I always wrote as a kid—a family newsletter featuring, naturally, views and opinions by grade-school me. The letters started with a flourish: big headlines in colored pencil, then handwritten pages, stapled together. By the time I was editing my high school newspaper in the late 1950s, I knew that I’d be reporting and writing for life.
There were no role models for female reporters in those days. None of the adult women I knew had paying jobs, let alone jobs in journalism. Instead, I fixed on Brenda Starr, reporter and heroine of a comic strip that appeared daily in my hometown paper, the Niagara Falls Gazette. She was a glamorous redhead with startling mascara, a fabulous reporting job that took her all over the world, and a handsome, mysterious boyfriend with a patch over one eye. Sigh. When her creator, Dalia Messick, died in 2005, a friend sent me a condolence note.
When I came to New York at 21, with my Brenda dream, I found a job that took me right back to the type of writing I started with—newsletters. The Insider’s Newsletter, published by the Cowles organization, covered two of the great crusades of my generation: the rise of the women’s movement and the surge of consumer activism. My editor told me to dig out consumer money stories, such as the drive for honest disclosure of interest rates (which led to the Truth in Lending Act). I said I knew nothing about money. She said, “Learn.” And I did.
What I learned became my passion. Every day, hardworking people were making mistakes and losing money, not because they were careless or dumb but because the system was designed to delude them. The massive unfairness of it all burned into my bones. I’ve never lost that sense of outrage—my desire to help consumers make their way safely through the jungle of Big Money.
As I look back, I realize that my books and columns have pretty much followed the concerns of my generation. Our issue today is retirement and the need to create an acceptable income that we won’t outlive. That’s where I went with my new book, How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide.
One of our earliest crusades at the Insider’s Newsletter in the 1970s was demanding better consumer protection. Among other things, we stopped companies from promising pensions for 30 years’ work, then firing workers after 29 years, leaving them with nothing. Around this time index funds were invented, providing consumers with a simple way of investing their money well.
In the 1980s, consumer activism was pretty much snuffed out. Financial deregulation, however, started expanding our savings and investment choices. The 1990s were all about the hottest stocks. Savers, eager to get rich, couldn’t see the risks, let alone the need to invest in a more balanced way.
That’s when I first wrote Making the Most of Your Money (Simon & Schuster, 1991), which was a complete guide to personal finance. Consumers were searching for unbiased information about debt, college tuition, low-cost life insurance, home-equity loans, and yes, 401(k)s.
When I started looking into retirement planning for myself, my head exploded. For a whole generation, the need is urgent and the questions broad—and thus the inspiration for How to Make Your Money Last.
Finding good answers is one of the most satisfying things that I’ve ever done as a reporter. We’re all in this retirement game together. We’re going to make it through.
Jane Bryant Quinn is a leading commentator on personal finance. Her new book is How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2016).