Shopping had become a painful experience for Bracha Frankel. As someone who worked long hours, shopping was usually just an afterthought for her. But now, with the Pesach shopping receipts laid out in front of her, it became clear that she’d been too complacent about the drastically rising cost of living. Most household items, including food, dry goods, and clothing, were up by double digits at the minimum. And from her experience, this was not just a Pesach or kosher food issue—prices in Costco and Walmart were also through the roof. She needed to make some changes, and quickly, to rebalance her budget.
But with her salary roughly the same as it was before the latest inflation surge, how could she make it work?
Multiple Tactics Required
While paying household bills has always been a challenge for frum families, the most recent runaway inflation has left many budgets busted. And while some have been able to negotiate raises to compensate for greater costs of living, others will have to employ some old-fashioned frugality tactics. There’s a reason so many idioms connected to budgeting exist, such as “making ends meet,” “stretching a dollar,” and “tightening the belt.” Economic cycles often require a rethink of income and expenditures, and this is one such time. The goal is “trimming the fat” in a wise, measured way that doesn’t leave family members resentful.
The current circumstances require us to relearn how to do more with less. Long-term, much of our costs stem from a rise in standards of living, meaning, we are buying more and pricier stuff; it’s not just that the same items rose in price. You may want ask yourself a couple of questions about your standard of living: Can you really not manage at this stage in a three-bedroom basement apartment? Do you need two vehicles? Does every outfit and accessory have to be new every season? Do you need multiple vacations every year? Does every cousin have to come to the aufruf and wedding and sheva brachos? Many find that a simpler lifestyle is a happier one…and of course, less expensive.
In addition to limiting quantity, switching from brand names to less costly brands and solutions can make a big difference to a household budget. Swapping your Gulfstream G650 jet for a Cirrus Vision may be a humbling experience, but the savings are substantial. Just kidding. But many off-brands offer equal quality for a fraction of the price. Don’t believe it? Try some blind taste testing with your family. You’d be surprised how often the people who claim they can tell the difference between premium and “ich” versions can’t actually do so when challenged.
On the other hand, some things are not worth cutting. Luxury brands often don’t offer much more than bragging rights, but paying more for a quality product is usually worth it. Take a watch, for example. There are people who spend thousands because they want to display a certain level of affluence or they just enjoy watch collecting as an expensive hobby. Those watches don’t tell time better, however. But spending on a durable watch that won’t break is often wiser than buying a cheap watch that needs replacing on a regular basis.
It’s never been easier or more important to shop around to make sure you’re getting a good price. Often, prices for the same items vary by 10–20% or sometimes much more, depending on which seller you do business with. That doesn’t mean you need to change stores every week or every month, but depending on where you live and what you’re buying, you can save a tremendous amount of money by being price conscious. Some also do very well shopping off-season; depending on how styles or technology shifts, being one or two models behind is often not detrimental at all.
Focus on the Big and Recurring
When thinking about shopping shifts, whether by conserving, changing brands, or shopping around, it’s important to focus on what will make the most impact with the least amount of time and effort. Categories to focus on are those that are either large purchases or those that recur on a constant basis. Choosing a house in a less expensive area that doesn’t come with the burden of maintaining landscapes and a pool can make a massive difference year in, year out. Spending hours to find a less expensive blender or a one-time airplane flight will not.
While everyone has to keep an eye on expenditures, the key during an inflationary period is to make sure your earnings meet or even beat rising costs. Within reason, bosses and clients understand the need to raise prices to keep up with inflation. It’s important to be offering a product or service that has pricing power that enables maintaining the process required to pay the bills. If you have zero pricing power, you may be in the wrong line of work.
Attitude is Everything
Ultimately, we all know that money does not equal happiness, and obsessing over what will happen will probably be counterproductive. Hashem is in control in every economic environment. Tighten your belt, try to earn more money, and soldier on.