In her New York suburban home, Chatzky hits the shower.
Feeds the kids. 7:30:
Greets the nanny. 8:00:
Walks her first-grader, Jake, to the bus, then heads for the commuter
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.
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 Licaris Fifth Avenue salon by
favorite Today hair stylist. 5:30:
Boards commuter train home.
Not all her work
days are so chockfull, Chatzky claims, but thats 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 dont have to do
hours of it themselves, explains Chatzky. They want answers to questions
like Whats the best credit-card rate you can get right now?
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 tripseven to Californiaare
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.)
the end of
baby, however, is Talking Money, published by Warner Books this
month. Its friendly tone and straightforward explanations, not to mention
the authors widespread exposure, make it a likely bestseller. Jeans
talent is simplifying complex topics, says Robert Shepard C83 G83,
her literary agent (see box.) Chatzkys 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 hed 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.
Chatzkys easy-to-digest volume covers all the financial basicsgoal setting,
paying down debt, saving, spending, investing, college tuition planning,
insurance, estate planning, real estate and retirement.
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 its like a snowball.
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 Womans 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 youre way at the bottom.
Chatzky lined up a job in Dean Witters 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 linehe had a stack of applicants resumesbut
now she was second in line.
hired her, but Chatzky didnt 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 youll write about will be mutual funds.
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 NBCs 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.
combination of good looks, on-air warmth and clear explanations impressed
the powers-that-be at the networks Today show three years later
when they were looking for a new financial contributor. And it didnt
hurt that her former colleague at the local affiliate, Matt Lauer, who
by then had become Todays co-host, put in a good word. Chatzky
started out rotating with another contributor, but eventually took over
the entire slot.
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?
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 Magids course in advanced nonfiction
writing, she found her calling.
first assignment asked students to tell her about themselves. A confused
sophomore at the time, Chatzky confessed, I dont know what Im 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 Magids 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
also had an interest in business, which she explored by taking some Wharton
courses. Most happy in marketing, she made that her minor.
works hard at applying her advice under her own roof. Even though she
doesnt necessarily approve of her sons plans for his $2 weekly allowance,
for instance, she has vowed not to interfere. I dont 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 cant resist. And even though shed 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 cant help but try to step in.
after Jean Chatzky C86 started appearing on NBCs 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 didnt have any idea what was in the ballpark.
she needed a literary agentand fastChatzky phoned a Penn classmate with
experience. He referred her to another alumnus, Robert Shepard C83 G83,
a San Francisco-based agent. Chatzky appreciated his guidance as she closed
the dealthe 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 1999but
she also found she could look to him for editorial advice. Hes always
my first look, she says. Hes a great editor.
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 C85, whose widely anticipated book on tournament-level
Scrabble players will be published by Houghton Mifflin next summer. Another
client is Richie Unterberger C82, 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.