Thursday, May 01, 2008

From Free Man to Slave

I get so tired when people whine they are strapped for cash when they don't even make an attempt to try and meet a budget. Granted, meeting a budget can be a difficult task, especially when a family is blessed by numbers. But, at least it could be approached with some level of control. Here is a jem from this week's Yated.


Dear Editor,

Is anyone out there surviving financially? I, for one, am not. [I think it will be quite obvious to the reader why you are not surviving financially by the time they finish reading your letter. And, yes, there are people who are surviving financially]. Pesach itself set me back so seriously. In addition to the cost of making Yom Tov with the sky-high prices of Pesach food - and food in general, there were Afikoman presents to buy and Chol Hamoed trips to go on [Yes, the necessities of an Orthodox life: food, shelter, overpriced (matching) clothing, gifts, and chol hamoed trips. AND implies equivalency. Afikoman gifts and chol hamoed trips should not even land in the same sentence as food l'chvod yom tov]. This all made my already dire financial situation that much more disastrous. Take eight kids to an amusement park on Chol Hamoed and you’ll walk out having spent close to $200. For what? And if chas veshalom we don’t take our kids on a Chol Hamoed trip every single day, somehow we are lacking as parents. That’s the feeling we get. [Talk about entitlement! It is obvious to me that a family of 10 should not even try to function as if they are a family of 4-5]. So the day after the amusement park, we went to Liberty Science Center. That, too, cost a veritable fortune. On the third day of Chol Hamoed, I said that instead of going on a trip, we would go buy Afikoman presents. Frankly, the Chol Hamoed trip would probably have been a bargain compared to the prices we paid at the toy store [Please tell me this letter is joke?!? Unfortunately, I'm afraid it is not because I've seen plenty of families fall into similiar traps]. On Erev Shabbos, the last day of Chol Hamoed, we took the kids bowling. Who would imagine that you would have to pay well over $100 for a family to play two games of knocking down some bowling pins? It is unbelievable what is going on out there. The gas prices are absurd. The cost of food is absolutely ridiculous. The only thing in the grocery store that is reasonably priced is the Yated, but, last I checked, this newspaper is not edible.Is there any end in sight to this recession we are in? [Sorry, but the downturn in the economy is not to blame for reckless spending! And to think another chol ha'moed is only 6 months away where the same pattern will likely be repeated because the family has lost control of their lives].

Feeling Hopeless [I feel like punching a wall after reading this letter!]

[Calming down] I have one additional thing I feel the need to say. It is difficult to change course when you have already created unrealistic expectations for your children and when you have not exercised the "no" muscle. I have seen this professionally when I have tried to help balance budgets for people. It is easier to create more reasonable lifestyle from the start, rather than have to backtrack, especially when your children are older. If you set up reasonable expectations from the beginning, you won't feel the guilt when you don't "ante up." Young people with young children, listen up! If you don't want to end up writing one of these letters, start thinking about the standards you are accustoming your children too (and for that matter, yourself).

We all know muscles get weak and can become easily strained when they go unexercised. Budgets can also become weak and can become easily strained when limitation goes unexercised.

The terrible irony of wreckless spending in the name of Pesach is that the B'nei Horin are once again slaves to a master. Avadim hayinu l'Mastercard b'America. I think this slavery is one that 'we' will have to free ourselves from.


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

It sounds like the letter is a joke.

Are people honestly so financially immature that they go on these Chol HaMoed trips day after day? Howabout going to a park and flying kites, having a picnic, and playing frisbee?

Then again -- I'm always annoyed by "Hachnasat Kallah" appeals. Weddings can (and should) be SO much more inexpensive than they are today. However, when the minimum is a 5 piece band, a shmorg, matching dresses for all, I'm not surprised people go into mega debt....or beg for weddings.

G said...

For real this time, send in the response.

Commenter Abbi said...

Jameel, my first thought was "Haven't these people ever heard of a park? Take a picnic and a ball and enjoy some family time for the cost of some tuna and matza sandwiches, chips and drinks?"

Our big trips this CHM were visiting with friends one day, visiting more friends and going to a little petting zoo, and the kids first movie (Horton Hears a Who)

I also agree that it's very difficult to backtrack when you create sky high expectations and simply never say no. My 5 year old already understands that we can't buy everything her little heart desires and special occasion presents (basically birthday and afikoman) are planned accordingly.

ProfK said...

Shaking my head here and really wondering why the world has changed so drastically since my children were young. We raised no expectations in our kids that money would flow like water for their amusement. Every day of chol hamoed was not a mega excursion. The Staten Island Zoo is free on Wednesdays, so off we went. The parks in the area offer all kinds of play opportunities. A movie rental was and is affordable. Craft projects even with a trip to a craft supply store were affordable and provided hours of fun. One new board game to be played by everyone. Books to read. Museums and places of interest that don't charge admission or charge minimal low admission. A trip to a 99 cent store with instructions that each child could pick one item, whatever they wanted, but the top price was 99 cents.

Afikomen presents were token gifts; after all, Pesach is not about gifts.

To turn amusement and gift giving into "have-to's" instead of "maybe for your birthday" raises unrealistic expectations in children.

Fully agree that the "no" muscle needs a lot more exercising. But even before that parents should be laying out "what we do has nothing to do with what person X does. This is how we are yotzai."

I wonder what the letter writer does for Chanukah if this is what she does over Pesach, where the emphasis of the Chag is surely not gift giving.

miriamp said...

We went bowling on Chol Hamoed too -- but it only cost us $36. (Also a family of 10, but the younger kids (age 5 and down) just watched.) That was 2 hours of lane rental (1 lane) and shoes for 6. Not everyone got to play 2 games, though, because we agreed not to go over the 2 hours since we had the littles with us, and the middle kids were getting tired of playing anyway.

One day we went to the park, and the other days we stayed home and just hung out. We thought about the zoo (would have been instead of bowling, not in addition) but the price adds up too fast. There were no "Afikomen presents," and the kids didn't even seem to notice. Guess we did something right, in not creating that particular sense of entitlement! (We also don't do the "stealing thing -- Daddy hides the Afikomen and Daddy retrieves it. Plenty else to keep the kids interested, and the littlest ones are almost always asleep by then anyway.)

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) I'm so glad to live "out-of-town" where expectations are lower, prices may even be lower, and my kids aren't influenced by their schoolmates to expect more than we plan to give them. If my kids wear matching dresses, I made them, and they only cost the price of fabric, which I bought with a 40% off coupon (from being on a chain fabric store mailing list) or found in the bargain loft at my local independent fabric store.

concernedjewgirl said...

The problem here is the sense of entitlement, because X person has this I want/need to have it to. I cannot say that I am such a great yoda on this topic but my parents are! They came to this country from Russia with having NOTHING…I guess that is where my morals, values, and work ethic come from. That aside, I grew up just fine without going out for pizza or getting it delivered. My parents never bought pizza for us, it was just too costly and that was not even kosher prices. That was for $10 for a large pizza. To them it seemed absolutely ridiculous to pay that amount of money for something that is not even a meal. It was only when I started babysitting for a wealthy family that I ate pizza because they ordered it for their children…What a treat! I believe even now, going out is a treat! If I buy a cup of coffee for $1.75 it is a huge treat. Then I feel guilty that I wasted that money on something that I can make at home for $0.05 a cup. Ah, you live and learn I suppose.

concernedjewgirl said...

I'm sorry I forgot to add:
The reader complains about prices and yet still buys a Yated instead of possibly buying something else?
Maybe because I don't buy the Yated I feel like I can live without it!

Which makes me think, maybe I should buy this Yated and see what the fuss is about.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled! I am now in a very different place, we have two children and B"H my husband makes a six figure income. Yet even though we could well 'afford' what this man spent, we never would.
My children decided they both wanted a new video game for an afikomen present (Dad said they would get one becasue they were exceptionally well behaved on Pesach). It was clear to them, I didnt even need to implicitly say ao, that if they wanted something so expensive they needed to share the gift and decide together what to get.

I guess I understand the guilt, but the point of good parenting is to do the right thing, and the right thing doesnt always make us 'feel' good. While this man might not realize it, he is parenting in the style of the Hilton... and we all know where that sort of entitlement leads to.

G said...

"In my day, we didn't have Afikoman presents for toys. We got rusty nails and big bags of broken glass! That's the way it was, and we liked it!...We loved it!"

Ahavah said...

Kids are not stupid - if you sit them down and explain that there is an economic crisis and the prices of things are just now far more than we can afford, they get it. They really do. And telling them we're in trouble and we need to pull together to fight actually empowers them as part of the "team." They even have some great ideas for cutting down expenses if you just give them a chance to contribute.

As for trips and all that, can't he just stay home and play board games with the kids? Make popcorn? Do a giant puzzle? Why can't they go to the local park and picnic? Play wiffle-ball. Take a nature hike through a local reserve and backpack your snacks. There's so many inexpensive things they can do as family - but it only works if you talk to your kids like they're not idiots and include them in the brainstorming process. Some spoiled kids might be grudging at first, but I don't think most kids are really, truly spoiled - they have just gotten used to things the way they have been. When you involve them as partners in the fight against the budget overflow, they can be great allies. Don't treat them like they can't deal with it - they can. They will. Be a family and involve everyone, that's the only real solution.

ProfK said...

G dear,
Whatever you are smoking, it clearly is not agreeing with you and clouding your perception of the English language. We are not talking here about substituting broken glass and rusty nails for gifts. The question is whether the gift giving--and the "entertainment"--have not gotten out of hand today. We are talking about having realistic expectations. This isn't even about money alone. Plenty of people in my "dark ages" who had lots of discretionary funds, and they still did not give their kids the sun, the moon and the stars. Over-indulgence , feelings of entitlement, constantly looking at what everyone else has and is doing are problems all on their own, the money aside.

Funny, but some of those 99 cent items purchased decades ago still sit on my kids' dressers and shelves and are reminders of a fun time in the past. Broken glass? Hardly.

Ezzie said...

Er, I think G was joking, ProfK.

Anonymous said...

What's so sad about this is that the whole point of the gifts and the trips is to celebrate. How can anyone (including young children, who are far more perceptive than parents often give them credit for) celebrate when the event causes such enormous stress. If they had rented a movie and played board games in their own living room, and used the opportunity to interact as a family, they would have ended up with happy, carefree memories instead of ending up with an ulcer.

Commenter Abbi said...

Yah, profk, he was referencing an old SNL skit. Guess that only works if you're in your 30's and 40's.

I also agree a bit with the spirit. We rarely buy our kids presents, but when Safta and Zayde offered to buy afikoman presents, I wasn't going to say no for fear of spoiling my children. There is a balance.

Also, there are many toys worth investing in- a good set of wooden blocks, lego, other building materials; puzzles, decent baby dolls. The 99 cent stuff you found for your kids might still be on their desks, but most stuff I've gotten at those stores falls apart within a week of my kids playing with it.

DAG said...

Check out the Chinuch round-table this week...a question about a kid with ADD...

Rabbi Yechiel Spero from Chofetz Chaim in Baltimore: after acknowledging that this will sound petty...."It will also make a difference to the Rebbe if you will send him a check (whatever you can afford) indicating that you appreciate...extra time and effort...If a Rebbi knows that you are appreciative, it makes all the difference in the world (PP. 44).”

BrooklynWolf said...

Actually, it's a Monty Python sketch called "Four Yorkshiremen"

The Wolf

ProfK said...

Thanks Wolf. I couldn't remember ever seeing it on SNL. And Abbi, SNL started out with those of us in their 50's and 60's--you younger folk arrived in the middle of it. Sigh, strange day when I'm talking about younger folk.

Commenter Abbi said...

Nope, i think d was referencing SNL. I guess Dana Carvey ripped off Monty Python (entirely possible, but still funny):

From wikipedia:

A Grumpy Old Man

Portrayed by Dana Carvey, he was an embittered archetypical grandfather figure with white hair, glasses, and a sour sneer. He would usually appear as a commentator complaining about the state of the world, mainly in regard to many modern conveniences. His complaints always included differences between today and "his day" ("In my day, we didn't have safety standards for toys. We got rusty nails and big bags of broken glass! That's the way it was, and we liked it! We loved it!") or ("In my day we didn't have hair dryers, if you wanted to blow dry your hair, you had to step outside in the middle a hurricane, you would get your hair dryed but you would also get a sharp piece of wood driven clean through your skull, "Look I'm a human head kebbab", that's the way it was and we liked it, we loved it!).

Commenter Abbi said...

And profk, while it's true SNL started in the 70's, most people I know only watch it for between 3-5 years and then they have better things to do on Sat night at 11. So it's entirely possible to miss references. I wouldn't even know who's on the show today, and I can't even believe it's still going.

G said...

ProfK sweetie,

Get a sense of humor:).


Anonymous said...

Let me take a slightly different perspective on this letter. As with most letters to Yated this letter probably comes from a charedi or chassidish man or woman in a closed community where there is much social pressure to keep up with the Cohens. I doubt the feeling of being a 'bad parent' is coming from kids - it's probably coming from his or her neighbors, friends and community leaders. Of course, people have to know how to say no to their kids - but I think people have a much harder time saying no to their peers...

DAG said...

Somone told me they had to turn people away from the Bronx Zoo on the "free" day, Wednesday of Chol Hamoed.

I think that is great. Take advantage of low or no cost activites.

Anonymous said...

Don't you know that the only activities worth doing are those that cost lots of money?

Chaim said...

Ortho....I read your blog form time to time...I am VERY worried about the state of the economy and what it will mean in the Orthodox Community.

I started two groups to help try and stimulate biz between orthodox jews: The Frum Network, on Yahoo and on LinkedIn

Someone mentioned this idea...I'd like to make it happen...

A subscriber sent me the idea for a Frum Network meeting in New York this summer.
The meeting would include Frum Network members on this Yahoo group AND
the LinkedIn Frum Network

I like the idea. It can be a GREAT opportunity for Networking and
developing business relationships. It would take a LOT of volunteer
time and effort to pull it off.

If you are interested in such an idea, please post that you would find
such an event beneficial AND give some ideas as to what form the event
should take. I can see everything from a Yankees/Mets Baseball game to
a barbeque to a hotel ballroom with company tables.


Chaim Shapiro

Ariella's blog said...

As dag said " Somone told me they had to turn people away from the Bronx Zoo on the "free" day, Wednesday of Chol Hamoed.

I think that is great. Take advantage of low or no cost activites." We did attempt the Bronx zoo on Wed. It was an utter disaster. Some people gave up when they couldn't get into the parking lot. We found a spot on the street. But it took nearly 4 hours for what should be a 1 1/2 hour trip and then the zoo was so crowded that it literally was gridlocked at the juncture in front of the tigers. It was an utter wast of time, leaving us hot, frustrated and exhausted. That's not a real savings when you think about it, especially considering the waste of gas and tolls. The better way to save is to get a type of membership that works at various places like the Brooklyn children's museum, which cost us just $50 and gets us in to many other places, including Liberty Science Center, the LICM, and the NY hall of science absolutely free. Just one visit to some of those could exceed the yearly membership price we pay.

May 05, 2008 8:36 PM