Paamonim:The long, shorter way to get out of debt

Paamonim is an organization, operating mainly in the national religious community, that helps middle class families manage their budgets and pay off debts. In Friday’s alon Matzav Haruach, Rachel Klein wrote about Paamonim and spoke with its director, Uriel Lederberg.

“Dina,” a single mother of three, covered her overdraft by taking out new loans. She contacted Paamonim when her debt reached NIS 45,000. Moti, a financial counselor trained by the organization, came to the house and helped her plan the family’s budget.

Dina reports, “In the first stage, we fired the ozeret (housecleaner, at NIS 800/month). The children cooperated and took on the various chores. We also restricted chugim (afterschool activities) to one per child. We stopped ordering prepared foods and pizza. We gave up on entertainment and restaurants. There were no more weekeends in hotels. Instead of the pool, we went to the beach. We discovered parks. . . I learned that NIS 70 face cream works as well as cream costing NIS 300. . . .”

(Our dermatologist friend recommends buying the cheapest face cream because glycerin, the most effective ingredient, costs the least.)

Dina began to have her clothes and shoes repaired instead of buying new ones, took a second job in the evening, blow-dried her own wig (saving NIS 70), and her daughter began babysitting to pay for her clothes. After two years she has paid off most of her loan and the bank account is balanced. She says, “Yes, I have a masters degree, and I work in a senior position. But I earned my true doctorate for life with Paamonim.”

Director Lederberg explains how Paamonim is different from most other charity organizations. The others look for an immediate solution for a needy family, providing a basket of food, a financial grant, or a school backpack. In another week or two, or a month, the family needs more help. One child needs dental work, the bank is calling about the overdraft, and the school trip is coming up.

Judging by recent phone requests, those kinds of organizations are popping up like snails after the rain. I just heard from one that provides hot lunches to schoolchildren. Charity organizations will always be necessary to help the truly needy, while Paamonim focuses on families that should be able to stand on its feet but aren’t. But everyone can benefit from Paamonim’s techniques.

Lederberg got the idea after helping to raise funds for a family whose utilities were being cut off, only to find the family in the same situation a few months later. When he spoke to the bank manager about lowering the interest rate on the family’s account and allowing an easier payment schedule, the manager asked Lederberg if he could refer other families to him.

Lederberg and his friends developed two parallel paths to financial solvency. First, they check all possible sources of income like national insurance, disability grants, and discounts. They negotiate with the banks for better terms, but never ask for debts to be cancelled. In the second, more intensive level of assistance, Paamonim examines the family’s budget, helping them track their income and expenses and become wise and frugal consumers. Paamonim has experts who advise the counselors on getting low rates for various goods and services.

Lederberg, like most of the thousand-strong staff, is a volunteer himself.

When a financial counselor is available to help, he or she asks the family to prepare its financial documents. At this point many families get cold feet, so Paamonim waits until the family reinitiates contact. The process is painful and requires full cooperation. The volunteer doesn’t instruct the family on which items to cut, but helps it prepare a balanced budget leaving NIS500-1000 per month to repay debts.

On Paamonim’s website, you can download budget spreadsheets, read articles about saving money, and learn how to train as a volunteer. (A friend who inquired said you need to attend a five-session course.) Unfortunately the English part of the site is not as rich (so to speak).

Just don’t go to the wrong site– advertises a fancy vacation getaway.