(Note: Any spelling errors/typos are mine)
Is anyone out there surviving financially? I, for one, am not. Pesach itself set me back so seriously. In addition to the cost of making Yom Tov with the sky-high prices of Pesach food - and food in general, there were Afikoman presents to buy and Chol Hamoed trips to go on. This all made my already dire financial situation that much more disastrous.
Take eight kids to an amusement part on Chol Hamoed and you'll walk out having spent close to $200. For what? And if, chas veshalom we don't take our kids on a Chol Hamoed trip every single day, somehow we are lacking as parents. That's the feeling we get. So the day after the amusement park, we went to the Liberty Science Center. That, too, cost a veritable fortune. On the third day of Chol Hamoed, I said that instead of going on a trip, we would go buy Afikoman presents. Frankly, the Chol Hamoed trip would probably have been a bargain compared to the prices we paid at the toy store. On Erev Shabbos, the last day of Chol Hamoed, we took the kids bowling. Who would imagine that you would have to pay well over $100 for a family to play two games of knocking down some bowling pins?
It is unbelievable what is going on out there. The gas prices are absurd. The cost of food is absolutely ridiculous. The only thing in the grocery store that is reasonably priced is the Yated, but, last I checked, this newspaper is not edible.
Is there any end in sight to this recessions that we are in?
Here's my response:
Dear Feeling Hopeless,
Thank you for your letter. It is certainly true that there are many people struggling to make ends meet during these difficult financial times. Food prices have risen dramatically over the last year and people with large families and limited incomes are indeed feeling the pinch.
However, it seems to me that the people in your household are lacking two basic ideas:
1. There is a difference between items that are necessities (food) and things that are luxuries (Afikoman presents and Chol HaMoed trips).
2. There are plenty of things to do around around NYC that don't cost a "veritable fortune."
You start out your letter by stating that you were in dire financial straits even before Pesach. I'm certain that shopping for a family of ten (eight kids plus, presumably, two adults), Pesach is great strain on the budget. Of course, I don't know what you purchased, but I'm sure that you did your best to contain costs and yet, still came away with a huge food bill. I only have three kids, and yet Pesach food put a nice hole in our checking account -- I'm sure that with twice the number of people, you were hit at least twice as hard.
However, while no one can fault you for complaining about the spiraling costs of food, I think you can be taken to task on your failure to understand that Afikoman presents and Chol Hamoed trips are not necessities. As kids, many of us managed to get through childhood without going on trips everyday. There were years that, as a kid, my sister and I didn't have Afikoman presents simply because our mother didn't have the money. And yet, somehow, we managed to survive and grow into mature, productive adults. Trust me on this... your children will not be scarred for life if they don't go on a trip or don't get Afikoman presents.
In fact, I was discussing your letter with Eeees last night, and she brought something to my attention. Last year Pesach time was kind of tough for us financially. Baruch HaShem, we weren't in danger of going hungry, but we didn't have a lot of leftover cash either. As a result, the kids didn't get Afikoman presents. We did, however, take them on a day trip. One of my kids this year brought up to Eeees that they didn't get Afikoman presents last year.
However, all is not lost. Since you mentioned the Liberty Science Center, I am going to guess that you're in the New York area. In New York City, there are plenty of things to do that cost little or no money. Here are some suggestions for next Chol Hamoed.
1. Go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on Tuesday. It's free. The other days aren't too expensive either.
2. Go to the Prosepct Park or Queens Zoos. Adult rates are $6, kids 3-12 are $2. Assuming that of your eight kids two are older than 12 and one is under 3, the total cost (excluding transportation) is $34. Not bad for a family of ten.
3. Go to the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday. Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish day. Go, give $50, and enjoy the day with the animals.
4. Gather up a family or two, pack picnic lunches, Frisbees, balls and gloves and go have a picnic lunch/outing in Central Park or Prospect Park. There is plenty of room for the kids to run around all day. Subway costs for 10 people round trip: $40 -- assuming that all kids pay full fare.
5. Go to the American Museum of Natural History. While the suggested donation is $15 per adult and $8.50 per kid (for a total of $98), this is, again, a *suggested* donation.
6. Take the kids to FAO Schwartz. Just don't buy anything!
7. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and spend the day in Battery Park.
8. Ride the Staten Island Ferry and see the new aquarium at the Staten Island end. You'll also get to see the Statue of Liberty close up. Best of all, it's free.
9. Visit the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. It's free!
10. Visit grandparents. They're likely to pay the kids!
There you go... ten suggestions -- and I'm sure that there are plenty of other low/no cost things to do around the city that I've missed. The point is that you don't have to spend a fortune on trips for Chol Hamoed. If you like, go on one "expensive" trips and make the rest cheaper trips.
Listen, I understand that we all want to seem like "good parents" who will splurge for our children whenever possible. But sometimes, it's just not possible. If going on trips is going to completely blow your budget so that you won't be able to pay the real bills, then you have to be strong and just tell your kids no. You have to realize exactly what is a necessity and what is a luxury, and understand that Afikoman presents and expensive trips fall into the latter category and not the former.
Here's a bit of unsolicited parenting advice: Not taking your kids on a trip every day of Chol Hamoed will not make you seem "lacking as parents." On the contrary, by making an unpopular decision (and explaining *why* you're making it), you will be doing your children a far greater service - teaching them that one has to be responsible, set priorities where they belong (i.e. necessities first and then luxuries) and live within their means. Teaching them that lesson will remain with them and serve them well throughout life, long after the memories of the "missed trip" are faded and gone. Instilling this lesson in them will show that you are indeed not lacking as a parent, but a parent who teaches his/her children the lessons that they need to live.