Budgeting and Culture

Our Money Choices

How Culture Affects our Budgeting

Religion and culture and our Social Circles (I am going to use these interchangeably- I know they are different!) affect every part of our lives. What we do, what we wear, how we live, the decisions we make, and especially what we spend our money on. Culture defines what is important to us. To be able to discuss personal finance we have to understand how our cultures defines our choices.

Importance of our Culture in our Lives

Humans crave connection. Everyone wants to be part of some sort of social group. Everyone wants to belong somewhere and to somebody. We need a social group. These groups are often based on different things: our religion, our location, our stage in life, our family, our ideologies, our work etc. Even people who embrace “alternative lifestyles” often do so in a group. They find other people who see life the same way as them and connect with them, creating their own social group. Each social group comes with their own set of expectations, norms, traditions, and practices. All those make a difference to what we consider IMPORTANT.

Any discussion of personal finance, budgeting and money has to include the understanding of what is IMPORTANT. A pretty basic rule that most agree on is : Spend money you have on things that are important and don’t waste money on things that are not. Pretty simple, right? Well, who decides what is important and what it not? Why is one thing important and one thing not?

There are some things that are pretty universal: Food, Water, Shelter, Medical Care. These are considered pretty basic needs. I think most of us are pretty lucky that these are not things that we are grappling with (besides for the medical care! Its a fortune but we all agree that we have to spend the money). Its everything else that gets more complicated.

So what is IMPORTANT?

The answer is: I can’t tell you. No one can tell you. Only you know what is important and what is not.

No More Gifts!

This is why I came to this moment of clarity and introspection:

I am Jewish and I sent my kids to Jewish schools. I always celebrated Hanukkah with latkes, doughnuts, games of dreidels and a gift. In the community (social group whatever you want to call it) where I grew up and where now raise my kids, most kids receive a gift for Hanukkah. That’s right: A GIFT. One gift. It was a nice gift- maybe a bike, a fun toy, a small piece of jewelry. My parents would wake up early on Black Friday and we would usually get something nice. I remember when Razor Scooters were all the rage and my sister, brother and I all got one for Hanukkah that year thanks to a Walmart 5 am visit from my mother.

This year, I managed with some referral credits and a coupon to get a building toy and a set of walkies-talkies for my boys for a total of $10 (from Zulily- if you want to sign up, message me and I’ll me you a referral code). That’s it for me- Hanukkah gift shopping done! I was feeling proud of myself- and I started down the rabbit hole of being slightly holier-than-thou. After all, I can get my kids 2 gifts for under $10. Why do all these people stress out about giving gifts for the Holidays? I only give my kids and I don’t get them a lot. One toy each is more than enough. Think of the MATERALIASM. All kids want is LOVE. Stand up to consumerism and stop SPENDING MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE. Sounds great, right? Nice soapbox I built myself there.

And super insufferable, especially considering that the I am not breaking the mold with my holiday giving. I am giving what is socially acceptable in my circles. My kids will not be going to school and hearing that other kids got more than the. They will be receiving pretty much the same as most kids in their class, most kids that they hang out with. I am not going to be showing up empty-handed to a place where I am expected to bring something. And most crucially, I AM NOT GIVING UP SOMETHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME.

 

For many people, holiday gift giving is IMPORTANT to them. Its what they know, its what they do, its what is socially acceptable in their situations. If it is important to THEM, then it doesn’t really matter if its important to ME.

There are other things that are important to me that I am sure other people would laugh at. We just spend a nice amount of money on the Four Species for Sukkot. That may seem like a laughable waste of money to most of you reading this. To me, its as important as anything else and I would go into debt (if I had to) for that.

Don’t Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater

When reading and learning about Personal Finance and Budgeting- remember that not everyone has the same worldview as you. Not everything that is Important to you is as important to them. So of course they don’t get it. Of course they don’t understand. And yes, there may be some things that you can “take a stand on” but its easier said than done. Most people, myself included, can’t go against everyone we know and do things so drastically differently from what our culture dictates. (I think you will find that those who do are often part of a culture or sub-cultures that encourages doing differently, so in fact they are not really doing differently. They are just acting in accordance to what their culture prizes or values).

Please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t disregards advice from people who value different things than you, who think that different things are important. There are many great people giving great advice- as long as you tailor it to your specific circumstances.

So whether its holiday gifts, religious items, private school, Quinceaneras, Bar Mitzvahs, and anything else I can’t even think of:

Spend money on what is IMPORTANT and don’t waste money on what is NOT IMPORTANT… to YOU!

My $12 Vanity Trip and How I Bought Myself a Kid’s Toy

The struggle of raising kids with a balanced approach to money and materialism

So vacation was pretty awesome!

We got to our Airbnb and after we set down our stuff we headed straight to the beach. We had brought some sand stuff for our kids to play with but as soon as we got there we noticed that the beach was crowded with families and most of the kids in the water had various inner tubes to play with in the water. We hadn’t brought anything for the to play with IN the water- just for outside the water. My son, pointing to a bright purple inner tube, asked “What is that kid playing with?” We responded that it’s a fun thing to float with in the water. My other son, “We don’t have anything to play with in the water”. I looked at my husband and my heart sank. I saw on his face that he was thinking the same thing. We felt so bad that our kids were in the water with all these other kids who were having so much fun with their floating toys. We put a bright face on and played in the water and on the beach- we don’t need stuff to have fun!!

Beach trip

The next day we hung out in the pool and then decided to head to the beach again. After a hurried consultation with DH, we decided to try to find a store to buy the kids inner tubes so there wouldn’t be a repeat of the previous day. If the tubes were affordable, say under $20, we would buy one so our kids wouldn’t have to stare longingly at other kid’s toys the whole day. We both grew up in large families and there wasn’t money for “extras”. So many times in my childhood I had gone without those small extras and I was determined that for this vacation at least my kids would have even this small thing.

We live frugally because we have to, and because we consider saving for our future and staying away from any debt to be a priority and there are many times I feel so bad for my kids. We don’t do so many things that other people do and even though they are still young, I wonder if they ever feel the pinch and feel badly or even resent us for that.

We didn’t want to spend any more money on this vacation than we had to but we decided to buy these tubes or some sort of floaty toy. On the way to the beach we stopped at a small store and I jumped out without telling my kids what I was getting. I ran inside and saw these fun inner tubes with a unicorn head attached for only $6. I immediately grabbed 2! Not only would my kids have the fun toys but they wouldn’t even need to share! I good barely contain my excitement as I paid and headed back to the car. The kids would be so psyched especially as I hadn’t indicated that I would buy them anything.

I reached the car and casually handed them each the box, “I bought you each something”, I said and grinned at my husband. We stared at them excitedly as they looked at it. Their response was… well, underwhelming to say the least. “What is it?” “It’s a floaty!” I said, “You know like all the kids had yesterday!”. “Oh” they said, “For, us?” “Yes!!!” we practically screamed “We bought these for you so when we go in the water today”. “But did we bring the sand toys?” “Both! You get to play with both!”. There excitement was palpable… not. As soon as we blow them up, we reasoned, they will realize what they are and they will get super excited. It’s hard to see what they are when they are still in a box, and the kids are still so young they can’t visualize it. Suffice it say, the excitement level just got lower as we blew them up. One kid flat out refused to carry it to the water from the car, “I don’t want to play with it”. The other brought it to the water and promptly left it next to the towels. We convinced him to play with it for a total of 30 seconds. AS we realized that they were supremely uninterested, I began to look at the whole incident with different eyes. Maybe the trip to the beach hadn’t gone as I thought it had?

Could it be that it wasn’t the kids who were jealous of the other kids, but me?

Was I projecting my disappointment on my children?

Was it possible that I was the one giving longing looks at the fun of the inner tubes, not them?

Was it possible that the “game face” I had put on was totally and completely unnecessary and my kids were enjoying themselves perfectly fine?

Was I regressing to my childhood and it was really child me who wanted an inner tube and couldn’t have one? Was I buying the inner tube to baby me who wanted what she couldn’t have?

Was I projecting my own insecurities about what I can and cannot buy and give to my children to things that I assumed that they wanted as opposed to things that they actually wanted?

Is it possible that maybe my kids don’t feel as deprived as I think they do? Click To Tweet

Maybe I should have actually spoken to my kids and found out what they wanted instead of trying to play mother of year to them?

Did I actually go and spend money to make myself feel like a “fun” mother instead of finding out if my kids wanted inner tubes? If I wanted to treat them, maybe they would have wanted something else?

The money I spent wasn’t really the point, thankfully it was only $12 and although it’s not returnable I’m sure that we will eventually get some use out of them (maybe next year!) but it really got me thinking about the things I buy for my kids and why I buy them. There are some things that I buy because they need them but maybe there are some things I buy because I think they “need” them but they actually don’t? Maybe sometimes I buy things for them to feel like a “good mother” or because I am projecting my own insecurities onto my own kids without addressing their actual insecurities and needs?

I’m not sure exactly what the answer to all these questions are. These are questions that I am assuming most parents grapple with as we want to give our kids the world, not spoil them, well maybe a little, but not enough to ruin them. We want them to have everything but also work for it, feel loved and taken care of but also not be entitled. It’s a tall order!

What are some of the issues you face when buying things for your kids? Am I the only one who feels this way? Tell me I’m not alone!

A Tale of 2 Births

A Tale of 2 Births

Let me tell you a tale of two births

Both beautiful and amazing.

One that took place in the US of A

One that took place in a nameless country, we’ll call it “Other Country”.

The difference you ask?

The Healthcare system!

I’m not interested in getting into politics, but I am going to share my own personal experiences: I have two children who were born in two different countries. My husband and I were U.S. Expats living in a country with Universal Healthcare while on a student visa for the second birth, while my first was born in the U.S.

birth

The First Birth

My first child was born in Florida. At the time, I was under 26 and therefore still under my parent’s healthcare place. They had what was considered to be very good insurance. Their insurance covered my pregnancy and childbirth, and part of my baby’s care. The rest was covered by Medicare (as I was ineligible for insurance through my work and we were low-income enough to qualify for it).

This was a few years ago and I was not the personal finance fiend that I am today so I don’t have exact numbers for what we actually paid for the birth. For the purpose of this post, I will use approximate numbers instead.

A few weeks before my due date, my doctor thought there was an issue with the baby. He advised us to go to the hospital, which we did. We went to the labor and delivery ward where we spent an hour (I may be exaggerating but I really don’t think I am) with a billing lady, giving our insurance information etc. We signed papers and “registered” for the birth. Please note, this is part of triage. Its possible that if I was in pain or it was an emergent case they would skipped this step. I don’t know. What I do know is that I was sent to the hospital and spent the first hour- before being checked, monitored etc. we dealt with billing issues. We did not have an unusual insurance situation and we were using an in-network hospital and doctor. This was just the routine.

I spent the day in the hospital and was sent home as all was fine.

Two weeks later my water broke and I went to the hospital again. Same thing. They did ask if I was in any pain and when I answered “no” we sat at that same desk with a billing agent and did the same thing again. Even though we had “pre-registered” (I don’t really know what that means) we still had at least a half-hour of paperwork and billing issues to go through, maybe more.

The hospital was really nice. At the birth, there was a doctor, 2 nurses, a pediatrician in the room. The birthing room had a shower, lights we could dim, an iPod dock for my labor playlist. I had a private room with a pull-out couch for my husband to sleep on. A TV, a fridge, 3 meals a day. The baby slept in my room with no nursery option but my husband was there the whole night to help. Water and juice was brought to me constantly. The nurses came when I had a question. A Lactation consultant came to help me (although she was shamefully ignorant about nursing). The pediatrician came on his rounds in the morning and checked the baby. All was well. I stayed the full 2 days. Discharge was another deluge of paperwork, signing papers etc.

After we got home is when the fun started. Bill after bill. From different places and different companies. We had no idea what they were for. Some we paid, some my parents paid. Some we disputed. A memorable one was for my child’s hearing test. As a newborn, babies are given a hearing test to make sure that they can hear. I vaguely remember signing a consent form soon after birth for this. It turns out that although the hospital was in-network, the nurses were in-network. The hearing test “lab?” was not and therefore not fully covered by insurance. Please remember that we had what was considered to be good insurance. The whole birth ended up costing us a few thousand dollars.

As an aside, we had some fun signing up my child for medicare. Before I had the baby, I had started the process of signing up. The advice was to sign up as a pregnant woman and then once you had the baby add them on as well. This led to a interesting phone conversation with a lady in the medicare office who could not understand basic biological function. This was our conversation:

Her: You had a baby?

Me: Yes

Her: But I have you listed here as a pregnant woman and you received prenatal care.

Me: Yes.

Her: So you mean to say that you were pregnant last week but now you’re telling me you had a baby?!? (the tone of incredulity in her voice made it hard for me to miss the insinuation that I was clearly attempting insurance fraud)

Me: Yes. This is how this works. I am not an unusual case.

For some reason, this was hard for her to comprehend.

Total Cost of Birth: $$$$

 

The Second Birth

Fast forward, we are living in a country with Universal Healthcare while under a student visa.

A month before we had the baby we had to register at a hospital. This involved filling out a piece of paper and dropping it off at the hospital, then taking it back to the Ministry of Health office where they process it. This was only because we were not citizens and there on a visa. If we had been citizens, this step would have been omitted.

When we arrived at the hospital, they asked us our name and for my prenatal paperwork (you are supposed to bring documents from the doctor giving you prenatal care). We had it and the process took about 30 seconds. I was in a delivery room within seconds. This apparently is unusual as there is usually a waiting period before being given a room. This is not due to paperwork or billing but rather due to overcrowding. I have heard stories of women giving birth in hallways and waiting rooms and triage areas, not because they came too late but because there were not enough beds. I did not have that though, it was the middle of the night and the hospital was empty. I was sent straight to the delivery room.

The delivery room was ugly. One tiny chair for my husband to sit on. No TV. I could not touch the lights, let alone dim them. No speakers. The delivery was attended by a midwife and a nurse. There was a doctor on call but I did not see them at any point. It was a smooth delivery and the care was excellent.

Soon after I delivered they took the baby to the nursery to be washed and given tests. The pediatrician does not come to the room. My husband was told to get the baby himself afterwards from the nursery. The room where I stayed had 3 beds in it divided by curtains. By some stroke of luck I was by myself and had no roommates. This is unusual. There was one bathroom for us to share. No couches. No TV. No fridge. No diapers for the baby. There were a few personal care items for me. I had to request more which they gave me grudgingly. Visiting hours were strictly enforced and I basically spent the day by myself. There were so many “rules”. A nurse snapped at me, “This is a hospital, not a hotel!”. The nurses were busy nursing and this does NOT include bringing the patient things that they want and need. They gave medication and took fever and blood pressure. Anything else is not their problem. At a specific time I walked my baby to the nursery where they checked him and then I had to go back and get him myself. This was a lot of walking for someone so soon after childbirth! But there are studies that show that ambulation so soon after birth can actually promote healing so perhaps it wasn’t that bad?

The night was long and difficult. There was no one to help me. I had to get water by myself. The air-conditioning was off and it was so hot! I had no way to change it myself and the nurses were less than helpful. Nurses came to check on me but not to bring me anything. If I wanted anything or needed help I needed to get up and get it myself. Pediatrician rounds were at 6 am in the nursery. I dragged myself out of bed and brought my baby to the nursery to be checked. Walked back to bed, where a doctor came to check me and then went back to the nursery and picked up my baby. As soon as visitors were allowed, my husband came and I checked myself out AMA (against medical advice). I figured I would be more comfortable and have more help at home.

Before I left, they brought me a birth certificate to sign. That was the only piece of paper I signed the entire time I was there besides for the AMA form.

The next day, my husband brought the baby to the government run baby clinic for his heel prick test and to weigh him.

Total Cost of birth and baby care: $0

The main difference in the care received at the two hospitals is the attitude to the patients. In American, the patient comfort was extremely important to them. There were no “rules”. It was beautiful. We got free things. The doctors and nurses came to me (although I still had to beg for pain mess and the advice they gave me was suspect). Food was brought to me. They encourage relaxing, watching TV and doing nothing.

In “Other Country”- The hospital was a place to give birth and be monitored. I wasn’t “taken care of”. Nothing was given to me. I had to schlep to the nursery, to the cafeteria and ask the nurses for more pads. I brought my own diapers and water bottle. But the medical care was excellent.

Comparing the “experience” American was a million times nicer. In the “Other Country” no one gave a darn about the “experience” they cared about the medical process and that’s it.

Is paying a lot of money (and I am talking about thousands!!!!) worth it for a better experience?

In my experience the medical care in both places were good. Studies have shown that “Other Country” has much better maternal and baby outcomes. Significantly less C-sections, episiotomies and complications. Maybe because the doctors don’t attend the births? Maybe- I am not an expert and this is not what this post is about.

2 Births. 2 Experiences. Only 1 charged me.