‘Believe in Your Financial Future!’

This and Other Bite-Sized Advice Nuggets from Suze Orman

The impacts of the financial recession have finally trickled down to the everyday working man. Everywhere online I see articles blaring offers such as “How to save your family $50 every day” and “10 Things We Overpay For.”

While mere months ago, the recession had seemed a looming specter in the horizon, we are now living it. Mergers, failed banks, and record bankruptcies being filed left and right were cause for some alarm — but most of these unfortunate occurrences in the business world seemed distant and intangible. With the unemployment rate now a whopping 8.5 percent (according to last month’s Labor Dept. report), many people have woken up, shocked to realize how near to home the economic crisis truly is and how it is beginning to affect their daily life.

It is during dire times like these that while many suffer, a small few are poised to profit off of others’ predicaments. I am most pointedly calling attention to those financial advisors armed with radio shows, television shows, and slews of self-help books. These financial “advisors” include David Bach, Steve Forbes, Dave Ramsey, and Suze Orman.

Suze Orman has a sprawling empire, worth a hefty $10 million. She has become quite the household name by pushing the most basic of financial tips. Titles of her books have included “The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom” and “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke.” Although I know that she targets the “everyday person who is bad with money,” some of her tips are downright common sense. If you’re looking to save money, use calling cards instead of coins at a payphone. Search in your closet for hidden money.

She is admirable in that she does not use a lot of intellectual jargon and hence, is easy understood — a godsend for the finance noob. However, I wonder how effective her tips actually are. Furthermore, she sometimes exaggerates or misrepresents facts. Maybe that’s acceptable because she doesn’t claim to be a finance guru but rather, a finance advice guru.

One of her winning strategies is reaching out to people and helping them “demystify” money matters. She once picked out an audience member on he shoe, CNBC’s The Suze Orman Show, and had them rip up a dollar bill. This action had an almost spiritual symbolism.

The truth of the matter is that her “financial advice” empire is built on a “how to” approach and focuses more on the psychological attitude towards managing money rather than giving solid advice on how to manage it. A lot of her tactics aim to instill confidence in the individual, with common mantras like “believe in your financial future” and “[F]inancial freedom is having your heart and mind free from the what-ifs of life.”

While her no-nonsense attitude and straightforward manner are much appreciated, her advice would be more credible and useful if it included solid evidence to support her arguments. Her recent “Recession Rescue Plan” includes tips that suggest living on 50% of income and making the stimulus package work for the family. She gives tips, but doesn’t go much further than that.

Orman’s tips fail to explain how our economy has reached this current state of disarray. If she were to explain this to her audience, families would be able to not only understand how to survive but also how they ended up in (and often contributed to) their plight.

While aiding families who are unfamiliar with the financial territory by holding their hands is a reasonable approach, showing them what the financial territory looks like and, therefore, allowing them to walk on their own is even better.

As the old adage goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”