by Rebecca Honig Friedman
Being just the sort of person Tamar Snyder is trying to reach with her new financial empowerment organization, Pazit, I am really excited about this interview. Read on for practical financial advice and insight into why we women are not more on top of our money — and how we can be.
Tamar Snyder is the founder of Pazit.org, an organization that empowers Jewish women to take control of their financial futures. She is a staff writer at The Jewish Week, where she covers personal finance, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Her work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Edutopia, Inc. Magazine, among other publications.
1. What prompted you to start Pazit and when did you start it?
Many of my friends — bright, ambitious, professionally-minded women who are in law school and medical school, and even accountants — have no clue what to do with their money. Especially in the Orthodox world, I see young couples with two small children at home, and both parents are still in school. I wonder, “How do they get by?” Often, they rely on help from their parents and other relatives. But that can create a whole other set of problems. Then I see my single female friends squandering what little money they have on clothes and restaurants, assuming that their future husbands will take care of them financially.
In my role as a staff writer for the New York Jewish Week, I’ve come to realize that financial illiteracy plagues Jewish women of all denominations. Men will boast about their ingenious stock picks while women will gloat about how they saved $10 on a pair of already discounted shoes at DSW. The men are investing; the women are not really saving…they’re spending.
I searched for organizations that focused exclusively on helping Jewish women manage their money, and I couldn’t find any. So, in April, I launched Pazit (pazit.org). We’re holding our first event on May 6 at Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights. SerandEz’s Ezzie Goldish will be revealing the findings from the Jewish Economics Survey, a grassroots effort aimed at discovering just how much money it costs for an Orthodox family to make ends meet. It’s a first step. My goal is to shatter the taboos surrounding what I call “money talk.” Only then can we learn how to budget better and invest wisely.
2. What does Pazit mean?
In Hebrew, Pazit means “pure gold.” An Israeli friend of mine suggested it. I like the name because it’s feminine and relevant to the organization’s mission: “Live a golden life by successfully managing your gold.”
3. What particular financial challenges do Jewish women face that other women don’t?
According to a Prudential Financial survey, 62 percent of women graded their financial knowledge a “C” or lower in financial knowledge; only 1 percent gave themselves an “A.” So this is an issue facing all women, not just Jewish women. But I believe it’s particularly acute in the Jewish world. It’s what’s known as the “Balabuste Syndrome” — Jewish women were raised with the notion that they should marry well, and, consequently, they’ll never need to worry about finances. Anecdotally, many Jewish women pay the day-to-day bills. But when it comes to the larger financial decisions — choosing a financial advisor, investing for retirement, refinancing their mortgage — they lean too often on their husbands. I believe that couples should have monthly “money dates” where they examine their savings and spending trends and take a look at how their investments are doing. It’s not just about managing money; it’s about empowerment. When you feel confident dealing with your money, that knowledge gives you a sense of power, choice, and independence. And that’s important — even in the healthiest marriage.
Pazit’s initial goal is to survey women in the broader Jewish community about their proficiency and confidence in money management and investing. As far as I know, no one has done this before. I’m curious as to how many Jewish women make investment decisions for their households. I’d like to identify key areas of financial literacy that Jewish women feel they are lacking. The first step to solving a problem is identifying its parameters.
4. Can Judaism provide financial guidance? If so, how?
Definitely. How you choose to allocate your income says a lot about who you are as a person and about your values as a Jew. When budgeting for the year ahead, you should already be thinking about how much tzedakah (charity) you can realistically give in the coming year. You shouldn’t be making those decisions when the stacks of donation envelopes arrive in your mailbox; it should be well thought out, no matter your income level. Maimonides stipulates levels of priorities when it comes to giving. Also, debt is not looked upon highly in the Jewish tradition. Mishlei (Proverbs) 22:7 tells us that “the borrower is servant to the lender.” These days that’s especially true, with interest rates on credit cards nearing 30 percent or more. And money is a means, not the end goal: “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1)
5. Can Judaism be a hindrance to financial security? If so, how?
I don’t view it as a hindrance; that’s a bit too strong. But it’s true that a Jewish lifestyle involves expenses that can hinder financial security. Having children, for example — and then paying onerous day school tuition. My parents used to joke that they could have afforded a brand-new car for every year they sent me and my two siblings to yeshiva day schools. But it was worth it to them; the idea of not giving us a Jewish education was inconceivable. Now, as everyday expenses (milk, gas, etc.) continue to rise, and day schools grow more and more unaffordable, the inconceivable is becoming conceivable. I can’t solve the tuition crisis, but I can help people manage their money better and come up with strategies to help them live their Jewish values with dignity and respect.
6. In the current economic downturn what general advice do you give to the average woman about her finances?
The same advice I always give: spend less than you earn, live within your means, and if you haven’t already, start stashing away money to build a rainy day fund. You should have at least six months worth of living expenses in a high-yield savings account (I like online banks because the money is harder to withdraw, and therefore I’m less tempted to touch it). Also, try out free personal finance tools like Mint.com and Thrive (justthrive.com). Both sites help you get a big-picture look at how much you’re earning every month after taxes — and what percentage of your monthly income you are saving, spending, and gifting.
The tenets of personal finance are really simple; it’s gaining the discipline to save more and spend less that’s tough. That’s why it’s so important to establish good money habits early on. Also, keep contributing to your 401(k). If you’re young, choose no-load, low-fee index funds. Through dollar-cost averaging (investing a small sum every month), you’re buying stocks that are on sale.
7. Do you notice a difference in how single women handle their finances versus how married women do? What general advice would you give to each?
I think that single women spend more of their disposable income on clothes, shoes, and gadgets. (Ezzie’s survey indicated that single females spend an average of $1,250 a year on shopping, or almost as much as a family with four kids; married couples without children spend only $950.) It’s important to encourage single women (and men) to put invest for their future. In your early 20s, you should be opening a Roth IRA (and contributing regularly!), contributing to a 401(k) if you are eligible, and starting to save for a down payment on a house. You’ll build good money habits and the benefits of time will allow your interest to compound before you actually need to draw upon your savings. For those who intend to get married and have children, accruing a nest egg will enrich your life and help you achieve the savings goals that are difficult to achieve once kids come along.
As for married women, once you get married, the dynamics change. Your husband may be thrifty while you like living the good life, or vice versa. That’s bound to cause lots of arguments if you don’t engage in open and honest communication with each other — even before tying the knot. I believe that couples should open a joint account from which most of the household expenses are paid, while still maintaining separate accounts where a pre-determined amount of discretionary money is deposited. People have to figure out what works for them. The key is to be aware of your money habits and feel confident that you have the power to improve them.
Posted on April 30th, 2009 Filed under: Interviews |