Chatzky of NBC's 'Today' says optimism aids financial success

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Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:00 am

Money doesn't buy happiness. But happiness can bring in more money.

That was one message author Jean Chatzky shared Wednesday with a crowd of about 950 at St. Andrew United Methodist Church as part of the Omaha Town Hall Lecture Series.

Chatzky focused on financial tips and tricks from her books, “Money Rules” and “The Difference,” both of which aim to teach people how to save money, invest it and spend it responsibly.

In “The Difference,” Chatzky looked into what makes some people financially successful and others unsuccessful. She found that a healthy dose of optimism — not too much, not too little — can make all the difference.

People who are optimistic tend to frame comparisons in a positive light rather than getting stuck in a pool of negativity, she said. On the other hand, those who aren't too optimistic are more apt to plan for emergencies rather than assume everything will work out for the best.

“Hope is not an investment strategy,” said Chatzky, who also serves as financial editor of NBC's “Today” show.

She encouraged everyone to get an idea of their retirement costs based on how long they might live and how long they plan on working. She advised running the numbers in an online retirement calculator.

And if you're not happy or optimistic enough, prioritize doing things rather than acquiring things, she said. “Experiences get better when you talk about them,” but things don't, she said.

Chatzky also stressed money rule No. 1: Personal finance is more personal than it is finance. What's right for one person may not be right for another, she said, and there will be people — family members, neighbors, even Warren Buffett — telling you that you're doing it wrong. That doesn't mean the advice is right for you.

Chatzky said saving is the key to financial success, but most Americans are terrible at it. Even though the recession seems to have taught many that having a safety net is necessary, the question is, “Did we learn enough?” Chatzky said. Consumer debt numbers are again starting to rise, she said, which is worrying.

However, millennials (those generally from age 9 to their early 30s) seem to have been affected positively by the recession in terms of taking more responsibility for their money. After all, she said, today's young adults are forced to be more responsible for their finances than any in the past, who may have been able to rely on a pension plan and free health care from employers.

Chatzky said automatic plans like 401(k)s are key to saving because money goes in automatically and isn't easy to get back out. “If you can't see it and you can't touch it, you won't spend it.”

After Chatzky's talk, Paula Engen of Blair, Neb., said she felt inspired to sit down with her husband, Doug, and go over her family's finances on paper.

Kathy Lowry of Omaha said she appreciated the fact that Chatzky is such an advocate for women and found the tip of an online retirement calculator helpful.

“I know to stay totally involved,” Lowry said. “Do not abdicate (financial responsibility) as a woman.”

Chatzky spoke to the crowd of mostly women at the end of her speech, referencing Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's book, “Lean In,” and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Chatzky said that as a working mother, she doesn't believe in the notion of “balance.” Some days, she said, she's good at home. Others, she's good at work. Rarely is there a day she's good at both, she said.

“It's not about having it all, it's about having what you value most.”

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