I, and I am pretty sure you, have heard of Suze Orman before. She’s the woman who talks about money and financial planning on Larry King and CNBC. You see her face everywhere you go now—she’s on book covers, TV shows, in newspapers, magazines, and I think I even saw her face on a bus the other day. She is EVERYWHERE.
I just assumed she was one of those know-it-all, plastic, pompous, wealthy types who have no idea of what the real world is like—kind of like a female Donald Trump. I think it’s pretty easy to build an empire if you were born with the silver spoon in your mouth, but does she have anything to say to regular people?
I had an opportunity to see her speak at a bookshop here in San Francisco, and let me tell you, not only does she have better hair than Donald, she isn’t a pompous jerk. She’s a real person and she has concrete methods that women can follow to achieve better financial success in our lives. She’s good at what she does—even the Pentagon has hired her—and she has something to say, so, I put my doubts aside and listened.
Orman is on tour promoting her eighth book, Women and Money. She calls this book her “best” book so far, and also “the most important.” Readers seem to agree. In less than two weeks, she has sold 776,000 hard cover editions—20,000 is considered a huge success. Her message? Money affects all women, and if you are not powerful with money, you are not powerful, period.
Before I got all bent out of shape considering what wealthy background she had come from that set her up to make all this money in the first place, and thinking about how, at thirty-two, I am getting a late start and none of this matters anyway, she told the 200+ audience this: she had worked as a waitress at a bakery making $400/month until the age of twenty-nine. Wow, I thought, I don’t have any excuse now, maybe it’s not impossible for me to start doing some smart things with the little money I have.
“I think what women do with the money they make is different from what men do with the money they make,” Orman explained. She noted that women often spend money on their kids, taking care of their parents, and countless other things before spending a penny on themselves. She likened this to the safety talk flight attendants give on airplanes. When the oxygen mask falls, she points out, you are supposed to put the mask on your face first and then put it on the child’s face, not the other way around. She says that without money, we suffocate—it’s like putting the mask on the child first.
Although her new book is titled Women and Money, she pressed upon the audience that “it’s not a woman thing, it’s a money thing.” She believes people in this country have a dysfunctional relationship with money—that we are using old roadmaps to navigate new financial landscapes. She thinks that people are throwing away money on everything from bad life insurance policies to low interest savings accounts. She also encouraged everybody in the room to set up a living revocable trust.
Orman also had this advice for the men in the audience: they should get to know what the women in their lives are thinking and feeling about money. She admitted that, even though she is the baby with two older, successful brothers, she is the one who takes care of their mother. Her brothers didn’t even think they had any accountability more than a phone call to her. She encourages men to open their eyes and be aware of what the women in their lives are doing with money.
Orman ended her talk with information about resources on her Web site and her new “save yourself” plan. On her site, she has a month-by-month savings plan, ideas on how to get out of credit card debt, and simple money saving tips. The “save yourself” plan is a deal she negotiated with TDAmeritrade to set up high interest savings accounts for women. If a woman puts at least $50/month into the account for twelve months, TDAmeritrade will give her $100, which is a really nice bonus to the already helpful resources she offers. She even gave the crowd the secret codes to access all of these resources, saying that she understood why not everybody could afford her book.
I could tell Orman is really passionate about the subject of women and money. The room was packed, standing room only, with her fans who absolutely love her. I have to admit I was won over by her dedication and thoroughness. “Don’t apologize for being successful,” she told us at the end of the talk. And she’s right, we all do that all the time. We downplay our successes, we don’t promote ourselves, we don’t ask for raises, and we tend to focus on our failures. I’m tired of that—there is no reason why any of us shouldn’t take our piece of the pie, but who knows where to even start? I think she makes a wonderful tour guide.