Mar 13, 2019
How I Got To Financial Freedom

Up until 5 years ago, Chaya Margolin says she knew nothing about money. When debt began piling up, she decided to make a big change.

by Chaya Margolin
Reprinted with permission from the N'shei Chabad Newsletter

Up until five years ago, I knew nothing about money.

I would receive my paycheck and hand it to my husband, trusting that he knew exactly what to do with it.

I would go shopping for things we needed, things we wanted, and things that I simply saw. I would use either a credit card or debit card. It made no difference to me. I had no idea how much savings we had, how much money we had in our account or how much money we were making. None of this was of any concern to me.

But at some point I did start noticing that my husband could sometimes be evasive about our financial circumstances. Could I buy this pair of shoes that I needed? Yes, he would respond, weíll figure it out. But do we have the money for it? Yes, yes, he would say, donít worry, Iíll work it out.

If you need it you need it.

Then there were other times that I would buy something and my husband would get stressed about it. ďDo we really need that?Ē he would ask me. ďWe canít afford to just keep on buying all this stuff.Ē

Yet if I asked any questions about our money he either didnít know the answer or would get uncomfortable. I realized that talking about money always became awkward, but I was really just trying to understand what was going on.

Soon I started paying attention to small purchases I was making, and then worrying about the big things: What would we do about tuition, a down payment, bar mitzvahs, weddings? We had debt (how much? I had no clue), but was there any plan for paying it off? Were we giving a tenth of our income to tzedakah, or less, or more? Every time I would broach the subject we would end up in an argument.

Why was it so difficult to talk about money? If it was really in such short supply then why were we spending on non- essentials like expensive restaurants and vacations? And if it wasnít in such short supply, why were we unable to talk about it?

I know now that the topic of money is one of the biggest taboos and roots of arguments between couples. A 2015 study by SunTrust Bank and another one (also 2015) by the American Psychological Association affirm that money was the primary issue for a full 35 percent of couples experiencing stress in their relationship. That number jumps to 44 percent for those aged 44-54, meaning the older a couple gets the worse it becomes.

And then I found a book called The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey in the home of my parents-in-law. I shamelessly stole the book from them and read it cover to cover; it changed my outlook. After that I read more books on money management, devouring anything I could get my hands on. Thatís when I first began to think about things like investments and retirement.

One of the hardest things in the beginning was getting my husband on board; he just didnít think I knew what I was talking about. But then I made a budget, which he appreciatedóafter all, I was the one regularly spending the money. The truth is, he hates numbers and spreadsheets, and was happy for me to create a budget that he knew we needed but was neglecting. When he finally realized that I actually knew what I was talking about he was happy for me to take the lead.

We had credit card debt but thankfully still had savings left over from our wedding. Repeating what he heard from ďaround,Ē he said debt was good for credit. I didnít buy it and convinced him to pay off our credit card debt in one shot. We did, and soon enough, using the tools I had gained from my research, began rebuilding our savings. A few months after we paid off our debt I had built up our savings to our previous level; now my husband was hooked.

With our future in mind, together we started investing our money.

The solution to our financial issues was relatively simple, but making that change in our lifestyle was difficult. It took a lot of hard work. It took a lot of perseverance and patience but we changed the way we live.

I found money in our income to spend on the things we value, but not on things that are not really important but eat up money. I now have peace of mind about our future. However, the most positive change was the way it helped my marriage. Money is now an easy conversation between my husband and me. We talk about it often, and sit down every month to review and discuss our budget. No more do we have those awkward conversations wondering where our money went and who spent how much on what.

The books that I had been reading were great, but from the start I saw that while the general approach absolutely worked, it wasnít tailored to my frum lifestyle. The more my life evolved, with multiplying children (and with them, of course, multiplying tuitions, and future expenses like camps, weddings, etc.), the more I saw that. We all pay thousands of dollars a year on tuition on top of all the other necessary Jewish expenses.

An anonymous writer published on the website Times of Israel (Sept. 11, 2017) an article entitled ďI Can Do Jewish On Just $40,000 a Year.Ē It went viral. Unlike that writer, we all understand the importance of chinuch and so private school tuition is an obligation not a choice. But at the same time, we need to remember our priorities and values. We donít need to pay for the Pesach hotels or the other things mentioned in that article. Itís not all or nothing. The big expenses like Tishrei and Pesach come around every year. We shouldnít be surprised when they come up, but need to instead prepare. Sometimes all thatís needed is a step back and a look at the budget (sometimes a change of job or change of location is needed in order to make it work). We can live a Yiddishe lifestyle with the Yamim Tovim and filling the needs of our kids without having a brand new car, tons of Shabbos outfits for our sons and daughters, and the fanciest double stroller on the market.

And so as I applied what I learned to my own life, I began editing it to conform to afrum lifestyle. Then, having experienced first- hand the amazing benefits of living debt-free and planning ahead, I started to encourage my friends and family to try it out too. Seeing that I could help others, in the past year I began offering financial coaching.

It could very well be that the husband or the wife is better suited to take the lead when it comes to organizing finances. Regardless of who takes the lead, both husbands and wives can and should play a participating role in managing finances.

Research (and experience) has shown that women have a knack for thinking about details. Women generally need to feel secure and therefore they are usually the first ones in the marriage to detect that something might be wrong financially and want to reach for help.

Additionally, and this is especially so in our community, for the most part it is we women who are regularly spending the money. Groceries, childrenís clothing, baby supplies, Shabbos; many of us find that our husbands have no idea what needs to be bought. Yet too many wives have no inkling of what their budget should look like; it is difficult to watch what you spend, or be a knowledgeable consumer, if you donít have a budget. In the old days I might have told my husband that I absolutely needed such-and- such diaper bag. What does he know about the necessity of a diaper bag? Had I known what our finances looked like I would have been in a better position to evaluate whether I needed that particular bag or not. All of which does not mean luxuries or extras canít be had; they can, but only when you plan for it in an organized and responsible manner.

But all of this can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing.

So many people start out with the intention of finally tackling their finances, getting a budget down on paper, and taking control, but they get bogged down and lose their drive. Thatís where I come in. As I started helping family, friends, and clients with their personal financial struggles, I saw that they needed a lot more than a five-minute pep talk. Sitting with them and going through their finances and finding the particular issue in their situation (everyoneís finances and make-up are different), I realized that the ideal solution for them was to sit down with me and really focus on it twice or three times. We spread it out over three months so they had a working plan they could experiment with. As various important or unexpected expenses popped up we are able to edit the budget, moving on from lapses in judgment and celebrating accomplishments as we go, always encouraging them not to lose hope.

Everyone is different. Some people have no savings, and are making little money. Paying back their debts could take months, or years, but it is possible. Other couples are bringing in nice salaries but have no idea where the money goes, leaving them with nothing at the end of each month. Sometimes this second scenario is the more difficult to fix.

We need to always keep in mind our values and priorities. As parents, the most important things our families need are a roof over their heads, food, and chinuch. After that we need to choose what we value, and our priorities. Do we want to be a burden on our children in our old age? Do we value ballet lessons over saving for our daughterís wedding? Is a new Yom Tov outfit from Kingston more important than saving for a down payment? Once we are thinking about a down payment, which neighborhood, which city, is reasonable and affordable for us? In the big picture, how important is it for us to have that fancy-looking car?

I took a course, Dave Ramsey Financial Coach Master Training, and now my course that I offer is called Financial Freedom because the luxuries should be allowed in our life. But we need to think them through and first make room for the really important things. And if you budget and stick to it, you will be financially free.

Chaya Margolin lives in Crown Heights with her family. Chaya is a graduate of the Financial Coach Master Training program, which helped her gain knowledge and perspective on how to help families from different backgrounds and with various financial issues to get organized, start budgeting and climb out of debt. She is also principal of the Shluchim Officeís Nigri Jewish Online School. For further information or to schedule an appointment, contact Chaya at or 718.962.5033.

Most Read Most Comments

Opinions and Comments
The nate
Secrets of the millionaire mind is one of the best books
(3/13/2019 6:10:16 PM)
a thought
i followed dave ramsy method of budgeting for a year and a half and i found that its hard to stick to a budget for a whole month ... for example if i had 1000$ for food for the month by the last week and a half we always ran out ...
now i follow jordan page who works with a budget plan by the week (not including any fixed expenses...) i find it soooooooo much better and we bh stick to our budget every week. because now if thursday i finished my budget then i just wait to sunday to buy more ,,,,,, one can always wait 2 days waiting a week and a half isn't doable ...

also dave ramsy has everything divided into categories and it made budgeting very time consuming and overwhelming
in our new plan we have food budget and a everything else budget ... (not including fixed expenses) i keep a google doc on my phone and my husbands and as we purchase we just keep track automatically .... we never need to meet and budget cuz we essential budget all day ... everytime we make a purchase

either way thank you for your article -i too believed it was imposibble and I'm living the impossible it feels amazing to budget and when you do make purchases you actually feel good about them .... because ur not guilty
(3/13/2019 6:27:32 PM)
My gosh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????!!!!!
You don't need a rocket scientist to tell you "don't spend more than your income. Really, are you going to pay someone to tell you "make a budget... Get out of debt before going on your next vacation... Don't eat out if you make less then 50,000 a year... common, use your head if you have a little common sense..don't spend like your in congress... then cry I'm broke... Get your act together and your finances.....people are just plain dumb these days.... That max out all their credit cards and wonder 6 months later... Oh boy... I'm in debt.. heeellloooo.... Really!!! I wonder why!!!!
(3/13/2019 6:40:03 PM)
Its about time
So many families are struggling. Sometimes I wonder how they make it. I myself calculated my income at a little over two million a year and still find it a bit difficult. Itís not only tuition but also supporting my kids in kollel. My wife is a big spender but I myself live simple. Iím glad there is someone out there to help yidden with financial advice. Hatzlacha
(3/13/2019 6:50:56 PM)
Congratulations and best wishes
Many years ago (I'm now on Social Security), we also struggled, especially with Pesach expenses. We worked out a system where our weekly food budget included Pesach. My job was to "hide" the Pesach money so we would have it for Pesach. I had my own bank accout where I accumulated the money. It may sound like a gimmick, but it worked for us.
(3/13/2019 6:58:27 PM)
with# 3
everything is so gashmius that people just plunge into the buying mode and keep up with the jonzes. Tuition is a killer, yes.But if you are eating out and buying plane tickets tuition should not be the issue.
(3/13/2019 7:32:01 PM)
Go chaya!
Chaya, U donít know it, but Iíve read one of your articles a while back and it really inspired me to get on board with our family finances. We began digging our way out of debt, and BH were almost there!

Wishing u lots of Hatzlacha in the great work that u do!
(3/13/2019 7:47:26 PM)
(3/13/2019 7:55:20 PM)
Glaringly Missing -
It's not as simple as prioritizing roof, food and chinuch. Yidden give maaser and do chesed, especially us Crown Heightsers are constantly hosting out of town guests. It's now considered spending irresponsibly when agreeing to host yet again for the upcoming chidon or when giving maaser to a yid missing limbs r"l! That's as inherent to our lifestyle as paying tuition.
(3/13/2019 7:56:11 PM)
At comment #4
What do you do for a living?
(3/13/2019 7:59:53 PM)
To #3
'Spend like you're in congress'? Sounds like a Dave Ramsey quote to me;) Sounds like you did benefit from having someone tell you how to work your finances.. Nothing wrong with that.
(3/13/2019 8:01:22 PM)
Expenses are over jncome
So what do you do if your expenses are more than your income?
Yeshivah Tuition 50,000???
thats just 5he tip.
All i can say is that our debt is mostly not frivolous
Its from Tuition, Camp which we consider priorities
(3/13/2019 8:09:26 PM)
To #3 One size does not fit all.
You think it's all about one simple idea. It isn't.
What do you if you are living within your means and suddenly one of the kids gets sick and the hospital bill which the insurance won't cover, is more then what you gross, in a month?
What if a person has ADHD and cannot effectively concentrate on things like figuring every purchase into a budget?
Your simplistic view leaves out many real world situations.
Don't judge others who's place you are not in, and have no concept of.
(3/13/2019 8:23:21 PM)
Good until...
You have 8 tuitions to pay and between that, mortgage, food and very basic bills you are just not making enough money. Sometimes the paychecks do not cover basic expenses. You canít not send your kids to school, have a roof over your head or eat. We donít go on vacations or spend a penny that is not necessary, and we are still in debt from basic expenses
(3/13/2019 8:38:40 PM)
So interesting!
I would appreciate a weekly column from Mrs. Margolin, this is so apropos, and so relevant. I also listen to Dave Ramsey, but it would be nice to hear from a yiddishe person.
(3/13/2019 8:57:44 PM)
I used to be in debt
We were always in debt, on food stamps, missed tuition payments mind you for an oot school so our bill is bigger than out mortgage and barely food in the fridge. We barely gave tzedoka, I did not have enough emunah.

We did a major turnaround first we got rid of our second car although we live in a place where 2 would be better, I found having one of us uber to work cheaper than paying a car payment, gas and insurance. When it's nice out my husband will bike to work.

I gave up my job as a teacher and found a job doing customer service from home, I only work 9 hours a weeks but I get to stay home with my younger kids which cuts day care, clothings, supplies, eating out costs significantly. I did not realize that I could not afford to work and how much I would spend on having a job. I keep more in the bank working part time from home.

We stopped flying out for every simcha and if we do only one of us and a couple of kids will go.

Our biggest change is we now use cash only. It makes such a difference, you are more aware of how much you are spending. When you see an empty purse it's easier to stop buying things instead of a limitless cc.

Because of all out changes these past few years we are able to put money into a retirement account, we set aside $25/week for each child for whatever upcoming simcha is needed. Whatever money is leftover from the simcha savings will be used towards their wedding savings. All our credit cards are paid off.

The best part is that we now look forward to giving tzedoka and are actually able to sponsor things. We are off food stamps, wic and are no longer on the receiving end. Recently I was reluctant about giving a large donation but my husband assured me that Hashem would take care of us. That same week we randomly got check from our home insurance company for an error they made which was the same amount that we donated.

I see now that if we do our part and spend only on what's necessary we will be take care of. We can afford to go on a pesach program but choose not to because its not essential. Donating to our children's school and our community is more important.
(3/13/2019 9:44:54 PM)
Fan from Far
Chaya Margolin! The Best!
(3/14/2019 7:09:19 AM)
Much needed!
Thank you Mrs. Margolin. The topic of finance and proper budgeting is so important. You are correct: many marital problems can be averted with proper money management. We have enormous expenses as frum Jews but we can manage if we take proper precautions. It may not still be easy but we can make life more bearable.
Young couples, along with the halachic and hashkafic training they receive, should have a couple of courses on finance. Maybe you should make this a priority. And women need to be aware nowadays too. Finance was often the responsibility of the man of the house but women have to know what is going on, as your article attests to.
Thank you for your initiative.
(3/14/2019 9:29:33 AM)
To save something you need to make enough first of all
Living in CH is expensive but Income not so good for many .... so all your theories are good only for people who make 100k after taxes +but overspend all for luxury and maids ...
families who lives under 50K are broken families with 0 Money to save, stretching $ too hard for them.
Thatís why you see long lines for food pantries & food distributions before YomTovs in CH or other gemach like uniform donations or coat donations for CH kids
(3/14/2019 9:43:53 AM)
The millionaire next door
A number of years into my marriage I read this book & it changed my life. No secrets or even techniques but a healthy awareness of money and how to make it work for you.
(3/14/2019 10:18:49 AM)
So important
There are so many women operating as Mrs Margolin describes at the start of the article. It's extremely unhealthy in this day and age of credit cards and the ability to spend more than you have. I always thought I was careful with $ but I had never even looked at the bank account once I got married and my husband managed the $. I finally opened my eyes, went to the bank, and started to see what was going on. My understanding of "necessary" purchases changed dramatically and we began to take control of our life and finances (long process but so worth it)
(3/14/2019 11:23:24 AM)
Mrs. Margolin
While there are many expenses associated with raising a family, especially a Frum one, I think that it is very important to stress the issue of purchasing Life insurance especially for families with young children..
(3/14/2019 11:28:02 AM)
I was just going thru some old neshei magz and came across this exact article. Thankfully I have been starting along this road. Thank you Chaya for your great work.
(3/14/2019 1:55:37 PM)
I think would be great if there were courses in the community on this topic
So many people struggle. But where is this topic taught? It needs to be a priority, especially in the frum community where expenses are high
(3/14/2019 5:56:09 PM)
To No. 19
Yes, it is very hard on 50K or less, but that does not mean budgeting is not important. It is even more important. And part of financial planning is determining whether there are realistic ways to increase income. With two healthy adults there are many options for increasing household income by investing in yourselves to learn new skills, go back to school, etc. so the parents can get a better job or start a business -- perhaps as a financial coach/personal financial advisor. Investing in a few really touch years early in your life (i.e. Abba takes care of the kids in the evenings so Ima can go to school or vice versa) will be worth it for multiple years to some. Your older self will thank your younger self. And, think of the good you can do.
(3/14/2019 6:55:02 PM)
To No. 16
I love your comment about now looking forward to giving Tzedakah. It is so liberating to get one's priorities straight and escape the pressure to keep up with the Jones. And a great example for your children
(3/14/2019 6:58:05 PM)
You paid off your debts with your parents/wedding money
Your wedding money that you paid off debts was your free money, it's nice that you had this option that usually others don't have. so what is the idea of budgeting - set your real goals and live by budget, it dose not mean not to go to the restaurants or vacations - it does mean to save first before for all your pleasure time.
(3/14/2019 7:22:01 PM)
Dave Ramsey rocks!
Iím reading this article and it really mirrors my own experience- I also am married with a young family living in CH and spent the first few years of married life spending as needed and wanted. Then before I knew it I had over $100k in Cc debt. Long story short, my husband and I listen to Dave Ramseyís podcast almost every day to keep on track. We follow a budget now for 4 years and have BH gotten out of debt and are working on saving for a down payment. I have to admit that now, with my kids getting older and all in school at the same time (no more babies at home) itís becoming really hard. Tuition and camps are a crazy big part of the budget.. as large as rent/mortgage. Yes chinuch is non negotiable but itís outrageously expensive. Thatís not something Dave Ramsey touches on because public school is free. Schools, please find a way to cut the cost of tuition!!! And kudos for Chaya for going through the master class and providing much needed help.
(3/15/2019 11:01:28 AM)
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