| Baby Steps |

Baby Steps: Part 10 of 10     

I slowly wrote the rest of my reply, hit send, and opened up a world of possibilities



December 2019

Nat closed his sefer, setting it carefully on the coffee table, then looked down at his chavrusa.

“That’s why we light an additional candle each night of Chanukah,” he explained. “Because as the eight days went on, the neis of the oil was more and more miraculous.”


“Are you even listening, buddy?” he asked. “You’ve got a lot to learn, you know.”

On Nat’s chest, our tiny neis stretched, yawned, and went back to sleep. On the nearby folding table, three menorahs glowed with five flames each.

Eliyahu Meir had joined our family three weeks earlier than we’d anticipated, after a difficult and eventful delivery. After a short stay in the NICU, he came home in time for the chagim to start. We quipped that he was such a mitzvah boy that he didn’t want to miss a minute of the holidays. His bris fell out on Tzom Gedalyah. We’d joked about throwing our budget out the window and hosting a lavish affair, but Hashem worked it out otherwise. We served a modest break-fast meal in our shul after Maariv.

“Do you want me to move him to the crib?” I asked from the doorway.

“Nah, he’s comfy,” Nat replied, stroking Eliyahu’s hair. “Why don’t you get some work done? I’ve got him.”

“Thanks,” I said, and walked down the hallway, turning the corner to head into our office.

I sat at the desk and opened my laptop. I had left my teaching position when Eliyahu was born and was working from home now, creating online curriculum materials. I smiled as I caught sight of the Post-its in the corner of the screen — the “sleep on it” note was now joined by notes that read “that cute baby outfit will last three minutes” and “Eliyahu will like the box more than the toy you buy.”

Suddenly, I heard the ping! of an email notification. I opened a tab for my inbox and saw that my former coworker, Allison, had written.

Finance curriculum? the subject line read. Intrigued, I clicked the message and saw she wanted to know if I could send over the materials I had made for my Week Without Walls course. I was about to reply with an enthusiastic “yes,” but then I paused.

Are the students really going to learn that much from a bunch of worksheets?

Hey, it’s good to hear from you, I typed. I’m happy to send the curriculum folder to you, but I wonder if what the kids need is someone in the classroom who can answer their questions and provide guidance when it comes to managing money…

I slowly wrote the rest of my reply, hit send, and opened up a world of possibilities.

January 2021

“You know,” I said, angling my laptop for better lighting on the Zoom call, “When you think about it, sticking to your budget is like becoming frum in a lot of ways.”

My new clients, a married baal teshuvah couple on the West Coast, nodded in unison.

“When you’re first starting out, you take things on slowly — just like taking on mitzvos. If you want the practices to stick, you adopt them one at a time. So, at first, you might focus on lowering your entertainment costs. Then, zero in on the grocery budget.”

“I think I see what you mean,” said the wife.

“Yeah,” her husband added, “We make constant progress until we get where we want to be.”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed, and we soon wrapped up the call.

“Thanks for meeting with us,” the wife said, “I know it’s late in your time zone.”

“No worries,” I said, looking at the time — it was 8:45 p.m. I ended the meeting, then checked my schedule — I had two coaching calls tomorrow, and in a week, I’d be speaking on Zoom to the seniors of my former school about paying for college.

Over the past year, I’d begun speaking publicly about personal finance. I used our journey out of debt as the backdrop for explaining the principles that led us to harmony in our home, peace in our hearts, and generosity in our giving. Soon, I connected with a member of the local school board and began developing an interactive finance curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom. Just before the chagim (and my son’s first birthday), I took the next step, and became certified as a financial coach in order to help people meet their financial goals one-on-one.

Ring ring! My phone’s alarm went off, breaking my train of thought.

“Looks like the campaign is ending soon,” I muttered as I opened a new tab, “Time to see how it’s going.” I pulled up the donation page and took a look.

Our dear friends, the Schustermans, were running a fundraiser for their organization, the Indiana Jewish Discovery Center. The campaign was double-or-nothing — either they would hit their goal by 9 p.m. that day and receive a match on all donations, or they would get zero.

I checked the total. They were $780 short of their goal, with ten minutes till the deadline.

I hurried to open our budget spreadsheet and looked for areas we could pull from to help them reach their goal. Finding what I was looking for, I dashed out of the office and burst into the living room, where Nat was reading on the couch.

“Hey,” I said in a rush. “The Schustermans need $780. We can swing it if we put off ordering those new blinds for another month and use the rest of the entertainment budget.” The blinds had been on our “want” list for a while, but tzedakah came first — and after getting out of debt, we were well-practiced in putting off our wants.

Nat didn’t hesitate. “Let’s do it,” he said with a nod. I ran back to the office and processed the payment, then let out the breath I was holding as I saw the “Congratulations” page pop up on the donation website. As I sat back in my office chair, I felt goose bumps on my arms.

$780… that’s the same amount we used to pay on our student loans each month. If it weren’t for that day in the library, we’d still be paying them off today instead of giving.

I walked back into the living room and sat on the chair across from Nat. My eyes welled up as I looked at this man, who stood by my side through budgeting, saving, and endless rounds of treatments — who never lost his hope or his sense of humor. We had come out on the other side, our marriage strong and our hearts united.

“You okay?” Nat asked.

“It’s just…” I started, but couldn’t finish the sentence.

“I get it,” Nat said softly, “Our lives are so different now. Thanks to Hashem and also to Dave Ramsey’s teachings… and thanks to you.”

“And thanks to you, for taking this journey together with me,” I said, regaining my composure.

We heard Eliyahu stir gently in the next room, and we both smiled.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 867)

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