Q&A: Jill Schlesinger on this extraordinary economic moment | Savings and budgeting

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New financial influencers are popping up online daily – some with a long list of credentials and some not so much. But one personal finance expert who has been a trusted voice of reason for decades is Jill Schlesinger, a business analyst at CBS News and host of the “Jill on Money” podcast.

(John Paul Filo/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

In this Q&A, Schlesinger describes her life experiences during recessions — including the most recent recession of 2020 — and how she sees her role today as a money expert, author, radio and podcast host, and analyst. of TV.

This article is part of a series of interviews with financial influencers from US News that explores how consumers get their financial advice today and what it means to be a financial influencer – with all the responsibilities that come with the role. – as we hear from some of the most prominent voices in personal finance today.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You have a long history in the financial industry as a trader, financial planner and business analyst. How do you situate this economic moment historically?

It has been extraordinary to experience a pandemic that only happens once in a century, to see the entire world economy shut down because of it, to have two years of openings and closings, fear and anxiety , and now live on the other side.

Now we are dealing with inflation, how the supply chain will hopefully loosen up; it is really extraordinary. The only other period that, in terms of magnitude, proved so significant was the financial crisis and seeing the country’s investment banks almost falter. I had never seen anything like this before so both are very unique experiences. But I was a trader during the crash of 1987, and those two experiences are fundamentally so different.

Q: And how do you see yourself adapting to this moment and the financial challenges that Americans face today?

As the economy circled in March 2020, I was on CBS Mornings almost three mornings a week doing every weekly jobs report, posting and interpreting the data. I think my job is to take information, distill it, and help people understand what it means. Not to sugarcoat it. I try to hold people’s hands and acknowledge how scary it is. I’m not trying to take advantage of those terrible times; this is not the way I occupy. I am an explainer, a voice of reason and I give context to what is happening.

Spring 2020 is also when my podcast went from two days a week and trying to be really high-minded with really cool guests to realizing that people only have a million questions . So we went to a daily podcast where all we did was answer people’s questions. No one really cared what major economists said. What mattered to people was, ‘What is PPP, how do I access it? How can I apply for unemployment benefits? »

All of these things were real and important issues to the people I was talking to, and I thought that was far more important than airing the opinions of the great economists I had access to. It was really rewarding, and that daily podcast is still the most rewarding part of what I do every day.

Q: There’s a deluge of financial advice today – online, on social media, on TV. And with the rise of the TikTok platform, more and more so-called financial influencers are appearing daily. Do you consider yourself a financial influencer?

Sure, I guess. I worked my way into this career. I was a gold, silver and copper options trader on the commodity exchange floor in the late 80s and early 90s. I then became an investment advisor and a certified financial planner who only dealt with real people as a planner, and I did that for 14 or 15 years. I’ve been a guest on some TV and radio shows, and a few people have been really nice to me and said, “You should really think about doing this for a living.” In early 2009, CBS News tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We really think you break things down in a way that our audience can understand, would you ever come work here?” I thought they were crazy, and I haven’t looked back since.

There is room for everyone. If we can get more and more good, usable financial information out to more people, that’s great.

Q: Your job puts you in constant contact with people who are worried or confused about their money, the economy and beyond. What types of questions do you get asked most often and what do you think is the main concern of today’s typical American when it comes to money?

It really runs the gamut. I remember the first segment I did on inflation was probably a year ago, and the vast majority of questions I received were about early inflation reports and the actual experience of people on the ground.

The most common questions revolve around the question: “Am I okay?” It seems that people say, “I don’t really trust myself, my broker or my advisor”. But can I tell you my story in eight minutes and ask you to talk to me and give me your quick, rough assessment? Most people just want to know if they’re on the right track because it’s kind of scary to do this on your own. And even if you have an adviser, a father, a child, they want an impartial person. I think it’s telling that people ask this question and the thing they think isn’t OK is OK, while the thing I find out is something else they missed.

There are also a lot of big questions around retirement planning, and because of my age, which is in my late 50s, you tend to attract people who look like you. But I also have a much younger audience that grew from working with CBS Interactive and CNET.

I became the funny Aunt Jill who will tell you what the fuck you are doing, but without being mean about it. I’m not a bustle, I’m not evangelical. I think there are a lot of answers and ways to get people where they want to go. People who contact me know that I’m not going to kick their ass. I’m going to tell them the honest truth and they trust me because I’m a certified financial planner, I’ve been in the business for a long time and I know what I’m talking about.

Q: What personal finance issue is keeping you up at night?

I’m a real pain in the ass for people about their estate planning. I don’t care how old they are, I say, “You have to do this.” I don’t care how or why. It must happen.

My other soapbox issue is that I think we spend a lot of time talking about investments, but it’s actually not the hardest part of your financial planning or financial life. The hard part is figuring out how to create a systematic approach to saving consistently over time. You can throw a dart at a bunch of index funds and you’ll be fine. The time spent on what is best this or that is silly. Most people know that all you need is a few index funds and then go to bed at night.

Q: Are you optimistic about the economic future of this country and that of typical American families?

I worry all the time. I don’t tend to worry about bear markets, I don’t even worry about the label of a recession. I worry about the human suffering, the anxiety in people who are already under great pressure.

It was so different going through the Great Recession then going through the COVID recession, because the government has done such a better job of taking care of ordinary people in the midst of COVID. Last time around, the government did a great job of saving the banking system, but there were definitely plenty of homeowners who could have used some help, and those stories really pissed me off.

I’m neutral on what happens next – I can’t control economic cycles. I just hope people are a little more aware of how precarious some of these situations are and don’t worry about the things you can’t control. As I speak to you now, the day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average entered a bear market, the day after the S&P 500 hit a new 2022 low, I am not pessimistic about the markets. I’m not even pessimistic about the economy. I’m a bit pessimistic that the lessons we’ve learned over the past 10 or 12 years will be easily forgotten.

And sometimes, as human beings, we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes we are unlucky, don’t get me wrong, but some people do terrible damage to their own financial lives. I hope we can stop people from doing this, from making short-term decisions when long-term decisions will pay off big time.

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