Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jewish Economics - Getting Started

Before I got married, I was speaking to a few different people about the cost of living. One of my rebbeim summed it up nicely: You need to have about $30,000-35,000 for your first year of marriage, living conservatively but comfortably, with the low end being closer if you do not own a car (as we do not) and the high end if you do. But, if you'll ask many young couples to be how much they think they'll spend, most will estimate numbers in the low-to-mid $20k range. I have - and still do - show friends who are thinking of marriage a breakdown of their expenses, and the numbers never cease to shock them... and I only list the basic monthly expenses, leaving out items such as food, clothing, and entertainment.

Why are they so surprised? Part of it is a basic math error they all make: They take their own expenses, add them together, and figure that since they're buying certain things as a couple, they save money. And while all of that is true, they miss out on basic differences that they weren't paying before but our now. A single 22-year old friend calculated yesterday that she needs less than $10,000 a year to live (she has a very low rent)... and she was right when we checked her numbers. Even if most people similar to her live a little more extravagantly, their expenses at similar ages (without a car) are less than $15,000. Double that and subtract a bit and you get that low-mid $20k range mentioned above.

But couples are different. Whether they were living at their parents or in an apartment with friends, their rent - one of their largest costs - will be higher. They will now be paying much higher amounts for medical insurance, which many were not paying for before. Small expenses that some were lucky to dump on parents' credit cards no longer can be dumped... and then there's the landline, the internet bill, the gas and electric bills... and so on. There's the high cost of having guests, of making Shabbos, of making some Yom Tovim. A Shabbos in our house can range from $40-$150, depending on how many guests we have, though I'll grant that we made a conscious choice to have lots of guests. [As the same rebbe said, "There are some expenses that while on the face of it seem unnecessary are necessary for how you want to live your life. If you feel it is important to have guests, that may be an expense worth taking on and you'll have to cut in other areas."]

$30,000-35,000... and we're just getting started.

Out of curiosity, how much did you or do you think it would cost a young couple to live (take into account city/neighborhood - obviously the ranges are slightly lower, but not much lower, outside of NY-NJ)? What about a single person in their early 20's [undergraduate], or in their mid-late 20's [working/grad school]? [I'm leaving married with kids for later on.] Are you or were you surprised in either way once you hit a certain point in life, whether marriage or something else, by the rise or fall in expenses vs. your expectations?