Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Things (Almost) Every Jewish Home Needs

I had an odd dream last night which led me to this post. It's very simply a checklist of things that every Jewish home should, ideally, have. Of course, every home is different and your situation may not require you to have all of these. Nonetheless, I think that for most of us, all of these apply.

(Full disclosure: I, myself, am not perfect, and don't have all the items on this list. This is also somewhat of a checklist for myself as well. And no, I'm not going to tell you which ones I don't have yet.)

Physical Safety

Smoke Detectors
Every home should have smoke detectors installed. Ideally, they should also have carbon monoxide detectors as well. It's a very simple matter of safety -- in a fire, every second counts. You don't want to be sound asleep while a fire is raging through the house.

Make sure to check and/or change the batteries at least twice a year. Ideally, this used to be done when they would move the clocks, as the dates were roughly six months apart. Now, it's a bit more than that. Really, any two dates on opposite sides of the calendar work well -- the solstices, the equinoxes, Erev Pesach and Erev Succos, whatever...

Fire Safety Plan
If there is a fire, does everyone in your home know how to get out? Are they aware of alternate routes for escape? In the Wolf house, there are alternate exits for all floors except the basement (maybe we'll change that when we have the basement redone). The main floor has multiple exits. The upper floor has the main exit (down the stairs) and, alternately, out the window of our bedroom to the lower roof. From there it's about ten feet to the floor. There may be a broken bone on landing, but that's far better than staying in a burning house.

Of course, merely having the alternate exits don't help if people don't know how to use them. Make sure everyone in the family knows about the alternate exits and when to use them.

Fire Extinguishers
One should be located in the kitchen (the most likely source of a fire). Of course, it needs to be charged periodically. In addition, make sure that people know how to use it.

Emergency Preparedness
What if the kids are at school and some major, major event (think 9/11, a major flood, etc. or the like) happens, God forbid. Do your kids know where to go? Do you have an outside rendezvous point? Do your kids have an alternate person to contact in they can't get a hold of you? These things should be planned out in advance. Of course, you can't cover every contingency, but a set of rules should be put in place that will cover some of the more likely ones, depending on where you live and the ages of your kids.

Financial Safety

A Will
If you're single and you don't care what happens to your stuff after you die, then you don't need a will. Even if you're married without kids and don't mind all your stuff going to your spouse, then you also don't need a will. But if you have kids, a will is something you must have. It specifies where you want your minor children to go if, God forbid, something happens to both parents. Of course, this may require you and your spouse to have some uncomfortable conversations, but it is something that is necessary. In addition, make sure that you OK your choice of guardian with the people in question. It's *very* bad manners to just dump your kids on someone without asking.

In addition, make sure that you keep your will up to date. Make sure that you remove ex-spouses or deceased persons as beneficiaries (don't laugh, this happens more often than you'd think). Make sure your will reflects your current situation. For example: Anna Nicole Smith's will left everything to her son, to the exclusion of any other future children. As it turns out, she had a daughter after her will was drawn up, and the son ended up predeceasing her. Had the son not died, he would have inherited everything and her infant daughter would have been left out in the cold. However, little Danielynn was "lucky" that her brother died, since his death invalidated her will and left her to inherit Anna's estate. Now, you may not care much about Anna Nicole Smith and her lifestyle, but her will should serve as an example of how you have to keep your will up to date to make sure that *all* your loved ones are provided for. Not keeping it properly updated could end up hurting someone you love and leaving them in a big lurch.

Lastly, once you have a will, make sure that people know where it is. Your choice of guardian for your kids, or your plans for the distribution of your property isn't going to mean much if no one knows where your will is kept.

Life Insurance
You don't want to leave your loved ones unprotected in case of a disaster. The responsible thing to do is to provide life insurance to cover them in the even that something bad happens to you (God forbid). How much do you need? Well, the rule of thumb is that you need between 10 and 20 times your income; but that number is really something that should be discussed with a financial adviser, as everyone's situation is different The goal here, however, is to replace your income, so that your loved ones can continue living.

In addition, a non-working spouse should be insured as well. Let's face it, if a non-insured spouse dies, there may be additional costs that are incurred (child care is probably the #1 cost) by the family. Of course, you won't need nearly as much insurance as you need for the primary breadwinner, but you should have some coverage.

For insurance, most people recommend term insurance. It's cheaper than whole life, universal and other such products. Term life is better because the other products are, essentially, investments with a death benefit built in. However, the costs on these investments are usually pretty high... much higher than if you went with a "standard" investment such as a mutual fund.

Lastly, if you're single and have no dependents, you don't really need insurance. But it is bad manners, IMHO, to just "dump" the costs of the burial on your loved ones.

Emergency Savings Account
Things happen in life. The boiler breaks. The car needs a new transmission. You lose your job. Whatever. There are times when it is helpful to have money in the bank, even if only so that you can sleep better at night, so that you know that, in the short term, you have money to ride out the small emergencies. How much do you need? Well, that depends on each individual person... but ideally enough to cover three months' worth of expenses (not cover three months of salary... but you could do that too). This money should be kept in a money market account where you can get your hands on it when you need it. And don't raid it!!

How to fund it? If you bank on-line, your best bet is to set up an automatic transfer every month or every paycheck. It doesn't have to be big... start with only $10 if that's all you can manage. But make it a habit and bump it up every once in a while until you reach your savings goal.

Retirement Fund
This is a must, unless you want to end up living with your kids when you old. If your employer has a 401(k) available, take advantage of it. If they match funds, make sure you save enough to get the maximum match. To not do so is to turn away free money.

The great thing about 401(k)s is that the money is taken out of your paycheck before it gets to you. This way, you're not tempted to spend it. Ideally, you should put at least 10% of your income away. Of course, that number may change depending on your age, income, previous savings and any number of other factors. What if you can't afford to put away 10%? Start smaller. When I was younger and poorer, I started with 6% (so that I could get the maximum match my company offered) and then every quarter or half-year, I bumped it up 1%. The extra 1% will not amount to much being "lost" from your paycheck, but, if you have a lot of years left to retirement, it could amount to a lot of money when you are ready to retire.

One last point -- if you can only save for your kids' college expenses or retirement, which one do you choose? For most people, the correct answer is retirement. There are programs that will help fund your kids' college tuition. No one is going to fund your retirement.

Disability Insurance
Most working people should have disability insurance. This provides income for your family if you are out of work for an extended period of time. How much do you need? Most people replace 60-70% of their incomes, but, again, this is something that you need to figure out for yourself. In addition, if you pay the premiums with after-tax money, any funds collected are usually tax-free (make sure to double check this with your financial planner!!)

Spiritual Health

Mezuzos & Teffilin
I don't want to start a debate on whether or not mezuzos really protect your home. The truth of the matter is, it's really beside the point... you have to have them anyway. So make sure you have kosher mezuzos and have them checked, at a minimum, twice every seven years. Likewise, if you have anyone in the house who wears Tefillin, make sure to get them checked periodically as well.

Well, your home doesn't need this *in* the house, but you should have a Rabbi to go to when you have halachic questions. In addition, many Rabbis are also trained to help in other areas as well (grief counseling, etc.) and can be useful in non-halachic situations. Of course, you have to know what your Rabbi is capable of and not capable of. That changes on a rabbi-by-rabbi basis. But there should be someone whom you can turn to, whom you trust, when difficult halachic decisions need to be made.

This is just stuff off the top of my head. No doubt there is stuff that I missed (feel free to let me know) and stuff that can use correction and clarification. In addition, I also realize that there are families where the budgets are stretched to the max already and that many of the things that I put in the financial section may be out of reach. I understand that... I was in that situation at one time. But, nonetheless, try to start saving... even if only a little bit at first. It establishes a good habit and starts to provide you with safety net.

The Wolf


Lion of Zion said...

good list. i think the retirement fund and emergency savings are the hardest to do.

i would add

1) an emergency contact list, especially if you have kids

2) cash (i don't mean large amounts)

3) hatzalah's number on every phone (which i hope to post about soon)

Zev Stern said...

Lastly, if you're single and have no dependents, you don't really need insurance. But it is bad manners, IMHO, to just "dump" the costs of the burial on your loved ones.

I didn't even think about this until after my father a"h passed away. Shortly thereafter I joined Sinai Fraternal Order, to which my father had belonged. It's not just money; it's purchasing a plot and arranging a funeral that I don't want to leave to my family when time is short and they are non compos mentis. Sinai takes care of the plot, casket, tahara, takhrikhin and such with one phone call. Relatives still must pay for use of the chapel, opening of the grave and shmira, but those expenses are relatively minor. Joining is very reasonable if you are young, and your spouse and (r"l) unmarried children under 18 living with you are covered for no extra charge.

The Orthodox Union also provides the "O-U levaya" that can be arranged in advance; in Brooklyn it's handled by the Va'ad of Flatbush and Parkside Chapel.

Anonymous said...

A Carbon Monoxide detector.

Seforim for learning, according to the level of the family's ability. The children should both see their parents learn and know when their parents go to shiur.

A pushka--even though the overwhelming portion of your dollars will be by check, kids should get used to the mitzvah in a visible fashion. if you live in a town where collectors are knocking on the front door regularly, this mught be relaxed, as the kids will see it.

Zev Stern said...

Schnorrers knocking at the door? I never open my door to strangers, no matter how they're dressed. Terrorists and criminals come dressed like soldiers, rabbis, you name it. Besides, how do I know if the schnorrer is a needy Jew or a greedy parasite who doesn't believe in working for a living?

Avraham opened his tent to strangers who looked like Arabs, but his Arabs did not carry guns and bombs.

Orthonomics said...

Fantastic List. I bet we all have an area on that list where we need to get with the program. :)

Anonymous said...

Let me ask--why must you have a fire extinguisher? Just call 911 and the fire department will come and put out any fire. Besides, fire extinguishers can seriously injure or kill a child who plays with them due to the highly compressed gas.

Why must you have a first aid kit? Just call 911 and the ambulance will come and stop any bleeding and take care of medical problems. Besides, first aid kids often have sharp and poisonous objects in them--better to let the professionals handle them.

Of course, we know it's because unless the fire or bleeding is stopped early, trajedy can result. With that in mind, and with so many frum populations located in less-than-savory neighborhoods (Brooklyn, Baltimore, Cleveland, etc), why don't more Jewish homes own firearms?

At the risk of sounding like a radical right winger, every Jewish home needs a working firearm, and family members who know how to use it. When your window breaks late at night and an intruder enters, even with an alarm system, he has plenty of time to harm you and your family before the police show up. Trust me--I've seen it happen in communities where I've lived. Every year, millions of Americans proect themselves using firearms without even firing a shot.

And if you live in one of the 39 states that recognizes your right to protect your family, you should seriously consider getting a permit to carry concealed to prevent our shuls and schools from becoming the terrorists next "soft targets".

Anonymous said...

I might add that the other thing EVERY Jewish home needs is a 72-hour kit. Just google "72 hour kit" for some suggestions. It's a bag that contains everything your family needs to survive for 3 days should there be a natural disaster (think New Orleans), terrorist attack (think Manhattan), or just loss of utilities (water main breaks in the winter and you have little kids without water for 12 hours. Do you know how fast the stores will run out of bottled water?). We have one with food ration packs (kosher, Chof-K), sealed water bags, formula, diapers, changes of clothes, our identity papers (birth certificates, passports, vaccination records, etc), basic tools, plastic bags, paper towels, my spare tefillin, etc. Not talking about being some back-woods survivalist. Just having a bag so that should a disaster strike or even inclement weather, and you have to leave, you have everything you need to survive 3 days, which is generally enough time for basic services (National Guard and Walmart :-) ) to respond.

Anonymous said...

excellent list

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

1. Spare set of car keys and housekeys.

2. List on fridge of emergency contact numbers.

3. Kids should memorize their home addresses, phone numbers of parents cellphones.

4. Kids should know their parents FIRST NAMES.

In Israel, we have additions:

What to do in case of emergency,;terror attack, rocket attack, medical emergency -- who to call.

Anonymous said...

light up house numbers so hatzoloh can find you!