Getting Your Money’s Worth

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that money is very often uppermost on my mind. Between basic living expenses, house expenses, two major yom tov seasons per year, and tuition, keeping up with the cost of Jewish living can be quite stressful. But Hashem does send chizuk in various forms, and I hope the following story will inspire you as much as it did me.

This year, my husband and I changed our children’s yeshiva to an excellent but rather pricey one. The Gemara in Beitzah 16a (thanks to my husband for finding the reference) tells us that all the money we spend on chinuch comes back to us. Besides this, we also receive the nachas of frum children. Clearly, schar limud is a worthwhile investment. But again, making those payments does not come easily, at least not for me.

The Shabbos after my husband and I decided on the change of yeshivas, as I was walking outside and thinking the very vochedigge thought of: “How in the world am I going to make tuition payments?” I ran into a lady I know. She is probably in her 60’s and already has teenage grandchildren. Though I did not bring my worries up to her, somehow, she and I began talking about yeshiva tuition.

This lady’s life story floored me. She raised her children single-handedly because she was divorced from her first husband. That meant she had to be both mother and father. She held down a full-time job and was also responsible for all the housework and homework. As a further stress, she could not make ends meet on her salary.

The yeshiva knew her situation and was kind to her: they allowed her to pay 10% of her income instead of a regular tuition. She offered them 20% instead. She felt she knew how to tighten her belt, having lived through the war as a child. I looked on this woman with tremendous awe as she spoke about her life.
Then she added more to her story to impress me further. Whenever she would get a pay raise, she would report it to the yeshiva and increase her payments to them. How many people would do that? It is information that could easily be hidden; a yeshiva isn’t the IRS, after all. This woman is supremely ehrlich.
After a few years, a man on the yeshiva Board of Directors had a change of heart and demanded the lady increase her payments to the yeshiva. If she would not pay more, he threatened to send her children home.

“I can’t possibly pay more,” she told him, “so I suppose you’ll have to send my children home.”

She then called the school principal and told him what happened. Not only did he take her side, he said, “Your kids are such model students, we ought to pay you to keep them in yeshiva.”

From here she began to talk like a proud mother, and though she didn’t say it expressly, I understood from what she said that if you make your children’s religious education a real priority, both in payments and in personal efforts, G-d will reward you with results.

28 comments on “Getting Your Money’s Worth

  1. I would suggest that the frum community undertake a study of the finances of other private schools that have tuition under control. There is a K-8 school just blocks from one of our local frum schools charging something half also and I’d like to see their financials!

    It is too convient to blame the “double curriculum” and in my opinion it is a fallcy to do so, because while our schools may offer dual academic subjects, they do not support costly programs that many public and private schools support. What I have noted and I am not alone, is that the frum schools are often heavy on administration and that the schools duplicate services that could be shared.

  2. I live far away from New York and we do have an Orthodox day school in the area. , I have an infant girl so the tuition is not an issue for me right now. I would like her to have a Jewish education but if the tuition is so excessive I am afraid she will have to go to a public school. The public school here are very good. They are actually so good that white people take their children out because they say that the Asian kids make the school too competitive.

    Somebody has to look into the business model of those yeshivas and see why private and Christian schools charge $5000+ a year and Jewish schools (including the Conservative ones) charge more than twice as much.

  3. Reb Alter,
    It is true that yeshiva rebbeim are underpaid. Furthermore, there is a great danger in looking at the yeshivos as the adversary, rather than our partners. That being said, a rebbi that makes $40,000 a year with free tuition for 4 sons, and the spiritual satisfaction of working in avodas hakodesh, has a very good situation. All yom tovim and chol hamoed off, summers off, short workday. The biggest proof is the great competion for rebbi jobs. Chas v’shalom to be un-grateful to them, but the they are not deprived. An accountant that works 50 hours a week and chol hamoed and maybe Purim morning also, makes $80,000 and pays 4 full tuitons has a much more difficult situation. The yeshivos need to have great kavod for the baalei batim, just as the baalei batim have to have great kavod for the yeshivos.

  4. MRN, I am not a member of iamamother, but I will try to join soon to PM you.

    Alter Klein, The only way to demonstrate to you the cold hard facts of high earning families is to put the facts into numbers.

    Let’s assume a family makes $100,000 in combined salaries and they bring home 70% of their salaries after tax (if only!). I am assuming they are not taking out money for retirement, health insurance, or anything else.

    So this family is bringing home $70,000 (unlikely!).

    Let’s assume that the family has 5 school age children (tuition = $10,000, that is reduced tuition in my neighborhood) and a mortgage and escrow payment of $1500 a month (what a dream!). Tuition is $50,000, the mortgage is $18,000. They have already spent $68,000 and no one has paid a cent for food, utilities, or clothing.

    There is $2000 left over.

    So what do people do? Well, I recently asked a family (4 children, all married) how they did it. The head of the house told me, well, somehow we managed. So, I persisted and kept asking how? how?

    The answer: At over 60 years old (?) he has re-mortgaged his house numerous times to pay for things and has other debt. As far as I am concerned, debt financing is not a good long term solution, nor is it a good short term solution.

    In my mind, one is not managing if they are working themselves into a hole they may never dig out of.

    And, while we can all tighten our belts and make smaller and more modest smachot (as we should), lower our electric bill, lower our transportation bills, and even lower our food bills, it is near impossible to make a $30,000 tuition bill fall to $15,000!

  5. SephardiLady — I wonder if there is some way we could get in touch. If you are a member of you can PM me there.

  6. SephardiLady,
    I apologize if you felt my words were insensitive. In no way did I mean to accuse everybody of wasting their money. I was talking exclusively to those who might be spending money on luxuries as opposed to necessities. I do however find it hard to believe that anyone making over 100k a year with no extra “medical”, etc expenses is having trouble literally putting “food” on the table, if they properly budget. I don’t mean to say it is not difficult, however I don’t think they are watering down the eggs. In Israel, where most Bnei torah are struggling to manage( literally to put cottage cheese on the table)do so on less than 30k a year.
    Kol tuv

  7. Sephardi Lady-

    I guess “waste” isn’t really the correct word. But really, I’m the type of person who goes crazy if I can’t put my brain to productive use. And thus my desire to work after school, even if only part-time. I also feel as though I owe it to my parents, who paid for my education, to use it during their lifetime. They want to see me become something. I’m not like ubercareer woman, but I do want a job. And I have a love of archaeology and all things Jewish and historical.

    I totally respect women who choose to be full-time housewives, but it’s not the path for me.

  8. Kressel, I would have found the story inspiring if I believed that I could go to my local Yeshiva and actually bargain with them! But, in today’s world of tuition and scholarships, one must bare their soul and have every expense and every asset examined before one will even receive a break. The scholarship process in many communities leaves very little room for mutual respect and trust. In my community the scholarship form asks for all sorts of information from the amount of equity in one’s home, to the amount of money their children earn from odd jobs, to the amount of public assistance one receives. From what I have heard, if you are unable to pay up you are asked to turn to your parents or dip into your house.

    I think we would be lucky if we could bargain to pay the $10,000-$15,000 of tuition per child per year over 12 months rather than 10!!!

    MRN-Great comments. We are definitely made out of the same cloth as I also run our home like a corporation!

  9. MRN: You mentioned weddings. Actually, there was a pamphlet sent out to many Monsey homes last summer addressing this very issue. I understand that the Agudah has created takanos about wedding expenses, too.

    Sephardi Lady: I’m sorry you didn’t find the story inspiring, but I’m glad to see what you wrote to Rachel. With the long life spans of people today, there’s plenty of time for career after children.

  10. Want to add, in response to Michoel, that at my childrens’ schools, tuition is calculated by dividing expenses by the number of students. There is a ‘required donation’ on top of this figure that those who can pay do pay. But this money is paid to a scholarship fund, so it is tax-deductible and can be maaser money, too. Some families pay even more than the ‘required donation’ by buying ads in the dinner journal, etc.

  11. Sometimes I wish that I had realized the financial realities of an Orthodox lifestyle before becoming religious! I don’t think I would have changed my mind, but I certainly would have had less strain on my marriage when the expenses hit the fan.

    SephardiLady has made some excellent points. It would be more expensive for me to go back to work than to stay home. My husband and I have done the math! It also becomes almost impossible to find and keep a high-paying job when you are a frum woman with many kids. The Jewish holidays require alot of time off. You have to leave early on Fridays half of the year. And, the more children you have, the more appointments they have and demands they make on your time. Homework is very important, and non-Jewish babysitters cannot do it with them. Shabbos is super-expensive even without takeout food. Because I am home, I can find the cheapest source for the ingredients and make the food instead of buying it pre-made. Most importantly, because I am BT, I feel that I cannot keep my home Orthodox if I am out of the house all day. I have to work very very hard at it.

    I do believe having and raising Orthodox children has value in and of itself. I do not consider it “a shame to have wasted 160,000$ of my parents’ and grandparents’ money just to be a housewife and not to use any of my education” as one poster phrased it. They gave me the money to make me happy, and I am happy at home. I think my grandparent aleichem hashalom would have been repaid many times over in yiddishe nachas from their great-grandchildren had they lived to meet them.

    Lastly, I find it interesting the BT perspective on camps, sheitels and seminaries. I think FFB’s differ from BT’s dramatically in their views on these. (For example, seminaries are places to learn a trade — education — not be spiritually charged/recharged.) One thing I do agree upon, however, is that wedding expenses are out of control. But many many leaders of the community agree with this viewpoint.

  12. I wanted to leave a note for Rachel Adler. It is not at all a waste to get an education and then stay home while your children are young and slowly work yourself back into the workforce as they grow. There are many years in your life that you can work and if you exit the workforce for 10 years, you will still be able to put in a good 25 years in the workforce (either part-time or full-time) to make your education “pay off.”

  13. With all due respect, I personally was not inpired by the story you wrote about. If tuition ONLY could cost me 10% of our take home pay (we are looking at around $6000 here), I would be more than happy to offer another 10% (i.e. approximately $12,000) to educate all of our children.

    Let’s put it this way, $12,000 will hardly send one child to elementary school in my non-affluent neighborhood where people shop at Ross and Target.

    And now to address Alter Klein’s comments:
    Yes, we all need to do a personal accounting to find out where our money is going and what is driving our consumption, whether we are paying tuition or not. But your comments come off as insensitive because the fact is that many families who live at a very simple level (no household help, no home renovations, no new cars), are struggling to pay their utilities bills and put food on the table. These families often are making upwards of $100,000 and they cannot make necessary repairs to their home, much less dream about a renovation! Your comments come off as insensitive and we all need to remember that while some families are living very affluently, many families are just struggling to keep our of debt or are drowning in debt and they don’t indulge their wants.

    And a few more notes:
    1. (Whether or not you believe it is important for a woman to be home with her children) It is oftentimes more expensive for a woman to work out of the home than stay home. The extra taxes, day care, transportation, and more can leave very little money (if any) at the end of the day. So, sometimes it is more economically efficienty to stay home.
    2. When two parents are out of the home, things that some might consider luxuries (like camp, 2 or 3 year old nursery, sheitals, a wardrobe of classy clothing, two cars, take-out, a cleaning lady) can become necessities.
    3. At the very minimum, I hope we can all agree that, hired help (even hired Jewish help)cannot replace a parent.

  14. The more people asking for tuition reductions, the higher the base tuition is going to be for everyone else. If a large part of our communities are kollel families with limited incomes, our tuitions are going to be higher. Kollel should be encouraged as it is the back-bone of klal Yisrael. However, it is extremely problematic when kolel people buy large houses and new mini-vans with their parents help, and then fail to pay full tuition. I am not saying this is the rull but it clearly happens.

    Also, we all need to grow in fiscal responsibility. Young married people need to be taught to start saving right away.

  15. Chana: This is also the case in my community. If you go to the pizza store at lunch time you will see a lot of Jewish children with their non-Jewish nannies.

    But what can you do? If Jewish schools cost about $13,000+ a year in this area, when you multiply that times the amount of kids you have it forces both parents to work :(

  16. In my community most women work, often within a few weeks of giving birth, and no matter how many young children are at home. And it seems that in most cases, non-Jewish women of varying nationalities are hired to raise the Jewish children. I guess the tuition crisis plays a role in this phenomenon, but there is also both an internal battle and social pressure — about what has more value, full-time childrearing or career/income.

  17. Wow! Who knew that this topic would generate so much response? I think many of you are hitting the nail on the head. I think most Jews today are drowning in debt and may Hashem send us help!

  18. Dear Simple Jew,
    Your assumptions are correct. It is not “afford Jewish education”, it is a must just like air is. Most Yeshiva’s will give a break to parents based on need. Before anyone disagrees with me, I said need. Vacations, gardeners new cars, and home renovations are not neccessities.
    I have never heard of a “good” student being thrown out or not accepted into some Yeshiva because they couldn’t pay. Sometimes a school will ask the parents to use all their personal resources, etc to raise the funds. The Yeshiva needs to pay the staff, etc. Yeshivas for the most part are not money makers and the Rebbe’s are desparately underpaid.
    If every body would think before spending, decide what they need to live, and not what worry what the “Jones” have then there would be more money for education. Also, if everybody who made extravagant weddings would instead choose to donate that extra money to pay for scholarships then less people would be struggling.
    Let’s not forget, Hashem runs the world. Even though we are not allowed to rely on miracles, there are miracles everyday.

  19. To A Simple Jew

    There are proably a few solutions:
    1. The woman works from her house with a job like programming or something like that, allowing her to bring in a salary and spend time with the children
    2. The woman works at least part-time
    3. Choose which is more important- the woman staying home or having a large family, because it will only work up to a certain point, depending on the husband’s salary. And also depending on what standard of living you are comfortable at. I personally do not want to have a large family, because I don’t think I could be a good mother with that many children running around the house [anything more than 4-6]. And I would probably work as much as I could. It would be a shame to have wasted 160,000$ of my parents’ and grandparents’ money just to be a housewife and not to use any of my education.
    4. Make aliyah, where the state pays for education. Of course, then you have a whole new set of problems of what to pay for.

    Also, it isn’t always optimal for the woman to stay home. Some communities feel it is ideal for the husband to be learning all day and for the woman to be supporting the family. Though of course, you still only have 1 salary in that scenario.

  20. This posting certainly gave me chizuk, but I got C’s and D’s in math class, so perhaps someone could help me solve the following story problem:


    It is optimal for the mother to stay home with the children.

    It it good to have a large family.


    How does one afford the cost of Jewish education for a family of many children on just one salary?

  21. MRN

    Although a sheitel may be way more expensive than a tichel, a woman is entitled to feel good about her appearance. It may seem superficial, but confidence gets you through a lot of things in life. Also, there are some work situations in which a woman needs to wear a sheitel and not a hat/scarf/whatever. As for seminary- I’ve never been, but many of my friends have, and you can tell that they’ve learned full time by their devotion to Torah. Just because it’s not “real Jewish life” does not mean that it doesn’t have its own value. I really feel that I’ve missed out on something, having never gone to seminary.

  22. MRN- Let me clarify my point.I know of at least two major frum girls camps that are sold out year after year and are the furthest thing from the lap of luxuries such as air conditioned bunks and where the daily activities can in no way be described as taking it easy. I also think that chesed hours show you on a day to day basis how some people strive for a spiritually charged life despite many, many obstacles. The atmosphere re learning and the overall kedushah that you walk away with and try to maintain cannot be duplicated in the US. I agree with you re clothes but I think that we can agree that the tichel vs sheitel issue is a function of community minhag and comfort level.

  23. Steve — actually, I have to take exception to the things that you have listed as ‘needs’ instead of ‘wants’. New clothes: kids can wear hand-me-downs, they don’t need matching European oufits. Headgear: a tichel is just as halachically valid as a sheitel. Summer camp: maybe better midos would develop if kids worked as mother’s helpers or assistant counselors instead of taking it easy in air conditioned camps. Seminary: not a ‘real Jewish life’ for the young Jewish Orthodox woman by any stretch of the imagination. A ‘real Jewish live’ is trying to pay yeshiva tuitions, spend >$100 a week on groceries and pay for braces on your husbands $60K a year salary.

  24. I think that the lead post emphasized one of the issues that we need to address and that seems to be tolerated for no real reason- “keeping up with the Schwartzes”. However, I think that we can and all distinguish between what we need and what we want. For instance, we don’t all need new cars every year. On the other hand, new clothes, become imperative as you simply get older. “Headgear” for men and women isn’t exactly cheap. I also think that tuition also includes summer camp because kids learn how and what achdus means in a real context along with many other midos that only sound nice during the year. I also think that spending a year in a sem is vitally important for young women. It combines the ability to spend a year learning in EY and to explore and live real Jewish life without the competition of the secular calendar that is inevitably present in the US. That’s why the year for young women and men is so important-it gives them a frame of reference of what is important in life These do cost a lot but the return value is inestimable.

  25. After shoe shopping in the “haimish” stores, again, I must ask, “How do they do it?” Spending $100 on school shoes for a 10-year-old is not only a budget-breaker, but absolutely inappropriate. But I see these shoes on all the girls. How do they dress their kids in matching European-designer outfits from the “haimish” stores? How do they buy themselves $200 outfits for everyday? How do they afford the massive grocery orders I see stacked in the stores? Sleepaway and daycamp for every child? Minivan leases? My husband and I both have decent salaries but we’re barely keeping our heads above water. What am I missing?

  26. Shalom,
    Even though this story is giving a lot of Chizuk , we have to be careful, nowaday we are not as strong in charactere as in previous generations.
    There are so many divorces just because of the “money stress”. The main thing is to have a loving home where you can feel peace and see good Middos.
    This is primary and the children will be great.
    If you have that, then you can eventually focus on your children’s tuition.
    If you don’t have that, even the best Yeshiva won’t help.

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