Advising Women, continued




6:30 a.m.: In her New York suburban home, Chatzky hits the shower. 7:00: Feeds the kids. 7:30: Greets the nanny. 8:00: Walks her first-grader, Jake, to the bus, then heads for the commuter train. 8:30: Arrives in Manhattan and heads to her office at Money to work on a column. 11:00: Takes a car service cab to MSNBC studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. 11:30: Submits to make-up and returns phone calls. 1:00 p.m.: On the air, interviews Wall Street analyst. 2:00: Rides back to Manhattan, returning calls from car. 3:00: Back at the office, finishes column, and consults by telephone with Today producers. 4:30: Gets hair cut at Louis Licari’s Fifth Avenue salon by favorite Today hair stylist. 5:30: Boards commuter train home.

Photo by Brad Trent    Not all her work days are so chockfull, Chatzky claims, but that’s hard to believe. Her disciplined, high-energy work habits allow her to produce a steady stream of columns and television appearances, most of which require a good bit of reporting. “We do the research for people so they don’t have to do hours of it themselves,” explains Chatzky. “They want answers to questions like ‘What’s the best credit-card rate you can get right now?’”
Chatzky knows what it means to be pressed for time. She has vowed to squeeze her high-profile career into a four-day workweek. Mondays are reserved for her children, Jake (six) and Julia (three). Business trips—even to California—are limited to one day, if at all possible. That way she has time to take Julia out for “Ladies’ Lunches.” (Julia loves sushi, so they often go to Japanese places.)

“If you can
sock away
$25 a
month, by
the end of
the year
you will

    Chatzky’s newest “baby,” however, is Talking Money, published by Warner Books this month. Its friendly tone and straightforward explanations, not to mention the author’s widespread exposure, make it a likely bestseller. “Jean’s talent is simplifying complex topics,” says Robert Shepard C’83 G’83, her literary agent (see box.) Chatzky’s winning introduction to home-buying offers a humorous glimpse of her own experience: “In fall of 1993, my husband, Peter, started angling to flee Manhattan for a house in the suburbs. He was so ready for a backyard and a barbecue he’d talked me into buying one of those electric grills, setting it on the table in our tiny kitchen (which was thankfully next to a window), and cooking a flank steak for company. The kitchen filled with smoke before the meat was anywhere near done. I finished it under the broiler and called a broker the next day.” Chatzky’s easy-to-digest volume covers all the financial basics—goal setting, paying down debt, saving, spending, investing, college tuition planning, insurance, estate planning, real estate and retirement.

    Most challenging, says the financial guru, is persuading people who have yet to start saving. “When I go out and give speeches, I still find people need extra help getting going, so I use the numbers,” says Chatzky. “If you can sock away $25 a month, by the end of the year you will have hundreds, then thousands. The minute you start to put money away, you want to do more. I really believe it’s like a snowball.”
Chatzky’s own career snowballed, but it took persistence and hard work to get it rolling. After graduating from Penn, where she received the prestigious Althea K. Hottel Award, Chatzky aspired to be a journalist. So she signed on as assistant to Ann Molligan Smith, Working Woman’s business editor. After two years, she moved to Business Traveler International. When she decided she needed the rigorous business training that Forbes was renowned for, Chatzky applied there. But her interviewer was not enthusiastic. He thought her experience “too soft,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I have a stack of resumes and you’re way at the bottom.’”
Undeterred, Chatzky lined up a job in Dean Witter’s equity research department so she could get some hands-on business experience, and two years later, again applied to Forbes. This time the reception was different. Her interviewer used the same line—he had a stack of applicants’ resumes—but now she was second in line.
Forbes hired her, but Chatzky didn’t stay long. After only a year she decided to jump, along with several of her colleagues, to a start-up devoted to personal finance, SmartMoney. Several Forbes staffers were bearish on the move, she recalls. “They said, ‘There goes your career. All you’ll write about will be mutual funds.”
Well, they called that one wrong. She tackled all sorts of interesting subjects, from a piece titled “The Cult of Quicken,” about “how that particular personal finance program became a perhaps-more-important-than-necessary part of some of its users’ lives” to a story about a couple who were turned down in their attempt to purchase a Body Shop franchise “for not being politically correct enough.” It was also there that Chatzky got her big break. The magazine was asked to send an editor to appear on the early morning show produced by NBC’s New York affiliate. But after just one morning of dragging out of bed at 4:30 a.m., the editor who was selected begged off. “Jean,” he offered, “Would you like to do it instead?” She jumped at the chance.
Chatzky’s combination of good looks, on-air warmth and clear explanations impressed the powers-that-be at the network’s Today show three years later when they were looking for a new financial contributor. And it didn’t hurt that her former colleague at the local affiliate, Matt Lauer, who by then had become Today’s co-host, put in a good word. Chatzky started out rotating with another contributor, but eventually took over the entire slot.
During her appearances on MSNBC, Chatzky reports on the investments of an on-air investment club and frequently interviews prominent money managers. During the uncertainty over who would be the next president, Chatzky tailored her commentary to the news of the week, answering questions like, “What was the effect of the unsettled election on the stock market?” “Which stocks would thrive if Gore were president?” “Which stocks would thrive if Bush were president?”
Chatzky credits Penn with starting her down her career path. She enrolled expecting to be a math major, but after earning a C in introductory calculus, started searching for other possibilities. As a reporter at the Daily Pennsylvanian, Chatzky found she much preferred writing feature stories to breaking news. Advised by a student editor to try Nora Magid’s course in advanced nonfiction writing, she found her calling.
Magid’s first assignment asked students to tell her about themselves. A confused sophomore at the time, Chatzky confessed, “I don’t know what I’m good at or what I want to do with my life.” Next to that line Magid wrote back, “I think you do now.” Chatzky calls Magid’s course a “de facto journalism program” that turned out numerous graduates who excelled in the field. “She was very practical. She had worked in the industry, so she knew what was needed.”
Chatzky also had an interest in business, which she explored by taking some Wharton courses. Most happy in marketing, she made that her minor.
Chatzky works hard at applying her advice under her own roof. Even though she doesn’t necessarily approve of her son’s plans for his $2 weekly allowance, for instance, she has vowed not to interfere. “I don’t think you can impose your values on their purchases,” she says. Every Sunday she dutifully measures out a $1 bill and four quarters, the denomination that fits those grocery-store candy machines he can’t resist. And even though she’d prefer that he rent rather than purchase the new Pokemon 2000 video, she encourages Jake to save for it by herself matching every penny he puts away. As she says in her new book, “The best way to teach wise spending habits is to let your kids make their own money mistakes.” But when it comes to adults, Chatzky can’t help but try to step in.


Alumni Agent

Soon after Jean Chatzky C’86 started appearing on NBC’s Today show, publishing executives came knocking. Did she have any book ideas? they wondered. She proposed a book on how celebrities manage their wealth, and they jumped on it. “They started throwing numbers out at the table,” Chatzky recalls, “and I didn’t have any idea what was in the ballpark.”
    Realizing she needed a literary agent—and fast—Chatzky phoned a Penn classmate with publishing
experience. He referred her to another alumnus, Robert Shepard C’83 G’83, a San Francisco-based agent. Chatzky appreciated his guidance as she closed the deal—the book, titled The Rich and Famous Money Book: Investment Strategies of Leading Celebrities, [“Briefly Noted,” February 1998] came out in hardback in October 1997 and in paper in February 1999—but she also found she could look to him for editorial advice. “He’s always my first look,” she says. “He’s a great editor.”

    Shepard gained experience working on both the editorial and business side of the trade books division of Addison-Wesley, before moving to San Francisco in 1994 and opening his own literary agency. Since then, Shepard has signed on several Penn alums as clients, including Wall Street Journal reporter Stefan Fatsis C’85, whose widely anticipated book on tournament-level Scrabble players will be published by Houghton Mifflin next summer. Another client is Richie Unterberger C’82, a San Francisco author who penned The Rough Guide to Seattle, The Rough Guide to Music USA [“Briefly Noted,” September/October 1999] and a forthcoming sequel, Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers.

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