Wendy Sachs  spoke to financial guru Jean Chatzky on April 15 – Tax Day. Jean, an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC’s Today, a contributing editor for More Magazine, a columnist for The New York Daily News, and a contributor to The Oprah Winfrey Show. She also hosts a daily show on Oprah Radio, exclusively on Sirius/XM Radio.
Jean Chatzky is the author of six books, including her newest book The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times , and she blogs at JeanChatzky.com .
I feel like this is your BIG DAY — it’s like the Yom Kippur of the Tax Season — the Day of Reckoning. So I have to ask you the most obvious question, when did you file your tax return? Do you use an accountant or fly solo? And do you ever get tense or a little nauseated (like the rest of us) when you look at your return?
I do get tense when I look at it and then I remind myself that if I wasn’t making money, I wouldn’t have to pay that much in taxes. So it’s a good problem to have. I do use an accountant (I run a small business, essentially, with a couple of employees) and I am on extension. My return usually is completed in June or July when my accountant is back from his after-tax vacation.
How do you think women's relationship with money is different from a man's?
I think women traditionally operate from a place where we haven’t necessarily had enough information. We’ve operated from a position of scarcity. You always hear stories about how women live longer than men and therefore don’t have enough saved for retirement. You never hear about bag men only bag ladies so I think women have been more reluctant to take risks with money.
It’s often been reported that even in tough times women are more likely to cut back on their own expenses and luxuries but not want to cut back on things for their children. The TODAY show had the CEO of Wal-Mart on this morning saying this exact thing that, in fact, Wal-Mart sees people scaling back in many items, but children clothes and products are still doing well. Why do you think this is?
Women will do things for other people. We do things for our parents and our spouses and our children before we will do things for ourselves. We tend to take care of everyone else before we take care of our own needs. I like the oxygen mask metaphor (That’s when you’re on the plane and the parent is told to take the oxygen mask before giving it to their own child). You have to take care of yourself or you can’t take of anyone else.
But we do see women’s reluctance in cutting back on their children. We saw it around Christmas time too. Women were cutting back on their own needs but reluctant to share what was happening with the economy with their kids or that this Christmas won’t or can’t be as lavish as past Christmases. The problem amplifies when we get towards retirement age and a whole generation of women who have had children a little older will be dealing with the three-way-punch — aging parents, their own retirement and kids going to college. But as selfish as this sounds, your retirement has to come first. There are federal programs to help with the other stuff.
I know that you have a son and a daughter. How old are they and do you talk to them differently about money?
My son is fourteen and my daughter is twelve years old. I try not to speak to them differently because of their genders. The most important thing we can teach our kids is that they can’t have everything. They should see that we make these choices every day too.
I think one of the ways to enforce this lesson is with an allowance and to let them know that there are certain line items that you won’t pay for like movies or a cell phone or for instance, my kids really love Friday night skating. If your kids want all of these things than they have to work
My 14-year-old son babysits like crazy and over Christmas my daughter took care of a neighbor’s pet. The money they earn is so much more valuable to them than the allowance I give them. And as they get older you can give them more money so that they are really managing their own budgets for clothing and school supplies. When they have their own money you can really solve the whining problem.
How much does an allowance go for these days? I have a seven year old and a five year old — I’ve been wondering when to begin an allowance and how much the starting rate is.
When they were in elementary school my kids got a couple of dollars a week for snacks in the cafeteria. Now my 12-year-old gets $10 a week and my 14-year-old gets $20. This is their money for video games, snacks and weekend activities.
You say, "If you want to own your life, you have to own your money." This makes sense. What do you say to the women who are not financially independent and rely on their spouses for support?
Not being the breadwinner has absolutely nothing to do with owning your own money. Just because you’re not the primary income earner doesn’t mean that the money doesn’t belong to you and that you haven’t earned it.
And if you’re not as active in the management of the money as the working spouse you have to change that. You have to sit down with your spouse or partner and say I would be at a loss if anything ever happened to you. So sit down with a financial adviser and get active in your money management.
I also don’t believe that just because there is one earner you shouldn’t have money in your own name. You should have a spousal IRA which gives you the ability to sock away money for retirement. You can also set up a three account system so the paycheck goes into a main account but then every month two auto transfers put money into two different accounts, one for you and one for your spouse.
You should be able to go out and buy a cup of coffee or a pair of shoes without asking for permission and without the feeling of, oh my husband is going to kill me!
Do you think of yourself as frugal?
No. I think I know what’s important to me. I would rather spend money on a nice vacation than a pair of Manolo Blahniks. And those are the kinds of things we should talk about with our kids — that you can’t do everything. You have to make choices.
Women often feel guilty about spending money on themselves — they hide the receipts or tags. Do you ever feel guilty about spending money? If so, on what?
I really don’t do a lot of Sample Sales anymore and I feel guilty when I throw out food. But my Achilles Heel is the “sale” sign. I made myself take stock of all of the sale things that I bought and that I wasn’t really wearing now. So I took myself off the sample sale mailing lists and emails. I also realized it’s a big waste of time.
Everyone knows that money and sex are the biggest stressors in a marriage and can end relationships — you’re not a sex therapist but how would you advise couples to handle money issues, particularly during the stressful times that we are in?
Communication is the first thing. You have to not, not talk about this. Money pushes everyone’s buttons, it can even push mine. So you have to pick a time when you are not cranky or tired and have the conversation. You also should know where you are financially, so you are not surprised.
There’s so much embarrassment and shame around the issue of job loss and money. I think it’s fine for a couple to close ranks and agree that you are not going to share with anyone what’s going on if you or your spouse lose his/her job. And this also applies if a woman is making more than her husband. No one needs to know. I think it is fine to shut out the world.
On the TODAY show and in your book you talk about how people can speak to a creditor to get a better interest rate and that they should literally pick up the phone and make a call. Do you think women are more hesitant to do this sort of thing than men? Are they afraid to be more demanding when it comes to dealing with banks or credit cards?
I think it’s changing and that women are beginning to ask, but unfortunately not enough. There is a fantastic book, Women Don’t Ask , that actually speaks to this as a bigger issue.
TODAY Show contributor Jean Chatsky was interviewed by Mommy Trackd's own Wendy Sachs, who asks How Does She Do It?  She is an award-winning television producer, former Capitol Hill press secretary and the author of the critically acclaimed book, How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms . Currently, Wendy works as a vice president at a NYC public relations agency. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Michael, and two children, Alexandra and Jonah.
Financial expert Jean Chatsky isn't the only super-smart working mom at the TODAY Show. Check out our Mommy Tracked interview with Natalie Morales !
And if you'd like to hear from another mom who successfully juggles parenthood with a full-time career in financial journalism, don't miss our interview with Fox Business News Vice President Alexis Glick .