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Suze Orman is a Buzzkill

I do not subscribe to the Suze Orman personal finance methodology. Unfortunately, I think most personal finance bloggers do. What am I talking about? It’s the notion that: “If you spend money, you’re stupid; If you’re in debt, you’re stupid.”

Amazingly, there is no shortage of people lining up to read Orman’s (and others’) books just to find out that “they’re stupid”. Is having somebody tell you you’re stupid really a great way to enact positive change in your finances? I don’t think so.

Yes, two of the biggest lessons people need to conquer to build wealth are:

  • 1. Spend less than you earn, and
  • 2. Get out of—and avoid—debt.

That said, I do not think anybody should be called “stupid” for unwittingly getting into debt. Nor should people be called “stupid” if they make a conscious, educated decision to purchase something that other people with a similar income might classify as too expensive.

Nobody has unlimited wealth, so how we spend our money on will always be an extremely personal decision. This is how Suze Orman feels about a number of common financial decisions people make, and what I think.

Renting instead of buying a home.

Suze Orman says: “That’s stupid.”

I say: Real estate can be a very smart investment, but it is not without risks—and hassles. Mowing lawns and fixing plumping or roofing problems is not for everybody, and if you make a conscious decision to rent for those reasons, develop alternative investment strategies, and you’ll be fine.

Leasing a car.

Suze Orman says: “That’s stupid.”

I say: While the evidence is pretty overwhelming that leasing a car every few years is far more expensive than buying, if having a brand new car is important to you, leasing is probably better than buying new with a long-term loan and trading in every few years. Just remember that the money you save on maintenance and depreciation will be more than eaten up by the price you pay for the luxury of leasing.

Daily lattes.

Suze Orman says: “That’s stupid.”

I say: While daily habits like coffee and lunches can certainly take a toll on your budget, they also provide simple pleasure in otherwise mundane days. Cut back if you can—certainly consider whittling a twice-daily coffee habit to one every day or less—but don’t kill yourself with guilt over a small daily indulgence.

Credit card debt.

Suze Orman says: “That’s stupid.”

I say: Yes, it is, but most people got into it before they knew better. Take full responsibility for your credit card debt, make a plan to get out, make sacrifices to get there, and make a plan to avoid going into any more debt, but don’t get down on yourself for being in debt. Anybody who takes a holier-than-thou stance on your debt either hasn’t been there, or has forgotten what it’s like to be there.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I think I also caught some of the negative vibe when reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Make Over. Perhaps it wasn’t as harsh as suze orman but I did feel as though the first few chapters of his Total Money Make Over were well, saying I was dumb for getting into debt.

    I used to have indulgences such as the daily latte, now instead of spending $4.20 twice a day for that latte I’ve switched to regular coffee which comes out to $2.00. I’ve also substituted my morning coffee for a bottle of water I grab from home before I leave, and have that morning coffee at work where my employer provides it free of charge. I took my $8.40 a day habit down to $2.00. That’s one way you can modify it because when you start doing the math, that $3-4 a day latte starts adding up.

    For cars, I read somewhere if you Love cars buy used. If you hate cars by new (or lease). There are people who will change cars every couple of years. For those people it is often better to lease a vehicle than to purchase one and deal with the negative equity.

    -Eric

  2. Wait,
    I agree Orman is ..aggressive with her tactics. I read her books. I watch her show. You cannot knock her educational value in her messaging. It certainly worked for me!

    Really I don’t follow her words to the letter, because I know myself. Her audience is for those folks who cannot and do not know any better.

  3. @Eric: Great comments. I know Orman is not the only personal finance guru guilty of debtor-bashing, and it drives me nuts. Those struggling with debt shouldn’t necessarily expect sympathy, but I don’t think abuse and scare-tactics are necessary to help. Maybe Orman and others do. Also, I loved your note about leasing. Very true: If you hate cars, spending more to lease may very well be worth NEVER having to think about them!

    @DC

    I’m glad Orman has helped. To be fair, there are parts of Orman’s message I like. I think she can be very empowering, but when she takes that same energy that empowers her audience and starts criticizing them, that’s where I draw the line.

  4. I am not a die hard Suze Orman fan, but I’ve read her books and watched her show, and I don’t recall her using the word “stupid” much, if at all. I don’t put her in the same category of PF experts who attempt to berate their readers/listeners into making good decisions by pointing out what terrible decisions they are making now. Quite the opposite, in fact – I think she’s gotten way too mushy and “inspiring.”

  5. What I get from Dave Ramsey is that as long as you live with payments your income is earmarked for something other that building up your savings and your future. You know just because we can afford the payments does not mean it is a good idea buy let’s say a car and have payments for the next however years. I don’t know about Suzy though because she is associated with the whole FICO website and really you can’t have a FICO score unless you borrow money.

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