Jean Chatzky's Money Tips for Women Over 50
A chat with the Today money guru and author of 'Women with Money'
“There’s no stopping this train,” Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC’s The Today Show, writes in her new book, Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and, Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve. (It covers everything from the emotions of money to investing in real estate to leaving a legacy.) By 2028, Chatzky notes, women will control 75% of discretionary spending around the world and by 2030, 66% of America’s wealth.
But women need a different money playbook than men, Chatzky has concluded from her research and decades of professional and personal experience. “Women view money through a different sort of lens,” Chatzky writes. I just spoke with her to delve into this notion and to hear more about her money tips, especially for women 50+, as you’ll see below. (Chatzky’s 54, as she notes in what she calls her most personal money book; she’s written nine others.)
Here’s the nut of Chatzky’s argument, which I wholeheartedly agree with: “First and foremost, for us, the life we want to create is the target, while money is the tool that helps us achieve it. For many men, it is the other way around.”
But, she adds, “Many of us [women] don’t feel knowledgeable enough to run our financial lives with both confidence and conviction. Too many of us still prefer to sweep all things financial under the rug.” To address this, Chatzky launched HerMoney Media and HerMoney.com in 2018.
Here’s what Chatzky told me about her mission to empower women to take control of their financial lives and how she thinks they can do it (full disclosure: I’ve known Chatzky for years and she endorsed my book, What’s Next? several years ago):
Kerry Hannon: Why did you write this book now? What’s changed in the decade since you wrote Make Money, Not Excuses: Wake Up, Take Charge, and Overcome Your Financial Fears Forever?
Jean Chatzky: In terms of demographics, there is more money in the hands of women. And when you look at education and inheritance, those things are both moving very quickly, as opposed to how fast the salary gap will close, according to current projections.
But the other thing that made me want to come back to women and money is that what I am hearing from women through Hermoney.com and through my podcast is this desire to take control. In particular, to wrap their arms around investments.
What does this book mean to you and your daughter and stepdaughter?
It’s about embracing the power that we have and the power that is coming our way. I want my daughter and my stepdaughter, and my daughter-in-law, to grow up in a world where they have control of their money and they aren’t feeling challenged to take control.
For me, the journey to control was a long time coming. I didn’t necessarily feel confident, and I hope they get there a lot sooner than I did.
What do you think is the biggest stumbling block today for women when it comes to managing their money?
It is still confidence when it comes to investing, and there is insatiable need for safety and security. There is no doubt in my mind that it is absolutely a need.
Financially, all too often, there is too much cash in the bank and not enough money in the market working in a way to stay ahead of taxes and inflation.
Why is it still so difficult for women to talk about money?
What we have been doing with these HerMoney Happy Hours [gatherings of women to talk frankly about money] is putting women together in a safe space. What we have found in doing that is that it is incredibly freeing and liberating and fun. Women want to participate in a space like that.
And so I almost think we are going to need to do it in that way for a while — at least for women in our generation who have grown up being uncomfortable talking about money. Millennials are different. Millennials are more comfortable talking about money and salary. I think it is a product of the fact that so many of them have student debt. When the majority of people you know have a lot of debt, there is no shame, or blame, attached to that debt because you came to it to get your education.
What’s your best advice for couples when it comes to holding joint bank accounts?
You have to figure out what works for you and your spouse and tune out the noise. I have in the book a lot of different ways couples have approached money that works for them. They are all fine. As long as you and your spouse agree than no one else’s opinion is relevant.
You have a chapter called The Joy of Spending. What’s your best counsel when it comes to spending?
I think if you are not sure where spending lines up with your joy, then it’s helpful to track your spending and take a look at which expenses you feel good about and which expenses you regret. That will give you a window into what you value.
That’s the important thing. Figuring out a way to line up your spending with what you truly enjoy and wipe the ones that you wish you had not made out of your day-to-day experience.
What’s your best guidance on parents giving money to their grown children?
Sometimes our kids need a hand. But it is important to telegraph what you’re doing and why you are doing it, so that everybody understands it, and so it doesn’t go on forever.
Many of us have had the experience with grown kids where they need a reset in life and a financial hand in order to accomplish that. I don’t think there is a problem with parents, who have the money, helping with that sort of thing.
The problem comes when you are sabotaging your own future, in which case you have to say: ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t afford to do this for you right now. But I can sit down and help you try to figure out a way to do it yourself.’
In your book, you write about caregiving for your mother and stepfather. What is your take on caring for older parents?
The key is knowing what is coming your way in terms of financial responsibility. Unlike borrowing for student loans or deferring retirement, when our parents need help financially, they don't have another source of income.
But what we can try to do is to prevent it, by having conversations about money at a time that is not in the middle of an event that has any other tensions around it.
What was the biggest stumbling block for you to taking control of your money life?
Investing, in and of itself, was not such a hurdle for me, but risk was. I always had to push myself with my asset allocation to get myself to a place where it was appropriate for my age and risk tolerance.
What money mistakes have you made?
I think I have made them all. Most of them when I was young and was able to learn from them.
I really feel I didn’t come into my own financially until I got divorced around age 40. That kicked me into higher financial gear. I wish I had done it a decade earlier — not get divorced, but get in high gear.
What’s your biggest takeaway for women after writing from this book?
Pay attention. Even if it is uncomfortable, open yourself up to talking more about money. When you really talk more about it, you can take some of the emotion out of it and it becomes more a tool to help you get the life that you want.