Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
We have an upper-middle-class family. Baruch Hashem, we both work and are able to make ends meet, pay full tuition for our children’s educations, and have some money left at the end of the month to save for our children’s future educational needs and our retirement.
We find ourselves faced with an increasingly challenging experience each year when midwinter break comes around. Some of our children’s friends go on expensive vacations with their families, and our kids are asking us to send them on similar trips. Our children are respectful whenever they discuss this with us, but there is a clear sense that they feel “left out” because they don’t go to the exotic location like some of their friends.
We keep going back and forth on this issue. Should we just “go with the flow,” or instead stick to our guns and say that we just don’t feel the need to spend so much money on a vacation that lasts a few days.
Aviva and Yosef
Dear Aviva and Yosef:
Having raised our children on a mechanech’s salary, I can certainly identify with your dilemma of raising your children on a lower standard of living than some or many of their classmates. Stepping back a bit, the overall matter of “Keeping up with the Cohens” is something that many adults have a hard time dealing with. With that in mind, I give you a great deal of credit for not taking the expedient route of charging an expensive vacation on your credit card(s) and caving to communal pressure. If all adults built their homes, purchased their automobiles, and planned their simchahs that way, we would have less stress in our lives.
Therefore keep in mind that there are profound lessons for your children to learn from this experience, and significant opportunities for your family to bond during the mid-winter break. Here are some suggestions:
1) Be honest with your children. Sit down with them as a group and explain things to them just as you described them to me. Many parents never discuss finances with their children, and then complain when their teenage children think that money “grows on trees.” The more you acquaint them with budgeting and making appropriate choices with the finite amount of money at hand, the better prepared they will be to mange their own household finances in the future.
2) Give them choices of less expensive things to do during their midwinter break. In fact it may be a good idea to give your children an overall figure of what you can afford to spend on the midwinter break, and let them have a voice on how to spend it. There are lots of inexpensive things you can do together as a family (i.e. ice-skating, snow-tubing) that are less expensive than skiing or taking trips that require you to spend money on airfare and hotels. Most of what children appreciate and cherish as fond memories of vacation time is your “quality time” with them. Try to set things up so that you can give them your undivided attention during the time you spend together on mid-winter break.
3) In the broadest sense, I suggest that it is a good idea to teach your children about the value of money and the importance of budgeting. Open custodial savings accounts with them and encourage them to put some of their birthday, Chanukah and Purim gifts there. Perhaps offer them a “matching gift” incentive where you give them, say, 50 cents for every dollar that they bank and leave in the account for a year. This will ingrain in them good habits of thrift and responsibility. It will also allow them to better understand your line of reasoning when you refuse their request for financial reasons.
4) Finally, always keep in mind that the golden path of moderation is the preferred one. Worded differently, I would say that when we veer too far to the right or left of the shvil ha’zahav, things tend to backfire. So don’t go overboard in your refusal to “keep up with the Cohens.” Remember that you can pick and choose with whom you wish to associate, while your children – like it or not – spend 8-12 hours daily with their class peers.