You know the regular expenses:
Keeping kosher is expensive
- Start-up costs to turn your kitchen kosher by nearly tripling your kitchen supplies
- Kosher meat
- Kosher cheese (especially if you're cholov yisroel)
- Not always having a generic brand available kosher
Raising kids is expensive
- Private school tuition, especially when there isn't any competition in the area
- Kosher-friendly daycare/babysitting
- More clothes to get destroyed/outgrown and replaced: tzitzit and kippot in particular
- Wedding costs for those children. Yes, you're probably going to have to save up more than a house downpayment.
High Holyday "tickets"
- The laws of tzedakah are complex and depend on your individual circumstances. But that is an automatic deduction of your take-home income every year for the rest of your life.
But there are some costs you may not have thought about.
- You're generally restricted to areas with a higher cost of living. Even in small communities, the housing within walking distance of an orthodox synagogue is not going to be in the cheap part of town.
- You will likely have more children than you would have if you had remained secular. The lesser-discussed aspect of "Keeping Up with the Steins" is that there is more pressure to have larger families. While an only child is becoming the norm in the secular world (says the only child blogger), it is still relatively uncommon in the frum world. It's not unheard of, but people are going to assume you have an only child because of medical issues, not as a personal choice. So multiply your expected child costs from above by 2 or 3...or more. You'll get some discounts for multiple children (assuming you can get them accepted to the same school), but it's not a significant savings.
- Holiday costs. You think about this, but rarely think about it. Buying matzah each year is always surprisingly expensive, even after I've done it for almost a decade. Your food costs in general will be much higher for every holiday and probably Shabbat as well. Travel, cleaning for Pesach, purchasing wine regularly, etc. The little things can add up significantly.
- Job sacrifices. You may have to take a lower-paying or less prestigious job because of Shabbat restrictions. You may have to take a higher-paying job you don't like as much because you need to pay dayschool tuition.
- Vacation sacrifices. If you don't work for an organization that follows the Jewish calendar (or closes on Jewish holidays), you will use your "vacation" days for holidays. I personally know many people who use all their paid vacation days to cover holidays and still have to take personal, unpaid days to get all the holidays...and that doesn't include taking off for chol hamoed. And we all know how "vacation-like" holidays are, so good luck finding that relaxation intended to create a revitalized and refreshed employee. You may also be responsible for finding people to cover for you or even to pay for that replacement. On the other hand, if you work on the billable hour system, then only Gd can help you come the High Holydays. Don't lose your job.
- Hidden dayschool costs. That "Annual Dinner" is several hundred dollars per plate, and it's not totally "voluntary." "Suggested donations" are rarely ever "voluntary" when the dayschool is involved.
- Aliyahs and honors in synagogue. Personally, I am very bothered by the concept of "auctioning" honors. I understand that this can generate a large amount of money for the synagogue, but the very concept makes me cringe. However, it's not just holiday honors that are paid for. You may be expected to make a donation for aliyahs. There may be a "suggested" donation amount for it, possibly even extra for getting mishaberachs. This is a good question to ask when interviewing a new shul.
- Social events. $15 for a synagogue dinner here, $40 for an event there, $75 for a shul fundraiser there. If your shul is like the ones I've attended, almost no "social" event will be free. If you can't afford to go to the shul social events, you will eventually feel isolated from the community (speaking from my experience in two communities).
- Mikvah fees. After you're married, you could be "donating" $10-40 per month to the mikvah for its use.
- Buying books. I view this as primarily a start-up cost, but the "maintenance" costs of your library will certainly be higher than the average secular consumer. However, in my experience, the people who make this a major expense would have done so even if they were secular (though maybe not as costly in absolute terms). People like me would spend ridiculous amounts of time and money expanding their library even without Judaism, and the bibliophile nature of Judaism is usually a major draw of conversion to begin with!
- Women's haircovering costs. If you're female, you've probably considered this cost. However, you have likely underestimated the maintenance costs. Even if you stick to the "cheap" haircoverings such as hats, berets, and tichels, you're going to need to "update" or replace items every few years. Sheitels are more complicated than I'm familiar with, but know this: they're expensive, and they don't last as long as you would hope. Or you lean too close to the stove and melt the cheap synthetic one. They'll need to be replaced every few years as well. The costs you're definitely not thinking about are dying sheitels, getting them cut, or getting them styled for special occasions.
- Clothing alterations. A commenter has suggested this, but I don't believe alterations are necessary to make clothing tznius. Also, this is a problem the conversion candidate should have considered from the time he or she became tznius. The only times I've found alterations to be necessary are with formal clothing, such as formalwear, and alterations would be necessary even in the secular world (though perhaps not quite as much). That's my 2 cents. If anyone knows of situations I'm not considering, please comment below.
- Traveling around Shabbat. This is often more of an annoyance than a cost, but I don't have kids yet, and I could see how that could easily change once kids are involved. It's an annoyance that I can't go somewhere "just for Sunday," I need to plan it around Shabbat as well. And if I'm now going to be away for Shabbat, I need to find accommodations and meals. When you're more than one or two people, you likely won't be as comfortable asking to stay in people's homes, and thus may need to pay for a hotel. (Remember that you're limited to hotels that have alternatives to electronic keys!) Perhaps flights are more expensive if you fly to include the whole weekend, but I'm less knowledgeable about that. Driving costs should remain the same, though you still have the annoyance of your travel times being dictated for you.
Can you think of any other non-obvious costs of the orthodox community?
Of course, almost all costs and "suggested donations" are negotiable. However, don't expect as much of a discount as you'd like, if any at all. Being middle class or below in the orthodox world practically guarantees a few slices of humble pie a year.