Photo by Sigrid Estrada
Jane Bryant Quinn says the best investing advice is to keep things simple.
For almost 40 years, Jane Bryant Quinn has been dispensing advice on personal finance based on one basic tenet: Minimize your exposure to risk and you’ll do okay. But these days, the longtime Newsweek columnist and Emmy-winning television commmentator, who has penned six books on money management (including her most recent bestseller, Making the Most of Your Money Now), has taken a calculated risk and embarked on a new career as an Internet entrepreneur.
In 2010, Quinn and her third husband, former newspaper editor and publisher Carll Tucker, launched Main Street Connect, now The Daily Voice (dailyvoice.com), a digital platform of 52 community news sites—32 of those in Westchester, with additional sites covering Connecticut and Massachusetts. The couple, who married in 2008, were inspired to start the site after discovering the newspaper that covered the Dutchess County community where the couple has a weekend house was folding.
“One day, we opened our mailbox and saw it was the last issue of the paper,” says Quinn, who, until a few years ago, lived in North Salem. “We were in the middle of a local election, and we were in the middle of a big battle with the developer on our road. We thought, ‘How can this be a community without a newspaper?’ The politicians didn’t seem to mind, but we thought it was terrible.”
The paper’s closure gave the couple the germ of an idea that quickly grew into something much bigger. “Carll came up with the idea of a community news website that would be as profitable as the great newspapers of the past,” says Quinn of the venture, which required $10 million in private equity to launch. She declines to discuss specifics on the site’s traffic or the company’s profitability: “All the data is proprietary.”
According to Quinn, The Daily Voice fills a growing need for hyper-local news in the suburbs. “Your two biggest investments are in your local community—your house and your children,” she says. “When you have those, all of a sudden, the community really matters.”
The response, says Quinn, has been “fabulous,” adding, “We are getting more advertisers all the time who want to make sure their ads are being seen by people most likely to go to their store.” Quinn and Tucker have recently hired a CEO and a content officer to supervise 100-plus employees (“people who grew up digitally”) and keep apace with the company’s growth.
While Quinn’s current role at The Daily Voice is an advisory one, she recently decided to give up writing for all but her books and one outlet. (She left Newsweek in 2009.) She continues to contribute monthly to AARP Bulletin because “it’s manageable, but I’ve stopped writing for Bloomberg.com because I couldn’t attend to it and attend to everything else with The Daily Voice. It’s a lot of work.”
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Still, keeping tabs on what’s happening in finance is now second nature to Quinn. Growing up in Niagara Falls, New York, the oldest of five children, Quinn worked at the local library and Howard Johnson’s to pay for college. After graduating from Middlebury College with a degree in American literature, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of being a reporter. Unable to find a job at a magazine (“In those days, they didn’t hire women at mainstream publications”), she landed a job at a personal-finance newsletter (which, she says, was seen at the time as “fringe journalism”) published by Look magazine. “I walked in and the editor said, ‘No one wants to cover the money stories, so you cover them,’” she remembers. “I didn’t know a thing about any of it, so I started subscribing to American Banker and started learning. If I had hated it, I would have passed it on to the next new person. As it turned out, I found it extremely interesting.”
When Look folded in 1971, the newsletter went with it, and McGraw-Hill approached her about starting up “The Business Week Letter,” the company’s bi-weekly personal-finance letter. It was then that she began writing about investing. “I was calling these money managers who would tell me what was going to happen. I’d happily write it all down and then find out it wasn’t going to happen. Then there would be another man who would sound very logical, and his predictions wouldn’t happen. Those things teach you a lot.” Quinn says she learned doing your own financial homework was the best thing anyone could do.
During those early years, Quinn learned valuable personal lessons. She was married and divorced with a baby at 25; money was tight (“Those were tears-in-the-pillow years”) and worries over credit card debt kept her up at night. From the moment she has been able to do so, Quinn has paid her bills in full on the day they arrive.
Better jobs came along (an Emmy-winning stint at CBS News, columns for Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping), and she married her second husband, attorney David Quinn. When she had a second son, the couple moved to Chappaqua and later built a home in North Salem, which Quinn sold when David died in 2004.
Quinn considers herself “an average investor” and, as such, does not buy individual stocks. “That’s not the way people should be investing,” she says. “You cannot tell what company is going to be a great company. I’ve always had a higher percentage of money in bonds.” Her investment decisions were “based on how old I am, what my risks are, the amount I have to invest, and the percentage to be invested for growth.” She focused on her own needs. “I invested in index funds and didn’t look around at stocks asking, ‘Do I need a piece of this?’ That’s investment porn.”
On the subject of Facebook, she says: “Facebook appears to be a valuable company, but whether it’s a good stock for the long term is a very open question in my mind.”
Quinn says she uses a financial advisor (whom she declines to name). The two are in contact regularly and meet annually. “My advisor chooses low-cost mutual funds allocated in various types of US and foreign assets, bonds, and gold.” Her advice on choosing an advisor: “You want someone who will look at your lifestyle goals, obligations, spending, debt—not just your investments. The advisor should not sell products. He or she should project what you’re likely to have in retirement.”
When asked about the current conditions in the Westchester housing market, Quinn quickly dismisses the idea that we are in the midst of anything other than a correction. “It was abnormal to have the kind of bubble we saw in the early 2000s. Housing has now gone back to usual values. The idea that home values would keep going up was never true.”
So is a house still a good investment? “I would buy a house today if I knew I was going to stay there five or ten years, had a family and wanted a backyard, could put twenty percent down, felt good about my job, and liked the home-owning lifestyle. A house is a good hedge against inflation.” But those days of flipping a house for a huge profit, Quinn says, are over. “We won’t see another bubble for a generation.”
So what is the best way to invest or to save for retirement? “There are certain personal finance principles that are always true.” Rule number one: Save as much as you can, and don’t spend what you don’t have. “If you can reduce your debt, increase your savings, and turn it into something tax-deferred for retirement, you’re on your way.” And don’t rely on “the experts” to make you a millionaire. “My feeling is, in investing, ninety-five percent of what you can buy from a broker you don’t need.”
Just keep it simple. “This is not rocket science. So many people say, ‘I wasn’t any good at math, so I don’t understand finance.’ I wasn’t very good at math. Finance has nothing to do with math. It’s just common sense. People know if they’re spending more than they’re taking in. People can look at their credit card statement and see that they’re paying twenty-four percent interest. This isn’t math—it’s paying attention.”
Quinn seems content now to pay a little less attention to the ups and downs of the markets and is relishing her life with Tucker. The couple split their time between their Manhattan residence and their weekend home in Dutchess County, where they love to read and play Scrabble. Recent Westchester discoveries include Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish in North Salem. (“Fabulous oysters, lobster, and soft-shell crabs,” she raves.)
To stay in shape, the avowed exercise-hater forces herself to keep weekly sessions with a trainer—“I know it’s not enough. Exercise is boring, and I never feel better afterwards”—and looks forward to vacations that are spent traveling. “We’re museum, church, and temple types, not bicycling-in-Normandy types,” she says with a laugh.
“I’m enjoying this new chapter very much,” she says. “You have to be adaptable and embrace change. It’s important to go after the things that make you happy and fulfilled. That’s where the real success lies in life.”