(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
I never thought that I really had anything in common with Benjamin Netanyahu.
But with the publication this week of the State Comptroller’s Report on the prime minister’s household expenditures, I can really empathize with him – it’s tough to stay within a budget living in Israel.
We struggle to live within our means, but whether it’s the rising daily living expenses or pesky and costly out-of-the blue household outlays like electrical emergencies, something always comes up that wipes away that well-devised budget.
The big guzzler is food – that bottomless money pit where most of us throw a significant portion of our monthly earnings to feed our family.Keep up to date on the latest opinion pieces on our new Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
According to the report, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, spent on the average of NIS 6,600 a week on food and hospitality between 2009 and 2013. That rounds out to almost NIS 1,000 a day.
I can relate. Whenever I go to the super, I end up tossing several impulse items into the cart that contribute to jacking up the tally at the checkout counter. I just can’t resist those Post Morning Select cereals like Cranberry Almond Crunch (Can anyone explain to me why Blueberry Morning is not available here?).
They just kill any locally made cereal, but even at the sale price of NIS 19.90, the relatively small size doesn’t make it the most economical choice.
Even without luxuries like that, our weekly marketing bills at the peak of four-growing-kidsat- home years could sometimes approach NIS 1,000, the same as the Netanyahus.
Oops, my bad... that’s my week’s expenses versus their daily expenses. But we have to cut them some slack – after all, the Prime Minister’s Residence hosts countless dinners with heads of state and VIPS. And with the national tradition of expanded Friday night dinners, we all know how expensive hosting guests can be.
Luckily, the supermarket where I usually shop – Rami Levi – usually offers that deal whereby spending a minimum of NIS 150 enables the shopper to purchase whole fresh chicken at a greatly reduced price. That saves dozens of shekels each week.
But I seem to take those savings as a signal to go crazy. Once in a while, I’ll even splurge and spend NIS 30 or so a tray of Moroccan cigars or fried kubbeh for an appetizer from the local deli. But, hey, it’s Shabbat – hungry kids are coming home from the army, guests are expecting something a little exotic and extravagant, so I throw caution to the wind. Nothing too good for my guests.
Of course, despite the best intentions, not every meal can be a home-cooked feast. Ordering out – I know the deliberations there. You get home after a long day of running the country and you just don’t want to look at a frying pan in the kitchen, especially one with peeling formica and outdated appliances.
That’s why, even though there was a cleaner in the PM’s residence employ who provided cooking services, Bibi apparently took pity on her and spent on the average of NIS 1,850 a week (or NIS 300 a day not including Shabbat) on take-out food between 2010 and 2013.
That’s a lot of pistachio ice cream, but I can understand how things like that can get out of control. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really daring and temporarily want to shake the budgetary shackles off, I’ll go out and order a falafel in a lafa instead of the standard pita – recklessly laughing off the extra NIS 5-10 it will cost me because I know I’m worth it.
And I can understand how Bibi probably feels – when you’re trying to convince a visiting European foreign minister in an intimate home setting that any deal with Iran is a bad deal, there’s nothing that says “I care” more than Jerusalem’s finest take-out sushi.
But, it’s unfair and inaccurate to focus solely on the food and household expenditures of the Netanyahus. I would wager if the state comptroller delved back into the Barak or Olmert administrations, similar money management issues would have been discovered.
Even presidents aren’t exempt, as another State Comptroller’s Report disclosed this week.
From 2011 to 2014, when Shimon Peres was in office, the President’s Office exceeded its NIS 40 million by about 20 percent.
That’s about NIS 8 million overspent! I don’t know which bank authorizes that kind of overdraft, but I’m ready to switch to it on Sunday if the terms are right.
The seeming blatant disregard for efficiency and proportionality in the spending habits of our country’s leaders is nothing new, and is an ingrained element of Israeli society. Look at the outrageous salaries afforded the country’s bank presidents and directors-general of government agencies as just one example of lavish and extravagant expenditure without an iota of regard for the public welfare.
If we’re going to skewer Bibi and Sara, we also can’t ignore the waste and needless spending of public funds in most aspects of government. But it can’t be denied that policy starts at the top.
It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf and begin to economize.
Shaking off the take-out food addiction is tough but it can be done. There are home expense financial advisers to turn to and support groups to join.
And to do my part, I’d be more than willing to have the Netanyahus accompany me on a visit to my local Rami Levi. I promise that adopting my shopping tips will cut their grocery budget by almost 90 percent.
And they can still splurge on pistachio ice cream once in a while.