom Tov? (Though I do admit that going away to parents for pesach helps.) How many kids (and yes, feel free to ignore tuition for now)?

JS said...

Why would it be so hard? I wouldn't want to do it by any means, but I don't see why it's so hard. Move to an area of the country where the cost of living is far lower but still has an Orthodox community. Maybe Cleveland or the Detroit area fits the bill. One spouse works and the other spouse home schools. The spouse that stays home also does regular housework. You avoid a lot of the things that make a frum diet so darn expensive in the first place - kosher meats and cheeses. If you don't keep chalav yisroel you can still enjoy tons of cheap OU milk, yogurts, etc. This diet will be a lot cheaper, mostly vegetarian, and a ton healthier, too.

At $40k with a few kids your taxes are near nothing and you may even get a windfall from the government in tax credits. In most parts of the country a very nice 3-4 bedroom house can be had under $200k and property taxes are only around $2k-$3k or so. A $200k house, 20% down, 30 years, 4% interest with $2.5k taxes is only around $1k/month.

I could go into more detail, but I think you get the point. You'd have to be frugal. You wouldn't have much extras. But it's certainly doable.

Rhinocerous? Imposserous! said...

I am all ears - so if there is anyone out there in internet land who is doing this, please send details! This is for my kids, who will hopwefully soon start getting married amd would consider out of town living.

160k mortgage at 4% is about $760; with 200 a month in property tax and another 150 a month in insurance (?) I am already over $1k, and I have not paid for electric, phone, water.

I guess the $40k job include medical ins? and dental? Even with my great dental plan I end up paying hundreds every year as someone always seems to need a root canal or braces or something.

Maybe this needs a post?

Orthonomics said...

I see you are serious about the question, because when you asked if I celebrate Shabbos and Yom Tov it was a bit, uh, insulting. Yes, we are shomer mitzvot, make smachot, and serve yom tov meals week in and week out. We have guests, although not like we used to. We make Pesach, but usually travel for first days which is more expensive when you add up gas and tolls than making our own. We provide our own shmura matza.

We don't live on 40K a year (tuition aside) and I'm not interested in living like that again. But, if we were forced to downsize our life we could survive in a smaller place, drive one car, and cut back on other spending too.

I would not want to cut back on things like life insurance and disability insurance myself. . . but many of the people wondering how to survive on less than $80K don't have any of the above.

Here are a few short tips:

1. Don't overbuy for your budget even if it means a lesser home, being a bit out of the popular zones of the community, etc. Keep housing costs low for as long as possible and save. Low cost renting is one way. Buying and trading up is another way. I am a big believer in 20% down and spending max 40% of take home on mortgage + escrow + utilities/yard. Those who are buying now with super low interest rates and depressed housing prices can get their houses in order. Those who didn't overbuy can often re-fi into incredible rates.

2. Eat on a shoestring budget and stop with all the disposables. (That helps fund the paid for car and the large down payments).

3. The purpose of a vehicle is to get from point A to B. Buy in cash and drive it into the ground. Quality used cars are your friend. Buying a few years used means lower insurance costs. Some people survive on one vehicle (and a bike).

4. Don't overdue it on services. You don't need pre-school and camps if there is a parent at home. Clean your own home. Do your own yardwork (I don't. . . but it is possible).

5. Do without-share with neighbors-utilize thift stores-consignment shops-freecycle-used book sales.

6. Be a giver in terms of helping out neighbors. They will think of you too.

Oh, and stay far away from debt from the beginning so you can get the ball in motion.

JoelC said...

SL, i don't the question about celebrating yomtov was intended to be insulting. I think he was asking whether you were still golng to family for yomtov, Avery common practice in the chareidi world.

Orthonomics said...

JoelC, Thank you and my apologies to the poster. I think I was thrown off. We've been making our own yomim tovim since we were married. Didn't occur to me that one wouldn't be making yom tov. I must be in a work fog.

Honestly, with the current gas prices, if you have to drive a distance, going away for Pesach is an expensive choice.

Anonymous said...

A young couple I know after renting for 3 years, bought a fixer-upper house in Baltimore County for $150,000. They qualified for tax credit as first time buyers, and qualified for a low cost loan to make necessary repairs. Some (bathroom) were done professionally, but much was done by the husband, who figured out how to do home repairs, put in front stairs, etc. His 3-4 year old son became very interested in building, too, and he got a tool set for his birthday. They are very frugal and eat sparingly. They live in the heart of one of the frum communities of Baltimore. They are mistapkim b'meut and live ehrliche lives, as Rabbi Hopfer described. In Baltimore you can still buy a house for $150,000.

Anonymous said...

"In Baltimore you can still buy a house for $150,000"

Usually there are significant crime problems in these areas.

Miami Al said...

The "Orthodox premium" is as big or small as you want to make it. The Yom Tov obligations, cost wise, aren't that great... $35 for an Etrog set on Sukkot, $10-$20 for Matzah on Pesach. Just about everything else is personal indulgence and nice lifestyle.

Did you know that 1/5 of the world's caloric in-take comes from rice? I think nearly half the world's population (maybe it's 40%, maybe more) get a majority of their daily calories from rice?

Just like roots (specifically potatoes post importation from the New World) were a core of eastern european diets, Africa/Asia's diets are heavily on the rice.

There is no obligation to spend $50/meal on Shabbat for meat. If you can afford it, great, but you can absolutely spend less. Soups (mostly water), grains/rice, etc, can easily keep a family from starving and keeping Kosher.

Apparently, over 100 Million Americans live on less than $40,000/year (according to census numbers. Two thirds of Americans make $40k/less, obviously, families with multiple incomes average higher.

However, the suggestion that it is IMPOSSIBLE to live on this is absurd, 1/3 of our countrymen do it.

I wouldn't want to give up my upper middle class lifestyle, but that's why I work to earn the upper middle class income to support it.

tesyaa said...

To add to Miami Al's points, if we Ashkenazim really want to live in the World of Our Fathers (TM), we should be eating minimal amounts of meat (think a bone or two in the cholent for the entire family) and heavy on the potatoes and buckwheat. Way under $50, guaranteed.

Dave said...

There is a book out in translation of essays on Interwar Lithuania (the original essays being in Yiddish).

One of the things that struck me is that not only was the weekday diet largely cabbage and potatoes, but that one was well off (in the countryside at least) if prosperous enough to have butter with the potatoes on weekdays.

That's a far cry from the American "meat at every meal of every day" that the Orthodox world here has adopted.

Don't get me wrong -- I like meat at every meal of every day, and I spend rather a lot of money on food. I know how to eat cheaply -- we did it when we were first getting started. Hell, a nice lunch now was our entire weekly food budget back then. But the fact that we've worked hard to be able to eat luxuriously now does not mean it is impossible to eat inexpensively. It's just not as much fun.

Dave said...

(Yes, I know, it's not quite "every meal" in the Orthodox world, but there is still an enormous bias for fleischig over milchig, at least as far as I can tell)

Orthonomics said...

And an abnormal infatuation with pizza shop pizza in my opinion.

Miami Al said...


Seriously. I remember one of our core "meals" when getting married was a dish my wife named "tuna slop" -- can you guess what the core of it was. I remember mushy rice, a can of beans, canned tuna, and a little bit of shredded cheese, and this was the core of our diet. I even remember the year when having meat for Shabbat every week involved my firing up the grill in time to grill a package of hot dogs for dinner.

I've definitely spent more on a lunch than we spent on a week of food in the beginning of our marriage, and yes, it's WAY more fun. We also had a lean year where we cut groceries WAY down (not quite to tuna slop, I'm not 22 anymore) where we managed to cut out budget to the bone...

It is extremely bizarre to me the idea that one can't be poor and Jewish, totally disregards the entire existence of Ashkenazim. You home school, either everything or just Judaics, live in the middle of nowhere, and live simply. It can be done.

Anonymous said...

"You home school, either everything or just Judaics, live in the middle of nowhere, and live simply. It can be done"

This doesn't sound like a recipe for a high quality of life, even if this is your only chance to be mitzvah observant. While forced conformity may be oppressive, not being part of a frum community while trying to be frum sounds even more oppressive. I hope there's a happy medium.

Dave said...


There are a lot of peculiar ideas on what one cannot be and also "be Jewish".

I recall one earnest frum person informing me that it was impossible to be observant and a farmer. Apparently the avos just swung by the Glatt Mart when they needed food.

Miami Al said...

"This doesn't sound like a recipe for a high quality of life, even if this is your only chance to be mitzvah observant. While forced conformity may be oppressive, not being part of a frum community while trying to be frum sounds even more oppressive. I hope there's a happy medium."

So make more money.

Sounds more pleasant than being dead broke in a community you can't afford while your kids are picked on for being poor.

40k in small town America is "doable," in fact, it's quite common. 1/3 of American families have 40k or less income.

Rhino? impo! said...

1/3 of amercans are not frum.

rethinking he issue, I think it may be possible but the "frum" things my kids grew up with (Hand matzo for pesach; mehudar esrog) may not be possible, but that is OK, I hope.

In fact, halacha dictates to not buy that higher priced esrog once it is much more than the kosher one. (speak to your local rabbi, as this rule of the shulchan aruch seesm to be ignored by many.)

Prices in Detroit in the zip code of the shul are pretty low, though I don't know the streets at all to know if there is something there I am missing.

Ortho - I really meant no offense in the questions of celebration. I went to my parents and in laws for YomTov the first 15 years of marriage; and shabbos about once a month! Early on it was great - but as I started making money (maybe more than they have) I started bringing stuff to them. Now they either come to me or we don't celebrate together.


Scraps said...


I could feel 10 people, and feed them WELL, on $49.20. Where is he shopping - and more importantly, what is he eating?! - that it would be hard to feed 3 people on nearly fifty dollars?

Miami Al said...

Rhino? impo! said...

"1/3 of amercans are not from."

Are you suggesting that it is impossible to be a Frum Jew and live in the lower third of American income ranges?


So all observant Jews, throughout time, had things better than an American in the bottom third of the income ranges?

I'm pretty sure if you transported European Jews from 75 years ago to a small town of Americans earning under 40k, and showed them their lives, they'd think that the obese, people that they are observing were a small settlement of royalty, with their televisions, cars, air conditioning, short work weeks, etc.

JS said...

The fact is that American suburban life in the 21st century has a ridiculously high standard of living and that standard of living is pretty expensive - frum or not. Making comparisons to pre-Holocaust European life is only relevant to the extent it proves that none of these modern-day luxuries are necessary for frumkeit, per se. All these luxuries and modern day accouterments have been incorporated into American suburban lifestyle - frum or not.

So, yeah, you can definitely get by on $40k, you'll just be living in the bottom 1/3 give or take of American households. It's just made worse by the fact that these American, modern day luxuries are also religious necessities.

So, you feel double deprived at the prospect of living on $40k. You don't get the luxury and you don't get to practice your religion the way you want (or the way you've grown up thinking it needs to be observed).

Reminds me of Americans who go to Israel and are shocked that air conditioners aren't running 24/7 or that hot water heaters have on/off switches for when you want to shower. I remember a conversation with a friend who was bragging about his Israeli relative and said something along the lines of "He imported an American water heater! It's 50 gallons and doesn't have an on/off switch!"

Rhino? impo! said...

JS - thanks for taking that one! the key point is once you get used to living at a certain standard, and if your parents and many friends contineu to live on that standard, it become very difficult to start living on a much lower one. This applies to millionaires who have to give up their swimming pool, as well as a frum boy used to doing mitzvos with all the "extras".

I am not a history expert, but I am pretty sure that until 50 years ago, Jews on average lived in the lower half or quartile of income ranges; but for the past 50 years are in the upper quartile. Moving from top to bottom is a lot harder than the reverse.

Dave said...

Actually, moving from the top to the bottom is quite easy.

You just spend more than you earn, and give your children neither the work ethic nor the education to earn more than they spend.

Y said...

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Please join us on Sunday May 6th for this one of a kind day.

The website for registration is:

With warmest regards, The Torah Home Education Conference Committee

Abba said...

we can definately do with less, but let's be careful about romantisizing the simple lives of our grandparents in pre-war europe. as a little girl in poland my grandmother never ever ate meat, couldn't afford to go to school and walked barefoot one winter. and both her parents died in the spanish flu epidemic. you think she was merely living a "simpler" life?

simpler, yes. cavemen, no.

Anonymous said...

unrelated, but one of SL's favorite themes:

Anonymous said...

To Anon. Feb. 27, 9:56 a.m. "Usually there are significant crime problems in these areas." Referring to buying a $150,000 house. The family I mentioned bought in an excellent, safe area, the heart of a religious neighborhood, with religious neighbors, and there is no crime problem. I know because their parents live on the next block and they would have mentioned if they had a crime problem. The house was that of a older lady who had lived there 50 years and everything was in need of fixing up. The young husband did as much as he could on his own and the rest professionally. But the couple were raised to be self reliant, fixing up a house oneself would be too much for most of our pampered youth. Now this couple has a wonderful space to raise a family at minimal cost with a playroom and the charm and detail that only a 1920's house possesses. But as I said, this type of effort is not for everyone. Most people would want a new, granite-countered, hardwood floor house, 3000 feet, with an island in the kitchen and stainless steel appliances. Because this young couple did not start with these expectations, I expect they will do very well in their future lives as their family grows and their responsibilities increase. They will never be "house poor".

Anonymous said...

The above post refers to Baltimore. Check the blog Baltimore Jewish Life. There's a single family house available in Pikesville (Baltimore County), 3 bedrooms, for $159,000. I'm sure it's 1920's vintage and needs work. But you can probably get it for $150,000 if you are willing to do the renovations. First time homebuyers get a tax break for both purchase and renovations. So what the couple I described above did is not pie in the sky, IF you are willing to live "house rich".

Anonymous said...

The above post refers to Baltimore. Check the blog Baltimore Jewish Life. There's a single family house available in Pikesville (Baltimore County), 3 bedrooms, for $159,000. I'm sure it's 1920's vintage and needs work. But you can probably get it for $150,000 if you are willing to do the renovations. First time homebuyers get a tax break for both purchase and renovations. So what the couple I described above did is not pie in the sky, IF you are willing to live "house rich".

Anonymous said...

Anonymouse 11:34

I am guessing you don't live in Baltimore. I do, and I just checked the house to which you were referring. It is not a frum/orthodox neighborhood at all. So yes, one could move there, but be very far from friends and the community. It IS within walking distance from some shuls, but not considered part of the community.
Do you know the neighborhood or street of the house of the couple you referenced above? My husband I bought a semi in Baltimore County a few years ago, as that is what we can afford, and are very happy with it. But the going rate was much higher than $150,000. Yes, that was before prices dropped significantly.

-Lives in Baltimore

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry it's not in the religious neighborhood. I know another young couple who bought a house "on the edge" of the community - a 45 minute walk to their parents - hoping the community will follow them. They have a lovely house; I don't know what they paid. I don't know about this house, but there is such a thing as being pioneers in a neighborhood that's not central, but a shul within 15 minutes walk. If the prices are right, the community will follow. The population is continually expanding, it's inevitable that borderline neighborhoods will become religious neighborhoods. So that's another idea - be a pioneer.

As for the street in Baltimore where the $150,000 purchasers live, I could not give that out without their permission. I will say it's within short walking distance of Darchei, the shul.

I do not live in Baltimore but have many connections there. Amazing that you had the get up and go to immediately look at that house and find the address! With your initiative, you will find what you're looking for. Good luck!

Abba said...

" It IS within walking distance from some shuls, but not considered part of the community."

and here is where the problem starts. wants vs needs

Anonymous said...

Abba, I didn't catch that comment, but it's true. Lack of perfection is a disqualifier. No wonder there's a shidduch crisis! There's a housing crisis, too! If it is within walking distance from some shuls, it is certainly worth looking at. "Not considered part of the community." By whom? By you? By your neighbors? As the Rav on the Mesilah tape said, we are too deeply influenced by community standards. What I said in my previous post is, YOU be the first to move there. YOU be the pioneer. You have many friends and acquaintances. Once they know you live on the block, they will say, "Hmmm. Goldberg lives there. I'll ask him about it. Could be worth looking into. A lot cheaper than Falstaff."

May I add that the couple who moved to the border neighborhood may have done so because they valued independence, they did not want to be at the mercy of neighbors peering into their windows and listening to their zemiros!

tesyaa said...

Abba 1:31 and Miami Al (yesterday 12:16) make the point that it is possible to live a frugal frum life in part by "living in the middle of nowhere" or at least by living far from a shul and from friends, with perhaps homeschooling thrown in to help keep the family afloat. I'd posit that there are many people who would rather not be frum at all than live with these strictures, given that much of the appeal of the frum life is friends social life.

Getting back to wants and needs: If you NEED to be frum because you believe the Torah's commandments are binding, you will find a way to pay for kosher food, religious articles such as esrogim, and to provide Jewish education in one way or another. If you are frum because you enjoy the lifestyle, you may not be happy living on the cheap, distant side of town and homeschooling. You may decide to give it up. (And the rabbis know that when they make the social extras into necessities. One reason attractive sheitels are more than just tolerated is because rabbis know many women wouldn't cover their hair if they had to wear scarves and hats on a daily basis).

Anonymous said...

The takeaway from the Mesila lectures: Live the life you can afford without asking for handouts from either community or government. This requires gevurah, strength. The strong will prevail, the weak drop by the wayside. As a lady I know used to say, Judaism is for the strong. And may I add, for the resourceful. There are workarounds for many problems, if you do not need perfection. If your wants are needs, you may be better off joining Temple Sinai.

tesyaa said...

If your wants are needs, you may be better off joining Temple Sinai.

Unfair. There is much more materialism on display in many Orthodox communities than in most Reform and Conservative congregations. No need to disparage other denominations to make ourselves feel better.

Anonymous said...

Annoymous 1:00 - Thank you, but I have a house. I found what I am looking for - a semi which we could afford. We are not in the middle of the frum/orthodox community; there a few families in the neighborhood and it appears to be the next up and coming neighborhood as it is affordable. So I don't think that living in the middle of everything is necessary. I did not realize that areas around Darchei are still in Baltimore County. I have many friends who live in that area, and they are all city.
Define "walking distance." I grew up in Randallstown, about a fifteen minute drive from the heart of the frum/orthodox community. The Rabbi of the shul I attended walked every other week. It took something like 6 hours, but it was doable. His childen sometimes walked with him. Many houses in Randallstown are affordable now. The Jewish population moved out of the area, but people could move there and walk 6 hours. It's possible.
The house listed above is past the fringes of the frum/orthodox community. It is not even on the border. It is off of a very busy street, Reisterstown Road, where there are many stores. I honestly don't know if it is in the Eruv. I grew up without an Eruv, but some people feel that is important.
So yes, some people feel that living on the border of the frum/orthodox community is an option. Living past the fringe/border area is not appealing to many people, even for a good price.

-Lives in Baltimore

Dave said...

If your wants are needs, you may be better off joining Temple Sinai.

I see your point.

All those Reform schnorrers coming around begging for handouts to buy apartments for their children that they cannot afford to support and who would never be willing to work.

And the way the Conservative community is dependent on government handouts (and block votes to extort more handouts from the working public), such a shandeh.


Anonymous said...

Anon. 3:04 - My friends live 2 blocks from Darchei and from their zip code, they are in the county. The city/county line there is very close and I don't know where the cutoff is. Great that you have a semi-detached you can afford in an up and coming neighborhood. I grew up in Baltimore in a semi-detached; there was one other shomer shabbos family on our block. When our family expanded we built on an addition. I recently visited the house at the owner's invitation - and I could not believe my parents raised 6 children in that mini-house! (I never knew it was tiny til I visited it as an adult.)

Anonymous said...

Mistake I want to correct: The couple 2 blocks from Darchei bought the house two years ago for $130,000. Asking price was $150,000. Amazing. It is in the county. It is now worth $176,000.

Taia said...

Can you identify the source of the essays about Lithuanian Jews in the interwar period?

Anonymous said...

Living on 40K (less tuition) is definitely doable. The problem is people have lost their ways. I track every penny my family spends. We almost never use cash and I catalog every line item from our Credit Card statements into my own database and track our spending every month. We are a family of 4 (2 toddlers). We go on vacations a lot: Florida, Europe, etc.. Other then small presents, we get no assistance. We live in the Kemp Mill community outside on Washington DC. We eat, drink, play, etc.. Have big Shabboses, etc, travel for simchas. Basically I would say that there is nothing that we lack. But what we do is make sure that everything we do it done frugally without sacrificing quality. For example, here is a summary of our 2011 expenditures.
We spent a total of 56,717. Of that 7,483 was for fancy travel (Cruise & Europe) and 4,514 was for Luxury (Jewelry, Purses, etc..). We also own a fairly expensive home in the community and our mortage for the year was 21,583. This can definitely be less if we could not afford it, or we would rent an apartment. (lets say 1,400 a month = 16,800 for the year)
Thus 56,717 - 7,483 - 4,514 – 4,783 (smaller home) = 39,936
This is after tax money of course, But as someone already said, that with 4 people in a family, if your income is just over 45K, you would be paying very little in taxes.

Category Totals Avg. Per Month
Automotive 3,427 286
Clothes 886 74
Food 3,547 296
Gas 2,187 182
Household 1,467 122
Luxury 4,514 376
Other 461 38
Presents 1,701 142 (to others)
Baby 1,773 148
Restaurant 2,870 239
Services 282 24
Travel 7,483 624
Utilities 4,415 368
Health 118 10 (I have health coverage from work)
Mortgage 21,583 1,799
Grand Total 56,717 4,726

Anonymous said...

(I guess its hard to make "tables" in html, so here is just the annual numbers)
Automotive: 3,427
Clothes: 886
Food: 3,547
Gas: 2,187
Household: 1,467
Luxury: 4,514
Other: 461
Present: 1,701
Baby: 1,773
Resturant: 2,870
Services: 282
Travel: 7,483
Utilities: 4,415
Health: 118
Mortgage: 21,583
Grand Total: 56,717

Dave said...

I'd have to double check against my book self at home, but I believe the book is:

Anonymous said...

3/1 anon, a couple of quibles:

Are you a big couponer? In my family of two (so far) we spend around $220 per month at supermarkets, big pharmacies and the like. That includes the small luxury of fresh fish, but I am still hard pressed to imagine feeding 4 for $300 per month.

(My utilities tend higher too -did you include phone/internet?-, but I suppose that is very region dependent.)

Anonymous said...

3/1 Anon: You could easily blow your budget if, like eith my employer, the employee contribution to health and dental premium is about 500/month and it is a high deductible/high co-pay plan. Between premiums and the deductibles/co-pays, plus eye exams and eye glasses, etc. we are out of pocket about 10K/year.

I also don't see Life, health, homeowners, umbrella and auto insurance. Your automotive figure would not be enough to cover what auto insurance costs for 2 adults with good driving records and old cars, and the average carrying cost for even a modest used car plus maintenance/repairs.

Query, how much do you save for retirement in addition?

I also agree that your food costs seem quite low for a family of 4.

If you add back in retirement, greater health and insurance costs, taxes, fica, etc. you can easily need to gross 100K/year. More if you add in shul dues and tzedakah which I did not see in your budget. Don't forget about a new roof every 20 years, a new furnace every 15-20 years, exterior painting every 8 years, etc. your "household" figure is low to cover that.

Miami Al said...

1/3 of Americans live on under 40k/year. That's around 100 MILLION people.

There are somewhere on the order of 200k-600k Frum/Orthodox Jews depending on definition.

For every Orthodox Jew in America, there are 200 Americans living in families with less than 40k in income.

In terms of food: look at the prices of bulk pastas, grains, cereals, etc. You can easily feed a family of 5 on < $50/week. You can easily come up with 50,000 calories of food (necessary to feed 5 people for the week for less than $50, but your core of the diet will be things with a high calorie/dollar ratio, which isn't meats/cheeses. It's only low because you're used to more.

But as Dave pointed out, going from Upper Middle Class to Working or Welfare Class in one generation is pretty easy: spend more than you make (so you rack up debt instead of building capital to jump start the next generation), and don't give your children the tools (education) or drive necessary to succeed.

A life consisting of mindless consumption, mass entertainment, and consumer debt, is a pretty pathetic existence. You can dress it up in Yiddish, but this is about the opposite of a purpose driven life. Even the religion, often the core of happy people's purpose, becomes hollow when you change "religious people" from those focused on helping the community and others (30+ years ago), to internally focused on clothing and table clothes.

When you read any (translated) Yiddish works on great pious Jews, you read about all the things they sacrificed to help others, that's what made them pious.

Today's pious Jew is pious because of the expensive clothing that he and his wife wear, expensive books on his bookshelves, and fancy "Judaica" that he doesn't make/earn (either as a craftsman, or as a person able to purchase these premium items), but rather, gifts and entitlements.

When I hear about someone in the community being "so religious" I invariably here about the wife's head covering, his "learning" - but generally just time spent eating chulent, not scholarship, etc., and the RW school that his parents pay for. I never hear about volunteerism, personal sacrifice, or contribution to community.

Anonymous said...

Living on 40K is “doable” and not “easy”. We use many coupons and cut many corners. We do most things ourselves instead of outsourcing them to others. Many people in my generation have for some reason decided that they are not capable of doing most menial tasks in life. We do the following ourselves: car maintenance and basic repairs (tires, brakes, oil changes, tune ups, basic electrical work, etc..),lawn care, laundry, cleaning, cooking, ironing, basic house maintenance and repairs, hair cuts, etc..
So, the 39,936 lifestyle I mentioned earlier is based on that. (Utilities includes phone, cable, etc..)
So, what’s missing that others have mentioned? Well obviously the following costs:
1. Infrequent expenditures such as buying homes and cars. They are obviously expensive items that have many one time transactional costs. I did not factor those in because they distort the figures. We buy our cars with cash. So, if we factor in two $16K cars with a lifetime of 12 years, you have to have an additional $2,666 a month.
2. Health care premiums – Our premiums are about $2700 a year. We use flex dollars for the rest for about an additional $1,000
3. Life insurance - $400,
4. Homeowners insurance is part of the mortgage line item
5. Auto insurance is part of the Automotive line item
6. Savings – this is not included in any figures because the idea was to discuss being able to “live on 40K” and not “thrive”
7. Shul dues - $1000
8. Tzedakah - $4000
My kids are toddlers so they don’t really eat that much. I guess if they were older it would be a different story.

So, if you add in these additional figures, that’s an additional $12K, or $1000 extra per month. At this point to get back to under 40K, we would have to make some sacrifices. Luckily, our income is much higher then 40K and we simply choose to live very frugally to save up for tuition down the road. But if I did not have additional income, the following would have to be done to get back under 40K.
1. Move to a cheaper area, like Baltimore, MD where rent is much less than $1,400
2. Get rid of one of the cars
3. Go out to eat less
4. Give cheaper presents or make them ourselves
5. Give less Tzedakah

anon426 said...

I live fairly frugally, except for my exhorbitant food budget. I am single mom, work full-time, my kids go to public school, and they are entering adolescence. I have all the usual reasons why couponing doesn't work for me, but I'm willing to give it another shot.

I truly agonize over what I spend every week on food, especially when I read of a family of four eating on $300/month.

My kids will be perpetually hungry if I try and feed them on grains, eggs, legumes, and tuna every day. My 12 year old son ate 4 slices of pizza the other night at a friend's and reported that he was "still starving."

Moreover, they go to public school. If they do not have satisfying, large meals, that compete with the meals of their classmates, they will be sorely tempted to eat "out".

I'd really like to hear from some of the people who have LARGE children how much they spend on food/month. I'm sure it's less than what I spend, but it can't be $300/month.

My medical budget/year is over $5,000. I have kids in braces and on maintenance meds.

My life insurance budget is over $2k/year.

Rent + utilities (no cable) is $19k/year. $1300/rent (Baltimore)

etc. etc. Not complaining -- happy to have a job.

But I would find it very hard to make it on $40k. Even without the tuition bill.

I have worked with Mesila. They are very nice, and the counselors are great and VERY knowledgeable, but I like Dave Ramsey's approach better. For me a system with specific goals works better. I just started implementing his cash-only system and find it to be very helpful.

Anonymous said...

The Orthodox community needs to dramatically cut down on non essentials and luxuries and at the same time to significantly increase inflation earnings, in order to ensure the survival of the jewish day school for the masses.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to food, we have a very simple, yet highly effective strategy. We do not buy expensive low-value-add food. For example, I typically see various herbs and spices added to meat/fish dishes. Pound for pound, those spices cost ten times what the meat/fish is. So, for example, instead of just serving a 1.5 pound fish, which costs about $8, with some salt, pepper, butter, etc.. I routinely see people add nuts, dill, lemon, exotic spices, is, which costs just as much as the fish. Not only that, but you can’t just buy a single serving of these items, so you end up having a pantry full of these odd-ends or a fridge full of condiments. Routinely half of this stuff is thrown out.

I guarantee you, that if you ask your shabbos guest, what would you rather have? A serving of half-of-palm salad, or slice of beef, they will always pick the beef. So, why buy these expensive items, just to add “variety” and “color” to the meal. Waste of money in my opinion.

This is of course only when budget is an issue. If you have the means, then buy as much of these items as you wish :)

Anonymous said...

Women go for the hearts of palm salad and men go for the beef. :)

If you use spices and exotic ingredients judiciously, you can cut down on the amount of expensive meat, fish or cheese needed in a dish - thereby saving money. If you enjoy spicy dishes regularly, you can easily use up the container. I'm not so sure spices and pine nuts are such a big hit to the food budget.

Prepared foods such as packaged kugels and pre-made salads are a much bigger hit to the budget. You can easily make a nice side dish with a can or corn, some sliced vegetables, and some oil & vinegar. Cost - a couple of dollars.

Dave said...

Herbs are cheap.

That is, if you actually grow them, rather than buying them at the store. And fresh herbs are a joy to cook with.

(It is also worth noting that cooking skill and good seasonings let you eat better for less money, as you aren't dependent on the top of the line proteins or vegetables to make a palatable meal)

Dave said...

(That also assumes you eat vegetables.)

Anonymous said...

Obviously, spending and needs are an important issue to be discussed. But, one question which should have been directly asked at the forum is whether a head of household who cannot meet ends meet himself is allowed to have his son to enter into undefined or indefinite Kollel, whereby the new couple and soon-to-be family will have to be supported by the community to cover budgetary shortfalls. Sometimes this is facilitated by parents with explicit encouragement. For others, it is sending them to Yeshivos where that has been the accepted norm.

(A generation or two ago, the answer to this shailah was obvious and intuited, which obviated the need for it to even be asked.)

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