Money counts … A Lot

May 17, 2013

Maayan Jaffe

Mazal tov. You’re getting married. The whole world is wide open to you — but daddy’s wallet isn’t anymore. When it comes to finances, says Josh Hurewitz, counselor coordinator of Mesila, young couples are best off getting educated and starting out on the right foot.

Mesila, an international Jewish nonprofit with a branch in Baltimore, is available to help couples do just that. The organization, founded in 1998, has a vision: The only effective way to combat the widespread problems of poverty and debt is to give people the tools to become self-sufficient. The local Mesila branch focuses its efforts on two distinct areas: education and counseling.

Locally, Mesila has been operating since 2009. Over those few years, according to Hurewitz, it has worked with upward of 190 families struggling — or attempting to avoid struggling — with their finances. Hurewitz says the clients run the gamut of “middle-ish” families — around three to four children — to larger families and couples just starting off. He has seen widows who, for the first time, are responsible for paying bills and don’t know where to begin. Most of the clients, however, are those who have had a wake-up call, who recognize they are in trouble and cannot keep going.

“People usually wait until it is too late,” says Hurewitz. “It is much harder to help them at that point.”

Hurewitz said he is on a campaign to get clients in faster and more willingly. Not knowing about finances, he said, is not an embarrassment. Knowing about finances is essential. He said in an ideal world, all young people, when they graduate from high school — or minimally as they are about to marry or are just married — should get into financial counseling and understand what blocking and tackling is in financial management. Questions like what is a credit card? A mortgage? A car payment? What happens if we take out a home loan and can’t pay it back?

“Really simple things,” says Hurewitz, noting that when young adults are beholden to their parents’ earnings, they don’t understand the implications of cash. He says young people ask mom or dad, and the parent says, “Yes” or “No.” Adults need to budget.

“We want people to make decisions from an informed point of view,” says Zevy Wolman, who helped launch the Baltimore branch and continues to volunteer there. “We don’t want people coming in after the fact and saying, ‘If only I would have known’ or ‘If only someone could have told me.’”

Hurewitz says it’s about getting the husband and wife on the same page. When people come in, they are paired with trained counselors who provide hands-on guidance and support. The counselor helps the client build awareness (step 1) of how they are spending and what they should be spending. Next, they learn to make change (step 2), to build a financially solid life together. Lastly, they receive maintenance support (step 3), help with staying on track.

To work through this process, the couple goes through a detailed tracking of its expenditures. That helps them see where the money goes. Tracking forms are available both in hard copy and on the computer, where they can see, in real time, how the cash flow looks.

Mesila, Hurewitz stresses, never tells a couple how to spend funds. It does assist the couple in projecting what life might look like financially when they have one, two or three children, potential day school or other expenditures. He says that when a couple goes to buy their first house, they usually have few children, if any at all. The money they make may qualify them for the mortgage they want, but in five years, with another child or two, their incomes will be further stretched. Older kids cost more, he says, and the couple needs to plan accordingly.

The other piece is that a husband and wife have to see eye to eye, be able to agree on what constitute necessary expenditures.

“One of the biggest ways that couples fail at this is if the husband and wife cannot agree how to spend money,” says Hurewitz. “If one is under control and the other can’t change, they can’t change.”

Hurewitz also says he sees a lot of peer pressure.

“A lot of people are very extra-verted in terms of how they judge themselves. They view themselves through other people’s eyes,” he says. But when it comes to running a household, he says the people who don’t budget are the ones who suffer, not their peers.

To contact Mesila Baltimore and make an appointment, call 1-877-303-6662 or email info@mesilabaltimore.org.

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