Develop a Sense of Control and Choosing Your Friends
I have written about developing a "Can Do" attitude before and I think it is particularly important when it comes to handing personal finances. The comment has been made that (excluding the very wealthy) a frum Jew will not be able to live debt free and/or build up savings. If one adopts such an attitude, and many have, he/she takes a position of powerlessness. Sitting in the backseat, the attitude becomes, "what can I do?" Once one has accepted lack of savings, debt, living beyond their mean as "normal," they become resigned to their situation.
I prefer an attitude of control over finances. The paradigm might look something like this:
- I put in appropriate effort towards earning a living (getting a proper education, not letting my ego interfere with earning a living, maintaining integrity, continuing to develop new skills, new contacts, seeking increased opportunities, etc.)
- Hashem blesses my efforts by granting the support I need.
- I exercise control over my budget by making choices according to the means I have been given (not worrying too much about what "they system" requires of me or what "the Goldberg's" are doing).
The book I reviewed via another finance blogger's book review is a good example of a completely resigned attitude. In the book Strapped: Why American's 20-and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, individuals and couples make shortsighted and expensive choices in terms of education, employment, relationships, weddings, childcare, and more, and then wonder why they just can't get ahead. Fortunately there is another book out there that isn't offering up the victim mentality on a silver platter. I too have not read this book yet, but would like to precisely because it promotes what I believe is a healthy "can do" attitude. Personal finance blogger Trent (A Simple Dollar) writes a very positive review of the book "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream." This book has 14 chapters where the author shows that creativity, persistence, motivation to change, delayed gratification, and frugality, will result in getting ahead. Trent writes "the primary lesson [in Chapter 10] is playing the game with the hand you’re dealt. If you spend all your time complaining and griping about the situation you’re handed, you’re going to simply miss out on tons of chances to succeed."
Now would be a good point to insert a word about the friends you choose. Middle class society in general, and frum society in particular, tells us that a whole litany of things are a necessity. Of course, some things are highly desirable or even a necessity, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that there are alternatives and choices in life. Friends ("circles" and social groups) are a powerful influence in our lives, after all we are social creatures.
A person who wants to be able to more comfortably make choices that will allow him/her to live within their means would be wise to seek friendship with those who do live a more frugal lifestyle. The family that spends $30,000 a year on food isn't likely to let you know when pasta is on sale 2/$1 at the grocery store. The family that goes broke after taking their children on daily chol ha'moed trips and plying the kids with gifts and nosh isn't likely to invite your kids over for backyard games, nor accept your invitation for a trip to the park. The mother who has full time household help, isn't likely to agree to a babysitting exchange so you and she an get some much needed work one.
A college student seeking a less expensive living situation isn't going to find the girls whose credit card bills are paid off by mom and dad every month, no matter what the balance with no questions asked, a likely candidate to share extremely small living quarters. A single bochur whose friends all take their dates on $100 first dates (I read Lakewood has a dating fund so everyone can be "equal"), isn't likely to have the guts to take his shidduch date for a cup of coffee. But if he makes friends with some guys who do this, it becomes a more palatable option. A girl who is getting married and lives in a world where all her friends are receiving a laundry list of jewlery and other luxury items, isn't likely to make the suggestion that the chatan forego pearl earrings in the yichud room, unless she has made friends that have done without. A family in a social circle where all the kids go away to sleepaway camp, is a lot less likely to consider day camp or piecing together some activities as a possible alternative.
I'd say it is important for like minded parents to actively form connections with like-minded parents. As it is said, "there is strength in numbers." It is really difficult to speak out about school policy, be it an issue with cleanliness, a religious issue, bullying, the cost of an activity/trip, or some other issue. It is a lot easier to affect change when more than one squeaky wheel is willing to speak out.
Of course, one can have friends of all stripes (and it is certainly helpful to have a wide variety of friends when it comes to networking), and I feel fortunate to have many friends of many different income levels and spending styles. But, when you are trying to keep your lifestyle under control, it is important to have company.