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The Power Women Have: From Journalist to Media Empire with Jean Chatzky

I’m especially fired up for this episode with Jean Chatzky, who you've likely seen on NBC’s Today Show as their Financial Editor for many years.

This episode took place at FinCon in Orlando, Florida with over 2,000 people. These folks get together to talk about finance, to talk about money and what the trends are. There are banks, there are bloggers, there are YouTubers. The main keynote speaker at this conference was Jean Chatzky. People were excited to have her as she is a multiple-time bestselling author and an award-winning personal finance journalist. She’s truly an icon in this space and in society in general.

When I saw that Jean was keynoting at the conference, I connected with her team. I told her what we were doing here at WealthFit. I got them excited about having her on the show.

What we discussed in this particular episode is the new data she has access to. She's on national TV and she's also an ambassador for AARP. The amount of data that she sees and gets access to is comprehensive. How does this benefit us?

Jean breaks down some of the shifts taking place and what we can do to leverage this for a better financial future. In addition, we talk about Jean’s entrepreneurial journey and how she evolved from a journalist to run a media empire. What I like to say is a little personal finance mixed with some entrepreneurship, sprinkled in with some lifestyle, life by design topics.

Dustin
Jean, you've been helping increase financial literacy through books, prints, TV, radio and social media. Besides the technology and the media advancements, how has the conversation or how have people changed around money over the years that you've witnessed or had they?
Jean
They have and they haven't. The landscape has changed in that people are forced to be more responsible for their money. When I first started doing this, I came up at a time when 401(k)s were being introduced. The traditional pension system was still there for a lot of people. We've seen that tail off simultaneously. We've seen this rise in healthcare that we have to pay for. It doesn't come automatically with the job anymore. If it does come with the job, you're fortunate enough that your employer kicks in some dell. You're still paying more every single year. We've got Medicare and Social Security and we're not exactly sure what they're going to look in the future. We've got this rising gig economy, which means fewer employees of a traditional sense.
All of that means saving retirement. Your future is on you. That forces people into this position where they have to take responsibility. What hasn't changed is that we are human. Humans are pretty bad with money. We’re emotional and we're not taught how to deal with it and we're not wired to be particularly good with it. We still have lizard brains that react much more pleasurably to instant gratification than to delayed gratification. That makes managing money a challenge. Thank God for technology because we are seeing that technological innovations help people. The apps that help you save and the automation that helps move money into your 401(k) every single month without you even has to sign up. You get to that employer and they put you in the program. That has been the most successful savings breakthrough in decades.
Dustin
I have a marketing background. You say we want instant gratification. Humans are probably still the same. Do you think marketing and the marketers have gotten better of selling the dream and keeping up with the Jones? Do you think that's had any impact?
Jean
It's had a huge impact and social media has had a huge impact. Years ago, when we were wishing for somebody else's life, when Friends debuted, we can talk about the Friends reference because it's on Netflix and everybody, my kids’ age, has watched the entire season. When it first debuted, there was a lot of talk about the apartment. How could Monica, a struggling chef with a job sometimes and sometimes no job and Rachel who had cut up her credit cards in the very first episode afford that place? You would tune in every Thursday night and you would watch. Maybe you would ask that question in the back of your mind. Now, it's on your phone. There are countless opportunities to buy. There are countless ways for marketers to reach you where you are. They no longer have to get you through the Sunday circular. They just shoot you a text message, which you've happily accepted because they gave you some discount at one point along the way.
Dustin
Jean, you see a lot of interesting data. You're like a clearinghouse where you have access to a lot of data. What's interesting to you? What trends are you seeing that are interesting to you?
Jean
I’ve seen a lot of interesting information about women and around the power that women are taking on in the economy, the rise of wealth among women. The fact is women will inherit twice from both our husbands and our parents, that we put a lot of the intergenerational wealth transfer in the hands of women, about 70% of it. It’s one reason why I have chosen to focus a lot of my reporting energies on women. I launched a site called HerMoney.com. I’ve got a book coming out called Women With Money and the HerMoney Podcast is a regular conversation about money with women. Although we have more of it than ever before, we're still not as in control of our money as we want to be. We did a survey for the launch of HerMoney.com. The vast majority of women told us they felt savvy and informed shoppers, savvy and informed voters and savvy and informed patients when it comes to going and having a conversation with a doctor. Only 27% feel like savvy and informed investors. That has to change because we all have to make our money last for a long time and investing is the way to do that.
Dustin
I saw on HerMoney.com,
Jean
The fears are greater and the underlying need for security is greater. For women, we need to satisfy this feeling that we will be okay at all costs before we can tackle the other things. That gets in the way sometimes of taking as much risk with our money as we need to be taking. It manifests itself in women who have plenty of money but far too much of it sitting in a checking or savings account. What’s been interesting to me as somebody who has for many years traveled the country and done a lot of events is that when I am in a room of men and women, it's a nice event. The questions come. There's a lot of information exchanged. I can leave feeling pretty good. When I am in a room of all women, it is totally different. The information is much more free-flowing. People are sharing, giving and learning from one another. It's because we're more comfortable. My friend, Jane Bryant Quinn, is a rock star personal finance writer. She was the first. She likes to say, “Money isn't pink or blue. It's green.” A good stock is going to be a good stock no matter who buys it. Sometimes you need an environment in which you're comfortable in order to receive the information.
Dustin
What's your biggest advice that you give to couples when it comes to money?
Jean
Talk about it and schedule talking about it. I don't always like to talk about money with my husband. I talk about money for a living and I don't always like to talk about money with my own husband. When you're talking about money with your spouse, you're talking about what we want. At the bottom line, it’s, “What do we want? When do we want it? How are we going to get there?” Just because you marry somebody doesn't mean you want the same things. That's an uncomfortable conversation from time to time. My husband and I will say, “This weekend, we are going to talk about our seven-year plan. This weekend, we're going to talk about planning for the next six months. This weekend, we're going to talk about figuring out how much we can spend on the next apartment.” We will schedule it. We often do it in the car. One of us is driving and one of us has the yellow legal pad so we can take notes. We're both captive. We make sure that we have something fun to do later on. I always feel better after these conversations even though I don't want to have them at the time.
Dustin
I’ve had to learn the hard way. I appreciate that. It lets me know I’m on the right path. We're big on entrepreneurship at WealthFit. You started off as a journalist but along the way, you created your own business. 
Jean
I was at personal finance magazines for many years: Forbes, SmartMoney. I was employee number five. I spent ten years at Money Magazine. Magazine budgets are not what they once were. I got caught up in a round of downsizing and fired. At the time I was doing some other things on the side. I had a column in USA Weekend magazine. I had been on The Today Show for many years at that point. I was doing some speaking and writing some book. I decided, “I’ll do more of that,” and that's when I started my business.
Dustin
That was before side hustles and microbusinesses are the vogue trendy things of the time. You were doing that back then. How did you know to do that? Was that the model? Did you want to be in more places? Were you driven by money?
Jean
I said yes. I got asked to be on The Today Show for the first time many years ago. Shortly after, I had done two or three segments and I got a call from Good Morning America. I went into the control room to talk to Jeff Zucker, who was the Executive Producer at the time. I said, “I’ve got a call from GMA. Can I do that? Do you care?” He said, “Yes, I care. We’ll send you a contract.” I was made a regular contributor quickly. I sat down in the green room with a guy named Peter Greenberg, who was the Travel Editor at Today at the time. He is now at CBS and has been for many years. He said, “You're doing this every other week now. Your life is going to change. Doors are going to open. People are going to want you to do things, to write books, to give speeches.” He said, “Say yes.” I decided I would say yes.I was pretty petrified at the time. This was still at the point in my television career where I was getting physically ill every time I went on television. I decided, “I will say yes.” When somebody called and said, “Would you give a speech?” I’ve never given a speech in my life. I thought, “I’ll do it.” I was enjoying it. I was enjoying the mix. I was enjoying the fact that if I had a story that had to go the next day, I could put it on The Today Show. If I had a story that I needed a month to report out, I had a magazine to put it in. If I wanted to write about something big, I could do it in a book. Exploring and saying yes was a good way to go about it.
Dustin
I believe you're one of the first to build a brand essentially. You were saying yes and maybe brand building was a part of it. Were you strategic about it in the beginning?
Jean
The first couple of times people said to me, “You're a brand,” I was like, “I am not a brand. I am a person.” I don't think I was strategic at all. I was strategic years in when I hired a PR person to help me make it bigger. It was along with a book that I hired a PR person.
Dustin
What's the advice you have for somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps in media, maybe in personal finance? That wants to go the path you did?
Jean
Longevity helps and showing up in the same place on a regular cadence, whether it is on a YouTube channel or in somebody's email box or on The Today Show. I am incredibly fortunate to have had this longevity on this national platform. People need to know that they can count on you to be there.
Dustin
You're building an empire. You acquired DailyWorth. How do you, as an investor yourself making investments, a powerful woman making investments, look at that deal? How did you vet that deal? 
Jean
I have made a number of Angel investments along the way. I’ve made them in companies that I believe have a stake in the future. Whether or not they are successful at the time, I’m betting on the founders to figure it out. I was an early investor in DailyWorth and that enabled me to be in the know when they were going to sell some assets. I have invested in things in and out of the financial space. I invested in PureWow when it was wowOwow. It was Women Of the Web. It was all these fabulous women: Whoopi Goldberg, Joni Evans and Liz Smith who was putting a footprint on the web. If you wanted to be one of them, you had to invest some money so I put in some money.
Over time, it became wowOwow. Gary Vaynerchuk bought it so that was a successful exit. I invested in a small company called Blueprint Income. They're here at FinCon. They developed a product, a personal pension that you buy in increments over time. You buy it in pieces and then you collect it later on. I invested in it because I sat down with the founder. He went to my alma mater so he had reached out for advice. I know that this is a societal problem. Everybody's worried they're going to run out of money in retirement. Social Security is not going to be enough. We're going to need income in retirement. Is this going to be the ultimate solution, Blueprint Income? I know they're playing in that space. They're smart guys. That's how I go about it.
Dustin
Jean, it's easy for people to see you on TV and see you everywhere as a personal finance educator. What is your guilty spending splurge? What do you splurge on? What's your thing?
Jean
You are not going to understand this because you are a guy with short hair. My guilty splurge is a blowout. I like to get a good blow out.
Dustin
What has been your most worthwhile investment?
Jean
College for my kids.
Dustin
How do you see that as the most worthwhile investment? 
Jean
Our biggest asset is not a house and not a 401(k), it's our earning power. When you put your kids through college, you’re making an investment in their earning power and their ability to succeed in the future. I’m saving for college for my kids and doing it automatically. I’m fortunate that I was able to put them through without debt.
Dustin
Who do you learn from? Who are your mentors? How do you get better?
Jean
I mentioned Jane Bryant Quinn. My training as a journalist, my roots as a journalist, I still love spending a day on the phone reporting. Many of the people that I admire are journalists. Jane is right at the top. She is an amazing reporter. I still feel that there is a need for us to be able to dig into this information. Not simplify it but understand it, parse it, and explain it in a way that people can understand it and use it in their day to day lives. That’s my job. 
Dustin
How do you think your journalism mindset has helped you in business? It's one thing to be a journalist and report, but now to run businesses. How do you think that's played out? 
Jean
It's a different skill set. I don't know that it is. I’m entrepreneurial as well and always have been. I’m an idea person. I guess the ideas component of it has helped me in business.
Dustin
With so much demand for your time, how do you prioritize? How do you decide which meetings to take?
Jean
My husband helped me with a filter years ago. I try to stick to it as much as possible. I do things that move the ball forward in terms of moving the brand forward. If this is something that can help the brand get to the next stage, the next level, I’m talking about HerMoney as a brand, as a business, those things I will do. I will do things that are profitable. If there is a decent amount of money on the line and it is worth my time for that reason, I will generally do it. Unless it's something that I don't believe in, I will say no. I will do things that are fun and interesting. I spend an awful lot of my time talking to behavioral finance geeks because it's fascinating. It's cool and interesting. I like it and so I do that too.
Dustin
In the last several years, what's something that you've personally worked on that you think has had a major impact, maybe personally or in the business?
Jean
One of my favorite projects is an in-school kid’s magazine called Your $. My team and I do it with the PwC Charitable Foundation and Time For Kids. It goes out to two million fourth, fifth and sixth graders every month. We hear back from teachers that it's making a difference in the classroom and I feel good about it.
Dustin
Looking back over your career, over your life, what would you say is the biggest defining moment? If you can go back to that moment where you made a decision that you now know looking back changed the course or the path of your life, what would that moment be? What was that decision?
Jean
There have been a lot of them. When I graduated from college, I got two job offers. I got one at a magazine called New Woman, which didn't exist for long. I got one from a retail management training program called G. Fox, which was part of the May Company at the time. The job at New Woman paid $12,000 a year and the one at G. Fox paid $24,000 a year. This was back in 1986. I took the department store job. I knew on the second day that I had totally made a mistake. I had moved to Hartford, Connecticut and rented an apartment and I bought a car. It took me three months to work up the courage to go back to New York and find another magazine job and tell my parents that I was ditching the apartment and the car. Knowing that I had made that mistake but allowing myself to fail in that way and to say, “It's three months. I’m scrapping this and I am starting again. Let's have a do-over,” that changed the trajectory of my life.
Dustin
That’s comforting because in this day of social media, we're always showing how we’re perfect.
Jean
I have never taken a job for the money again. That taught me that.
Dustin
Where can folks follow you and learn more about what you're up to?
Jean
HerMoney.com is where we want you to be. Please visit the site. Sign up for our newsletters. Check out what we're doing. We have a private Facebook group for women and the podcast is HerMoney.
Dustin
Tell me about the book.
Dustin
Thanks again.
Jean
Thank you.

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