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Deconstructing Suze Orman
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.
If 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.
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.