One of the most common money saving tips I see is for people to not take their children foodshopping. The logic is that kids will want to buy excessive luxuries and will force their parents to stray from the shopping list and family budget. Often, experts will refer to studies on marketing towards kids, pointing out how natural it is for children to be taken in by such marketing and how hazardous it can be on your wallet.
I respectfully disagree. No, I don’t disagree about the potential dangers of marketing towards children, nor do I disagree to the danger it can pose to the family budget. I disagree with the idea that parents should have to hide their children from marketing instead of teaching their children to deal with it.
Teaching your children to deal with impulses is one of the fundamental roles of a parent. As children grow up, they will be bombarded with advertisements for clothes, electronics, even cars and homes, and if they do not know how to deal with this sort of marketing, God help them.
I grew up with a single mother who usually worked at least 2 jobs. Between cleaning the house, cooking for Shabbat, studying with me and my sister for every single test until junior high, and doing everything else that being a single mother entails, I am sure that foodshopping was not on top of my mom’s list. But my mom did not leave me home because she wanted to pinch a few more pennies. My mom took me and my sister shopping with her to spend time together and do something as a family. We talked in the car, saved some time by dividing the work (“you get the cucumbers and tomatoes; I’ll get the fruit”) and enjoyed spending time in each other’s company.
“But Jon,” you’ll politely interrupt, “what do I do if my kid throws a hissy fit in the middle of the store?”
You discipline him. You teach that child that we are not animals and are not meant to run on impulse. You teach him that such behavior is unacceptable. And you teach your child to deal with impulses before your child falls into massive debt while leading a superficial life because he was never taught to say “no.”
This does not mean that my mom did not spoil me a bit when we went out. Since some of the foodshopping had to be done in Monsey we would often get pizza for dinner (no Kosher pizza in my home town of New City). Sometimes I would get a comic book as well. While foodshopping, my mom would let me choose my own cereal (which is why I still enjoy buying cereal to this day) and would occasionally let me get other stuff as well. But by no means did she let me get every single item I wanted. My mom knew her limits and taught me to stay within them.
My wife told me that she had a very similar story growing up. Her father would take her and her two siblings foodshopping and would tell them that they could each get one candy each, no more. They learned to enjoy what they got and learned to deal with marketing in a responsible way.
In short, parents who do not teach their children to deal with temptation are doing them a tremendous disservice. And as hard as it is, teaching a child to skip on a shiny candy is much simpler than teaching a spoiled teenager that he or she does not need the newest mp4 device. But I guess that is what real parenting is all about.
It’s almost that time again. Pretty soon we’ll be rolling in dmei havrah and planning our getaways. Last year around this time I discussed how to save ₪ 1000 on your next vacation. Now I’d like to discuss the flip side – how to get an extra ₪ 1000 out of your vacation.
#1 – Plan, but be flexible. I love planning trips. I enjoy going through the municipality’s website, reading blogs for ideas, building an itinerary and then googling for coupons (just type in the attraction, hotel, tzimer or resteraunt and the word “קופון” – you’ll be surprised how much you’ll find). But despite best efforts, life happens and it becomes necessary to play it by ear. Sometimes a new interest pokes its head; maybe the planned idea just isn’t working out. No matter what, the best thing is to not take it personally and be open to alternatives. Try to make a mental list of the things you want to do and set a priority. Then when you’re running late, it won’t be such a big deal to strike a less important activity from the list and enjoy your vacation. Speaking of which…
#2 – Remember what you’re buying. A vacation is a purchase like any other, only you are buying an experience, not a thing. And it is very important to remember this. Getting frustrated and yelling can ruin an otherwise wonderful trip. On the other hand, letting little things go and planning time to relax can pay off immensely. Last year, I woke up and found a long line of ants in the bathroom of our tzimmer, leading up the area where my wife and I left our toothbrushes. I could have freaked out, called a manager and probably have even debated a discount on the room at that point. But at what cost? My wife would be freaked out and have horrible memories of what should be a wonderful vacation, just because of a few ants. So I took some tissues, spent a minute cleaning up the ants and, on our way out for the day’s activities, I kindly explained the situation to the woman in charge and asked her to spray while we were out. When we got back, the room was spotless, the bathroom was fixed up and the woman in charge went out of her way to help us in any way possible for the remainder of the trip (the managers are used to people freaking over small things like this, they appreciate people who are a bit more understanding.)
#3 – Take pictures – People need tangible objects to appreciate the intangible. This is why beauty parlors leave out beauty magazines in their shops and other service providers give out small trinkets to remember them by. And now that we live in the age of digital pictures, taking pictures is a one time expense with no marginal cost per picture (or roll of film). So take a bunch of pictures and spend some time after the trip to go over the pictures and take in and appreciate what you saw and did.
#4 – Save marginally – You can still stretch a dollar on a trip. Last year, as I was getting ready to order a cab from Zichron Yaakov to Binyamina and later Ramat HaNadiv, my wife decided to text Egged and see if there was a bus that could take us instead. She found a bus that took us to exactly where we needed to go, within ten minutes. Over the course of the trip, her tactics saved us about ₪ 250.
#5 – Spend marginally – At the end of one of our trips my wife and I were expecting to go horseback riding with what we though was going to be a few couples at a ranch by Netanya. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it turned out we would be riding with a large group of around 30 rowdy teenage guys. Marginally, I had the option of our payment by ₪ 150 for a private tour with just the instructor, my wife and myself. Considering (1) my wife just saved us a ton so money by avoiding the cabs and much more importantly (2) the current situation would have been a horrible experience for my wife and would have been a waste of the money we were already paying, I gave the rancher the extra money and my wife and I had a wonderful time.
#6 – Take advantages of your surroundings and make your own activities – Try to find those spots that are not “anytown” Israel and make due with the local flavor. The last time my family visited, we made a picnic in the Old City of Tzfat with some local cheese (we finally found it!), olives, and grape leaves. And really, is there any meal more Tzfaty?
Have a great vacation season.
By the way, if you’re looking for some ideas of what do in Israel this is a map I made of places I have been (in blue) and places I want to go to (in yellow). I left out Jerusalem because simply put, Jerusalem has too much to offer and cannot fit on a simple map.
Please feel free to add to the map if you like. Also, if you have any questions or want any recommendations on where I have been, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com
Last week I received an e-mail from Hannah (A Mother In Israel) pointing to an interesting question on the Petah Tikvah board. The post read as follows:
We need to buy a stove and oven and I would like to buy one that uses gas since the price of electricity is so high in Israel.
Could anyone recommend a place to buy a gas stove and oven? Also, is there any reason why electric would be preferable?
It is an interesting question and one that I never considered. I grew up with an electric stove and loved it, but when I moved into my current place I switched to gas because that’s what was already there. As an electricity user, I feared using gas, but my wife convinced me to stick with what we were given because (1) she prefers gas and does most of the cooking anyways (don’t worry, I clean) (2) most people’s houses do not blow up Die-Hard style even though they have gas and (3) it’s not like we had the money to buy a new stove anyways.
Getting back to the questions, which is better? I searched the internet (thanks google!) and ran across an article from wisebuy.co.il that discusses the issue in regard to stoves.
To summarize, gas is more exact for cooking, much less on an initial investment (about a third of the price of electric stove), cheaper and easier to repair broken parts, and allows you to cook things that need direct fire.
On the other hand, electricity is easier to clean, less dangerous, and will cost slightly less per month .
I would like to add a few more things to consider:
(1) While an electric stove costs a lot more than a gas one, an electric oven is probably cheaper (I bought my oven for ₪ 300 about a month ago).
(2) You can change the heat of the fire for gas on Yom Tov while many do not allow such a leniency by electric stoves.
(3) In order for fresh liver to be Kosher, it has to be done over an open flame, so you’d need either a gas stove or a BBQ.
In short, I’d go with a gas stove and an electric oven. It seems to be the cheapest combo and, as I said before, my wife is really the one who chooses the appliances anyways.
What do you use?
This was originally an e-mail I sent out a year ago for Shavuot. As a giver of tzedakah, a worker for a tzedakah, and yes, even a recipient, this d’var Torah sums up my feelings and experience being on both sides of the coin.
There is a problem with chessed (kindness). Chessed kills. Every time something is done for someone else, that person feels that a small part of his independence has been taken away, that a small part of him has died. Chazal tell us “he who hates [receiving] gifts [is one who] lives.” – not “is better off,” but “lives.” Additionally, according to Chazal, the only true act of chessed is for one who is dead. This is because only by performing chessed for the dead does one give in such a way that it does kill the person who receives the chessed.
Lot was crushed by the chessed of Avraham Avinu. The more Avraham did for Lot, the more Lot hated Avraham. Lot eventually leaves Avraham and becomes a dayan (government official) in Sodom, a land defined by the antithesis of chessed, a land where “what is mine is mine and yours is yours.” When Lot eventually is forced to leave Sodom, the angels offer him to go to Avraham, but Lot refuses to go. As long as he is by Avraham, he is crushed by Avraham’s chessed and his independence is lost.
Avraham was not the first being to encounter such a reaction to chessed; God was. Upon being approached by God for his partaking in forbidden fruit, Adam not only admits his sin, but according to the Midrash adds “and I’ll eat it again.” Any scenario, no matter how much it reflects paradise, is an infringement of Adam’s independence by which he asserts himself. He had to sin in order to truly live. The Gemara asks if Adam had a choice in sinning and indeed, one opinion states that he did not. He wanted to live and God had taken all independence from him. He had no choice.
But there is a choice; there is always a choice. When someone receives the chessed of another, he is allowing that person to flourish as a human being. We are the consequences of our actions and those who give are defined by their generosity; it becomes part of their very being. Those who receive in turn give the givers the ability to grow into a better human being.
The first place we encounter this view of chessed is with Ruth. When Ruth comes back to Boaz’s field, Naomi asks her “where were you? Where did you glean today? Thank God for whoever helped you out.” Ruth responds somewhat strangely, “the person for whom I did chessed was Boaz.” She did not recognize Naomi’s question of who helped her. She states that it was she who performed chessed for Boaz by letting him be nice to her. She gave an old man the chance to give, and in doing so gave him the ability to live again. Ruth’s view of chessed is the basis for relationship, love, and eventually the basis for the ideal government of the king who is defined by love (Dovid means “the one who loves.”)
On Shavout we answer the objection of Adam and Lot. They told us that chessed kills. We respond that it does not; when viewed from the point of mutuality, chessed becomes a relationship of love. And so, on Shavuot we experience both the love we have for God as well as the love we have for one another. For it is only in the context of others – God, our parents, children, siblings, spouses, and friends– that we can truly appreciate all that we are and what we have.
1 – Turn your cell phone into… a cell phone. I cannot believe how long it took me to do this. My cell phone used to have internet, which drew me into buying ringtones and games. I justified these costs by telling myself that I needed to be entertained when I was all the endless lines and busses in Israel, so it is well worth the investment. But seriously, I am not a four year old. I don’t need to be entertained at all times like a child. I can read a book, use my mp3 player and read a free newspaper that is given out at almost every bus stop in the country. There is no reason to pay 20-50 check for misc. junk on my cell phone. My cell phone needs to be exactly that… a cell phone and nothing more.
2 – Speaking of cell phones, do you have any idea how much you can save by using your land lines? I used to use my cell phone all the time when I had a land line that cost half as much to use. The worst of was when I used a cell phone to call 144 or a 1-800 number which would be FREE from a landline. An even better option (if possible) – use skype. I still learn with my old chavrusa from Chicago and don’t pay a penny for the service.
3 – Pack you own lunch. I personally fail to do this all the time and I always end up paying for it. My problem is that I am a guy and I think, “well, I am full now, so I’ll probably be okay until I get home.” Of course 3 hours later I am dying of hunger and then have to either go out and get some food or force myself to stick to coffee for the rest of the day (Just a small note: coffee is never a bad idea. I firmly believe that anyone in Yeshiva who is not addicted to coffee is in violation of bittul Torah. After all, regular Jon takes an hour to go through a blatt and has to ponder all types of questions, but 5 coffee Jon finishes the chapter quicker than artscroll finishes a footnote.)
4 – Make restaurant style meals at home. Making a restaurant style meal has never been easier. Pretty much every recipe from every restaurant is available in some blog or on youtube. You’ll be surprised how simple it is to make a simple meal restaurant quality. For example, spaghetti and sauce may seem simple, but if you buy some garlic sticks from your local bakery, your plain spaghetti (₪ 2.5 for 500 g) and sauce (₪ 3 if you mix רסק, hot water and some oregano), can bring back the full Olive Garden feeling.
5 – And when you do go out, use coupons. I am not against going out to eat; in fact, I try to go out with my wife at least once a month. But one thing that we both enjoy in saving money. Next time, before you dine out, take five minutes to check rest.co.il, 2eat, ROL, and kosherest for coupons. You’ll be surprised how much is available online. (Note: many of these sites claim that many restaurants are not Kosher, when they in fact are. If a restaurant looks tempting, don’t just give up because there is no kosher sign on the site; call the restaurant and ask if they have a teudat kashrut and from whom).
Last week I stopped a pickpocketer from stealing ₪ 100 in my wallet, or at least that’s how I felt.
The culprit was my old friend Orange. When I received my monthly cell phone bill, I noticed that I was charged ₪ 98 for various repairs on my cell phone. I called up customer service and asked for an explanation. Apparently, when I brought in my cell phone to be fixed a few weeks ago (battery was dying too quickly and they changed the front panel), I was charged ₪ 98 for the service. This came as a shock to me because (1) I had the exact same repair done a year beforehand and it was covered under the maintenance fee I pay every month (2) I asked the guy if it was under maintenance at the time of the repair and was told “yes” and (3) I was never told I would owe any money – if I owed money for the repair, shouldn’t I have been told either at the time of the repair or at least when I received the item after the repair?
So I was sent so another department for some answers. According to Orange (1) the rules of what is covered by maintenance changed sometime over the past year and (2) they have the right to charge me up to ₪ 100 for a repair even without my consent (they claimed that when dropping off a phone to be repaired one must sign a consent form allowing them to do so.)
The ₪ 100 policy is an interesting one. They should be calling me and getting permission to do a service that charges me money. But they changed the default and in doing so changed the game. Instead of making themselves responsible to ask to take my money, they make me responsible to make sure they don’t take money (and in this case, don’t even allow me that right). And less you think this is a semantic policy change, changing the default position is a powerful tool that can have dramatic effects.
In one of his trademark style articles, Freakonomist Stephen Dubner discusses why similar countries have dramatically different levels of organ donation:
…take the following pairs of countries: Denmark and Sweden; the Netherlands and Belgium; Austria and Germany; and (depending on your individual perspective) France and the U.K. These are countries that we usually think of as rather similar in terms of culture, religion, etc., yet their levels of organ donations are very different.
So, what could explain these differences? It turns out that it is the design of the form at the D.M.V. In countries where the form is set as “opt-in” (check this box if you want to participate in the organ donation program) people do not check the box and as a consequence they do not become a part of the program. In countries where the form is set as “opt-out” (check this box if you don’t want to participate in the organ donation program) people also do not check the box and are automatically enrolled in the program. In both cases large proportions of people simply adopt the default option.
Establishing a new default changes the game and puts the burden of decision and responsibility on the other party. It says “this is how things are – and if you don’t like it then you’re going to have to do something to change it.” It hopes for laziness and in the case of a challenge, ensures home field advantage.
Getting back to my battle with Orange – I argued my case with customer service rep after customer service rep. At a certain point in the conversation I would be told, “listen, I can only inform you of the decision; I have no power to change it,” to which I would respond, “then why are we wasting each other’s time – please put me through to your boss or someone who does have the power to change it. And after speaking to 3 customer service reps and a manager, I finally realized how to beat them. I had to change the game back.
“I never signed any paper saying I work fork over ₪ 100”, I said. “And by law, you have to keep your financial records for 7 years. So either find the document you claim I signed saying I allow you to take ₪ 100 for the repair or give me back my money.” “We will look into it,” I was assured.
I got a call the next day. “We are sure you signed the document allowing us to take up to ₪ 100 for a repair, otherwise the Orange representative would not have taken your phone in to be fixed. Nonetheless, we don’t want to go search through all of our archives, so we are going to return your money, but just this once.”
Game. Set. Match.
Every so often I get one of those flyers in my mail from my credit card offering me “special deals” on various products. And while once upon a time, these offers were somewhat tempting, it seems that over time the offers are becoming worse and worse. Last month I was offered a generic brand of the “nicer dicer” with only one of the two blades on sale from ₪ 300 for only ₪ 45. Additionally, I was offered a set of three pots on sale from ₪ 500 for only ₪ 200.
In reality, these prices, even the sale prices, are complete rip-offs I can get the original nicer-dicer at a store in my shuk for only ₪ 15, and I can buy pretty much any three pots I want for ₪ 60 – ₪ 100, provided I am not looking for a pot made of solid gold. (As an aside, I advise strongly against the nicer dicer. I own one and can tell you first hand, any time you save cutting, plus a bunch more, will be spent cleaning all the little parts of the blades. If you have the option, get a slap-chop instead).
By telling you what the retail price is, the company can tell you that what you are getting is a real bargain, even though it is a complete rip-off. After all, the retail price rarely takes into account supply and demand and is usually some mirage dreamed up by a drunken MBA in the marketing department. By using an unrealistic retail price, companies aim gain from the uninformed consumer who does not know the true market value. The real trick is in knowing the market value of the skirt in the window, the book on the shelf, and the gadget in the electronic store while you shop.
One solution is to shop online. Once you know what you want you can check out a bunch of websites in order to get the best deal. But when you are dealing with different products that you need to purchase offline and you have no idea what you should be paying, things can get more complicated.
So how do you know when a deal is a deal? Well, you need more information. And the best way to get information is to get price quotes. And when I need price quotes, I use the rule of three.
The rule of three is that when I want to buy something and I have no idea how much I should be paying for it, I get three price quotes and then go with the cheapest (or if I am in a combative mood, bargain one of them down.) And this rule has had so many applications and saved me thousands of shekels. For example:
- When I go on vacation, I look up the prices of three cab companies in the areas. I call up all three the first couple of time I order a cab and quickly learn which is the cheapest.
- When I bought a mosquito zapper (which is a fantastic investment) I walked into three stores and asked how much the item costs. Within three minutes I learned that there are two basic types, and when to get the best deal.
- When I book a tzimmer for my vacations, I call around three comparable tzimmers and get the one with the best price.
- In my last post, I mentioned how I used the rule of three in order to secure the best pension fund.
The rule of three hold true because it is simple, relatively easy (you’re not getting 40 price quotes) and it gives you the knowledge you lack. In short, the rule of three helps you gain perspective when you are without.
As an aside, the rule of three, is a huge topic in game theory, especially when you have to reject each offer you research (imagine once you got a price quote, you cold not buy the item there.)
There is no Holiday whose spending is completely out of control quite like Pesach. But I think that if a slightly different approach is taken to the Holiday, your wallet may brave the financial storm at the end of the rainy season.
1 – Begin with the question of “how much can I spend?” Then run through a system of reverse budgeting. Break this down into as many groups as you can for Pesach in order to see where you can cut (usually I recommend fewer categories, but when you are trying to break apart wasteful spending, you need more categories.)
2 – Before shopping, learn the laws of Passover. You’ll be surprised how much you don’t have to buy. Do you need a separate toothpaste that tastes like a mix of rum and foot or can you just open a new tube of what you already have? Do you need a new deodorant? What brands are already Kosher for Passover? You’ll never know until you learn. I recommend the CRC’s website as a good starting point.
3 – Make a list and scout a few stores. Normally I would not insist on making a list and price checking the items in a few locations all in one week, but due to the magnitude of how much there is to buy for Pesach, I would recommend doing so. If you make time to make a few more trips, you’ll be able to save a bundle.
4 – Speaking of making time, another big moneysaver is making time to clean lettuce. Buying already clean romaine lettuce is much more expensive than cleaning it yourself. Schedule time to soak the lettuce a few times, clean the leaves and check them.
5 – Watch out for Kosher for Passover candy and cakes. They are insanely overpriced and no one really eats them because you just served a 5 course meal with 7 main courses. A bowl of fruit will be much more refreshing after a long meal and much easer on your wallet.
6 – Remember that Pesach is only 7 days (8 in the diaspora). You only need food for seven days, half of which are Chol HaMoed where you’ll be out of the house. So don’t pack up on food for all seven days – buy a bit less. If you run out of something (the worst fear of every Jewish woman) you can always buy a bit more on Chol HaMoed. It is better to buy less and to have to go back to the store on Chol HaMoed than to buy too much and waste the food.
7 – For families starting out – Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your Pesach kitchen. You do not need to buy every appliance just because Pesach is at your house. Buy a few appliances and try to borrow some others from friends who are going away for the seder(s). Maybe you’ll even use plastic dishes the first couple of years. Then, add a bit to your repertoire of Pesach paraphernalia each year. You’ll be surprised how quickly it builds up; within five years you’ll have everything. But in the short run, make due with what you can afford.
9 – Finally, plan for Pesach right after Pesach. Bank in NY my family uses the Artscroll Youth Haggadah as the standard at the table. While these Haggadot usually retail for $7 a copy, my mom bought all of ours for $3 a copy – by buying them right after Pesach when all the extras were on clearance.
A few other thoughts:
A – As always, remember that there are those less fortunate than us. Find a charity that gives Maot Chittin to help those in need.
B – Take ha lachma anya seriously. If you know someone who needs a place, inviting him or her for a Pesach meal is hachnasat orchim, tzedakah and being a good person all rolled into one.
Happy Adar! Here are some tips to make sure that “venahfoch hoo” does not refer to your wallet.
(1) Make your own mishloach manot – Why spend ₪ 80 on a basket with ₪ 7 worth of food when you can make something special yourself? Making a mishloach manot can be a five minute process that saves hundreds of shekels. And for those with patience and ability, home cooked foods are always a big hit.
(2) For those with a large list of mishloach manot to give – regift ASAP. I have some friends who live in a community where they are expected to give literally dozens of mishloach manot, and will receive the same as well. One friend told me that one year he decided that if he would just wait until 10 AM to start giving his mishloach manot, he could regift the mishloach manot he already received. This method not only saves money, but cuts down on wasted food to be thrown out before Pesach. There were still some close friends that he gave nicer mishloach manot to, but when it comes to mishloach manot given en masse, it is better not to go broke.
(3) Make your own costume – I have always felt that buying an already made costume is a bit unimaginative. I don’t mean to make every item from scratch, but you can take a raw or simple costume and use your imagination to make it look nicer. Last year I was dressed as a leprechaun and while I bought a bow tie (₪ 10), I designed the hat myself using green shelving paper (₪ 3) and a hat (₪ 15), while wearing my own green shirt. Sadly, I found out that most Israelis don’t know what a leprechaun is (I kept being asked if I was from ale yarok).
Oh, and a note to teenage Israelis – when you buy a costume, you are supposed to add clothing. Dressing like a devil/tramp, an angel/tramp, an astronaut/tramp, a construction worker/tramp, a witch/tramp and a bunny/tramp is all the same thing – dressing like a tramp. I am not asking you to wear a burka, but some pants would be a good start. And for the men – dressing like a bum is not dressing up if that is how you dress year-round.
(4) Finally, don’t let the other mitzvot make you skimp on the most important one – matanat leevyonim. I aim to spend roughly an equal amount on matanat leevyonim as I do for all the other expenses for Purim combined. And although there is not mitzvah of matanat leevyonim the day after, the mitzvah of tzedakah always exists. Consider saving some of your mishloach manot food that you’re not going to eat anyways and give it to someone who really needs it.
PS – Below is my recipe for Jonny’s Irish Cream. It’s good, parve, and is a great idea for the shehakol in your mishloach manot.
1 container of non-dairy creamer (about 4/5 of a pint)
1 cup of vodka
6-8 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of chocolate syrup
2 teaspoons of instant coffee
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
This recipe makes approximately 1 liter of Irish Creme.
When preparing be sure to use an electronic mixer – otherwise there will be little egg bits which are not too nice. If you do not have an electronic mixer, then pour the finished product through a strainer in order to remove the little egg bits.