Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Story about class parties

Since I am trying to post more, I thought I would share a "funny" story from my son's 3rd birthday in his classroom (this was two years ago).

You have to bring store-bought food. (I imagine that is the case at any frum school.) So, instead of bringing DH's excellent baking, we brought cupcakes from the kosher bakery. (Very expensive and not that great-tasting, by the way.) Well, the daughter of the family that owns the bakery is in my son's class - and she announced, "My daddy made these cupcakes!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Birthday Parties

Ever since my kindergarden class ran amok through my parents' house at my 5th birthday party, I was part of the majority of people at my school whose parties were at a location. Some I remember attending were ice skating, miniature golf, Chuck E. Cheese or other restaurant, or gymnastics. In my son's class, the popular locations are Little Gym and similar locations at which the entire center is a party place.

While I know these are enjoyable and (if one can afford them) it is a real treat for the kids, I have to say that I really prefer the low-key parties that most of our close friends here give for their kids. The parties generally include a craft, homemade games, free play, and cake and milk. Many of the parties are in the basement to decrease the mess to clean up. The party we went to yesterday included half an hour of playing in the family's backyard.

What I also love, and I don't know if this is widespread, is that generally the whole family is invited to these parties. This makes it less work for the hosting mom, and more community-oriented. It also sets up a situation where the kids are used to the idea that their parents are still part of their life, not just the chauffers.

One other thing that is different than when I was growing up - the kids generally do NOT open the gifts during the party. This eliminates comparing gifts and opportunity for nasty remarks. (Of course, the parents need to remind the birthday child to say thank you to each guest when they leave, instead of during gift opening time, and to send a specific thank you note afterwards.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cutting Costs - Food

Sorry for the delay in continuing my posts (assuming anyone is still checking...)

Because kosher food tends to cost more, and food is such a big part of one's budget, it seems that this is the first logical place to re-examine costs. Again, this is following the idea presented by SephardiLady of looking for ways to save money wherever possible.

1. Expand your range of "acceptable" hechshers. Do your own research as to why there is or isn't an issue with hechshers you aren't familiar with. Don't just rely on your next door neighbor telling you "we don't eat that." There is a major hechsher in our area that is found on supermarket bread. If you don't use this hechsher, you are going to pay more for bread. And large numbers of people do not use it. We did our research through a respected rav and found out that the reasons are political, not halachic. The more hechshers you eat, the more you can utilize coupons and sales. We rely on Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of KosherQuest (who was one of my husband's rebbeim in high school, and according to my husband is "one of the frummest people I know.")

2. Not keeping chalav yisrael. It is more expensive, prevents you from using coupons/supermarket sales to buy the cheapest products, and is often wasted. See this week's Orthonomics post on the topic and the comments there. (One tells of a family who was spending $30 a week extra on chalav yisrael, while they were struggling to pay their necessary expenses.)

3. DH (Barak of Am Kshe Oref fame...) has posted previously about the question of whether we can change the standard of eating glatt kosher, which is a chumra, but at the moment there is no convenient kosher alternative. In the meantime, he also made phone calls and found a wholesaler from whom to get meat at more affordable prices. We got a group together to place the required size for the order. This is something one can arrange in most communities without too much effort and WITH very significant savings.

4. Compare prices between your local kosher store and other grocery sources - and buy the lowest prices. Don't buy from your local kosher shop because you feel you have to spend your parnassa giving the other person their parnassa. They are running a business - they need to compete with other businesses as far as selection, service, and pricing in order to attract customers. Also, if you happen to have a local kosher store that consistently provides food that spoils immediately and ends up in the garbage, don't keep spending your money on that food.

There is a lot of peer pressure to take on chumras for food - in other words, to limit ones choices of brands, and therefore not be able to buy things with coupons or on sale, and not be able to bargain shop. There is also pressure to buy from kosher merchants, even ones who don't feel the same need to provide quality products and polite service to those who are supporting their businesses. But peer pressure is not a reason to go into debt.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Defining the problem

My friend SephardiLady put my post as a guest post on Orthonomics, and there ahs been a lot of great discussion. I intend to write more about the specifics that I have in mind for cutting costs of Orthodox life, but something has been a block to posting. I finally figured out what has been bothering me about the original discussion on Orthonomics, and why I am having trouble writing the follow up.

As I discussed previously, the original article that started the discussion was focused on (correctly) advising people who are successful financially to not waste their money trying to "keep up with the Cohens" to the point that some people go into debt while insisting on living extravagent lives. My problem with the tone of the article, however, was that this advice does not apply to people who are not already at a high point financially.

Then SephardiLady and others responded with more practical money-saving suggestions applicable to the average person. In theory, someone who is "ok" financially, and looked for ways to live frugally, would be able to put some money aside every month so that emergencies didn't turn into crises, and so that families could live comfortably. My original response to this is, fine but why not make similar frugal decisions in religious areas - save money on Shabbos expenses, clothing, kosher food, etc. But something was still bothering me about even this approach:

The more disposable income we have, the more I will be required to hand over to two institutions: private school and shul dues. The top amount of tuition is so high that no one who isn't in the very top in income can afford to pay full tuition for several children and still have anything left over to live. On top of these two amounts, there is a third problem - you must live somewhere within walking distance of a shul, and those are always the most expensive areas of any town, even a very cheap town like Cleveland.

People who make $50,000 a year do not normally send their children to private school, and do not normally live in the most expensive area of town. And those people can clip coupons and shop at Walmart and end up living a financially secure life. How does a frum family who makes $50,000 a year, sends multiple children to private school, and lives in a more expensive area of their town get by? They go into debt. And if they manage to save $3000 of disposable income, the school cuts their financial aid by $3000. And they better not even think about buying a home to raise their children in, because their financial aid will be cut even more because they are a homeowner.

There is really no way around the fact that private school is the biggest issue here. And believe me, I love my son's school. But there may very likely come a time when we just can't do it, and we are one of many who are in that situation.

I am rewriting a lot of this post as I write because I don't want to sound as negative as I feel....Yesterday my husband and I found our dream home. It's not just a house, it felt like home the minute we walked in. The previous owner loved the home and put so much work into it, and the decor is exactly us. It was huge, and beautiful, and I want to raise my children there. But we can't afford to buy it. The person is willing to rent for one year, but then will put it back on the market this summer. We had to decide if we realistically will have the money to buy in eight months. If we don't, I can't bring myself to move into our home and then have it taken away. And, realistically, we won't have that money available because if we did make that much, we would need to pay higher tuition to the school, and if we bought a house in this neighborhood we for sure would be asked to pay a higher amount. I am very sad about this. (The only sunshine in the situation is that my son didn't like the layout of the rooms, where he would be on a different floor than we would, and he's thrilled that we're not taking it.)