Chicago, it’s Money Smart Week! Are you a Smartey?

It’s not easy saving money. Or is it? Well, April 2-9 is Money Smart Week in Chicago and you can learn more about saving and managing your personal finances better.  The events are held all over Chicago with a variety of topics to be discussed; from saving money now, to retirement, to managing property taxes. Visit the online calendar for the complete list!

A company that’s dedicated to helping you save money is Smarteys and I got to interview to one of the founders, Charisse Conanan, and learn more about Smarteys and what they’re trying to achieve. Charisse is very smart, passionate and has great insights on the financial world due to her background. It was very informative and I highly recommend reading below!


1) Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in New York (Long Island to be exact) and I’m the daughter of a nurse and a teacher – both of whom gave me a love for cooking, sports, and people. I was incredibly curious about the world, and I found  a wonderful home at Yale University, where I studied Economics and American Studies. Financial markets intrigued me enough to pursue a job in financial services. I landed in the analyst program at JPMorgan Asset Management in New York City. I worked hard at learning my craft – to make good investments, specifically in health care and utility stocks. But, somewhere along the line I developed a desire to pursue something more, and that set my path to Chicago Booth for business school and entrepreneurship. Now that I’m here, I’ve embraced myself in Chicagoan culture – I feel at home with other foodies, I love the waterfront, and the change of pace has been a welcomed blessing.

2) What was your motivation to start Smarteys?
I was motivated to start Smarteys for several reasons – (1) I’ve always wanted to start a business to help people and I felt personally convicted to start one in this industry, (2) When I started a personal finance seminar series at JPMorgan, my own colleagues didn’t have any good resources to help them manage their money, (3) People my age just needed help with their finances. When I worked in asset management, so many of my friends asked me for advice on managing their money because I earned my CFA (chartered financial analyst) designation. They asked me for stock picks and confided in me for important financial decisions. I realized then that there really weren’t any sources for people my age to get good advice. Furthermore, my friends needed help with managing the day-to-day. My personal experiences with paying down my $50k in student debt and living a lifestyle where I saved money, included living with roommates for six years, allowed them to trust me. I knew that I could use my experiences to help others.

3) Were you afraid at all of not being able to succeed in your future plans and end up where you started?
Sure. I was fearful at first because I had never started a business before. I didn’t have any personal examples of people who started businesses from the ground up. I have always told myself, however, that if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to a salary. Fear can be paralyzing and I couldn’t let it stop me from pursuing what I felt passionate enough to pursue, despite the risks. At the end of the day, the journey will all be worth it and I make sure to define success for myself.

4) Typically, what is the process that you go through with a new client of Smarteys?
Right now, we have users who are testing our first product, the Smarteys Cash Pile Manager, in private beta. The Cash Pile Manager can instantly tell you the best way to use a pile of cash (tax refund, bonus, a check from grandma, etc.) – whether to pay down debt, save for emergencies, or buy an item. The beauty of Smarteys is that our clients can get good advice anytime they want over the web. My partner and I have spent the past two years developing excellent advice into proprietary software so that our clients can get help automatically right over the internet.

Anyone who comes to our website is a potential client. As such, we want to create a good experience for them, whether it’s reading our blog or looking to be inspired by someone else who’s done something smart with their money, as illustrated in our Smart Stories section.

5) What do you think the biggest misconception about saving money is?
The biggest misconception is that saving money is a singular action; Saving money can be achieved in so many different ways. For example, people often only think that saving money happens when you put $200 in a savings account. People don’t think about saving money in terms of “interest saved.” For instance, when you decide to pay more off on an outstanding credit card bill, you are saving money on the interest, or the amount above the original cost of an item that you owe to the credit card company. Some can save hundreds of dollars in interest in a given year, but often don’t consider this savings.

6) I know people always think that in order for you to save you have to start saving big. Is that correct? Are there “smaller” ways to save?
There are definitely “smaller” ways to save. For example, you get $500 for your birthday and it normally feels right to save half of it to kick off your new dedication to savings. Well the truth is that you can start small. Even if you save only 10%, it will pay off. So, in this example, you should feel awesome about tucking $50 away and super proud if and when you can stash away more. The point is not to save a lot and then spend a lot, but instead to save incrementally and not use the money until its really, really needed.

Also, there are three ways to keep savings simple: (1) Pay yourself $50 out of each paycheck , (2) Pay more than the minimum required on your credit card bill, (3) Automate savings directly into a savings account.

7) I love your blog, it has some great tips and ideas. You talk a lot about psychology theories and how it affects our savings habits, do you think it’s easier said than done to start reshaping one’s habits?
Thanks. Changing behavior is a process, and it will take some time to reshape how you think about money. But, that’s where Smarteys comes in – we help you change how you think about money in a fun, smart, and non-threatening way. Everyone needs a little help in changing their habits, but once you achieve one goal, you’re on your way. The most important thing to remember is that everyone has the potential to be “good” with money and when you take that first step, you’ll be encouraged to take another.

8 ) What do you want to accomplish with Smarteys? What makes the week worth while to you?
I want Smarteys to be first place someone comes to when they need advice on what to do with their money. I want Smarteys to offer people a place where they don’t need to feel stressed out about money because they trust us to tell them what to do. I want Smarteys to change lives and offer a valuable service to its customers and great working environment for its employees. If we can accomplish this, I will be happy.

A “worth while” week to me is when we accomplish three things – make progress on our company goals, bring on new clients, and have fun.

Want to learn more? Join Smarteys tomorrow, April 7th  at DePaul Loop Center to learn more about saving money or get your financial questions answered! Event is FREE and geared towards college students and recent graduates.  More information along with time and exact location can be found here.


Sami Ari

Sami Ari is a lover of everything Chicago, from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater to the Magnificent Mile to the Promontory Point in Hyde Park. Addicted to tweetups and meeting new people as well as seeing films and writing all about it on and tweeting at @samiari Always a learning sponge absorbing everything about Tech, Social Media, Marketing and PR.

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