Our Neighbor

Money guru Jean Chatzky of Briarcliff Manor



It’s All About the Money, Honey!

 

Jean Chatzky once battled credit-card debt and unpaid bills. Now, she’s Oprah’s favorite financial guru.

 

 

 

Sitting in her taupe-colored country kitchen in the sleepy town of Briarcliff Manor, Jean Chatzky, one of America’s leading personal-finance gurus, lets me in on a little secret. “When I was first starting off, there were times I didn’t pay my bills and times that I racked up a lot of credit-card debt. I also completely botched my first attempt at a 401(k).”  

Not only did she take control of her money and her future, she now shares her expertise with the millions of people who tune in to watch her give financial tips on NBC’s Today Show, follow her recent appearances as a money coach on Oprah’s Debt Diet series, buy her finance-advice books (she’s written five), and read her articles in Money, Time, and Travel & Leisure magazines and her weekly New York Daily News column. So exactly how did Chatzky, a soft-spoken, 42-year-old, separated mother of two who was once in debt, end up becoming such a successful personal-finance expert?

The road was pretty smooth, it seems. “I was good at math in high school and thought I might do something math- or computer-related,” she says. But, at the University of Pennsylvania, Chatzky found the college paper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and, she says, “basically started living there.” After graduating in 1986, she worked as an assistant to the business editor at Working Woman magazine and moved on to write for Forbes and then Smart Money, which is where she was working when she was invited to be the financial editor at Today 13 years ago.

While some (most?) people find personal finance boring, Chatzky definitely does not. “It’s all about real people and the real challenges they’re facing,” she says. “Money matters apply to just about every aspect of a person’s life, from adopting babies and buying pets to fighting with your spouse to entertainment, eating out, beauty, and fashion.”

One of her more pressing concerns is personal debt, which is why, two years ago, she contacted Oprah Winfrey’s producers to pitch her Debt Diet series to them. “Interest rates were going up and up and I felt that a lot of people were going to get squeezed in a really bad way.” The series, which began airing in January 2006, was so successful that millions of people today are on the Debt Diet, and Chatzky was asked to return to Oprah’s show earlier this year to do a follow-up segment. In addition, Chatzky joined the crew of Oprah & Friends on XM Radio, where she provides listeners with daily tips on such subjects as creating a budget and improving credit scores.

With all this talk about saving money, you might think that Chatzky is a spendthrift, but, she says, “I definitely let myself indulge from time to time.” Chatzky’s recent splurges included two pairs of Stuart Weitzman stretch suede stiletto boots, one in brown and one in black. She shops for clothes at local boutiques including Great Stuff in Chappaqua and On the One in Mount Kisco. In addition, she gets her hair cut at New York City’s trendy Louis Licari salon.

However, probably the biggest luxury for her these days is finding time for friends, family, and exercise—and what she likes to do doesn’t cost a cent. “If I found myself with an extra hour in the day, I’d go running.”

 

 

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