true WELLth Podcast: Jean Chatzky Episode Transcript

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Jean Chatzky: I’ve had the experience of standing in line in a Starbucks after doing a segment on television where you talk about, well, if you really cut back on coffee, you would be able to save a million dollars, which I hate. I do think we all need to be a little more conscious about our spending, and that’s just a very, very convenient example. In reality, we do spend an absurd amount of money on coffee. But yeah, I’ve had that experience of, oh, Jean Chatzky is in Starbucks, and I have to defend the fact that, yes, I know what I’m spending on my coffee and I can afford it and it’s fine.

Manisha Thakor: Welcome to the true WELLth Podcast where we bring you a wide range of guest experts to help you think about how to craft a life of deep personal meaning from a variety of angles. Some of our guests will give you tips, tools and tactics to make tiny tweaks or radical reboots in your own life. Other guests will stretch you to think about broader societal issues relating to money, meaning and wealth ideally in a way you may not have encountered before. My guest today is Jean Chatzky, and our lively conversation definitely falls in that latter camp, shining a light on an issue directly pertaining to 51% of the population and likely worrisome to a large portion of the other 49% of the population as well. The issue at hand is the safety, security and stability of women both financially and in day to day life.

Manisha Thakor: First, let me tell you a bit about Jean and her very impressive background as a multi-decade champion of financial education for women, men and children. If I tried to list out all the impressive things Jean has done during her 30-plus year career, it would take up half the episode, so I will summarize by saying Jean’s career started off when she received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania in English and joined the team at Working Woman Magazine. Today, Jean is an award-winning personal finance journalist who is both the financial editor of NBC’s The Today Show and AARP’s personal finance ambassador. Jean is also the founder and CEO of HerMoney, a new multimedia company she has launched inspired by her weekly podcast, Her Money with Jean Chatzky, with a mission of changing the relationship women have with money.

Manisha Thakor: Jean is also the author of numerous best-selling books, my personal favorite, which up until now has been a tie between her 2009 classic, Pay It Down!: Debt-Free on $10 a Day, which is my number one go-to recommended resource when people ask me for a roadmap for getting out of debt, and her 2017 best-selling book, AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip. As you’ll soon see by the end of this interview, I may just have to move those two delightful books down to the jewel number two spot so that the number one place can go to Jean’s newest book, which as of this taping is just about to be released and is called Women with Money. Without further ado, let’s dive into today’s conversation with Jean.

Manisha Thakor: Jean, you have a new book about to come out, Women and Money. Tell me about that.

Jean Chatzky: It’s actually Women with Money. No, it’s okay. I love that you confused it because it’s women with money intentionally. Women have more money than we’ve ever had before. If you look out into the future, because of educational trends, the fact that 132 women graduated college last year for every 100 men, plus we are kicking butt in graduate school and we are poised to inherit the lion’s share of the big wealth transfer that’s coming down the pike. If you look out to 2030, most of the money is going to be in the hands of women. This book is the guide book for managing that.

Manisha Thakor: I love that I had a Freudian slip because I literally have in my notes, Women with Money. I think that’s a new phrase culturally, women with money. You did a bunch of happy hour discussions.

Jean Chatzky: I did.

Manisha Thakor: Did you notice any big differences in attitudes in terms of comfort level about being a woman with money based on age or geography or educational levels? Were there any big differences that you saw?

Jean Chatzky: Interestingly, the comfort level is not high no matter how old we seem to be. If you’re a woman who grew up with substantial wealth, who has had it since you were a child and got used to it in that way, the comfort level is a little bit higher because so much of our emotional attitudes toward money are still a product of the home we grew up in. Some people call this your money story. Some people call it your money script. It’s really what was in the air about money, not necessarily even conversations, not things that people taught you. Just the feeling that you grew up with where money was concerned, it impacts us to this day. As women, who have come into our financial power, we were often raised without it, and that makes it difficult to adjust to.

Manisha Thakor: In the happy hour discussions, was there anything that really surprised you?

Jean Chatzky: Yes. There were so many things that really surprised me. I asked in every single one of them, what do you want your money to do for you? The women, 2-to-1 answered with some version of safety, security, savings, stability, and it didn’t just manifest itself in, “I’d really like to have some money in the bank.” It was, “I don’t just want a house. I want a house with a paid off mortgage. I don’t just want a car. I want a safe car with all the airbags and the backup camera.” I realized about myself that I’ve been operating my whole life much by this script that especially after I got divorced, I would not hear of renting a place. We had decided that I was going to be the one to move. Renting something where I would have to move again was not even something I was willing to talk about.

Jean Chatzky: When I got remarried, I wouldn’t let my new husband buy in to the place that I had bought because it was mine and nobody was ever going to take it away from me until I was ready to move. I opened the door of this house, and there’s a Volvo wagon in the garage. I am a safety girl, and clearly so many other women are too. It’s not a want for us. It’s a need. We got to conquer this need before we can move on to the other things that we want from our money. We want many of them. We want time. We want freedom to leave a job we hate, to leave a relationship we’re not enjoying, to start a business we want to start. We want to travel. We want to set our own calendars as far as time with the people who matter to us. We want nice stuff. There is nothing wrong with nice stuff, and we want a lot of that too, but we’ve got to check the safety box before we can allow ourselves to want any of those other things.

Manisha Thakor: The pursuit of happiness, a concept enshrined by our Founding Fathers is about as American as we can get. At a young age in this country, we are taught that in fact the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right as per the iconic words of Thomas Jefferson. Inherent in this notion is that we have the freedom to determine our individual route to that happiness, be it family, career, community, religion, money, status, fame or whatever else tickles your fancy. There’s just one problem. It’s really hard to pursue happiness if you don’t feel safe, or perhaps you’re in the presence of safety now, but the very real threat of the absence of safety is by the nature of your gender often lurking around the corner.

Manisha Thakor: This importance of feeling safe is gender neutral. Men and women both need to feel safe, to be grounded and to pursue happiness. Alas, across the globe, safety is not a given for 51% of the population, irrespective of economic or social status. It is a risk factor in daily life as a result of simply, well, being part of the 51% of the population who are female. I want to emphasize strongly here that this is not to say that all men are safe and all women are in danger, nor am I saying men don’t live in fear whatsoever. Those kinds of wide-sweeping generalizations are never true. What I am saying simply is that Jean is shining a much needed light on the systemic ways our society through much of civilization has, to be blunt, been less than favorably disposed towards women safety.

Manisha Thakor: I feel the exact same way. I have a deep need for security. I’ve run the numbers six ways to Sunday. My Monte Carlo has a 99.999% success rate, but I still have … I’m fearful, and I feel embarrassed about that. Why do you think we’ve … We’re smart. We know what we’re doing. Why do we feel that way?

Jean Chatzky: A couple of reasons. We feel that way because if you look at women in the world, women are not safe. Women are not as safe as men to be sure. Look at the victims of rape and sexual assault. 91% are women. Gallup has done research on how safe you feel walking around your neighborhood at night. Even in developed countries, even in wealthy neighborhoods, women do not feel as safe as men feel walking around at night.

Jean Chatzky: The idea of stepping into our power is also really scary. Barbara Stanny, who I interviewed for the book, said powerful women have been burned at the stake, and she is so right. Powerful women are not adored. Powerful women are viewed as threatening. The fact that men have traditionally managed the money in the family, if we step up to take our share of this, the management, not necessarily the money itself but the management of it, that’s threatening.

Manisha Thakor: It’s actually a perfect segue to one of the things I wanted to ask you on a personal level. You and I have both gone through the less than joyful experience of getting divorced. I am noticing a sea of my fellow bread-winning women friends. It seems like there’s this tsunami of them who are considering or further along in the divorce process. Knowing what you know now, any advice that you would have for a bread-winning woman who often may be now not just the co-breadwinner but the primary breadwinner?

Jean Chatzky: Yeah. Well, first of all, Farnoosh Torabi’s book, When She Makes More, is fantastic. If you’re one of us, you should absolutely read it. I think where it gets difficult is in a relationship where there’s been a sea change. If you came into a relationship as the breadwinner and nothing has changed, that’s something that your spouse or your partner signed up for. They knew what was happening going in. If over the course of your relationship, things have shifted and you have become more accomplished and have grown in your financial power while your spouse or your partner has not, you got to address it. You can’t just let it fester. I would say address it and close ranks because as long as the two of you are okay with what’s going on in your relationship, you don’t need to listen to anything from anybody on the outside world because people have a lot of opinions on this and they are not always complimentary.

Manisha Thakor: In the case that you are a unit, you have closed ranks, but you’ve just decided for whatever the reason, it’s not going to work. You need to get divorced. Are there any general steps that you just feel women need to be taking into consideration when contemplating divorce?

Jean Chatzky: Yeah, you’ve got to look at the assets from a perspective of what’s going to grow. Unfortunately, a lot of women still look at the house and say, “I need to stay in the house. My kids were raised in this house. They need to be home.” That’s the biggest albatross. If you can’t truly afford to maintain the house on your share of the assets and simultaneously fund a retirement portfolio, and if you’re aiming to do a college account that’s going to continue to grow, then the house really has to go.

Manisha Thakor: I want to pause here for a moment and say a few more words about the four stages of women’s careers. I first came across this concept not long after Sheryl Sandberg’s now iconic book, Lean In, came out. I was at a conference of extremely professionally accomplished women, and one of the presenters was an executive consultant who worked exclusively with women in C-suite jobs. When pressed as to why she felt there was still such a gender disparity at the highest levels of power with most corporate leadership teams still being by a wide margin predominantly male, she shared an observation that I’ve never forgotten. She said there were four stages to any career.

Manisha Thakor: The first stage is developing expertise in something. Women excel at this.

Manisha Thakor: The second stage is managing other people doing things within your area of expertise. Women also excel at this. Men, by the way, on stages one and two, well, not so much as women. Then, comes the 180.

Manisha Thakor: Stage three of a career is where you get promoted to a place where, by definition, you’re having to oversee things that you have no expertise in. For instance, you’re running a division. You’re heading up a new product line. There are all sorts of tasks that you’re ultimately responsible for, but you can’t possibly know every nuance of. This is where the crevice starts to open up between men and women’s careers. Men, by and large, according to this consultant, have no issue making the leap between stages two, working in your area of expertise, and stage three where you manage people on project where you simply can’t know every working nuance.

Manisha Thakor: In case you’re wondering, stage four is doing stage three on a massive scale, i. e., being a CEO of a company or head of a country.

Manisha Thakor: It’s the jump between stages two and three where we see a huge crevice and women are falling in head first. The discomfort that women collectively have with taking leadership over things they are not yet perfect doing often keeps them from accepting positions that would pull them from stage two to stage three.

Manisha Thakor: Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, has an amazing TED Talk about how we teach boys to be brave, and yet we teach our girls to be perfect, and how this is holding us back as we grow into women in the workforce. Reshma since has written a wonderful book on the same topic, and we’ll have links to both the talk and the book in all of the resources that Jean mentions in our show notes. For now, I just want to highlight that in addition to a systemic lack of safety, a system’s pressure on girls to be perfect rather than the focus on being brave that generally is taught to boys also plays a role in some of the other gaps that we’re seeing when it comes to women’s careers and finances.

Manisha Thakor: In doing the research, I understand you also spoke with a wide range of experts from psychiatrists to behaviorists and all sorts of folks in between. What were some of the insights that really struck you as new or deeply insightful?

Jean Chatzky: I learned a lot about emotion and money. I have paid a great deal of attention to what has come out of the world of behavioral finance as that field has grown up and to really dig into why human beings are not rational creatures where money is concerned. I learned a lot about what emotion drives us to do as far as money goes. The way it became most clear to me was one psychologist who said logic makes us think. Emotion makes us act.

Jean Chatzky: That rang really, really true to me because when we look at people’s impulsive behaviors around money, and I’m guilty of this myself, I have a bad day, okay, I’m going to go out and indulge in a little retail therapy or at least buy a new lipstick so I don’t feel like I look as bad as I feel. Our emotions, good and bad, they gather up in us and they cause us to do things that we wouldn’t do if we were not feeling so emotional. It’s like drugs and alcohol and love. When we’re under the influence of all of those things, we don’t necessarily act as we would otherwise.

Manisha Thakor: Speaking of how people act, when you encountered women who were truly living joyful, less stressed, purposeful lives, were there any commonalities you noticed in terms of mindsets or habits?

Jean Chatzky: They had planned. I think that was the big commonality. They had set goals. They knew what they wanted their money to do for them, and then they were able to go out and achieve it. It wasn’t ready, fire, aim. It was ready, aim, fire. Let’s figure out where we want to go and then let’s figure out how to get there. Understanding the goals and what they had to do to check those goals off, whether they were career goals, relationship goals, financial goals, as far as amassing a certain amount of wealth in order to allow them to do something else with the next stage of their life. That was the commonality. They had actually dug into the numbers. We know that most people don’t. Most people don’t have a decent sense of what it will take to accomplish pretty much anything because the numbers still scare us and so we tend to push them off to the side.

Manisha Thakor: Is there any way in which so far, in the writing of the book, this may change as you’re out discussing it, that you feel the research, what you heard from real women, what you heard from experts has changed a shift in your mindset or viewpoint or desire habits?

Jean Chatzky: It’s made me feel really normal. Can I say that? It’s made me feel … Sometimes I look at the way I am with money, and I think I’m weird or I’m different or quirky. What I know, I’ve known I’m on track because of what I do for a living, but emotionally, the fact that it can wind me up has always made me feel like I was a little unusual, or the fact that I’ll fight with it, fight about it with my husband, or that I sometimes don’t want to talk about it, or that I do have this need for safety and security that I’ve always felt was a bit of a failing. It made me feel normal, but it also made me understand the possibilities. I think that’s what women are seeing in this, that we can have these fabulous lives.

Jean Chatzky: It’s time to give ourselves a break and stop beating up on ourselves for what we feel are our failings with money. This is the way we are with money, and as long as we can step out of our comfort zone and get ourselves to the table to invest, then we’re going to be just fine.

Manisha Thakor: Do you think that you have been able to have a mindful alignment between how you spend your money and your time and what matters because of the career path you chose, because of the people in your life, because of habits you learned? I ask this because it’s very rare that I meet successful people that truly feel that they’re all in alignment, but I also rarely meet successful people who are as calm and happy as you.

Jean Chatzky: I don’t always feel in alignment. I really don’t. I have a lot more trouble with time alignment than I have with money alignment. I still have trouble saying no to things that I probably should say no to, and I work on that. The idea that I feel like I’m all there for my kids every single day, all there for work every single day, it just doesn’t work. I don’t think it works for anybody.

Manisha Thakor: Over the course of your career, you’ve encountered people with a wide range of attitudes about money. When you have met people whose self identity is so intertwined with what they do that they’ve literally come to view themselves as not just what they do but what they earn in almost an addictive way. I’m asking this for a highly personal reason because for a good chunk of my life, that’s how I would describe myself. What advice do you have for them about trying to shift towards a more balanced mindset, a mindset of financial wellbeing?

Jean Chatzky: Figure out some way to give back. Force yourself outside of that zone. Figure out something that you’re passionate about outside of work and do it and schedule it so that there’s something else going on that you can say you are as well. I think about it too in the sense that I know a lot of my identity is wrapped up in my work, probably to an unhealthy degree, but I also really like it. It’s a very hard line to walk. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Manisha Thakor: Thinking about this notion of success a lot lately and how there can be an impression on the outside when somebody reads your, I call it your glossy bio and your real bio, and looks at your glossy bio and things like, wow, you’ve totally got it going on. Whereas, inside, you may feel like, oh, not so much. As I look over my career, I definitely have these periods where there has been this disconnect between what looks successful in the outside and what I felt on the inside. Just to wrap, I’m wondering, have you ever felt that way?

Jean Chatzky: Sure, absolutely. Whenever there’s a new challenge, you described on my podcast the four stages of women’s careers and how we’re really good at managing ourselves, we’re good at … What was stage two.

Manisha Thakor: We’re good at developing expertise and managing people within our area of expertise.

Jean Chatzky: Right. Once you get out of your area of expertise, it gets really hard, and that’s where I feel like I am right now, because I launched hermoney.com in the fall, and we’re definitely experiencing some growing pains. I feel like a fish out of water every day.

Manisha Thakor: What’s the game plan?

Jean Chatzky: Grow. Produce really good content and become the most trusted personal finance destination for women.

Manisha Thakor: Jean, thank you. This has been fantastic. Thanks so much.

Manisha Thakor: There were three powerful insights that I took away from this conversation with Jean. Number one, the degree to which her observation mirrors Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which presents the various success of human needs that need to be fulfilled for one to reach a state of full self-actualization. One of the most basic needs is safety, yet if you aren’t walking in someone else’s shoes, why would you know if this foundational element is so glaringly missing in others’ lives if you have it in your own? A more widespread understanding of the degree to which women do not feel safe in so many ways, in so many countries is a very important first step and is very much at the heart of what Jean spoke to and shined a light on in this conversation.

Manisha Thakor: The second takeaway is a bit of a paradox. It’s what Jean heard when she interviewed our dear mutual friend, Barbara Stanny Huson. The observation that throughout history, powerful women are not adored. They are often viewed as threatening, so much so that over the centuries, some have quite literally been burned at the stake. To say women simply need to step in to safety, power and confidence is simplistic as it ignores some of the societal headwinds that have not yet stopped blowing.

Manisha Thakor: The third takeaway was this notion that logic makes us think and emotions make us act. Looping back to Abraham Maslow, upon watching a toddler play with a toy hammer, he said, “I suppose it’s tempting if the only tool you have is a hammer to treat everything as if it were a nail.” If in the pursuit of financial literacy, education and empowerment for both genders, we focus solely on the logic, we are but the financial versions of Maslow’s toddler. Only by fully incorporating the emotions that make us act in our financial educations can we ensure that both genders are taking steps with their finances that are the right ones for their specific circumstances. That’s why I’m excited to start seeing forward thinking firms engaging in holistic financial life planning where financial guidance is always rooted in the broader context of the client’s definition of a life truly well lived and a life of true wellbeing. It’s this kind of soul-based heart-driven approach to finance that will make a meaningfully positive impact on the lives of 51% of the population and I think the other 49% as well.

Manisha Thakor: That’s it for this episode of the true WELLth Podcast. Jean mentioned so many great resources in her comments, so be sure to go to the show notes for this episode at truewellthpodcast.com. Remember, here, we always spell wealth, W-E-L-L-T-H. In the show notes for this episode, you’ll find a link to Jean’s new book, Women with Money, a link to her website and social media coordinates, plus links to all the other fantastic resources mentioned in this episode.

Manisha Thakor: To wrap, yes, it’s that time again when I get down on my metaphorical hands and knees and beg you to consider taking a mere five minutes out of your time to go to the true WELLth Podcast page on iTunes and leave us a review. By sharing your thoughts about this episode or the show in general, you will be doing a powerful random act of kindness by increasing the odds that other people around the globe interested in these same issues about money, meaning and purposes you can find the true WELLth Podcast. I’m Manisha Thakor, and that’s it for this episode of true WELLth.

Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones, an innovative wealth management firm founded 20 years ago in Seattle. Today, Brighton Jones serves clients from the east to the west coast with a singular goal of helping them live richer lives. Today’s episode was edited and produced by Stan Hall with help from John Dougherty, Hallie O’Reilly, Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus and Chris Sylvester. For more info on our show, visit truewellthpodcast.com.