Word of the Day Minus: When Living in the Red Is the Norm

When Israelis spend beyond their means just to get that new gadget, they're in 'meenoos.'

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

More than half of Israelis go into overdraft at least once a year, and about a fifth are overdrawn most of the time, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Or, as Israelis would put it, they’re beMEENoos, meaning “in minus.”

“I’m in meenoos at the bank, should I ask my parents for help?” asks Daniel, 19, on AskPeople, a Hebrew website similar to Yahoo Answers. “Help!! I’m in meenoos!!!” reads a headline on a blog called Fashion Trends, above a post on how to tell if you’re a shopaholic.

Living in the red is the norm for many Israelis, partly because of the high cost of living and partly because it is culturally acceptable to spend beyond your means just to get that new iPhone or flat-screen TV. Also, credit card debt translates into overdraft here because Israeli credit cards are actually debit cards directly linked to the owner’s bank account.

Putting off the unpleasant moment of paying one’s bills has become something of a national pastime, with supermarkets and other stores regularly offering to take your money in installments (tashlumim, meaning “payments”), even when the sums are relatively low.

The banks, of course, are also in on the game, offering customers a credit limit called a misgeret (“framework”) of a given shekel amount (say, 10,000 shekels, or about $2,800), for which the customer is not penalized (beyond the interest rates charged by the bank, of course).

It’s telling that there was controversy surrounding the Bank of Israel’s decision that, as of July 2006, banks could no longer allow checking accounts to dip below the credit limit – not that customers would no longer be allowed to exceed the actual amount of money that was in the bank, just that they wouldn’t be allowed to exceed it even more than the agreed-upon overdraft.

As for the best way to tell if you’re a shopaholic? According to the article, it’s when you don’t realize that your shopping budget shouldn’t exceed the money you have to spend. Because even (especially?) for a nation of shopaholics, knowing your limits is always a plus.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

This woman is probably in 'meenoos.'Credit: Dreamstime

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