This week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Jean Chatzky. Jean is the financial editor of NBC’s Today show and the author of several excellent personal finance books. She does an excellent job of simplifying the complexity of personal finance and has helped countless people take back control of their money.
In just a few days, Jean will be launching an online Money School. Here’s how she describes these virtual classes:
Money School helps you take control of your money with simple, affordable, virtual classes that I’ll be teaching in real time. Each one-hour live class consists of a 45-minute lecture followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. Then, during the week following each class, the Money School team and I will host virtual “office hours,” so that you can ask any questions you didn’t get a chance to ask after the lecture (or that you didn’t think of until later). And new this semester: If you’re not able to attend the live class, we’re happy to be able to offer you a recorded version to watch at a later date. You’ll still have access to office hours!
And here’s the kicker. She has agreed to give away one free class! It’s simply to enter, and I’ll cover the details at the end of this article. But first, here’s my interview of Jean:
Q: Jean, we should probably get this one out of the way first. I believe you were born in Michigan. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Are you a Michigan Wolverines football fan?
A: I have to say, I’m not. (Though I hope that doesn’t put anyone out!) I lived in Detroit til age two, then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, Bloomington, Indiana and Wheeling, WV. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and I’ve been in New York ever since. With that haphazard upbringing, I’m a Badgers fan and a Quaker fan with a bit of a sweet spot for the New York Knicks.
Q: Can you share with us one thing that happened in your childhood that shaped your views about money?
A: When I was about 11 or 12, we went to Disney World for the first time. It was a stretch for my parents but we had a family piggy bank (actually, it was a bull. I’ve asked my mother to be sure it eventually ends up with me). For years I’d watched my parents tuck silver dollars and half dollars and occasionally a bill into the pig. But we all sat down on the floor and emptied it out together. The goal was that admission to the park would be contained in that pig. We made it! (Souveniers, by the way, were on us. I saved my babysitting money for months.)
A: You have an English degree from the University of Pennsylvania. How did you end up in finance?
Q: In school kids are usually math/science or English/social studies. I was English/math. When I came out of college, I knew I wanted journalism. Fortuitously, I wound up with a job as an assistant to the business editor at Working Woman magazine. She taught me that my math skills came in handy rounding out — and strengthening — stories by using numbers as supporting evidence. I aimed straight into business journalism from then on. It wasn’t easy — Forbes, Fortune and the like wouldn’t look at me coming out of Working Woman. But I landed a job in equity research at Dean Witter and got enough financial cred on my resume to eventually get hired at Forbes.
Q: What does financial freedom mean to you and have you achieved financial freedom? If so, do you remember the feelings you experienced when you first achieved financial freedom?
A: To me, it means not having to do things just for the money — and freedom from financial worry. I’m close. I think I’ll feel more secure when both of my children are out of college and my husband and I settle on a vision of retirement.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle for people trying to achieve financial freedom? How can they overcome that obstacle?
A: The biggest obstacle is saving enough. It’s hard because incomes haven’t kept pace with costs over the last decade or so — which means that even if you were a good saver, you’ve felt squeezed. It’s also hard because humans aren’t wired to be good savers, to prioritize tomorrow over today. The very best way to overcome it is to automate. Make a good decision to save money one day and put it on autopilot so that you can benefit from that good decision for years to come.
Q: You’ve written a number of excellent books on personal finance. Which one is your personal favorite and why?
A: Thanks!! I’m torn. I love Money Rules because it’s quick and easy and no matter what page you turn to, you’ll get something you can likely use immediately. But I also am drawn to The Difference because researching that book taught me that so much of our financial success can be attributed to things other than financial habits.
Q: Do you manage your own investments? Why or why not.
A: Yes and no. I manage some of my investments but I also have a financial advisor. I like the fact that he is there to oversee and to discuss my goals and financial life. I think of it like this: If I were a doctor, I wouldn’t be my own doctor.
Q: You seem to be everywhere. You run your own website, you write books, you write for a number of organizations (AARP, Daily Finance, Oprah, etc.), and of course you serve as the financial editor for NBC’s Today Show. How the heck do you do all of that?
A: First of all, I have help. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that — particularly for women who look at people like me and think I can get it all in in a single day. I have a full-time assistant and a full-time reporter/writer and they’re both key in making sure the work gets completed. Second, I have a ton of flexibility. Other than the days I have to be somewhere (like Today or giving a speech) I work from home. I continue to operate like most journalists I know. Deadlines are scheduled and I move from one to the next.
Q: What are your concerns for your children when it comes to their future and money?
A: My hope for them (and I think my concern is embedded in my hope) is that they find work that they both enjoy doing and that will support them in a comfortable lifestyle. I think if they find the first, the second will come.
Q: Can you tell us about the Money School you offer on your website? What is it, who can it benefit, and how do folks sign up?
A: Money School is a six-week series of classes (you can sign up for single sessions or the whole shebang) that I teach myself, live, online. Students take the classes from their home (or office) computers. Each one is a 45 minute lecture plus 15 minutes of q&a, followed by office hours so you can ask questions you didn’t think of before. The topics include budgeting, saving more and spending less, retirement (yes, you can!), protecting you assets and debt reduction (a version of the Debt Diet I taught on Oprah). Personally I think just about anyone who doesn’t feel like they have a grip on their finances can benefit. I’ve heard from last semesters students that they got a lot out of the experience. Sign up at JeanChatzky.com.
Win a Class with Jean Chatzky’s Money School
So now back to the contest. To enter, simply leave a comment below indicating which of Jean’s classes you’d take if you win and why. There are six classes to choose from–
- Jumpstart Your Finances (How Even Beginners Can Take Financial Control) (September 10th)
- Budgeting Bootcamp (September 17th)
- The Debt Diet (Pay It Down! And Build Your Credit Up) (October 1st)
- A Crash Course in Saving More (and Spending Less) (October 8th)
- Yes, You Can Retire (October 15th)
- Protect Your Financial Life (October 22nd)
I’ll be picking a winner at random on September 8, 2013 at noon. Good luck!