Jean Chatzky's 5 Best Pieces of Money Advice

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Your financial future in your own hands.

Jean Chatzky has made a career out of helping women take charge of their finances. She’s written more than half a dozen personal finance books and worked with everyone from Oprah to the AARP.

Over the years, Chatzky has offered many a tidbit of sage financial wisdom on topics like budgeting and investing. And she’s literally written the book on Women with Money. But while there’s no shortage of great guidance to be found, there are a few pieces of Chatzky’s advice that really stick out.

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1. Embrace your current reality

One thing Chatzky feels very strongly about is the need to be (brutally) honest with yourself. You can’t make any financial headway until you run a full self-diagnostic — and embrace the results.

So instead of making a half-hearted attempt at a budget, or setting broad goals that have little basis in your actual life, you need to break it all down. The good, the bad, the ugly — acknowledge it all. Put it all out there.

How you go about your financial self-diagnostics is up to you. You can use a comprehensive budgeting app or old-fashioned paper and pencil. Keep a spending journal, or rigorously maintain a more traditional account book. Whatever works to give you a realistic look at the current state of your finances.

When you know where you really stand, in all its potentially messy glory, any plans you make are more likely to succeed.

2. Compare only to yourself

When all of your finances are laid bare before you, it can be really easy to start trying to measure them up against arbitrary, often external, benchmarks. Do I have more money than other people? Are my things more valuable?

Resist. The only person you should be comparing your finances to is you.

Instead of wondering how your bank account compares to your neighbors’, consider it against your needs. Can your savings account weather a job loss? Do you have enough money in your retirement account for when the time comes?

3. Set goals — and then break them up

Armed with the data from your self-diagnostics, it’s time to figure out your financial goals. And yes, this means any long-term goals you have, like retirement or buying a house. But it should also include your mini goals, your short-term benchmarks for your own financial success.

Looking at a major life goal can be daunting. Breaking those goals into smaller tasks can make it easier to handle (and to stomach).

Save for retirement” is a big goal. It often requires hundreds of thousands of dollars and decades of work. However, “save $500 for retirement this quarter” is a much smaller goal, a more manageable goal. But it will still feel like a success when you reach it. And that success can help you stay on track to reach your next mini goal — and, eventually, your big ones, too.

4. Automate your savings

If every dollar you save requires you to go in and move it from one place to another, it might not always make the journey. While that dollar is waiting for you to move it, it may just wind up spent on something else.

Automating your savings helps take the human variable out of the equation. Instead of having to login (or, worse, go to the bank) to move money from your checking account to your savings, automation does it for you.

Most banks allow you to set up automatic transfers in nearly any amount, at any interval. You can set it up so that money is moved every week, every pay period, every month — whatever works best for your budget. (Just remember to include that transfer in your budget so you don’t spend money you’re trying to save.)

5. Ask for the money you want

Although some companies will provide regular raises to employees, many more do not; at least, they don’t if you don’t ask for it. And this goes double for women, who are statistically less likely to ask for more money.

That said, don’t just wander into the boss’s office and ask for any old raise. Know what you’re worth. Do a little research to see what your skills and experience are worth on the open market so you have firm ground to stand on when you discuss your pay.

You miss out on 100% of the raises you don’t ask for — so ask!

To each their own

Chatzky has spent years honing her financial knowledge, and there are a lot of gems in her advice. However, no matter how keen the wisdom, it’s only as valuable as how you put it into action. Make sure you take any financial advice both with a grain of salt and within the context of your own lifestyle and financial goals.