How to Spend South of the Haimish Line

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HaimishToday is the country’s biggest shopping day of the year.

In that spirit, we at LearnVest are going to talk about the art of spending well.

Recently, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece about the “Haimish Line.” The Haimish Line is an invisible line sometimes crossed when you go from spending less to spending more—in doing so, Brooks contends, you often sacrifice warmth and connection to attain luxury and space. According to Brooks, “haimish” is a Yiddish word that suggests “warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.”

An exclusive, white-tablecloth, four-star restaurant where servers disappear and diners are on their Blackberries would be north of the Haimish Line. A small, casual diner on the corner bustling with loud conversations from neighborhood folks talking over each other would be south of the Haimish Line. A new dorm building with a shiny, new, unused lounge would be north of the Haimish Line;  the well-worn lounge of ratty furniture that students veer toward would be staunchly planted south of the Haimish Line. The Haimish Line even slices across neighborhoods: densely packed urban neighborhoods where kids run home from school and and people have stoop conversations versus spread-out suburbs of isolated living in separate homes and cars.

Brooks advises that we learn to spend our money well and stay south of the Haimish Line.

I found this essay so compelling because money often buys privacy, space, exclusivity and “luxury”—all of which are the very opposite of “unpretentious conviviality.” In America, the picture of success is a bigger house (where the family is more spread out), moving to the suburbs (with more distance between neighbors), a nicer car (to be more vigilant about spills in), and flying first class (ok, so some things are not worth getting all concerned about “the Haimish Line” over).

Seriously, though, there is something to be said for not unwittingly losing the warmth of “haimish” in our lives as we grow in our financial prosperity. As LearnVest helps you tackle your finances (check out our Take Control Bootcamp) and increase your earnings (check out our Career Bootcamp), we also hope to help you to spend your money well, to stay south of the Haimish Line. Here are a few ways:

1. Buy a Smaller House

I grew up in a modest house in the middle-class suburbs of North Jersey. We had neighbors all around us, just a few steps away over a row of bushes in one direction or another. We ran around the adjoining woods with the neighborhood kids, played kickball in the cul de sac, and had barbecue get-togethers in the summertime. When I left for college, my parents moved “on up” to a larger, more luxurious house in a wealthier neighborhood. The entryway had dramatic two-story high ceilings. The rooms (there were eight of them) were huge and echoing; some would stay unused for weeks at a time. The plot of land was bigger, the large, stately homes more spread out. Instead of dinners over each others’ houses, neighbors exchanged waves from driveways before getting into their quiet European luxury cars and driving away.

I never grew to like my parents’ second house: While it was bigger and “nicer,” it lacked the haimish that makes a house a home, and a block a neighborhood. The next time you’re financially ready to change your living situation, don’t automatically assume bigger is better, or that a tonier neighborhood is the direction to move in. It may be what people expect, but consider investing in the things that truly make you happy about your home—there’s a good chance those things are south of the Haimish Line.

2. Eat Out at a Communal Table

Dinner out is often a treat, but for some reason we usually equate a nice dinner with a north-of-the-Haimish-Line fine restaurant, replete with white tablecloths, spaced-out tables and hushed service. Next time you go out, look for a great restaurant with a communal table, a trend that a lot of restaurants are embracing. A communal table is a long table, often in the center of the restaurant, where random diners are seated to share. It is usually a much livelier place to sit, just from the effects of the cozy proximity of neighboring diners, and overlapping and sometimes shared conversations. If you can’t find a restaurant with a communal table, try a place where seats are very close to each other, or eating at the bar, where you can easily strike up a conversation with the bartender or a neighbor.

Where Do You Draw Your Haimish Line?

Does the pursuit of luxury mean that you have to sacrifice warmth? Weigh in on LV Discussions.

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3. Take Public Transportation

Cars provide us privacy and efficiency, but they’re not nearly as interesting as riding public transportation. One writer said that even if he made enough to have a private car service in New York, he would still take the subway for the fascinating people-watching. Take a bus or the subway, and share company with your city-mates. Or consider taking a train instead of driving on your next out-of-state trip. This retro method of transportation hearkens back to a time when a cross-country trip entailed communing with others; after all, there’s nothing more haimish than a group of strangers headed to the same destination, sharing a conversation or two.

4. Bunk Up With Friends

It certainly is a luxury when traveling to be able to afford a nice hotel with separate rooms for everyone. And if you’re a finicky traveler, this might still be the way to go. But there’s something to be said for sharing rooms, staying at friends’ or family’s homes (just make sure to be the perfect houseguest), or even shacking up at a stranger’s via Airbnb. The accommodations may not be as perfect, but in exchange, you’ll have more late night conversations with friends you’re staying with, local tips on navigating the town, and all those interesting moments that come with sharing your traveling quarters with someone.

5. Buy Some Cheap and Cheerful Items

When it comes to your wardrobe, we always recommend investing in quality pieces that will last a long time, as opposed to buying cheaper, more ephemeral items (check out our Priceless Style Bootcamp to get your wardrobe budget in line). However, quality pieces are often accompanied by more stress about not damaging or losing them. We still think the tradeoff makes quality items a better investment in general, but here are a few examples of some cheapies you can buy in the name of haimish living:

  • a cheap pair of fun, dangly earrings to loan to your friend in a pinch if you’re both going out
  • inexpensive slippers, towels and tennis rackets or bikes for house guests
  • an inexpensive coat, scarf or cold weather item you might give to a homeless person in passing
  • cheap art prints or decorative items you can use to decorate around the house, and give away to guests who love them (in some parts of the world, if a guest compliments a host on an item, it’s customary for the host to give it to her guest)

Haimish living isn’t about glorifying modest means or not enjoying the fruits of your labor. It’s simply the idea that money should be well spent, to bring more satisfaction, fulfillment and warmth into our lives. Spending south of the Haimish Line is one way to do so.

  • Guest

    Gonna have to say no to #2…if I’m going out to dinner with someone (or a group of people), why would I want to sit with strangers I don’t know and be able to hear their conversations? I would want to connect with the person or people I’m having dinner with…they are the ones I’m sharing a meal and my time with. There are a ton of inexpressive places that provide a private atmosphere.

  • Orangess

    Wow, this is EXACTLY what I have been wanting to do when my finances grow. I am so glad to find that there is a name for it! Thank you LearnVest! This is information that WILL unequivocally be put to use! This really made my day! ^_^

  • Howefamily

    Very interesting article.  Definitely food for thought…!

  • Anonymous

    I guess the writer has never been crammed into a packed subway train at rush hour on a rainy day, steaming to death inside your raincoat and breathing other people’s breath. One of the most miserable experiences in life.

    • jadeplant

      erm, no.  it’s not “one of the most miserable experiences in life.”  it’s a moderately annoying experience that doesn’t even last very long anyways.  please get some perspective.

      • Mpjewels17

        pretty sure it is very miserable. I will take my car any day over cramming in tight spots with people..especially ones I do not know. Absolutely disgusting 

        • jadeplant

          okay, fine.  who am i to gainsay your assessment of your own experience?  but if riding the subway qualifies as a “very miserable” occurrence in your life, i hope you gave an appropriate amount of thanks yesterday.

          • Su-Su

            Ok, what is your issue, “jadeplant”? Personally, I would only take public transportation in my area if my life depended on it. We do not have subways where I live, but I do not feel safe taking a public bus/van to get where I need to go. There have been violent incidents, one of which I witnessed. In addition, the city bus system is highly unreliable. I wouldn’t use it unless I didn’t care about being delayed an hour or more. And taxis are my anethema. How would you like to ride around with some nosy stranger asking you 20 questions when you’re just trying to get to work? To me, sarrible’s and my previous examples qualify as miserable experiences. To those things I say, no thank you!

  • http://mischievouskitty.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I definitely like most of these points.  When house-hunting, I knew I wanted at least 1200 square feet, but more than 2000 would be too much.  I wound up in a 1400 square foot ranch house, and it’s pretty much the perfect size.  But it’s in the suburbs, so taking public transportation isn’t really possible, although I do prefer public transportation to driving when I’m in a city.  I’m about an hour outside NYC, and when I’m there I will take the subway over driving any day. :-P

    But I don’t think I’d really like communal tables.  I tend to be fairly shy with strangers and the effort of socializing with people I don’t know would leave me exhausted by the end of the meal.  I do, however, enjoy meals out with a large group of friends. :-)

  • Seashore100

    I enjoy all that you send to my email.  This was one of my favorites.  At least I refrain from Black Friday & the who weekend from shopping.  I feel that’s a good start.

  • http://www.letsgetdigital.biz/ Samantha

    I like the sentiment of this article, but it strikes me a bit over-romanticized. I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood and now I’m raising my family in an upper middle class one. Big houses, beautiful trees, a golf course. And guess what? We have neighborhood Halloween parades and Easter egg hunts. We ride bikes, walk dogs, and talk to each other. Babysit, lend tools, shovel snow for each other. BBQ and dine out together. We did these things in my childhood home too (minus the organized parades and hunts) but the notion that more wealth equals less warmth and conviviality doesn’t play out in my experience. Instead, every time I drive home, I am grateful to be raising my family in a lovely, safe, happy neighborhood with good schools. For me this is money well spent and far south of the Haimish line.

    • ACE

      Samantha, I could not agree more with your point. I grew up in a very bad area of town crammed into a small apartment. Through my hard work and dedication I get to go home to an upper middle class neighborhood where I will not have to worry about gangs, robberies and the such. This peace of mind is worth EVERY PENNY. There is a great sense of community in my area where children are able to play outside and not worry about traffic and crime. The Haimish line is very personal and subjective. For me this “warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality” means feeling safe when I come home late at night, having a big yard for my dogs to play safely, and having good schools for my future children. I am feeling warmth just talking about it!

  • AliceBlue

    What wonderful examples of a wonderful idea. Thanks for sharing.

  • nelle87

    Great article, most of the ideas here I do, some of the best conversations I’ve had have been
    With strangers. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet and communal tables
    Are great places to meet new friends.

  • Karla

    This article hit home for me…especially the part about housing. My husband and I have lived in the same small condo for 15 years, in a part of town that is most definitely not fashionable (some snobbish souls where I used to work even called it “ghetto” or “gangland”) and my parents ask us at least once a year why we don’t move to “someplace nicer.” There is no doubt that the neighborhood is getting a little rough around the edges, and the demographics have changed markedly in the last few years. It is definitely not like the neighborhood my sister (and her admittedly more financially successful husband) live in, full of shiny, big new McMansions on big lots. But I do not feel unsafe in my neighborhood; I know at least eight of my neighbors by name, and have two that I know I can call on anytime if I need assistance. My sister barely knows her neighbors, seeing them only in passing when they come and go from their remote-controlled garages in their shiny new SUVs. She knows none of them by name. Her house has four bedrooms for just she and her husband; one has been converted to an office and the others are empty weeks at a time. Cleaning and upkeep take more time than they have–both of them work full time and then some–so they have hired a cleaning service. They also recently hired a landscaping service to take care of their yard because apparently their own efforts at landscaping were to amateur for their snooty HOA. We grew up in a modest house in a working-class family, but recently we were remiscing about family holidays and she remembered how much “love and soul” were always in our house, even though it was small and not the nicest on the block. She remarked that my house has some of that soul, and hers does not.

    I love the concept of a hamish line, and I definitely will try to put more of this concept into my life in the future. Perhaps the reason so many people in our society are so unhappy is that we have been encouraged–even brainwashed–into believing that having things, instead of love and companionship, are the key to success. But what good is having a great big house full of shiny toys, if you have no one to share it with?

  • Goldberry

    Haimish would translate as ‘homey’. (A concept that doesn’t need to be borrowed! :-)

  • the_leaky_pen

    I love this concept. Community is such a huge part of this article & it seems to be part of what leads to greater longevity in the Blue Zones. http://www.bluezones.com/live-longer/power-9/