A little rant: The opportunity cost of our choices.

Since posting our Jewish Dave Ramsey story, I have received a number of comments and emails — most of them positive, but a few of them not. And I’m good with that, because G-d knows not everyone has to like me or like our story.

But what I’m not good with is the entitlement attitude that a few of these more negative emails have had. The “you can’t possibly understand because we only make $x a year” or “there’s no way we could do what you did because we have five kids and you only have three.”

Listen, whether I can “understand” you or not — and believe me when I tell you, we do NOT earn a sizeable income — and whether I have three kids or thirteen, it doesn’t really matter. Because YOUR life is still your life.

And all that negative “you don’t understand me” stuff is just an opportunity to avoid looking at the reality of it.

I am really sorry that anyone is struggling. I am. And I know how frustrating it is to feel like you have too many obligations and not enough money.

But you know what? It is what it is. And if you keep using that as an excuse, your situation is only going to get worse.

I’m not saying there are never extenuating circumstances — of course there are. But if you always use those circumstances as a rationalization for why you can’t, then you never will!

Here’s the bottom line: Every single time we spend a dollar — or, more likely, swipe our credit cards — we are making a choice. We may not be paying attention to that choice, but we are making one nonetheless.

And each of those choices comes with a corresponding opportunity cost. Maybe the cost is debt that continues to accrue. Or it’s savings that doesn’t get squirreled away. Or maybe it’s more subtle… like adding to our feeling of insecurity about money.

Does that mean we should all go live in a cave in order to avoid spending money?

No! Of course not. We have to live.

Heck, it’s even okay that we enjoy ourselves along the way! But ultimately, how we choose to live determines our financial legacy.

And this part I’m saying as much to myself as I am to “you”.

So here’s my advice — to myself, and to anyone else who’s listening: Enjoy yourself and your families. Honor your commitments. But balance that with awareness and responsibility. Make sure that the choices you are making today will help you to leave the financial legacy you intend.

Okay, rant over. But before I get back to our regularly scheduled program of menu planning and bargain shopping, I’d love to know what you think. Is it really impossible for some people to get out of debt due to income and/or family size? Or is that just a justification to keep doing the stuff that got them into “trouble” in the first place?




  1. Kol HaKavod Mara.

  2. Leigh Ann says:

    This comment will be quick because I am rushing around (what’s new?) but I wanted to be sure to comment 1. so that you know I support you and 2. to add my $.02 (because that’s pretty much all I have, har har.)

    So, we are one of those families with what some might view as “extenuating circumstances.” Because of the educational paths my husband and I chose, and some less-than-optimal choices navigating those paths, we are up to our ears in student loan debt. This is, like *massive* debt – not the 15 thousand of credit card spending, or even 40 thousand of a luxury car purchase that should never have been made. It is so much that, to be honest, we feel pretty hopeless about getting out of it before our hair turns gray. We are currently on a 30-year repayment plan and the dream is to be able to afford to get on to the 10-year.


    So, this is an extenuating circumstance. And it is a choice that we made. And it will prevent us from doing things that other people think we *should* be doing. The cost is that we just can’t do them. The cost is having to explain over and over again, or to bite our tongues, when people tell us, “you really need to understand the value of a babysitter and date night,” or, “attorneys are paid too much,” or, “why do you need to have SO MUCH in an emergency fund?”

    The cost is that maybe our kids won’t get to go to day school, or summer camp. The cost is that they don’t get to go to the “extra” preschool programs, and that we have to dodge questions about why we haven’t bought a house in the suburb where everyone else lives yet. It is not a sin, and no one will die. I would rather my kids understand the value of honoring our commitments than keepign up with the Joneses.

    I think it’s a choice a lot of people are having to make, but no one is comfortable with admitting it. We’re all suffering, Jews and Jewish organizations alike. It’s tough, very tough.

    Aaaand that’s my rant. Kol HaKavod to posting.

  3. Like Leigh Ann we made a choice to further my husband’s education and in turn his career. He got into a really, really good school and we were so happy we were blinded by the name and didn’t look at the nitty gritty when it came to loans. Our Student loans are equivalent to a second mortgage. And we have a first mortgage. Were these bad decisions? Probably. Is my husband happy and in a career with a lot of job security. Yes. As secure as jobs can be right now. Do we say no to extras? All the time. Do we still have fun? Absolutely.

    We opened our eyes to our debt last year. pay it down. Slowly. We will get there because we have two things most couples in this situation don’t. Open communication and realism. If you talk to each other and both of you understand the reality of the situation then you can work together to fix the problem. Any excuse is just that…an excuse.

    Excellent post Mara!

  4. Those who believe their situation is so different, while yours is surmountable are not yet to the point of owning their situation and turning their situation around. We all start in different places, but where we land is a function of behavior and the only behavior we can change is our own.

  5. Thanks all for your feedback. I so appreciate it! I sat on this post for a couple of weeks because the last thing I wanted to do was alienate people.

  6. I liked the honesty of this post. One of my recent epiphanies was that decisions I make based on my principles, even religious principles, are choices. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. I may refuse to compromise on serving chicken for Shabbos every week, but that may mean beans and eggs during the week. My tuition payments don’t mean that I am entitled to ignore mounting debt.

  7. Chavelamomela says:

    Great post. We all have our situations that make life difficult, hard, or even seem insurmountable. Some people can come out of debt in a few months, some a few years, and others…decades. But the important thing to understand is that we’re not just making responsible choices for ourselves, but we’re also teaching our children an invaluable lesson about how to make choices, weigh options, and how to plan responsibly. We make choices every day. I remember some of my friends thought we were nuts when DH and I insisted on having jobs before we got engaged/married (many of them were relying on parental support if they were still in school). Sure, we were grateful for help from our parents, but we didn’t rely on it, and we still don’t…though some days we would love to just say “Mom & Dad – HELP!!!” And we have…but it took a REAL emergency, and not just poor planning to put us in that situation. The reason that help was available when we REALLY needed it is because we saved it for that kind of situation, and didn’t use up the “good will credits” for less major things.

  8. I just read through your entire Dave Ramsey story (thanks for putting it in the sidebar – so convenient!) and was tremendously inspired. I am going to talk to my husband about getting on a budget and taking control of our finances!

    Thank you for having such an incredibly useful blog (which is very aesthetically pleasing as well – I love it!), and for using your wonderful writing abilities to help all of us out here who aren’t quite adept at managing our money. I plan on visiting a lot. You are in my Google reader.

  9. I am really inspired by your story, Mara! Thank G-d my issue is more of how to budget rather getting out from a ton of debt, but I’m really looking to live leaner and get our mortgage paid off and maybe even being a one income family. I’m happy that an old Frisch friend who I haven’t spoken to since HS recommended liking your blog!

Leave a Comment