Budgeting Basics | Kulam b’Minus – But Is it Really Beseder? {Guest Post}

Today’s guest post comes from one of KOAB’s Israeli readers, Rifka Lebowitz. Whether you live in Israel or North America, I think Rifka’s post gives all us food for thought.

It’s no secret that reckless attitudes can have tragic consequences. Saying “yihiyeh b’seder” while acting irresponsibly is an easy way to side step thinking critically about our actions. And sadly, it doesn’t always work out alright in the end.

It seems like everyone these days takes the easy way, the “yihyeh b’seder” way, with their finances and plunge into minus, a negative balance in their bank account.

People in Israel are very open and will tell you almost proudly “I’m in minus”…. “I live in minus”. It is so acceptable that you can get into a cab and overhear the cab driver discussing his overdraft with someone on the speakerphone.

Going into “minus” or overdraft, is in many cases a type of short-term debt, rather than an investment or plan for purchasing assets, and is therefore termed “bad debt”.

In the United States, the situation is no better. Short-term “bad debt” is just packaged differently, as credit card debt, so if feels more manageable. But the fact that most people live in debt remains.

What they are probably not sharing is that:

  • They don’t really know what it’s costing them in interest
  • If they weren’t paying off that high-interest debt, they could live better
  • They would prefer to live without debt but don’t know how
  • They only accept living in debt because it seems like everyone else is

Part of this “minus” culture is bred by the banks themselves, which offer overdraft like a baker offers bread. When opening up a checking account, the banker will likely encourage you to pay for the option of going into minus.

For some people it can be very difficult to make ends meet, as the prices of products, housing, and utilities have risen over the past few years. Still, in many cases it’s not what you earn that determines amount of bad debt you have, but rather the attitude towards spending.

It requires honesty to begin addressing debt. Rather than dismissing tough questions, we need to ask ourselves if we’d really rather be in debt than make a given purchase.

Only you can control your finances. The fact that a neighbor – or even everyone on the street – is living in minus doesn’t actually make it easier, even if misery loves company. But paying your bills on time will.

Living within your means also means going to sleep with the peace of mind of a secure future. Don’t you deserve that more than overdraft?

Rifka Lebowitz, financial consultant, guides families and small business owners to plan their finances optimally. Rifka can be reached at [email protected]




  1. Rifka, this is right up my alley! I’m working hard to pay off student-loan and “simcha” debt right now. I’d much rather be buying a new car (I drive a rusty ’95 Caravan and dented ’97 Buick, both with many, many miles on them.) or traveling or putting granite counters in my kitchen. It does feel really good to be paying down the debt, but it’s very hard watching my neighbors do all the fun stuff.

    • Hi Dodi,
      Well done on working hard to pay off your debt – it can be so hard.
      You are unlikely to regret paying off your debt. So keep focused and I’m confident you’ll get where you need to be and then you will be able to do some of the “fun” stuff soon.

      • Dodi,
        One more thought- don’t assume that because you” watch your neighbors do all the fun stuff” that they can afford it.
        Some of them are very possibly living beyond their means, whither they realize it or not.
        Or they could be the people I mention who would live even better if they were’t paying off that high-interest debt to do the “fun stuff”.

  2. All true and written well!
    You are talking about what NOT to do, now we want to hear what we SHOULD do..

  3. Hi! Rifka, everything you said makes perfect sense, but the question is, how do you get out of the minus? We have all our numbers written out, we know what we owe, and to whom we owe it to, but we just can’t dig ourselves out of it. We’ve cut EVERYWHERE we can possibly cut, but the problem is, after we pay all of our bills each month, before we’ve purchased the first morsel of food or anything else we might need, the money is gone and we have to revert back to the credit cards to put food on the table. Using coupons and shopping wisely has cut our grocery bill way down, and we live very frugally, but we just don’t know how to dig out to get out of the minus. I’d love to cut up the credit cards and never touch them again, but that would literally mean we wouldn’t have food on our table. Any advice?

  4. we’re a couple with a baby in jerusalem. TG we have no debt whatsoever and keep our expenses pared down. we live in an expensive neighborhood because my husband is in kollel here. we obviously have no car, and our grocery bill is quite low for the super-mehadrin that we eat (~NIS 1700/month). i’m about to go back to work after 14 glorious paid weeks off, and my son will go to a (private) maon in my office building. we’re moving to a 3-room apartment this week. please tell me- why does it look like we’re only going to break even on my over-NIS 10k take-home pay??? that’s even before my husband does any work (he’s paid hourly), though it does include tzedaka. but the majority of the country earns much less- how do they do it?? thankfully we saved a lot until now by living in two rooms and having no one in maon (and before we were married), but i refuse to consider being anything but cash-flow positive.

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