Updated on 04.11.07

Deconstructing Suze Orman

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar is deconstructing five top personal finance and investing pundits and asking the big questions about their track record and their message.

Suze Orman in frescoIf you flip through the channels on many evenings, you’ve probably seen Suze, perched behind her desk on her personal finance show on CNBC. You almost can’t help but notice her – a very attention-grabbing voice, an assertive personality, and rather bright clothing tend to attract some attention when you’re flipping around. At first, I was annoyed, but then I started to listen… did my annoyance change?

Suze (pronounced Susie) came from a working class background (which she outlines in a few horrific tales in her books) and eventually wound up as a waitress. Eventually, her obvious salesmanship skill came through and she wound up as an account executive in Merrill Lynch in the mid-1980s. From there, she became a Certified Financial Planner and started her own financial group, which eventually led her to a media career.

In other words, Suze has significant experience managing others’ money. However, it should be noted that although no one disputes her background, there are some unclear areas as to how much time she spent on various different tasks.

Orman’s basic advice is pretty typical as personal finance gurus go: pay off your debts, cut out unnecessary expenses, write a will and/or a trust, invest for yourself, and so on. She’s particularly into what is commonly termed the “latte factor”: cutting down on unnecessary expenses and investing them are real keys to moving forward with a strong personal finance plan.

However, two parts of Suze’s message really set her apart – and I believe that it is these two aspects that have brought Suze to the forefront.

First, Suze incorporates a major spiritual element into her advice. By this, I don’t mean a religion-specific message, but more of a general New Age-type spirituality. She genuinely believes in the dignity and power of the human spirit and that good personal finance habits are one major part of getting in tune with our inner selves. Thus, many of her discussions of personal finance issues tie into the human spirit and an overall sense of having different elements of your life in tune with each other.

Second, Suze has a very strong “successful female” persona. She manages to consistently maintain an aura of a woman who has the secrets of success figured out – and that alone is enough to get some people to pay attention. For example, my teenage niece will actually pay (some) attention to Suze, but every other personal finance guru is pretty much not worth her time (observation based on watching CNBC and listening to the radio while my niece is around).

Why are these important to the message? They relate to the viewer with different cues than many other pundits. Suze makes a lot of people take an interest in their finances that otherwise would not and she follows it with a message that works.

My Take
I have this weird love/hate relationship with Suze, which I’ve talked about before.

On the one hand, her persona on television grates on me, from her voice to her personal appearance to her weird mix of brusqueness and sensitivity towards callers. To tell the truth, most of the time I can’t even bring myself to watch her show at all – it’s just too much for me. I see how it could be appealing to some, but it just doesn’t work for me.

On the other hand, I quite like her book 9 Steps To Financial Freedom and I also find her one of the “good” columnists at Yahoo! Finance. I like the ideas that she spreads – they’re sensible and clearly stated and I’m looking forward to reading at least one more of her books to review on here.

Basically, I like the message quite a bit, but the messenger really frustrates me at times.

The bottom line: Suze’s personality can be abrasive to some people, but her message is quite good. Her “persona” might also help some people get the personal finance help they need, and if it gets some people on the right track, that’s great.

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  1. 1mil says:

    I think the Suze is more appropriate for people who are financially clueless. She obviously cannot be all things to all people, but she does help those who sincerely need it. I think that what’s important. You probably don’t need her help anyway to be watching her show =)

    your friend in finance
    1mil from millionster.com

  2. jake says:

    I love Suze Orman, than again I am young and broke. I saw her initially on PBS show. I like her personality and also her advise.

    Her along with David Bach, were the two that got me to seriously think about my future financially.

  3. Давид says:

    I love Suze Orman even though I am not broke and I am worth millions (of cents). Literally millions!

  4. Danno says:

    Like you, I can’t take more than a few minutes of her program. She’s way too preachy for me.

    That said, I have to admit her common sense approach is a winner. Naturally, I think I’m too sophisticated for her advice. Turns out that in the long run I would have been better off had I gone with her philosophy. But only a little better off.

    She’s especially good, I think, for women. It seems to me that most women are unrealistic about money. They think it’s something magically made by men and it’s their god given right to spend it.
    It that sense Suze is a breath of fresh air. Apparently, they listen to her. She’s still on the air.

    Also, what’s this about her being a virgin? Then she admits to being a lesbian. Isn’t that kind of cheating? I think so.

  5. em says:

    I enjoy Suze, although I have to admit there are times when I just roll my eyes when she gets into her “hey, talk to me, girlfrieeeend/boyfrieeeeend” diatribes.

  6. Allen says:

    I can’t say enough good about her. I’m not stupid but I’m not a finacially savey person. Her message I get, I now have a will, money market,etc. To get there wasn’t a complex ritual and I didn’t burn large sums of money and time I didn’t have to give. She did the leg work and I believe a lot of people will benifit a great deal from her net working and efforts. She is customer service! The best kind of friend we can have, someone who impowers us finacially! Thanks very much, from the bottom of my heart.

  7. Mark says:

    I have to say that her emotional stories are just what they sound like. Stories.

    “If he wouldn’t have lied about his finances and skipped the trip he couldn’t afford, he would have been at home, saved his belongings from a water leak, got a call from his previous boss with a job offer, etc.”

    So the lying about his financial situation caused all his problems? How about this:

    “If he wouldn’t have lied about his finances and skipped the trip he couldn’t afford, he wouldn’t have reconnected with his college friends who also happened to offer him a partnership in a lucrative business and without the trip he wouldn’t have met the girl of his life in Brazil.”

    I just cannot see how an intelligent person with the financial side handled could benefit much from her message. I absolutely got fed up with the wish wash as she didn’t talk about anything I wouldn’t already know. It seems to be that she is giving tips for the clueless. The others shouldn’t bother.

  8. Frank says:

    I love watching Suze Orman, but she usually doesn’t have much advice I can use. I watch because I love watching her. I especially love the “Can I afford it” segments of her show. Her advice is meant more for people struggling to figure out how to get out of debt or START getting ahead. My financial situation moved beyond that years ago, and now I read articles by Robert Kiyosaki and Duffy Gilligan.

    Most young people need to know the value of investing early in life. I wish she would devote time on each show to demonstrating the need for early investing. (Her “latte” example is a great way to get the point across.) If I knew then what I know now, I would have been investing most of my high school job money in the stock market.

    I took the road to real estate investing rather than stocks, and the advice of Robert Kiyosaki and Duffy Gilligan is more relevant to me. Still, Suze Orman is great. At least by watching her, I’ll know a little better how to coach my children on dealing with money.

    Suze Orman has a great message for young people about GETTING OUT OF DEBT AND STAYING OUT OF BAD DEBT. (When you move on Robert Kiyosaki and Duffy Gilligan, you learn that not all debt is BAD debt.) When I was 25, I bought my first house, and now I own 10. But, I have friends who can’t even buy a house because their bad debt knocked their credit down to near ZERO. I think Suze Orman’s advice could help them greatly.

  9. Frank,
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I have lectured all across the country and while you “get it” almost every promoter of anything having to do with mortgages or your debt or creating waelth doesn’t. What seems to make Suze popular is her “SKY IS FALLING” approach. She wants everyone to have a 15 year fixed, while I suggest interest only ARMs. Paying off all non-mortgage debt is a great idea but, last I looked the sky is still up there

  10. Jerry Schippa says:

    I am a Dave Ramsey guy. I don’t like the emotional stuff, i would rather just get to the numbers. Thats not to say she isn’t helpful, i think she offers help to those who find the facts boring and need to be fed happy stories and stuff like that to get motivated.
    I also find her personality to be like nails on a chalkboard.
    If you don’t like Suze Orman i highly recommend Dave Ramsey!

  11. Tina says:

    Suze Orman gives very educational advises and points out things that one probably never heard of like for example before I started working I knew what a Roth IRA and 401 plans were cuz of Suze.

    Also different insurance policies like the different between term and whole etc.

    So tehre are alot of “financial” vocabulary out there one needs to equate themselves with.

    People should know that there are different types of retirement plans, insurance plans, mutual funds, trusts and wills, tax writeoffs, mortgages, private loans, and I can go on and on.

    In the end it is your job to research on what type of plan is best for you.

    And its true that Financial advisors they don’t tell you EVERYTHING. Before you even go to a Financial advisor you should research things on your own and then go see a financial advisor.

    Just like you have a career counselor at the colleges you have Suze Orman!! And in the end its YOUR DECISION ALONE!

  12. Jon says:

    Suze Orman, whether she grates on your nerves or not, gives sound financial advice. Take what you like and leave the rest… Not everything she talks about is going tp apply to everyone watching her. I find it interesting that those who criticize her the most seem to be women. I would love to see the financial situation, or should I say financial predicament of all the people who criticize her. As far as I can see, Suze is living the good life. You go girl!

  13. Aaron says:

    I’ve been watching Suze for 10 minutes on Larry King Live and I’d really like to scream! Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard and apparently there is something about her that makes my skin crawl.
    In general, when people talk about being financially solvent in the US anymore – who are they preaching to? 47% of the US population is below poverty level, and it’s a low level!
    Gee, ummm Mr. John Q. Public, I guess you need to stop buying brand new Cadillac Escalades every year, and invest the money you spend on lattes… OH MY GOSH YOU’RE A FINANCIAL GHANDI!!! WHAT AMAZING INSIGHT!!!
    And anyone dumb enough to say they’re in favor of Hillary Clinton for President has really been in the sun too long, this one included. “Billary” is a knucklehead career politician who stayed with a cheating husband who only got CAUGHT getting ‘favors” from an aide – what is the man really guilty of in his life? No common sense, no moral ethics, and no way will Hillary ever earn my vote. She’s a wishy washy fraud.

  14. Dean says:

    I think Suze Orman is AWESOME! I am a CPA and obviously very financially literate but I think she has helped so many people make important financial decisions with a very common-sense approach. She seems like a good, ethical person and I enjoy her show very much.

  15. George says:

    I used to like watching her show. However, it seems like the show is more and more geared toward a female audience. She is hot to look at. But she needs to get cosmetic dentistry to fix that chipped or crooked teeth.

  16. George says:

    According to Wikipedia, Orman told The New York Times magazine in February 2007 that she is a lesbian. Her partner of seven years is Kathy Travis, a co-producer on The Suze Orman Show. Well, Ms. Travis is very lucky to have Suzy as her partner.

  17. john says:

    suze gives decent basic financial advice but follows none of it herself. All of her money are tied up in bond funds which carry no risk. It’s easy to tell people to invest and diversify but her portfolio doesn’t match her talk. Her advice is solid but when it comes to mortgages she truly makes a fool of herself.

  18. Fred says:

    Suze’s advice is solid, but she is annoying to watch. She’s obviously has fans because she is still on the air. But many of us can’t stand the way she delivers the message. I feel like flying to Vegas and blowing a few bucks after hearing her rant.

  19. anonymous says:

    Suze needs to give up the eye glasses on TV. It makes her look like a grandmother. Some people wear the glasses to look distinguished or smart. But for older people, certain eye glasses makes you look older. I enjoy watching her on TV but she goes everyone girlfriend.

  20. Walter says:

    Well Mr. Duffy Gilligan ( whoever you are )the sky is indeed falling because of interest only ARMS and misleading lending practices ! I trust Suze’s financial advice on not getting into these bad loans.

  21. anonymous says:

    Yes, Suze does give good advice. She must be reading these posts because it was recommended she stop wearing those glasses. I haven’t seen her wearing her glasses lately. Much more beautiful!

  22. Sarah says:

    I love Suze! She makes finances understandable. I never would have known about the benefits of roth ira’s etc if I hadn’t watched the show. It is always nice to have a reminder to be frugal and to invest more. My boyfriend and I both watch her show, and she is great. I love her personality. And like Walter said up there about Duffy…so much for ARMS! Go Suze! She gives solid advice.

  23. Fred says:

    I love Suze: not one time I have not laughed my b*tt off watching the pity full spectacle of a “dumbed down” ignorant and clueless America taking “advice” from a mutual funds saleswoman!

    Go ahead (poor choice of words), live beneath your means and save quickly devaluing federal reserve notes soon to be inflated to oblivion.

    You have been DENIED the possibility to expand your means and regain the control of your brain!

  24. One person loves me…two hate me…that’s OK. I have been vunducated. Despite what Suzie and the media say, EVERYONE who took my advice 5 years ago and got a 5/1 interest only ARM are thrilled. Their rates have dropped to as low as 2.875%! You see you all were conned by Suzie. What she and the media said was that these ARMs “COULD” go up. The part they left out was that they could also go down and for those lucky borrowers who took my advice they are now saving a fortune. Fear selld ads but reality and facts save money. Don’t believe me? Simply look up the yild on a one year LIBOR and add 2.5% to it. You do the math.

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