Financial Literacy - Families and Finances
Ruth Nemzoff
smart spending
Family relationships make life rich

Interview: Ruth Nemzoff

Ruth Nemzoff has worn many different hats during her lifetime, but one common thread runs through all of them -- the desire to help others improve their quality of life.

As a former New Hampshire state legislator, she sponsored bills to reform adoption laws and to offer prorated benefits to part-time workers.

Later, as the state's first female deputy commissioner of health and welfare, she supported legislative initiatives to modify discriminatory insurance and tax laws.

Today, the mother of four children devotes much of her time to writing and teaching college students about relationships between parents and adult children.

Nemzoff, who holds a doctorate degree in social policy, says traditional models of parent-adult child relationships are out of date because cultural norms have changed dramatically, and life spans have increased to the point where one could expect to interact with two, three and sometimes four generations.

For example, many adult children today either don't leave home or return after a brief stint in college, whereas just a few decades ago, there was a certain stigma associated with single adults living at home with their parents.

Young adults were expected to either start families or get a job if they didn't go on to college. Today, those old notions have been turned upside down as America evolves culturally and economically, Nemzoff says.

At a glance
Name: Ruth Nemzoff
Hometown: Newton, Mass.
Education: Ed.D, Social Policy, Harvard University
M.A., Counseling, Columbia University
B.A., American Studies, Barnard College
Career highlights:
  • Adjunct assistant professor, Bentley College, Waltham, Mass. Resident scholar, Women's Studies Research Center, Brandeis University.
  • Served three terms on the New Hampshire state Legislature.
  • First female New Hampshire deputy commissioner of health and welfare.
  • Served on the N.H. Governor's Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission for the Handicapped.
  • Author of "Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with your Adult Children."
  • Taught English at Indian government school in New Delhi.
  • Mother of four adult children and six grandchildren.

Bankrate caught up with Nemzoff recently as she was touring another dynamically changing society: China.

q_v2.gifWhat has changed in the past several decades that makes it more acceptable for adult children to live at home with their parents?

a_v2.gifThe economy has changed. That's one of the biggest things. The other thing I would say is we are a much more multicultural society. In many cultures there is no stigma. In fact, it is the expectation that kids will live at home. The economy has clearly made it more difficult to afford rent, and the cost of education is higher. Kids are coming out (of college) with a lot of debt, and one way to deal with the debt is to get free housing. Many of our kids are much more sophisticated and have traveled abroad, too.

Some kids are used to a better lifestyle, which they can't give to themselves, so they might be doing it because they don't want to deal with the inconvenience of a one-room apartment with the three-floor walk-up.

q_v2.gifCollege students are racking up record amounts of credit card debt by the time they graduate, according to recent studies. What is contributing to this trend, and how can it be reversed?

a_v2.gifTear up the credit cards because that is the most expensive way to borrow money. Using credit cards to borrow money is bad training for the future. However, education has become so expensive that students may need to work a year at odd jobs, then study for a year. Alternatively, they could go at night and live at home to save money for education or go to community college. The old models may not work in this new economy. Many immigrants in the past worked full time while they obtained an education. Maybe this old model will come back.

q_v2.gifHow important is it to teach children and teens about finances early on?

a_v2.gifIt's very important. One technique is to give kids a checking account with very little money and have them manage it while they are still in high school. They will learn quickly about penalties for going over the amount designated.

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