Liz Weston is a personal finance columnist whose “Money Talk” question-and-answer column appears in newspapers throughout the country and who writes a weekly column for Reuters. Before participating in a panel on why young Californians don’t save for retirement, she talked fiction, pepperoni pizza, and making financial advice sexy in the Zócalo green room.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I think rudeness. That really sends me over the edge. It makes me tempted to be rude back.
What’s your favorite pizza topping?
Pepperoni. Go right for the fat and the grease.
What financial advice do you wish someone had given you when you got your first job?
Probably sign up for the 401(k) right away. I signed up pretty early, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew that Money magazine told me to do this. If I had started reading Money magazine earlier, I probably would have done this a little earlier and had five more years of returns to pile up.
How do you decompress?
Reading. I love to read, and I’ve just found a couple girlfriends who are into reading as well, so we pass around books—“Oh have you read this, have you read that?” One of them reads novels for her husband, who’s a filmmaker, so if she says you have to read this, I immediately get that book. The Night Circus—I don’t want to oversell it, but both my friend and I thought, “We’re not going to read a book like this again in our lives.” It was so inventive and interesting and evocative.
If you could play any musical instrument, which would you choose?
The violin. I’m already learning the piano, so that’ll be the next thing I torture my family with.
What do you wake up to?
Sometimes my husband’s snoring. [Laughs.] But I am one of those people who has an iPad by the side of her bed, so I do pick that up. And oh—what I wake up to is my dog’s tail thumping against the door, or the wall. “Let me out, let me out.”
What word or phrase do you use most often?
Oh dear. I picked that up from my husband’s family. There are so many inflections to “oh dear”—it can imply sympathy, it can imply, oh that was unfortunate.
Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
Someone wanting to give me an estimate for sewer pipe relining. That’s really sexy.
How do you react when you’re embarrassed?
Oh man—flush bright red. Immediately look for a hole to hide in.
What’s the toughest thing about coming up with new column ideas?
I think a fresh approach is the toughest thing, because a lot of personal finance is very, very evergreen. Laws change, culture changes, but a lot of times the basic advice is the same, so how do you make this sexy, how do you bring it across, how do you make someone want to read more about it?