Monday, August 31, 2009

Ask Orthonomics: Reader Asks For Insight and Essentially An Intro To This Blog

This week's question comes from a reader that writes the following:

Hi SL -

I'd like to ask your insight on 3 related items:

1 - do you have a Top 10 list of your articles from your Orthonomics blog on how to save & thrive within the Orthonomics model?

Sadly my blog is not yet well organized (perhaps if we get snowed in, I can rectify that). But I have shared many of my own rules of the road as well as tips. Here are some of posts that might be of interest:

  1. Camping, Playgroups, Babysitting: My friend "A Mother In Israel" wrote a Guest Post for me on organizing a co-op camp for children. The same ideas can be extended to work low cost pre-school cooperatives. And formal and informal round robins can be used to help cut down on babysitting expenses for times when you need a babysitting (weddings, dentist and doctor appointments, etc). The key is to find friends willing to give these alternatives a try.
  2. New to You Shopping, i.e. buying used at garage sales, consignment stores, and thrift stores, has not only cut our expenses, but has also put my kids in "better" clothing than what we would normally purchase. I love inverse relationships!
  3. Pesach for many means overspending, but that doesn't have to be the case. Pesach is a holiday of freedom, so becoming a slave to Mastercard certainly makes no sense. Here are tips from year past: 2006, 2007, and 2009.
  4. Weddings and any other smachot don't Need to break the bank by design either. One Guest Poster writes about her super-frugal wedding. Here is what we did to keep our wedding under control. I personally think the overspending on weddings is a HUGE issue and if just this one issue could be tackled it would go a long way towards improving "The State of the Union"; shidduchim, shalom bayit, financial issues.. . you name it and the hub practically revolves around the issue of killing ourselves over a one night, 5 hour affair. Ludicrous!
  5. Organizing Cost Effective Grocery Shopping is how we save thousands of dollars a year. Some people love Costco, but I'm apprehensive. I think that good menu planning and shopping the circulars is key. Some don't care to talk about the small numbers, but I am thoroughly convinced that a decade of smart grocery shopping has contributed tremendously to our bottom line.
  6. But, if you like to focus on the big, try Too Much Too Soon which looks at the hidden costs of too much stuff, too much car, too much house, and too many services (yes, I do dare to suggest the cost cutting measure of trying to get away with less services including, but not limited to, cleaning help). In another post I pointed out that a Yated letter writer's budget was not being crushed by tuition, but by the biggies including a huge mortgage and the utilities that go along with it, camp and going to a bungalow colony, and cleaning help amongst other ridiculously large expenses.
  7. Of course, cutting down on peer pressure while choosing to live within your means isn't easy when "everyone" else is spending like there is no tomorrow. I think mitigating peer pressure is important.
  8. Budgeting is key. There are lots of great budgeting software out there. I personally track everything on good 'ol Microsoft Excel which is not particularly the most efficient, but it works for me. Now that I have a bunch of clients on Quickbooks, I will likely stick my own stuff in there since I have so darn much of it and it continues to get more complicated by the day. Budgeting Tool #1 (Monthly Budget Tracking and Summary), Budgeting Tool #2 (Cash Flow Analysis), Budgeting Tool #3 (Asset and Liability Tracker, i.e. a balance sheet. . .but without considering the value of my home because I'm not selling anytime soon, nor borrowing against it), and Budgeting Tool #4 (Year-by-year budget comparison).
  9. Living below your means and saving for the future is important, but you need to insure against the terrible possibility of a death in the family. I wrote about Life Insurance early on, and a reader was kind enough to put together a basic primer on Life Insurance Basics. I have yet to write about disability or long-term care insurance. They too are important. It is naive to think the community will (or even can) pick up the pieces for you as this family in Money Magazine believes (ouch)!
  10. And to round out the Top 10 posts/subject matters, I will just mention that I believe financial issues are best tackled early, with honesty, and with a belief that the problems can be solved through hard work.

Well, that list should provide at least a few things to hang your hat on!

2 - have you or any of your readers considered or seen the following:
creating virtual learning for frum schools as is currently being done for secular colleges and other professional online training.
community limits on simcha spending
a paid service plan like insurance that pays for chasonnas
communities working together to cook for simchas.

Virtual Learning
As far as I know there are entrepreneurs looking to develop virtual learning. I was even fortunate enough to have a guest poster write about Virtual Schooling. Room 613 (sorry I can't remember the web address) is one that I have heard of geared towards frum students. While I try to use my little 'soap box' to look at education alternatives from homeschooling, to hybrid schooling, or alternative schedules (the four day schedule continues to grow on me) as well as news out of public schools, I don't see myself jumping on the virtual learning bandwagon quite yet, but I do believe there is a lot of potential. But this comes from someone who doesn't believe calculators should be used until algebra, and then only a basic 4-function. I'm not a technophobe, but a personal connection to the educator still is a basic for me.

Spending Limits on Smachot
Regarding community spending limit on smachot, I think the plans have helped somewhat, but they aren't very effective. The Agudah put foward some standards in the early part of this decade, but it is hard to take the standards seriously when a disclaimer was offered that the standards would not apply in "exceptional circumstances." The vort, which was supposed to be eliminated, continues to grow in popularity. And, I haven't been to any "normal" weddings where the sisters of the chatan and kallah were not wearing ballroom gowns.

Different Chassidish communities have been experimenting with takanot and, quite frankly, what is laid out in stone is still ridiculously expensive even though the kehilla, unlike those the Agudah targets, are bound to listen. Helping shave costs is important, but when incomes don't cover the expenses, I'm afraid it is time to switch to the "Cake and Punch" option.

And the emphasis on gift-giving (despite the laundry list of mandatory "gifts" being trimmed) is still ridiculously expensive. Furthermore, while I realize that the dating cycle of the modern Orthodox young lady and her Chassidish counterpart are worlds apart, I question the emphasis on gift giving the the yeshivish and Chassidish worlds. I believe that the amount of money spend on gifts is not only terribly expensive and unjust to those without the means, but that it disconnects a the young couple from the reality that is about to hit them when they get married.

The Belz community has decided that interest free loans to the tune of $25,000 for each mechutan is the way to go. I counter that a plan that starts with debt isn't much of a plan at all, even if the massive amount of debt is easier to dig out of because it is interest free. Plus, the gemach fund should be just about all but broke now.

If I were writing a wedding takana it would simply be no loans, not against the house, not against the 401k, and certainly not against the credit card. Once you are dealing with cash, it is an entirely different beast. Bring on the lox and bagels!

Communities working together to cook for simchas

In the first question I pointed to a post on camp co-operatives. There is no reason that families can't come together to provide sides dishes for a brit milah, bar mitzvah, or even a wedding (although it would be problematic in a shul or facility where there needs to be a food license). Sheva berachot very often involve such efforts. There is no reason no to try and promote this solution, perhaps amongst a small group of friends. There are library books about forming co-operatives that are fair to those involved. That would be a good resource to look at if you want to try something in a small community, or amongst demographic, e.g. young couples having their 1st or 2nd child.

3. Has anyone outlined the timeline of frum milestones & financial planning [as is being talked about on ]

I'm not sure I understand the question, so I hope the writer will elaborate.

General financial goals might include: building an emergency fund, saving for a down payment on a home (I'm a traditionalist and still believe in down payments), funding retirement accounts, putting away money for your children's education. Those looking to start their own business or take on a big investment might include milestones to fund and build the business, as well as meet certain milestones in certification, education, and what have you.

Frum milestones would include paying tuition (ouch!), brit milah (the minimum: paying the mohel and serving a seudah to a minyan), bar mitzvah (the minimum: tefillin, tallit where applicable, and either a kiddush or sedah to mark the occassion). Chuppah (the minimum: a ring + a photocopied ketubah+ minyan to be present at and share in the seudah), Levaya-may you live to 120- (minimum: kosher pinebox + kittel + burial plot).

I see no reason to mark any occasion with the bare minimum by design, but I also see no need to make conformity my be all and end all when what the Goldberg's are doing doesn't particularly suit our way of going about things. As, the radio talk show host would say:"Don't even consider keeping up with the[Goldberg's]. THEY'RE BROKE."

with appreciation,

A Reader


Shoshana said...

The virtual learning site can be found at I have a blog on there in case anyone is just chomping at the bit to get to know me better! :)

Please visit the site. It is geared towards Jewish learning empowerment and will be beneficial to Jews of all ages, affiliations, and knowledge levels.

rosie said...

A levaya is at least $12,000 unless something such as the plot itself was paid beforehand. There is an approximately $2000 fee for opening the kever, as well as fees for storage of the mais, transportation from the place of death, and the cost of a metzeiva which if too small will be covered by snow for most of the winter in some climates. Some states require in-ground vaults which is halachically questionable but is mandated due to flooding. There is a fee for this. Graveside services do save some money but mortuary services are not cheap.

Shoshana said...

We have paid a small fortune for term life insurance ever since our first child was born. We are actually shopping around now to see if we can get a better rate as the 10 year term is nearly up. We also had a family trust established in the event... It was a great relief to get that all on paper, including who would take our kids, control the money, etc. I think this is a vital process that too few parents have completed.

Anonymous said...

Shoshana, term rates went down for many years but are now going up.

TDR said...

Regarding getting your house in order this merits a mention

I like how he describes it in the same terms as he describes (term) life insurance: something you do for your family because you love them. A "gift" for your family.


Anonymous said...

My company and the New York Life company are both describing life insurance as "a gift of love" or some such marketing speak in current or recent ad campaigns.

Anonymous said...

It's champing at the bit, not chomping. Common mistake.

x said...

Re levaya fees - I think the O-U had some type of project a while ago to limit costs with that. Here, thanks to google...

In the old days funerals were from houses, like the last residence of the deceased. That could be done now too if necessary. Anyway, I am sure things can be done to limit levaya (lo aleinu) costs along the lines SL has proposed re chassunas, etc. It's high time some of the ripoff artists/crooks in that business are put in their place, if not totally out of business.

x said...

SL - check out this fine article - right up your alley.

City Tech Professor’s Advice to Freshmen: ‘Don’t Be Lured into Credit Card Debt’

Anonymous said...

I don't understand 12,000 for a funeral. When someone I know passed away and already had a plot, the total cost (excluding only a donation to the rabbi's discretionary fund and the headstone, limo for the family and the deatth certificates) was $2,000 because the synagogue had a contract with the funeral home to do all the funeral/burials for a fixed fee in exchange for the shul requiring anyone using its cemetary to use that funeral home. A co-worker whose catholic mother died and had the fancy wake with 250 people, a fancy casket, etc. paid about $7,000 excluding the plot and stone. Where in the world does the 12,000 figure come from.

Jeremy said...

just making sure you saw this-

Orthonomics said...

Thanks Jeremy-I will head on over. Haven't seen it.

Regarding funeral expenses: I think that is we reach a "burial crisis" point, the tuition discussion will be long gone.

Anonymous said...

Regarding virtual schooling, there is a yeshiva in SC that decided to take advantage of virtual charter schools in it's state. They trimmed tuition costs by offering full limudei kodesh, but only serving as a "learning coach" for students enrolled at any of the SC virtual schools. Time will tell whether this option was a success.