Wednesday, February 6, 2008

They Should've Taught It In High School

Yeshiva high schools teach a lot of worthwhile subjects. What they don't teach, however, are life skills. Boys and girls are graduating without ever having heard of the terms that will become more important in their later years than any other terms. Terms like "budget," "means-based consumerism," and a whole slew of others. Students can give you the square root of pi, explaing the importance of the Battle of Hastings and dissect the character of Macbeth, but they can't balance a checkbook, figure the actual interest on their credit cards or do a cost benefit analysis when comparing possible insurance policies.

What we need to do is to require classes for all high school graduates along the lines of Lifeskills 101 and 102. No one should be allowed to get a diploma until they pass these courses. I'll go on record as saying that a whole slew of the problems that are now extant in a large swathe of the frum population would recede, if not disappear altogether.

And perhaps the course should begin with a clear discussion of the difference between wants and needs, luxuries and necessities. And perhaps it is also time to dispel the myth that two can live as cheaply as one--not if you are frum.

I'm going to continue this in another posting, but I'd like to leave you with this to ponder on. You are a newly engaged couple who will soon be setting up your own household. How much is that household going to cost you per week, per month, per year? What are the necessary expenses for that household? By "necessary" I mean something without which you cannot have that household, nor that marriage. Be honest and put down those luxuries that you are not willing to live without either. Find your total and then look at that total next to net income that will be yours. Scary isn't it? And I guarantee that you've missed some of the necessities. And if you are already married, do the same exercise. It's one that far too many married couples have never done.

To Be Continued

26 comments:

anonymously said...

Maybe they could start with the idea that money does not grow on trees and it doesn't get printed in the basement either. Some public school systems do have courses like you are suggesting. yeshivas need to get with the program.

G said...

I would be more in favor of "They Should've Taught It At Home"...but you're right, the point remains that it should be taught.

NJWifeWhoUsedToBeNYMaidel said...

I sure wish the schools had taught this course. You can't imagine the shock when my choson and I were faced with what marriage costs. It's one reason why we are in NJ instead of Brooklyn. We were just lucky that our parents made us face the real facts instead of supporting us towards bankrupcy. And also amazing what we thought we couldn't live without that we don't have now and it's not all that bad without.

Anonymous said...

An uncle sat my kallah and I down and showed us the facts of life about money. Was not fun. But he was right about everything. I'm under 25 so car insurance costs a lot more and so does the car and the gas and upkeep and tolls and it's more in Brooklyn. We live near public transportation and don't own a car even with a child. If we need to we can take a cab or rent a car for a day and it still leaves us with thousands of dollars we don't have to spend that we don't have. Do I want a car? Sure I do, but I don't need one and I can't afford one so we don't have one. After we got over being mad we thanked my uncle.

Bas~Melech said...

I've been saying this ever since twelfth grade, when I started wondering what life after school must be like. I think I was the only one thinking that way... I guess nothing has changed.

Anonymous said...

"How much is that household going to cost you per week, per month, per year?"

It's going to cost me nothing because I am learning and my father-in-law is paying all our expenses.

ProfK said...

Anonymous,

Let's fast forward 20-25 years to when you become a father in law for your 5 daughter's husbands. Let's even assume that a miracle happens and there is no change in rents between now and then. Now take the figure in the posting and multiply it by five. $127,500 a year you will be shelling out just for rent and utilities. And your kids haven't eaten yet and they're still going naked. Shall I mention yeshiva tuitions for your grandchildren? Robbed any good banks lately?

the apple said...

What G said.

Anonymous said...

Why assume that everything is going to be centered around Brooklyn? Lots of other places to live that would reduce the expenses, as you point out with NJ or other parts of the city.

Scraps said...

I think that living on one's own, without being supported by one's parents and lacking the benefit of living for free at home (not paying for rent, food, every load of laundry, etc), is a good way to prepare for the costs of living after marriage. Yes, marriage is still more expensive, because you're only two people paying the rent instead of splitting it between three or four or however many people shared your previous apartment. Yes, there are costs that don't come up when you're single that apply when you're married. But at least one has some idea of what it means to live on a budget, having to prioritize wants/needs, etc.

Oh, but wait, it's "pas nisht" for an umarried individual to leave home in Shidduchville. Never mind...

ProfK said...

Just a note: G would be right that this should be taught in the homes, but he is assuming parents who can and will teach the principles of living within your means. Since far too many of the parents of the children in the shidduch parsha are themselves living way above their means, on borrowed money or worse, just what do you suppose their financial advice would be like? The blind leading the blinder?

G said...

Which means you assume that the people teaching in the high schools do not live in this manner.

If it's a choice of picking between the two, my money is still on mom and dad...they're more invested.

Diana said...

They didn't teach this stuff at my public school either.

And I have been told many times that it costs more for a married couple than two roommates splitting expenses. I still can't get my mind around that - could someone please offer reasons. (At this point, no children are involved)

ProfK said...

G,
As an ex-assistant principal I can tell you that what is taught in high school classrooms is not exclusively related to who is teaching it. Curriculum is overseen by others than the teachers themselves. Detailed lesson plans and objectives are submitted for review and change, when required. There is a lot of input when a new course is being designed, but schools and city and state boards of education decide on curriculum content. What a teacher does personally is not going to decide what goes into a course.

Re parents, again some can do this kind of teaching, but many cannot. The fact that they are "invested" may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. One of my cousins is certainly invested in the future of her kids but she does not live in the real world in any way, shape or form. Neither does her husband. And they are not an isolated example.

ProfK said...

Diana,

Roommates may split expenses, but those expenses are limited to what is actually held in common, like rent and utilities. What each roommate chooses to spend individually does not impinge on the other roommate. If I choose to spend $3000 on a new computer, my roommate is not going into debt for it. My cellphone bill is not my roommate's bill. Ditto my clothing bills. If I go to a wedding and my roommate does not, the roommate is not paying half of the wedding present. Married couples, however, do share the responsibility for all expenses incurred by the two people, even for those that only benefit one of the two of them, such as a new suit for her and new hat for him.

Diana said...

With cell phone bills it is often much cheaper to be two people on one plan than an individual.

Do you think that as a couple you are more likely to buy more suits or hats per person than two individuals sharing living space?

ProfK said...

Diana,

Okay, sometimes roommates may share a cell phone plan. But that is not a given. In marriage, regardless of the plan used, the bills for that plan are the responsibility of both the husband and the wife.

Do married people buy more clothing then single people do? Sometimes. Singles don't have to buy hats, tichels, and sheitles. You might decide to live in one or two nightgowns, washed of course, for the next six months. That so doesn't work in marriage. Married couples frequently have more social occasions that they are invited to with the possible requirement of more clothing because of this. Does your roommate really care what you lounge around in when you are both in the apartment? A spouse might. There is also this. You might really like shoes, expensive shoes, and as an individual you can indulge yourself. Your roommate, who shops at Payless and only when they have a sale, does not have to worry about your shoe buying habits--she is not paying the bills. Your shopping and buying habits don't matter when you are only roommates. When you are married it is possible that you are not buying more then when you were single, but your husband is now responsible for your shopping bills, not just you alone. Your bills may be way higher than his, or vice versa.

Michele said...

Can't remember ever asking my roommates if I could buy something I wanted. If I had the money I bought it. Now my husband and I have our money and we have to discuss how we are spending it or we are going to run short at the end of the month. Spending is an our not an I any more.

Anonymous said...

Personal spending by a roommate can cause the other roommates problems. One of ours went and bought herself an expensive vacation package and then couldn't pay her share of the rent that month. You bet we all yelled at her.

G said...

Hold on, what type of school are we talking about?
If we are talking about orthodox students then we are also talking about orthodox schools. In which case curriculum content, while important, is sadly not the final word. Additionally, "What a teacher does personally is not going to decide what goes into a course.", true the teacher's lifestyle and actions do not define the course material it will surely impact the ability to transmit it.

I'm not disagreeing that such things would not be beneficial if included in the general HS system. Just that if I'm picking the best place to start emphazising it, the home is my first choice by a wide margin. Again, the premise was that it is not taught, not that the knowledge does not exist.

In any case, this is hair splitting. The point is that it be learned.

ProfK said...

G,
Not going to split hairs with you--it's Adar, remember? You are right that parents should be the first instructors on fiscal responsibility. I am also right that some parents don't have the skills, background or experience to do this. Some schools may do a better job of teaching fiscal responsibility than others, as is the case with everything they teach. A poor instructor is a liability no matter what the subject matter.

And yes, we agree, somebody teach kids what they need to know!

Tzvi said...

We had a roommate we ended up having to sue because he couldn't manage his money and left us carrying his mess. He'd spend on everything and forget to put away for the rent and electric and we'd end up having to cover for him. When we finally kicked him out he owed the three of us over $6000. Our fault for trusting him for the money and someone elses fault for never teaching him about money in the first place.

Anonymous said...

One possible solution to some of the problems might be to require an engaged couple to meet with a certified financial planner to set up a budget and talk about the financial future. They might believe a stranger better then a member of the family.

gotsmartearly said...

We were the parents who talked to our kids about money. They knew the financial facts of life. What we didn't count on were their friends and their yeshivas singing a different tune. One song was You Have to Go to Israel or it Will Hurt Your Shidduch Chances. Doesn't matter if you can afford it, just borrow the money or give up some "luxuries" like insurance or something like that. There was also the you have to dress this way song and the you have to go to this college song. And there was the you have to learn for years and your parents have to support you song. Unfortunately for our kids we got tone deaf when they sang those songs. Fortunately for those kids that we did. They did get married and we could play the we'll help you with the down payment song. Wouldn't have happened if we'd done all the other things.

Anonymous said...

Don't think this is only a jewish problem. Lots of young kids today don't know just what it is going to cost to live away from their parents. Maybe the difference is that non jewish kids don't expect their parents to support them and their kids for years after they get married.

Ari said...

Kudos for bringing up a topic that should be talked about a lot more.