“Why is money so tight when we are earning more of it than ever?” wondered Chaya Weiss. To help make ends meet, she’d begun working part-time as a secretary for an insurance agency. With five children to feed, clothe, and pay tuition for, she hoped that adding an extra $20,000 in salary would solve the Weiss family budget problems, and even allow for some savings. It was surprising, therefore, that they were still barely making it to the end of each month. Now, with Pesach just around the corner, she was getting a bit panicky. Somehow, everything seemed to cost twice as much between Purim and Pesach, plus they needed to buy all the added seasonal items like matzah, wine, and new clothing. Her added income didn’t seem to be helping!
What was she missing, and how could she fix the holes in her family budget?
The Working Balabusta
For thousands of years, the responsibilities of husbands and wives were for the most part clear-cut: he was in charge of bringing in the money and she, of running the house. Today, for many reasons, the lines of family duties have blurred with most women working out of the home at some point and husbands pitching in more with household errands. While having two incomes is a necessity for many families, many are often surprised when the financial benefit of two working spouses is smaller than they’d hoped.
One obvious cause of this is the government taking a larger share than it had previously, due to the wife bringing in additional income. What can be harder to recognize is that a woman’s “balebusta salary” (explained below) tends to fall as she works long hours at a stressful job. The combination of these two points can often eat up a lot of the gains of a second income.
The Government’s Share
Even the lowest salaries are made smaller by Uncle Sam. Tax withholdings can take a serious bite out of one’s salary; a significant portion of it goes to social security, Medicare, and federal and state income taxes. Depending on each family’s tax situation, these miscellaneous charges will take away 10–40% of earned income! And while losing 10% of one’s salary may not seem like such a big deal, those in low tax brackets may be losing significant government benefits as their income rises. Mrs. Weiss should ask an accountant to calculate what her actual take-home pay is; it’s definitely less than her $20,000 salary.
Losing the “Halbe Parnassah”
Unfortunately, the income lost due to government rules is just the beginning. A well-known expression claims that “ah gutte balabuste is a halbe parnassah”— a good housewife is half an income. The substantial financial value of a skilled homemaker is well-accepted in the financial planning and insurance industries. An article by the New York Life Insurance Company reminds customers to purchase life insurance to cover the value of mothers who spend an average of 92 hours a week playing the role of the family housekeeper/cook/teacher/psychologist/driver/accountant/nutritionist/event planner and so on. The estimated value of this super worker is over $100,000 annually! Often, the salary that a working mother earns comes partially at the expense of some of her “balabusta” salary.
How the Homemaker can save
Consider some of the things that an efficient homemaker can do to save money that are impossible or difficult for a working mother to do. The most basic of these items is taking care of young children. Working mothers usually spend a good chunk of their earnings on babysitting. Also, a working woman typically does not have the time to chase down various sales available for the food and clothing that make up a large percentage of household expenses. Often, extra cleaning help is required, as is an occasional takeout supper. A working woman might need a more reliable (and expensive) car, and even medical bills may go up. While Mrs. Weiss is still coming out ahead financially with her new job, after accounting for taxes and diminished homemaking value, the gain is proving to be too small.
Juggling It All
Now, of course, women who are working do so for financial gain, and many of them earn high salaries. Mrs. Weiss needs to rearrange things to make her job work for her. First, she can try to get some training for higher-paying work. Perhaps she can do better in a sales position, where her higher value will be rewarded with a better salary, or find a more profitable job at some other company. At the same time, perhaps she can refocus on maintaining her homemaker salary as much as possible. While childcare is an unavoidable expense, maybe she (or her husband and older kids) can still find time on nights and weekends to manage her customary household affairs and frugal purchasing. Maximizing both her job and her homemaker’s “salary” will enable her to get ahead with each paycheck.
Both sides of the equation
The point of all this is not to disparage the employment of women, most of whom work with great mesirus nefesh. However, as Yiddishe mammes (and tattes) have always known, there is also tremendous value in running their homes in a budget-conscious way. Handling both sides of the parnassah equation may bring many families of working women the financial balance they need.