Jean Chatzky Profile

Jean Chatzky has a talent for making difficult subjects understandable. A financial guru and business journalist, Jean is currently the financial editor of NBC’s The Today Show and the Director of Education for

Inspired by her own personal experience getting out of debt, she has dedicated over two decades to teaching ordinary people how to manage their money.

From her freshman year of college, Jean knew she wanted to be a journalist.

After graduation she took a job as an editorial assistant. One of her responsibilities was reporting business stories for Working Woman magazine. Jean fell in love with the way that numbers tell a story and set her sights on the big names in financial writing: Forbes, Fortune, etc. However, when she finally got a meeting with the chief of reporters at Forbes, he looked over her resume and told her to go get an MBA.

Disillusioned by the thought of paying 40 K for a degree just to get a job that paid half that amount, Jean instead sought out work on Wall Street writing financial reports for analysts. A few years afterwards she sent Forbes an updated resume and received a position almost immediately. Later on she became a writer and senior editor for SmartMoney and part of the staff for Money magazine.

Along the way, Jean claims she made many financial errors, spending more than she was earning and eventually accumulating credit card debt equal to half of her annual salary. In order to fix her finances, Jean educated herself in money matters and began to orient her career to helping others in similar situations. She is the author of several books including The 10 Commandments of Financial Happiness and Make Money, Not Excuses.

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    When I look back on my life as a whole, the work I do makes perfect sense. Take it piece by piece, though, and you might be surprised.

    I 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). We certainly had enough money for the things we needed, but we 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 my two brothers or I wanted things above and beyond the basics, it was up to us to buy them so I always worked. And I always saved.

    Until college. I went to school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where my grandparents lived close enough so they could keep an eye on me 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 I got caught up.

    I had known since freshman year that I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to write for magazines. But upon graduation I 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 I took it.

    It took me three months of wondering every day what I was doing walking into the department store to quit. I found another editorial assistant position—one that paid even less—but I was thrilled to have it. I taught SATs on the side to support the rent in my Brooklyn apartment. It was then I learned, money is important. But it’s not all about the money.

    That editorial assistant job put me in the position of reporting on business for Working Woman magazine. I discovered that numbers could tell a story all their own. And so, when I was ready to leave Working Woman a few years later, I was determined to find work at a big business magazine—a place like Fortune or Forbes. They weren’t biting. When I finally used a connection to grab some face time with the chief of reporters at Forbes, he took a look at my clips and my resume and told me to go get an MBA.

    Well, the idea of paying $40,000 a year for tuition so that I could earn half that didn’t resonate with me. So I freelanced for a little while. I did a short stint at a travel magazine. I went to cooking school. And finally I decided to look for a job on Wall Street. I thought about what Wall Street’s research analysts did—they interviewed CEOs, crunched numbers, wrote reports—and I 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 me around to write their reports. I did it for a few years, learned how to read a balance sheet from the pros, and when I re-applied to Forbes I had a job in two weeks.

    I was a fact-checker. And I was proud of it. I 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. I stayed a year then left for the opportunity to write my own stories—rather than check someone else’s—for The Wall Street Journal’s start-up personal finance publication, SmartMoney.

    It was while I was at SmartMoney that I was tapped to be the financial editor of NBC’s Today show. I’ve always believed that I got this job because I found a way to make difficult subjects understandable—to lay them out in plain English.

    I did it for you, but—make no mistake—I also did it for me.

    Along the career path I just described for you, which eventually took me to Money magazine, Oprah and many other places, I made plenty of money mistakes. I spent more than I made, racking up high interest rate credit card debt equal to a full half-year’s salary. I withdrew money from my 401(k) rather than rolling it over when I left my first job—costing myself taxes and penalties. And I ceded control of way too much of the money in my life to others. I realized that I needed to understand money so that I could fix what was wrong in my financial life—and by understanding it, and fixing it, I was able to explain what I 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 me—I have continued to learn and explore the subjects and problems that seem to be most, well, problematic. Debt has been a huge issue for me ever since I 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 I wrote Pay It Down! and put America on The Debt Diet.

    I have been working in the trenches with real people and their real money for more than two decades now. I have 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 my 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 I know from personal experience, they don’t want to hear it. I joke, but I am so fortunate to have two great teenagers to share my life. And my mother. Great friends. A cockapoo. And a wonderful husband.

    We live in the suburbs of New York in a smaller house than we could afford and we do it by choice. I’m doing my best to raise my kids knowing more than I 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 I also know that sometimes you have to let your children learn things on their own. And that one of the reasons I am still so fascinated by your lives and your money is that you—my readers, my listeners, my viewers, my friends—continue to teach me things every day.

Jean Chatzky Speaking Videos

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Jean Chatzky's Speech Descriptions

If financial talk normally racks your brain, Jean Chatzky is the perfect interpreter to translate economic jargon into plain English. Her easy-to-follow programs give you all the basic steps and knowledge you need
“to own your money” so that you can “own your life.” You will leave Jean’s presentations more aware of the whereabouts of every penny that passes through your bank account. A national expert on money in today’s world, Jean teaches habits and strategies that you can utilize to secure a comfortable financial present and future for you and your family.

Your Money and Your Life: Where Do You Go From Here?
It's a whole new ballgame. From the way you save and invest for today to how you plan and protect yourself for the future, the rules of the financial world have changed forever. Today Show Financial Editor Jean Chatzky had a seat at the table for the shake-up and she'll tell you—in plain English—about the moves you need to make now to insure a life of financial comfort for you and your family.

Women and Money
Anyone who tells you women don't need financial advice specifically for them is wrong. Women, whether they'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, women are also uniquely qualified to handle them. In her frank, often funny, but always compassionate way, Jean Chatzky takes every audience of women through the steps they 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 life into financial comfort or wealth while others get stuck or worse, fall back? Today Show Financial Editor Jean Chatzky reveals the findings of her proprietary study of 5,000 people that shows wealthy, successful people have both habits and personality traits that less successful individuals are missing. With candor and humor, she'll show audiences how they can get their own dose of this secret sauce.

What People are Saying about Seeing Jean Speak

Rating Entries

I just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful class! You definitely inspired me and motivated me to get on track with budgeting. I never realized the importance of writing it all down, but after you explained how easy it is to spend invisible money on various things without even thinking about it, it now makes complete since to me why it is so important to track every penny spent on a daily basis. Thank you so much!
    Angela, Budgeting Bootcamp participant

“After last week’s class I have saved over $3,000 per year!! No one should miss class!”
    Kenny, Jumpstart Your Finances participant

“I am actually excited to start budgeting!”
    Katie, Budgeting Bootcamp participant

“I left the session with many clear cut to-do list items that I am definitely planning on implementing.”
    Jan, Jumpstart Your Finances participant

“I really like the Where You Stand budget tool that automatically populates from the spending tracker. It’s not as difficult to track spending as I expected. Very helpful and the easiest tool I’ve found so far. Thanks for that!”
    Jane, Budgeting Bootcamp participant

“I’m finding myself so much more aware of where my money is leaking out – wow, pet food adds up.”
    Susan, Budgeting Bootcamp participant

“I’ve always wanted to find a money course but was intimidated by the sentiment that I’d not saved enough already and had no chance at retiring. Your energy and step-wise logic was comforting. Glad I signed for all sessions!”
    Susan, Jumpstart Your Finances participant

“Money School has been so helpful and eye-opening!”
    Susan, Yes, You Can Retire participant

“Having the office hours a week later is very helpful.”
    Chris, Yes, You Can Retire participant

“Thanks for the office hours… I’m learning a ton just reading the conversations.”
    Paige, Yes, You Can Retire participant

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Books by Jean Chatzky:


Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security
A powerfully simple, must-have manifesto on money with more than 90 wealth-building rules from the Today show’s finance guru.

In a time of great financial uncertainty, this is the book everyone must read. The bottom line: Money is simple—people make it complicated. Now, bestselling personal finance author Jean Chatzky has distilled this simplicity into a smart, immediate, and entertaining set of rules that will change readers’ financial lives.

Chatzky removes the stress associated with all things money and says it clearly: Readers who follow these basic yet crucial approaches to spending, saving, investing, increasing their income, and most importantly, protecting what they have, will build the wealth and financial stability they’ve been dreaming of. Chatzky’s advice is reassuring, straightforward, and often counterintuitive, including:

    • “Date your stocks; don’t marry them.”
    • ” ‘More money’ won’t always make you ‘more happy.’”
    • “To spend less, carry Benjamins, not Jacksons.”
    • “If you can’t explain it, don’t invest in it.”
    • ” ‘Free’ can be very expensive.”

Written in her trademark warm, witty voice, and with a special Dos and Don’ts section, this is the only book readers really need to achieve true financial health and happiness.


Pay It Down!: Debt-Free on $10 a Day
Jean Chatzky has been working with viewers of NBC’s Today show for a series on how to get out of debt once and for all. Her method, both on TV and in this book, is simple yet powerful: the key is saving just $10 a day that you currently waste. It doesn’t sound like much—a movie ticket or lunch for two at McDonald’s— but $10 really can take you from debt to wealth in just a few years. And because it doesn’t feel like an impossible goal, people are more likely to stick with Chatzky’s plan than an extreme regimen of spending cutbacks.

Chatzky is focusing on debt because it’s the single biggest threat to our financial health. The average American family has sixteen credit cards and high-rate debt of more than $8000, not even counting car loans and mortgages. They pay more than $1000 a year in interest alone. Debt makes people feel depressed and overwhelmed, leaving them without enough money for the truly important things in life—education, retirement, owning a home, feeling secure. Chatzky, one of America’s most popular personal finance experts, writes in down- to- earth, woman-next-door language about how to get started right away, without giving up the things that truly give you pleasure.

She offers practical, accessible strategies to help readers find the money to pay off their bills, lower their interest rates, and improve their credit scores. Featuring real-life examples of people featured on her Today show series, Pay It Down can transform debtors into future millionaires.

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