Jean grew up in the Midwest – Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, West Virginia – raised by a college professor father and a mother who alternately ran a school library and taught everything from second grade to college statistics (impressive, I know). Jean’s family certainly had enough money for the things they needed, but they lived modestly, picnicking out of the back of the station wagon on our trip to the Grand Canyon because it was cheaper than McDonalds. If Jean or her two brothers wanted things above and beyond the basics, it was up to them to buy them so Jean always worked. And she always saved.
Until college. Jean went to school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where her grandparents lived close enough so they could keep an eye on her and the number of students who came from money seemed disproportionate. The girls nonchalantly wore pearls with their Benetton sweaters and Guess jeans (it was the ‘80s). And very quickly Jean also got caught up.
Jean had known since freshman year that she wanted to be a journalist. She wanted to write for magazines. But upon graduation she had two job offers: One to be an editorial assistant at New Woman magazine for $12,000 a year, the other to enter the management training program for a department store called G. Fox. It paid twice that — and she took it.
It took her three months of wondering every day what she was doing walking into the department store to quit. Jean found another editorial assistant position – one that paid even less – but she was thrilled to have it. Jean taught SATs on the side to support the rent of her Brooklyn apartment. It was then she learned, money is important. But it’s not all about the money.
That editorial assistant job put Jean in the position of reporting on business for Working Woman magazine. She discovered that numbers could tell a story all their own. And so, when she was ready to leave Working Woman a few years later, Jean was determined to find work at a big business magazine – a place like Fortune or Forbes. They weren’t biting. When she finally used a connection to grab some face time with the chief of reporters at Forbes, he took a look at Jean’s clips and her resume and told her to go get an MBA.
Well, the idea of paying $40,000 a year for tuition so that she could earn half that didn’t resonate with Jean. So, she freelanced for a little while. She did a short stint at a travel magazine, and she went to cooking school. Finally, she decided to look for a job on Wall Street. Jean thought about what Wall Street’s research analysts did – they interviewed CEOs, crunched numbers, wrote reports – and she figured it was pretty much what business journalists did. And on Wall Street, it was fairly easy to convince a couple of analysts it might be handy to have her around to write their reports. Jean did it for a few years, learned how to read a balance sheet from the pros, and when she re-applied to Forbes she had a job in two weeks.
Jean was a fact-checker. And she was proud of it. She worked until two in the morning, spent one weekend checking the first interview Michael Milken granted from jail and a week in L.A. helping to generate the list of highest paid celebrities. She stayed a year then left for the opportunity to write her own stories – rather than check someone else’s – for the Wall Street Journal’s start-up personal finance publication, SmartMoney.
It was while Jean was at SmartMoney that she was tapped to be the financial editor of NBC’s Today show. She always believed that she got the job because she found a way to make difficult subjects understandable – to lay them out in plain English.
She did it for her audience, but – make no mistake – She also did it for herself.
Along the career path Jean just described for you, which eventually took her to Money magazine, Oprah and many other places, she made plenty of money mistakes. Jean spent more than she made, racking up high interest rate credit card debt equal to a full half-year’s salary. She withdrew money from my 401(k) rather than rolling it over when she left my first job – costing herself in taxes and penalties. And sbe ceded control of way too much of the money in her life to others. Jean realized that she needed to understand money so that she could fix what was wrong in her financial life – and by understanding it, and fixing it, Jean was able to explain what she was doing to anyone who was willing to listen.
Since then – thanks in great part to all of the listeners and readers who started talking to her — Jean has continued to learn and explore the subjects and problems that seem to be most, well, problematic. Debt has been a huge issue for her ever since she realized – back at the turn of the decade – that Americans owned a smaller share of their homes than at any time in the past 60 years. Not only that, we owned a smaller share of our cars. We were borrowing more on our educations. So Jean wrote Pay It Down! and put America on The Debt Diet.
Jean has been working in the trenches with real people and their real money for more than two decades now. She has written books on everything from money and happiness (The 10 Commandments of Financial Happiness) to women and money (Make Money, Not Excuses) to how to thrive in a tough economy (The Difference). And her basic philosophy hasn’t changed. If you want to own your life, you have to own your money. That means earning a decent living, spending less than you make, investing the money you don’t spend and protecting everything that you’ve built. It means you teach your kids these concepts – even when, as she knows from personal experience, they don’t want to hear it. Jean jokes, but is so fortunate to have two great teenagers to share her life. And her mother. Great friends. A cockapoo. And a wonderful husband.
Jean lives in the suburbs of New York in a smaller house than she could afford and she does it by choice. She’s doing her best to raise her kids knowing more than she did about finances so that they don’t have to go through credit card hell, or fight with a credit bureau to get negative information off one of their reports. But she also knows that sometimes you have to let your children learn things on their own. And that’s one of the reasons she is still so fascinated by people’s lives and money. You – her readers, her listeners, her viewers, her friends — continue to teach her things every day.
Jean Chatzky's Programs
Invite me to keynote at your conference (or emcee the whole thing). I’m also a skilled moderator and panelist. These programs can be delivered remotely as webinars, as well. All topics can be customized with your audience specifically in mind. In addition to speaking to audiences of consumers/investors I also address professional audiences. Q&As and book-signings are often included.
Recent Keynote Topics Include:
- AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out Of Money Or Breaking A Hip:Your health and wealth have become almost inextricably co-dependent. Fortunately, the same scientifically-proven strategies can help you improve in both areas of your life. This keynote highlights those most relevant to your group.
- Money Rules (customizable for your audience):…To Rescue Your Retirement
…All Women Need To Know
…For Raising Money Smart Kids
…To Start Building A Financial Life
- Women and Money:Anyone who tells you women don’t need financial advice specifically for them is wrong. Women, whether we’re the caretakers, the breadwinners, or both, face a unique set of financial challenges. But as a decade of research into neuroeconomics and behavioral psychology has revealed, we are also uniquely qualified to handle them. I’ll take you through the steps women need to take today to live comfortably (and worry-free) tomorrow.
- What The Country’s Wealthiest, Most Successful People Do Differently:Why is it that some people seem to move relatively easily from a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle into financial comfort or wealth, while others get stuck — or worse, fall back? I’ll reveal the findings of my proprietary study of 5,000 people that shows wealthy, successful people have both habits and personality traits that less successful individuals are missing.
- For Financial Professionals:What your clients need to know — and how to get your message across. I’ve made a career out of talking to individuals about their money in language they can hear and understand. As financial advisors and other professionals aim to bring spouses into the tent and appeal to the next generation, this is crucial information to have. Plus, I address the most pressing holistic concerns clients are facing, so that you can do the same.
Jean Chatzky's Books