We like to begin at the beginning. Please give us the basics: name, age, domicile, and profession.
Jean Chatzky, 54, Westchester County, NY, Financial Expert
Most of us will know you from The Today Show and as an AARP ambassador. Some of us have been lucky enough or smart enough to read one of your books. How did you get here? Did you ever imagine you would become a trusted expert on the subject of money?
First of all, thank you! I got here through journalism – and no way did I ever imagine that this would be where I ended up. If you’d asked my stretch goal coming out of college, I would have told you (and did tell several people) that one day I’d be the editor of Glamour. (The print edition. Sigh.) Right out of college I joined Working Woman magazine where I was hired to be the editorial assistant to the business editor. I was able to write stories on business and careers, which turned out to be a good fit from me. After that, I spent some time on Wall Street in equity research before landing a reporting job at Forbes and moving to Smart Money as a writer. The job at Smart Money was my first in the field of personal finance. Honestly, I wasn’t an especially good manager of my own money up until that point. I racked up credit card debt and botched an early attempt at a 401(k). But when I started writing for Smart Money – and shortly thereafter appearing on TV – I followed my own advice. And I supercharged things when I got divorced a decade later and had to plan for retirement, save for (half of) college and manage the rest of my finances by myself.
Did you parents encourage you to have a career? What kind?
Absolutely. Whatever kind I wanted. They were both role models – my father was a college professor who later ran television stations, my mother taught everything from second grade to college statistics and reinvented herself every time we moved. But other than a push to get a solid liberal arts education rather than a specialized undergraduate degree, they didn’t push in one direction or another.
Was balancing a burgeoning, public facing career and motherhood difficult? How did you manage?
Yes. I didn’t always manage well and I was incredibly fortunate to have a lot of help including plenty of childcare, flexibility to work a couple days a week from home and a husband (then ex-husband) who didn’t travel when I did. And it was still difficult. I raised my children in a small town where many mothers didn’t work and the school principal held tea and other meet-and-greets at 11 in the morning among the other slights to working parents. It was particularly hard for my daughter who for years said she was going to grow up to be a mom who didn’t work. (Ouch.) I believe she has since changed her mind.
When did find the time, while presumably working and mothering full time to write books? Do you consider yourself a disciplined person?
I woke up two hours before my family did and wrote from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. – a trick I learned from my mother who did the same while earning her master’s degree. I guess that makes me disciplined. It certainly makes me a morning person.
If you were not managing Her Money, what would you be doing? Do you ever consider not working?
I might be working inside of a major corporation in some sort of marketing or creative role. I might be teaching, something I believe I’ll do down the road, likely on the college level. Not working doesn’t hold much interest for me.
Your two most recent books have the most “spot on” subtitles. We imagine there is a good story behind “Living longer without running out of money…” and “Judgment free Guide to creating the joyful….” Judgment and joy and rich are words not often found in the same sentence. Is this even possible? Dare I ask – have you found it personally possible?
Thank you! Living longer…is my favorite subtitle ever. I came up with it before we ever hit on the actual title of the book AgeProof. “The Judgment Free…” is I think about three or four words too long, but I couldn’t think about what to cut. I find it possible – but not every day and often not all at one time. I think that’s okay. My life as a “Woman With Money” is a work in progress – but the making of progress is a lot more fun than achieving the actual goal.
We imagine that our readers would like to know if you suffer from similar female financial worries and are they primarily financial or do you think they are more emotional?
Oh my god, yes. When I got divorced, the only thing that made me feel safer was to save as much money as I possibly could. That made me feel powerful and independent, but once those things were established I still had to push myself – still have to push myself – to take as much risk with my portfolio as I should for a woman my age. This is one big reason that I have a financial advisor. I know that I can be emotional about my money. I want another set of qualified eyes on everything to make sure I don’t get in my own way.
If you had to choose just one, what is the most important first step a woman can take towards creating a more literate financial perspective?
Pick something to read or listen to regularly. It could be The Wall Street Journal, the money section of USA Today, Yahoo Finance or HerMoney, if you’re reading. If you’re listening, it could be Marketplace, or a podcast like mine. I think dipping into the topic regularly is important to increase both literacy and comfort.
Let’s get shallow for a minute; we guess that because you always look so great, that you like clothes a lot. Do you budget for a clothes expense or are you possibly a little profligate. Are shoes your weakness or perhaps a good blow-dry?
Okay – who gave you a look into my credit card bill? The good blow dry is my biggest weakness. I’d rather get my hair blown out than get a massage. I am, however, a smart shopper. At the end of December I bought a package of 30-blow outs in advance from Glam & Go, a chain that’s opening in small spaces around the country. It reduced the per-dry price from $45 to under $30. I felt even more smart when they recently increased the price to $49.
Who would play you in a feature film and would they play it for laughs or in a dramatic rendering?
I’m told I look like Marissa Tomei in The Lincoln Lawyer, so maybe her? And she can play me however she likes.
What is your favorite gift to give or receive?
Flowers, arranged French style (i.e. a tight arrangement, and I prefer blues, whites, greens and purples, no oranges or yellows, please.)
If you had a super-power, what would it be?
I think I already have one. I make a complicated topic easy to understand. But I wouldn’t complain if I could fly.
If you had a warning label what would it be?
Warning: Incompetent customer service calls can turn me into Linda Blair