Category Archives: other personal finance topics
Breastfeeding’s minimal cost is not the most important reason for doing it, but it sure helps. In this post, Hannah Katsman of A Mother in Israel and Cooking Manager gives tips for expectant mothers on preparing for breastfeeding and getting help after birth, with an eye toward saving money.
I recently met a friend, pregnant with her first baby. “I haven’t thought about breastfeeding much,” she told me. “I figure that instinct will take over.”
I wish that were true. But mothers with the best intentions can still have problems. Hospital policies conflict with best breastfeeding practices, and the staff may not have the time or skills to help. When there is a even a slight complication, medical professionals, family and friends often discourage a vulnerable mother, who may not have the information or emotional resources to investigate or to challenge the system.
Breastfeeding *is* instinctual for babies. Mouth muscles are among the few that newborn babies can control—it’s a question of survival. But for mothers, breastfeeding must be learned. When breastfeeding was the norm, girls and women saw moms nursing all the time so they knew the basics. For instance:
- How to hold and position the baby.
- Babies nurse frequently and not necessarily on a schedule.
- Babies are not always calm between feedings.
- Nursing is pleasurable, and calms babies and mothers. It’s not just food.
How can expectant mothers prepare for a good start to breastfeeding?
- Learn from mothers who enjoy breastfeeding. If you don’t know any personally, try La Leche League, a volunteer organization comprised of experienced breastfeeding mothers trained to give information and support to others. Membership within Israel, at NIS 80 a year, goes toward translations, publications, and leader enrichment. With membership you can go to any group in the country and get a discount on conferences and parenting books. It’s a good investment because as you learn what’s normal and how to prevent common problems, so you can continue nursing for as long as you want. The recommended donation for a single meeting is NIS 20.
- Read as much as you can. The critical early days are the also most challenging, so knowing what is normal and what’s not will help you decide whether you need help. Avoid literature and gifts, especially free powder, from formula companies. Their goal is to discourage breastfeeding, and they are good at what they do. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and So That’s What They’re For are two good examples.
- Consult with a breastfeeding professional before birth, especially if you have a chronic condition requiring medication (most are safe), a history of hormonal issues or breast surgery, or if you suspect a breast abnormality. If you failed at breastfeeding an older baby, you may want to review the situation to prevent similar problems.
- Choose a hospital that a) encourages natural birth, b) keeps baby and mother together day and night until discharge, c) has professional lactation consultants on staff, and d) encourages breastfeeding after a cesarean or when the mother is not mobile. And find out from new mothers whether the policy is enforced.
How to get free or inexpensive breastfeeding help after the baby is born
Israel is a country of Jewish mothers, and they all like to give out breastfeeding advice. But there is a difference between a neighbor sharing her personal experience, and a professional who has been trained to counsel mothers and provide information from reliable sources.
In Israel, many women call themselves breastfeeding counselors or lactation consultants yet do not have certification. In Israel there are two main organizations that can put you in touch with a qualified helper.
La Leche League:
La Leche League Israel’s website includes a Hebrew and English forum, listings of support groups throughout the country including several in English, and home phone numbers of Leaders. A free breastfeeding hotline operates five days a week at 1599-525-821.
LLL Leaders (see above) mainly lead support groups and provide phone counseling. Since LLL Leaders are volunteers they generally don’t do home visits. You can usually get free one-on-one help at a meeting, but it’s best to arrange this with the Leader in advance.
LLL specializes in the whole picture as well as technical issues. They can help the mother pinpoint the problem and determine whether she needs additional help. Sometimes a mother is sure she needs a home visit, when a phone call can resolve the problem.
La Leche League International’s website has English forums for mothers and articles on a wide range of breastfeeding subjects.
Professional Lactation Consultants:
A growing number International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) work in Israel. IBCLCs have amassed a large number of clinical hours, taken a comprehensive course, and passed an exam. IBCLCs focus mainly on problems immediately after birth that requiree evaluation and instruction in person.
Some IBCLCs get their clinical hours as nurses in the hospital maternity ward, others with LLL and still others through breastfeeding clinics. Try to get a personal recommendation and talk for a few minutes to see if you click. Also clarify how much the visit will cost, and whether it includes follow-up.
IBCLCs make work through private clinics or home visits, and charge for their services (typically around NIS 400). A few work in health funds and hospitals. It may be possible to get a refund from your health fund for an IBCLC visit, depending on your level of insurance. For instance, members of Clalit Mushlam can get a private consultation for NIS 150. The organization of IBCLCs has a list of members who see mothers through Tipat Chalav well-baby clinics throughout the country (in Hebrew, best viewed with Internet Explorer). At Mamash in Tel Aviv, you can be part of a group consultation at a reduced price of NIS 200 (03-647-2411).
Feed Your Baby Frugally at Cooking Manager.
Recently my sister convinced my wife and I to begin watching a Canadian show called Being Erica. The show is about a 32-year old woman who feels that her life is a compilation of bad decisions. She meets a ”therapist” who asks her to list her regrets and sends her back in time once an episode to redo some of what she considers the most pivotal points in her life, when she made some of her worst decisions.
I could not help but think when watching this show about some of the pivotal financial decisions I made in my life and what kind of impact they have.
Here are some of the best and worst financial decisions I have made, and how I think they have affected my life.
My best financial decisions:
Pushing off aliyah for a year: I pushed off my aliyah from August 2005 to August 2006 in order to take a job as a teacher for a year. While this did not fill the coffers indefinitely, it did give me the proper cushion I need in order to make it in Israel. This money would serve as a down payment on the apartment I currently rent, and help me support myself though what was one of the most difficult times to be involved in a job search.
Trying new ideas: When I was in Chicago, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc (very painful). My doctor insisted that the only thing he could do was give me cortisone shots and a ton of vicodin until I would be able to raise $20,000 for back surgery. I did not sleep for nearly a year and was on the verge of taking out a high interest loan in order to pay for the surgery. The vicodin made me very edgy and snappy (I started watching House because 3 people independent of one another told me that I reminded them of House during this period.) Finally and in desperation, at the insistence of a family friend, I read a book and followed the program of Dr. John Sarno, head of rehabilitation at NYU medical center. Within 6 weeks I was completely healed and have had no back or leg pain since (my seasonal allergies and lactose intolerance went away as well.) If you suffer chronic pain, I highly recommend reading one of his books. You should be skeptical; I was, but an open mind saved me a ton of money.
Learning in Bar-Ilan’s Kollel instead of getting a job: During my MBA, I had to choose one of two options in order to make money (1) get a part time job or (2) learn in Bar-Ilan’s Kollel. After calculating how much the Kollel would be paying an hour, I realized that it would be paying more than a part-time job. More importantly, learning in an Israeli Kollel gave me the opportunity to learn at a much more advanced level. Finally, my ability to work in my job today is partially the result of the Hebrew I picked up learning in the Kollel.
My worst financial decisions:
Not knowing what I wanted to do in college: My generation is defined by desiring a plethora of opportunities so much so that it leaves many of us unable to make a decision. I took some business courses in undergrad, but I probably should have majored in business in undergrad, as opposed to going for an MBA. I really don’t think it would have made a difference in the job market and probably would have saved me a ton of money. This of course brings me to my biggest regret financially…
My student loans: All my life I have heard that student loans are “a fact of life” and “good debt.” I no longer believe there is such a thing as “good debt.” Unless you are certain that the additional education will get you a job that will pay back the loan in spades, I strongly recommend against taking out a student loan. I went to an inexpensive undergrad, so I am not worried about the loans from there, but the loans from business school are finally beginning to catch up with me. If I were to do it all again, I would only go to undergrad, and try to make sure my loans were paid off as soon as possible. And for grad school – I would only go if I were to be subsidized, sponsored (often times employers will foot the bill), or if I saved the money to pay for the entire thing up front.
I remember back in yeshiva that one of my Rabbis told me that he never missed a day of putting on tefillin since he was 20. Not 13, but 20. He said that just because he messed up when he was young does not mean that he cannot learn from it and make sure his future is what it should be. When he makes it to 120, I think the angles will be more impressed that he wore tefillin every day for 100 years than upset that he missed a bunch of days the first 7. Taking the right step now, religiously, socially and financially is the best thing one can do. Not only will it make up for past mistakes in time, but it may bring forth new opportunities and possibilities that will make the journey worthwhile.
I was honored to be e-mailed a question from one of our readers about a personal finance issue she is facing in Israel. With her permission, I would like to respond to this e-mail publicly, as to help other facings a similar dilemma.
Disclaimer: I do not advise any specific financial course of action that one should take. The information presented on this site is for informational purpose only; consult a financial advisor as you finances may vary.
Reader: “…I had the strangest conversation in the park with some American who lives in Chashmoniam (but didn’t make Aliyah?)–he said that he thinks the dollar will weaken even further against the shekel and will wind up at 2.9 NIS, even lower than last summer. We should put as much money as possible into NIS ASAP. At this point I had to wrangle my kids and didn’t get to ask him why he thinks so.
Do you have any insight? We have a fair amount of money still in the US (retirement funds, funds for our kids, proceeds from the sale of our apt–this just went through in the past few weeks–which we hope to put into an apt/house here in the next 2-3 yrs).
I fully admit to not having a really clear understanding of how the strengthening/weakening process works, for the record :)”
Shomer Shekalim: This is one the biggest questions facing American Olim. Many are unsure where the dollar is going and begin to panic, not knowing if their move will net big profits or ruin a good retirement plan. I have a friend who, a few years ago, said the same thing as your friend from Hashmonaim. He moved his money from dollars to shekels when the rate was $1: ₪3.2, netting a huge loss.
I personally have no idea where the currency rate will go. On one hand, the United States is throwing out money like it is nothing, so there should be inflation, which will bring down the value of the currency. On the other hand, other countries do the same and all exchange rates are relative. Also, since most countries are heavily invested in the dollar, they could not take a crashing dollar taking all of their exporting business. And, as always, politics will play behind the scenes in ways that no one can know, so it becomes even more difficult to see what will happen.
Like any investment, the way to safety is diversification. Dividing your money between a few currencies, specifically those are likely to rise when the dollar falls, will minimize your risk. Many people have differing opinions about what is the “best” currency: some believe it is the euro, some say the yuan, some say the pound, and others the franc. Since you are working with dollars and shekels, I’d begin with these two. Your bank account should not look like the UN, but diversifying even a bit would minimize your risk. But remember, diversification is not a tool to make you money. Some currencies will rise and some will fall, but overall, a diversified account should keep you at about the same amount of money.
A few notes:
(1) If you have debt in US dollars – keep money in the United States to pay off that debt. Don’t play around with money designated for a debt. Remember, whether the dollar rises or falls, your money in US Dollars and your debt will offset one another.
(2) If your money is in an IRA, you might be better off not touching it. You mentioned in the question that you are afraid of your dollars loosing 25% of its value. Well, if you take it out of your IRA it will be taxed and you will loose around 25% of the value (check with you accountant to see what rate you’ll be taxed). In this case, you’d only be increasing your risk by moving this money.
(3) Foreign currencies are not an investment. No matter what currency you put your money into, you need to set up a sort of tax exempt retirement account that will make you money for your retirement. For that, you need to speak to an expert in the field in America and in Israel. Hope this helps.
If anyone would like to send me any questions to answer, publically or not please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com
Disclaimer (another one): I am not a financial advisor; I do not advise on investments. I frankly don’t know what will go up and what will fall. But if you have any questions of how to manage your household money in Israel, I am your guy.
A few years ago, when I was planning the honors to give to friends and Rabbis at my wedding, I called a friend of mine to ask him to be a witness. He gave a strange reply. He told me that I should ask my Rabbi if he (my friend) can be a witness; my friend hosts a weekly poker game and was afraid it would make him an invalid witness. I called my Rabbi and was told to play it safe and give my friend a different honor. My friend recited the sixth bracha under the chupah instead and my marriage is not suspect.
I have nothing against gambling. I know the dangers, and society, both religiously and secularly, has done a pretty good job explaining them to me. But what I do mind is gambling when I do not intend to. Worst of all, I despise those who prey on the poor, misrepresent gambling and draw the innocent into an addiction against their will. This is why I hate Forex.
Forex dealers to not honestly present risk, causing many to gamble and loose what they do not intend. Forex is dishonestly advertised as being easy to understand, with sites and courses teaching people how easy it is to make money. They tell people to look at interest rates, trends, and other basic financial tools. The truth is that in the real world, these tools are speculative at best; so many political issues play behind the scene that it is nearly impossible to figure out exactly when the currency will change. But even if someone were to use the tools advertised to teach in minutes what economists spend years learning and still fail to fully grasp, the model of Forex sites would still be a gamble. All of the tools for understanding where a currency rate is headed can only help one learn what it will be in the long run. If one were to invest as a day trader, the way most people do on foreign currency sites, then they are only interested in the short run. One may as well ignore all of those intelligent economic tools and just look for political surprises and natural disasters; these are the only two tools that will be able to measure what will happen to a particular currency immediately. But foreign currency sites will never tell their customers that they are taking completely unintelligent shots in the dark and should only think 30 seconds in the future – because that would make their sites look like the simple gambling sites they are.
Forex dealers manipulate their customers in order to turn a profit. Foreign currency sites do not make money if the cutomer gains or looses money; they make money when the customer moves money, irrespective of whether he or she wins or looses. So, in order to make more money, Forex dealers have to get their customers addicted and enable them to trade greater sums. The weapons of choice are up to the minute news and leverage.
The news on a foreign currency site is designed to get the customer nervous and feel that he or she knows the inside scoop, so that he or she will make more trades immediately. Foreign currency trading sites try to balance this by putting forth a warning to their customers not to get addicted. Imagine inviting someone over for drinks, warning him that drinking is addictive, and then enticing him for drink after drink until he is an addict. Clearly there is no good in telling him drinking is addictive if you are not only feeding, but causing his addiction.
Leverage is designed to enable customers to trade much larger sums than they have available and reach levels or risk that would make a roulette player nervous. Sites offer customers the option to “buy” up to 100 times what they have, which can amplify profits tremendously, but offer financial ruin as well (again, sites give a warning in order to cover themselves legally, but they still entice the customer.) Not that the Forex dealers care; their only concern is that the customer converts more money so that they can earn more money on the conversion.
So why do I hate FXCM, specifically? Although they prey alongside an industry of snakes, they themselves offer what some call a best case scenario. Their customer service is considered good, their technology is considered fantastic, and their pricing is better than most. What gets me about FXCM is their marketing of snake oil to the poor. Recently, the heads of FXCM got a seal of approval from Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern, on behalf of Rav Vosner’s Beit Din, approving of their practices, and allowing them to make gambling with foreign currencies permissible in the Haredi world. I cannot imagine any Halachic authority taking the steps necessary for something this dangerous to begin to plague an already destitute community. I can only imagine that the esteemed Rabbi is unaware of the dangers on which he is signing off, and will, upon realizing them, retract his decision. Unfortunately, many in the Haredi community will have to suffer addiction and financial ruin in order for its leaders to take action.
If the lottery is a tax on poor people, then foreign currency trading is an albatross placed around the neck of the innocent to weigh them down and kill them. If you know anyone engaging in such an activity, please plan an intervention and get him or her out of it. If you know any Rabbis that have any influence, please bring this to their attention. The millions of dollars you will save the poor will be one of the greatest forms of tzedakah you ever give.
Generally speaking, more money is good money. But we don’t just earn money; we pay for it with time, effort, sometimes even peace of mind. As we all struggle to earn money, the most important decision we make is if the money earned is worth what we give up for it.
But if one does not know the value of money earned, one cannot deduce if it is worth his or her time. It is precisely this reason that the marginal shekel must be evaluated. The marginal shekel refers to how much of the next shekel you make you’ll actually receive. In order to deduce this, taxes and insurance are taken out in order to see how much one actually receives out of his next shekel.
The following chart shows the marginal shekel rate at the various intervals where it changes.
*unless written otherwise, it is assumed that the worker is paying taxes.
Consider the following cases:
Case one: taking time off of work. Many workers are scared of missing any work out of the fear that he or she cannot afford it. But one must remember that the money that will be deducted is the money that is taxed the most. Suppose someone makes ₪ 10,000 a month and is deciding if he or she should take off an extra day for a vacation. As it turns out, the true value of that day is really only 65% of what one might think it is. In this case the extra day would really only cost ₪ 256, not ₪ 465 (assuming there were 22 work days in the month.)
Case two: overtime payment. In Israel, overtime is 125% and then 150%. But remember, this money will be taxed at your highest rate. If one is making over ₪ 12,250, then every extra hour of work is not really earning 125% and 150%; rather 72.5% and 87% respectively.
Case three: How much money should each spouse in the marriage strive to bring in? This is a very difficult and extremely complicated question with so many factors. With God’s help, I plan to tackle this question next week.
Growing up in NY, most of my friends had stories about how their grandparents came to NY in the early 1900s and struggles for survival. Not me. My great-grandfather was already a millionaire by the time my friends’ families were signing their papers in Ellis Island. By the summer of August 1929 my grandfather was worth over 27 million dollars, and was well invested in real estate and, of course, the stock market.
You probably already know where this story is headed. By the end of October, he was no longer a millionaire; in fact, he was $80,000 in debt. At the end of the month, my great-grandfather did the only thing he thought he could do. He found a safe where he stored his last $3,000 in cash, took his family to Atlantic City for a few weeks, and blew the very last of his savings on a nice, long vacation.
During this vacation, my great-grandfather had time to think about what he was going to do. He thought practically, rolled up his sleeves, and realized that he was still a college-educated, experienced accountant, and could probably find work somewhere, perhaps not immeadiately, but in due time. Of course, as soon as he would return, he would have to sell his house, liquidate most of his assets and move, with his wife and three kids, into a small, one-bedroom apartment in the cheap side of town, which is exactly what he did.
My great-grandfather’s decision to spend the last of his money in Atlantic City saved his life. Most of his friends, upon loosing their fortunes, committed suicide. But by spending his money and enjoying it to the end, he gave himself the piece of mind needed to go on and adjust to the harsh reality.
There are many lessons one can take from this story. Sometimes splurging a bit is not wrong, but, on the contrary, necessary to preserve piece of mind. And when you splurge, you should do so with an open heart, and a realistic mind, but never with a guilty conscience.
To the jobseekers and hard workers who read this blog – you are probably aware what happens after the chagim. The job market will finally be open, after over a year of being closed. The wait may finally be over and a new, more productive era of jobsearching will be on the horizon. But before the new round of jobs comes, we will celebrate Sukkot, the holiday nicknamed “the time of our joy.” Obviously you should budget yourself, but don’t be afraid to spend a little more to enjoy the Holiday. You never know, it might buy you the piece of mind you need in order to roll up your sleeves and find that job you’re looking for.
When I lived in Chicago, I attended one of the oldest, most famous Yeshivot in the United States. Its history went back to the early 1900s and it alumni numbered in the tens of thousands. And yet, this Yeshiva, with all its history and support, never seemed to be able to raise enough money to keep its head high above water. On the other hand, the Yeshiva was never bankrupt, and always kept on living with just enough money to live, but not enough to thrive. An alumnus of the Yeshiva once told me “the alumni of the Yeshiva will not donate enough to make it thrive, but they will never let it fail.”
The United States faces a similar predicament in connection to the other major nations of the world. On one hand, the United States is just not making enough to sustain its lifestyle, plain and simple. On the other hand, the United States is the biggest market and no one wants to loose their best customer.
The United States generally tries to grow its economy using a two pronged strategy – debt and inflation. The United States borrows money to invest in its own economy and grow its sectors. But this will hurt the economy by causing inflation
How does debt weaken the economy? Let me offer the following analogy. Suppose there is a pizza, which is divided in half. I, as a private owner, own the right to two slices. Now each slice is the size of half of the pizza. So, when I promise to give my own family, two slices, I am promising a full pizza. Now suppose the original owner of the pizza promised someone else two slices as well. How can he pay us both? He will cut the pizza into four slices and give us each two. So I still get two slices only now they are much smaller.
When the government goes into debt, it promises another nation money. No one is going to take it from us, but we will pay for it via inflation (when our slices become smaller.) We suddenly loose our buying power (our currency weakens). The solution is then not to pay the other nation back, but to compile the loan and go into further debt.
But there is a good side to debt as well; when the US is indebted to other nations, then the United States becomes one of the other nations’ chief concerns. The nations will not let the US fail because they do not want to loose their investment.
So the other nations try to make sure the United States will “live it out.” They print more of their own currencies (cut their pizza into littler pieces) so that the rate of our currency (slices) to their currency (slices) remains the same.
The long and short of this is that the ratio of our currency to that of other countries is fluctuating, not based on how the market demands it should go, but based on what new economic policy will be adopted, which has a lot more to do with lobbying and much less to do with the actual needs of the economy. The clashing of these two issues is what has caused an unstable dollar over the past few years.
This is only part of what makes playing with currencies so dangerous, and advertisements, like this one, amazingly deceiving: (I took this ad from a ynet article – no shock there).
When I am asked what I should do with my money, leave it in dollars or turn it into shekels, I have to answer that I do not know. I don’t have any insider knowledge into what the US will do next, how the EU will respond and the impact on Israel’s imports and exports. I don’t know if the economic policies mixed with the actual economic reality will work for the favor of either side currency because I lack too much information of what is going on behind closed doors.
So I ignore it. My money is diversified between dollars and shekels: when I need an in Israel I use shekels, and when I buy stuff in America I use dollars. I may not be making any additional money, but I minimize my losses and my worries as well.