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Jeanette Pavini: “Know that knowledge is power”

Know that knowledge is power, so make it a habit to stay knowledgeable in the areas that matter most. Many people want to put their head in the sand instead of getting a firm grip on their personal finances. But it isn’t until you know exactly what you have coming in and what is going […]

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Know that knowledge is power, so make it a habit to stay knowledgeable in the areas that matter most. Many people want to put their head in the sand instead of getting a firm grip on their personal finances. But it isn’t until you know exactly what you have coming in and what is going out that you will have a healthy money mindset. For over 30 years I have kept a ledger of the money I have coming in and the money going out. I did learn this from my dad, but I will tell you this one habit helps me in so many areas of my life.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanette Pavini.

“There’s always a better way to save!” This has been Jeanette Pavini’s motto for decades. Jeanette is an Emmy Award winning consumer reporter and advocate. She is the author of The Joy of Saving. As a personal finance reporter for CBS News, Hallmark’s Home & Family, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and TheStreet, she offers consumers unique saving strategies. Jeanette has regularly been featured on The Today Show and hundreds of other media outlets including GMA and Oprah.com.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood formed so much of who I am and how I live my life. I am a fifth generation San Franciscan and the youngest of five kids. I grew up in the Outer Mission District of San Francisco, so I was surrounded by many different cultures, languages, and foods. While rich in diversity, the Outer Mission in those days was a working class neighborhood. I grew up learning the value of every penny. Literally! My parents were raised during the Great Depression and World War II, so we didn’t waste anything: money, food, or time. My mother knew how to stretch a dollar to feed seven people three times a day, she sewed a lot of our clothes, and took us to the library. My father was meticulous about our finances. Every payday, he would divide the cash into envelopes labeled for specific expenses: groceries, gas, school supplies, and so on. His motto was: it’s not what you earn, it’s what you save. We didn’t have a lot of luxuries, but we had a lot of fun. Somehow, he managed to raise five kids, send them to private schools, and retire comfortably in the Bay Area without ever earning more than 45,000 dollars a year. I owe my career as a consumer advocate and journalist to the lessons my parents taught me growing up.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I was in high school I was always in detention for talking in class. One day the dean, Sister Rita Marie Brown, called me into her office. She said, “Miss Pavini, we are going to make that voice of yours work to your advantage.” So, she entered me into several student speaker contests. I found I loved not only writing the speeches, but delivering them as well. I won several competitions. Slowly it dawned on me that writing and storytelling are powerful tools that can help change lives. Fast forward 15 years, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet. I dreamed of a career in journalism but getting my foot in the door of a TV station in the competitive Bay Area seemed impossible. I found out I could create my own public access show which I poured my heart and soul into. That show led to invitations to do segments at local TV stations. I always chose stories that would help people, with the main focus on saving money. Really, much of what I learned growing up from my father I updated and shared. Those segments led to a 20-plus year career in all facets of media. In my current book, The Joy of Saving, I take everything I learned from my frugal, savvy father and 20 years as a consumer reporter to help readers create their own thriving personal economy. In the acknowledgments, I thank Sister Rita Marie Brown because as a teacher she saw something in her student. And rather than punish me, she encouraged me. I am forever grateful to her.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Professionally, I have found life has a way of coming full-circle. Over 20 years ago, I did a morning news show and the executive producer, Christina Ricci, popped her head out of the control room and thanked me. Years later she was my producer at CBS News and for my show, The Real Deal. When I started the undertaking of writing my book, she was the first person I thought of. It wasn’t only because she is a brilliant researcher and writer, but also because she has always encouraged and believed in not only me, but the importance of the work itself: to help people take back control of their financial wellbeing. We try to keep consumers informed through all forms of broadcasting media, social media platforms, and my website.

Personally, my father taught me by example. His level of integrity and generosity set a high bar. My mother set the bar for kindness. So much of the work I do is influenced by what I learned growing up. My dad taught by example- with his warmth, humor, and solid advice. He encouraged me from a young age to take control of my personal and financial life. Every step I would take in my career I would run by him. He encouraged me to write my book prior to his passing in 2015. At the time, it was just a fun project I would talk with him about. After my father passed away, I had a very strong feeling he would want me to finish it. When 2020 and the pandemic crushed the economy, I felt I had to get my book done because, now more than ever, people needed to regain control of their finances and learn to find some joy in saving.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

While at CBS in San Francisco, I was working on an investigative series. We invited eight people into the studio for a group on-camera interview. Two of the people came together and from my notes I saw they lived at the same address. I assumed the young man was the son of the woman participant. So, I asked him how he felt watching his mother go through this experience. He calmly said, “She’s not my mother, she’s my girlfriend.” You could have heard a pin drop. I tried to quickly recover but that was a tough one. Lesson Learned: never assume what the relationship is between people.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

When you are starting out, if possible, try not to worry about the money. That will come later. Worry about getting the experience and creating connections. Those are the two things that will carry you to a place where you will eventually get paid well for doing something not only that you love, but something you earned. Back in the late ’90s when I was starting out in my career, I decided to create a public access show. I acted like that show was a primetime major network production. I worked for free and some wonderful people who also wanted to get experience worked for free with me. We created a show called The Heart of the Bay. The show highlighted people living in the Bay Area who were creating positive changes for their communities. We worked on one show for almost a year. On the night it aired, I held a party for potential investors of the show. Well, as Murphy’s Law would have it, at the particular moment my show aired the audio went out at the station. I was devastated and after the party ended (no investors were interested) I burst into tears. The next day, I went to the public access station. The kindest man there gave me a suggestion. He said there was a show being produced called Inside City Limits and I could do a weekly segment for them highlighting people in the Bay Area working to create change. I worked for free to learn the ropes, create an on-camera demo, and meet people. The producer and host of the show really helped change my life. He eventually went to work at the local CBS station. He was instrumental in getting my demo into the hands of the assistant news director who called me in. And that set the stage for my future. This is a great example of experience and connections launching your career.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Awakening Joy by James Baraz has been at my bedside for years. I found the book at a challenging time in my life and was lucky to be able to attend a seminar with James Baraz at Spirit Rock Meditation Center here in the Bay Area. The book outlines and explains how people can create their own joy, even in the darkest times. Especially in the darkest times. When I find myself feeling less that fantastic, I can always thumb through it and find the inspiration to reconnect with my hope, if not my happiness.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My father, Galdo Pavini, was a man of many quotes. Some were original, and others were little treasures he collected along the way throughout his 91 years. I called his quotes “Galdoisms” and I start many chapters of my book with these little gems. The one that means the most to me sits on my desk: “I shall pass thru this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer from it, for I shall not pass this way again.” This resonates with me down to my soul. When I get overwhelmed or feel like I’m not my best self, I try to remember that I will pass through this world once. Everyday I have an opportunity to show kindness, and in the end, that is really what matters most.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I just completed writing The Joy of Saving and I am so looking forward to getting my message and strategies out into the world. I want people to understand how profoundly their lives can change by making some basic adjustments to how they spend and save money. The book combines heartwarming stories of growing up with a wonderfully frugal Italian-American father and 20-plus years of more than 10,000 money saving news stories. It was very gratifying to sit down and write out the hundreds of ideas and concepts that I learned from my dad, my career, and my audience. Now I can’t wait to work with my readers and viewers to help them start living a sound financial life with less stress.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Once you have created a habit, it becomes like second nature. It is just a part of your normal life and it goes from being a habit to a part of you and your lifestyle. My experience and years of research have shown that if people get in the habit of saving even a few dollars a week, they feel more empowered and are prepared with a small rainy-day fund. Years ago, I took 50 dollars every two weeks out of my paycheck automatically. The money was transferred into my savings the second my paycheck was deposited. As time went on, I didn’t give it a second thought and ten years later when I went to buy my first home, I had an additional 13,000 dollars. I know it’s hard to think about saving when you are trying to make ends meet, but if you find ways to cut expenses it can be like giving yourself a raise! Use a portion of that money to put into a savings. The important thing to understand is that when we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, we are usually ignoring the big picture of what we realistically need to support ourselves. If you can’t pay for things like rent, groceries, utilities, and health care without pulling out a credit card at the end of the month, you are just one emergency away from creating a financial catastrophe. And emergencies happen. Tires wear out, water heaters break, and the list goes on. If you are living paycheck to paycheck it’s really important to understand where your money is going and make sure you put some of it aside to take care of these kinds of life events. It’s not a matter of if these things will happen, it’s a matter of when they will happen.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I have made it a habit to always thank people for their time, help, insight, or even just taking a quick meeting with me. I used to send notecards, now it’s more with emails or a phone call. People remember that and even if nothing comes of your meeting, thanking people is always the right thing to do. When it comes to my financial life, I pay myself first. My father was in the habit of paying into his saving envelope before he doled out the rest of his paycheck to my mom for food, clothes, and bills. This habit not only gave him a nest-egg that grew over time, it gave him tremendous peace of mind to know that if something came up, he wouldn’t have to worry about making ends meet, or worse.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

I am still working on how to stop bad habits (hello, sugary desserts), but what I have found that helps me deal those bad habits and other difficulties in life is when I am practicing Transcendental Meditation. When I am regularly meditating, I am less reactive. So, if I am faced with deciding on acting on a bad habit, I tend to be able to walk away from it more easily when my meditation practice is going well.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

I just talked about my Transcendental Meditation practice, that’s one of the most important wellness habits I have. I think that most of my other healthy habits stem from that. I took a short course and I got so much benefit out of it that I found it easy to keep it up. I still go through some stretches when I get very busy and my resolve waivers a bit, but I am pretty good at realizing the slips and getting back in the saddle.

When it comes to performance, I think I’ve been really lucky to be a pretty optimistic person by nature. I tend to assume that I can do the things that I want to do. I understood early on that there was no way I was going to be able to accomplish any of the things I wanted to accomplish on my own. I am not a photographer or editor, so right from the get-go I needed to collaborate with a team to get my television work done. So, I would say being able to ask for help has been an easy step for me out of necessity. I am also smart enough to know it’s important to surround myself with smart people who excel in the areas I don’t. I think it’s important to ask for what I want. I would say asking is an important part of my success, asking for what I want and asking for help. I also think it’s incredibly important to give back to the people who help me and to people in need. Giving back has been a big motivator throughout my career.

Focus is a funny thing. I am not the kind of person who, in every situation, can sit down with laser vision and complete projects from start to finish without swerving off path along the way. I think that comes from years of working in a newsroom and having to multitask. But when I am working to help a consumer get to the bottom of an issue or working to create a positive change, there’s nothing that can knock me off the path. I am very persistent when it comes to helping other people.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I learn by trial and error. I don’t look at things that didn’t work out as mistakes but rather lessons learned. The real mistake is if I don’t take the time to learn a new way. Again, for me the practice of meditation plays a significant role in developing habits. Another practice is journaling. I am a big mind-to-pen-to-paper person. Somehow when I write things out, it just makes more sense. I feel very connected to my thought process. I don’t use an electronic calendar. I know, what era am I living in? But I still write things out, keep a daily to-do list, and write out my goals. This practice of pen-to-paper helps tremendously with focus.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Waiting for the right moment rather than the soonest moment is a performance enhancing skill. So many times, a person might be overly anxious to move on a business idea quickly, despite misgivings, rather than wait for the right moment. I can feel it in my gut when something is being rushed and when the timing is not right. This is something I feel I have worked on for years. I am pretty patient and feel like as long as I am moving forward, I need to also trust that opportunity will meet my ideas when the time is right.

Be politely tenacious. When I was at CBS in San Francisco, I did a lot of money-saving segments that were very popular with viewers. I knew that I could take all of my consumer segments and wrap them into a 30-minute show. I pitched the idea of having my own show and kept getting the let’s-wait-and-see. So, when one of the vice presidents was out from New York I was introduced to him. At that exact moment one of my segments was playing on TV in the room we were in. I said to him, “You see that segment. We will get more traffic to our website tonight to find out these resources than any other story on the news today. We need to do a 30-minute show based on these segments.” And he said, “Great idea. We need to increase web traffic. Let’s do it.” And my show, The Real Deal, was born at that moment and went onto win several awards over an 8-year period.

Know that knowledge is power, so make it a habit to stay knowledgeable in the areas that matter most. Many people want to put their head in the sand instead of getting a firm grip on their personal finances. But it isn’t until you know exactly what you have coming in and what is going out that you will have a healthy money mindset. For over 30 years I have kept a ledger of the money I have coming in and the money going out. I did learn this from my dad, but I will tell you this one habit helps me in so many areas of my life.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Get in the practice of taking action instead of being reactive. Just take a minute to think about how you will respond to a situation. This one thing will help you in so many areas of your life. Habits start as a conscious choice and conscious choices are difficult to make when you are being reactive.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

My focus is on helping people save more of what they earn, so I will share ideas on three good money-saving habits people can start focusing on now. The first one is to write down everything you spend and everything you earn for a week. You’ll get a very good idea of where all that money is going. This exercise will help you identify where your financial life raft is springing leaks. Many of us find our spending habits shifting when we see the numbers in black and red. I want people to go from saying, “Where did all my money go?” to “Where did all this money come from?”

Start saving a portion of everything you earn. One way to create the habit of saving is to do it automatically if you can. Have a portion of your paycheck go directly into an account that is not necessarily easy to access.

Get in the habit of not only setting long term financial goals, but setting short term goals as well. This will help you focus on the present and take immediate action, as opposed to something that is down the line. Let yourself dream about the life you want to provide yourself and your family. Find ways to reward yourself when you reach milestones.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I again go back to meditation. It has significantly changed my ability to not only focus, but to make better decisions. When people are short on savings there can be a lot of fear, even terror, about financial survival. This is hard on the nervous system, and can cause a cascade of harmful health and psychological collateral damage. Starting new habits with a calmer nervous system and mind is a better way to get lasting results than when we are in survival mode.

The other practice that I have found to really help is telling myself a different story. It seems to be human nature to conjure up how things will turn out or imagine worse case scenarios. So, when I go down that path I change the story. I create a more positive potential outcome. Our thoughts are powerful, so is our self-talk. I worked hard to develop this practice and I continue to work on it to this day.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I believe in living in the moment. When I am in the present moment my flow is at its peak. Ideas are clearer and I’m less anxious. It can be hard to do. As human beings we tend to live in the past and worry about the future. When I start to go there I literally say to myself, “Stop. Live in the now.”

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My mission is to help you help yourself, so you can help others. I deeply believe we all want to help the greater good but, understandably, our personal finances often hold us back. In every chapter of my book, I give people tools that will help them save money in a wide variety of spending categories. At the end of the chapter, there is a section titled “Helping Others”. Here people can see the simple things they can do to pay it forward and help the greater good. This even reflects the state of our current economy. Due to the pandemic, business have suffered and unemployment has hit record highs. When people are struggling financially it effects every area of their life. Our country’s economy will not strengthen until everyone’s own personal economy strengthens. It starts by going back to basics and learning to discover the joy in saving.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

When Oprah was first starting her show back in the ’80s, she was traveling the country doing sit-down segments with the local TV stations that would be airing her new show. I happened to be at the ABC station that day in San Francisco. Oprah and I were both on the set prior to the recording and we were looking at some jewelry that one of the guests was going to be showing. We said a few words about the jewelry and I asked her what she was there for that day. She told me she was launching her own show and she was there to talk about it. I remember wishing her luck and all the success that could come from having her own show. Fast forward 30-plus years and I would say she has been quite successful! I would love to talk with Oprah as I feel she has a gift of helping people see the best in themselves. With the mission I have, to help people feel more empowered with their personal financial wellbeing, I think I could gain a lot of insight from Oprah!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website www.JeanettePavini.com is the home base for all of my work. My book, The Joy of Saving, can be ordered through the site. I focus on bringing readers two things: insight to help shift their money mindset so they find joy in saving as well as better ways to save in just about every area of their monthly budget. It’s like giving yourself an instant raise! You can join the Joy of Saving Community on Facebook, too.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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