Interview with Jean Chatzky (And Contest Announcement)

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky

Update: We have a winner! Congrats to Megan who won a free virtual personal finance class with Jean. For everybody else, you can still sign up for one or all of the six virtual personal finance classes with Jean Chatzky.

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

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!

Topics: Personal Finance

68 Responses to “Interview with Jean Chatzky (And Contest Announcement)”

  1. I’d love to do a Budgeting Bootcamp (September 17th)! I’ve read Jean Chatzky “Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day ” can still use help! and a DoughRoller newsletter reader!

  2. Great interview and a brilliant idea to host virtual lectures. We are getting more and more global and virtual as of late. At this stage in my life: daughter just graduated from Duke University (cost me about $268K over 4 years) and now in Duke Medical School. I could really use some guidance on how to and when to retire and protect my financial life while meeting my parental obligations!

    ■Yes, You Can Retire (October 15th)
    ■Protect Your Financial Life (October 22nd)

  3. I would take A Crash Course in Saving More (and Spending Less) because my husband and I are currently saving for a down payment for a house. I’d like to reach our goal sooner rather than later!

  4. With a series of event in the past 5 years: workplace accident, lay-off, looking for job phase, and re-employment at 69, I have really felt the scarcity of jobs and the demands for smart spending. Your educational efforts add clarity to attempts for forward and upward progressions in income productivity and management of income.

  5. Jill Williams

    I am interested in taking your Budget Boot Camp class for free, please. I sent you an email, after seeing you on Anderson Cooper today and working with the couple on T.V. I had always looked up to Suze Orman but she’s always more centered around the upper class and college students. Not enough of the working middle class/working poor. Please consider me for a free budge boot camp class, thank you and God Bless Jill & Mike Williams

  6. Glad to have found this interview through Jean’s tweet today. Retired before 65, not entirely by choice, and need to make most of my small savings, while protecting it if possible. Either of the last two classes look useful to me. Wish I could afford the entire course. V. Hare

  7. Nancy Kurtz

    I hit enter too soon. I would like the last class on protecting our investments for the reasons stated. I have diversified investments and I don’t want to loose them to the economy or to the government.

  8. Joe Russum

    Very good interview! I would be most interested in: A crash course in saving more (and spending less). Jean mentioned that saving enough is the biggest obstacle to financial freedom, and I would love to learn how to overcome that hurdle.

  9. I stumbled onto your Dough Roller site about a year ago and have enjoyed your emails ever since. It has been interesting to watch it evolve, especially over the last few months. Thanks for taking a broader view than just finances by including links on internet marketing and website development information. Since retirement is eminent for me, I thought at first I would want the retirement session. But, having experienced in the past few years what can happen to what you have already saved, I would be most interested in Protecting Your Financial Life, especially taught by Jean Chatzky.

  10. “Yes you can Retire” would be the most interesting for my husband & I. Like many boomers, neither of us has worked a job that will have a pension once we hit retirement age. We need all the good advice we can get!

  11. Patty Astorino

    I love Jean! I’ve been watching her on Oprah and the Today Show for years! She’s like one of us! I read all of her articles in any magazine I can find them in. She’s very “no nonsense” ….alot like me! haha I would choose the “A Crash Course on Saving More (and Spending Less) because there NEVER is enough to go around! I feel like I’m always trying to save, but then something comes up. There’s just never enough cash to go around!

  12. In these unsure times I would like to take ” Protect Your Financial Life”, because it doesn’t matter how much I save or put away for retirement if I don’t protect it, it’s not going to be there for me. Thanks for the opportunity to try and win the class.

  13. What a great balanced honest approach she takes! It’s refreshing that she first doens’t say – get your finances perfect and then invest and get rich. She really has some realistic and practical advice that anyone including me can use. I like the approach she takes of balance between an advisor and doing it herself. For me, as a personal trainer on the side I LOVE boot camps so the budget BOOTCAMP would be awesome!

  14. Choices! I would be interested in lessons she can impart in “Yes, You Can Retire or Protect Your Financial Life.” My goal is to retire when I want not when the government says I can to be able to collect social security and to protect whatever assets I have to be able to do that. Financial freedom has such a wonderful ring to it that I am so eager when I will be able to hear it for myself.

  15. Do I have to pick just one? I could use them all. I’d probably have to say Debt Diet, since we have mid-five-figure credit card debt. Our credit rating is good, but we’re maxed out. My husband’s pay was cut 10% back when the economy tanked, and my own business took a nosedive for the same reason at the same time. But it’s hard to say no to all the leg-up activities for our teenagers (youth orchestra, law camp, etc.) that will hopefully better position them for college. (Not that we have any college savings set aside; plus our retirement money – what little there was – was cut in half when the economy plummeted.) That, plus we’re Badgers fans, living here in Madison for the past 9 years, like Jean did!

  16. Getting close to retirement and would like to attend the Yes, you can retire class. With the way this economy has gone, we feel like we are sliding sideways with downward pulls. Like to here your class!!

  17. I would love to win the Debt Diet class or the Crash Course on Saving more and spending less. I am presently obsessed with both both paying down my student loans and saving for retirement. I am always looking for ways to spend less money on the essentials.

  18. “Protect Your Financial Life” scheduled for October 22 is my No. 1 choice. My retirement goals were met, plus I had fabulous part-time self-employment available. Then came the realization that prior to my retirement, my husband, unbeknownst to me, had created an additional $70,000 in credit card debt, this on top of his debt that I had been or was still paying off . He has judgments/liens against him now, so I feel financially cornered and don’t really know what my options are. I live in a community property state. Am I doomed?

  19. Excellent interview, Rob. I would choose Protect Your Financial Life. I don’t have any debt outside my mortgage, and I save a substantial portion of my income. I’m also in my 30s with young children, so I have some time before I get close to retirement. This course best meets my current situation.

  20. I appreciate what you do with Dough Roller – this has been real practical connection to information and advice for me. I am 57 and job market challenges have left me under-employed, so, retirement is a concern. However, asset protection is more important. My wife has been dealing with a slow-growing untreatable cancer for many years and we will likely have long road of expense in the near future. As such, I would be most interested in the “Protect Your Financial Life” session. Thanks.

  21. Kathleen Gilligan

    Having roller-coastered through the rest of topics during my life, Yes, You Can Retire, is extremely interesting, but in reality, Rob, I came looking for one of your emails because my intent was to ask if you have any discussion on protecting your retirement assets, so ultimately Protect Your Financial Life would be my choice! Thank you!

  22. Jim Bryan

    I am interested in the last class – “Protect your financial life”.

    My wife and I worked hard for almost forty years. We planned and saved and were able to retire during the past year. Now I want to be sure we can enjoy our retirement with minimal financial worry.

  23. Julie Ernst

    I have enjoyed many articles from both you & Jean. Great to see the two minds together! I would really benefit from “The Debt Diet”, after going through a Divorce & some major health issues. Keep up the great work… many are gaining hope from both of you!

  24. Miguel Lizardo

    I am most interested in attending Budgeting Bootcamp. I think budgeting is a very essential part of financial strategy and I definitely need good and practical guidance on the subject. What are the hours for these classes (live)? Thanks.

  25. Henria O.

    I’d would like to attend the Yes, You Can Retire class! It would be great to get advice on meeting our financial goals by the time we reach the retirement age. Advice on acheiving early retirement would be nice as well!

  26. I enjoyed reading her tips on saving. This is what I have been having the most trouble with since changing careers and going back to school. I would like to attend “A Crash Course in Saving More (and Spending Less).” Great job with DoughRoller, by the way! Always look forward to your newsletters.

  27. Definitely the ‘Debt Diet’. I’ve been able to manage my debt but not make any huge decrease in it over the years. If someone can help me get on track I know I could keep on the right track to success.

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