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5 Thoughts On Suze Orman’s 5 Recession Rescue Steps As Presented On Oprah Last Week

5 Thoughts On Suze Orman’s 5 Recession Rescue Steps As Presented On Oprah Last Week

I read somewhere that Suze Orman is the blue state version of Dave Ramsey–I’m pretty sure I read that and didn’t make it up myself, I should say. And I do think this is superficially true: Suze is a woman, she’s self-made, she’s a lesbian, and is presumably more liberal in a social sense than is Dave Ramsey, who is an evangelical Christian from Tennessee.

So why is it, I wonder, that I like and respect Dave Ramsey and cannot stand Suze? I think it has something to do with this: Suze’s message seems to be always in flux, and negotiable based upon her own best interest. There is something about her that does not ring true to me. This is all on an unconscious level, mind you: I have no real proof that she’s disingenuous. Well, unless you count her claim that she has always “encouraged people to get out of credit card debt” and its contrast to the promotional deals with various credit card companies that she has signed. Which, by the way? Sucks. But that’s just the thing–she says that she’s been encouraging people to get out of credit card debt, but really what she has been doing for as long as I can remember is to encourage people “use credit responsibly.” Maybe this is hairsplitting, but I don’t consider this to be the same thing. It’s like telling an alcoholic to just try to start drinking responsibly–if people who have credit card debt could do that, let me assure you they would already be doing this!

Yes, I am starting to ramble about this, and where’s the damn list, anyway? Look, the bottom line is: Dave Ramsey stands for a lot of things that I don’t like. He voted for Bush, probably would a million more times if he could. He says things like “don’t you mean Social InSecurity?” and “Certificates of Depression.” He once had to have it explained to him why a caller using the phrase “Jew you down” might be considered offensive. But, with Dave Ramsey, I get the feeling that these things have more to do with being sheltered than true bigotry, or willful ignorance. There is always a sense with him, that whatever the topic, he is willing to hear the other side, and that he is true to his own beliefs. Somehow, that rings more true to me, even if I don’t agree with the beliefs themselves.

So, Suze has become Oprah’s go-to financial person of late, and last week she was on the show pushing her “new” five reseccion rescue rules. As usual, the rules are stupid and should be pretty intuitive to anyone with their head out of the sand. But let’s go over them anyway:

  1. Live on half. To illustrate this point, Suze told the audience they needed to start living on half their income and banking the other half. For people with two incomes, this hardly news. It was hardly news six years ago when Elizabeth Warren published The Two-Income Trap. I think it is about two decades too late for this advice, by the way, because if you have been living on two incomes for any amount of time, chances are that you have a mortgage that reflects this. Cutting down to one income can be done in some cases, but it is tricky. The people who need a rescue from the recession are probably well beyond this point. What about the people who keep losing their jobs? Should they bank half of their (already halved) unemployment checks? What about food stamps? Bank half?

  2. Stash your cash. This point had the unique effect of being both too literal and too vague. Suze never explained if by “stash your cash” she meant to literally stash it–like put it in my mattress, or if keeping it in my (hopefully not going to fail) bank is OK. Among the other things mentioned on this topic was Suze’s revolutionary “new advice” on handling credit card debt (only make minimum payments) so you can bank a larger emergency fund. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, Dave Ramsey. Huh.

  3. Make the Stimulus Package Work For You. This part was more useful than most of the rest of the show, as Suze explained the benefits available for COBRA reimbursements, tax credits for homebuyers, and tax credit for buyers of new cars. None of the information was new, but putting it on Oprah ensures that more people will take advantage of it. So I liked this section.

  4. Make your home affordable. Here, Suze goes over the loan modification programs offered for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage holders. This is not earth shaking news, but I suppose it’s good to get the word out for those few people who might be able to avoid foreclosure through these programs and have been living under a rock for the last four months.

  5. Look at What You Have, Not What You Had Of all the recycled and appropriated advice on the show, I have to say this was my favorite section by far. During this section, Suze admonished us for not wanting what we have and focusing on what we have lost in the stock market crash. OK fine, a little trite but OK. I’ll accept Suze telling me, poster child for agnosticism, to “have faith” that “God does things for a reason,” even if it all feels a little contrived. But the best part was when they featured a little video segment on a pastor and his wife who had lived beneath their means for years, and lost so much in the stock market crash that they now fear that they will outlive their savings. Instead of giving valuable advice to the next generation–like, say, you shouldn’t have more than like 5% of your assets in the market if you’re in retirement or very close to it, for example–Suze busts out with the “God doesn’t give us anything we cannot handle,” crap *to a pastor* who has *not been living above his means* and enumerates his “mistakes” in not having faith. RICH. Even the poor pastor was like, “Uh, yeah, my faith is fine, I’m more worried about outliving my savings . . .” If it had been me, I would have said, “you smug dumbass” to the end of that sentence.

To be perfectly honest, I think I would like Suze Orman better if she didn’t make these crazy overarching claims for herself, like when she appears on the cover of Time saying, “I told you so” about the financial meltdown. Oh really? Nobody else realized that living on credit cards was a bad plan, Suze? Nobody else predicted that housing prices were inflated beyond any kind of market supportability? That was all you, huh? I just don’t like smug attitude.

Comments (7)

  1. Apr 6, 2009

    I’ve never seen, heard or read anything by Dave Ramsey (except through friends who are fans), so I can’t comment on him. My problem with Suze Orman, though, is that I get the feeling she’s just Media Personality. She’s say whatever she needs to say to continue to be on Oprah, be on the cover of magazines, etc. I hate flashy, and I especially hate flashy with nothing to back it up. I mean, anyone can spew common sense mixed with a little bullshit…what’s special about her?

    Also, the jackets. Not that I’m not sitting here in Crocs and Minnesota Historical Society sweatshirt, but my gawd. Those jackets are a crime against humanity.

    I am pretty much suspicious of anyone who appears on Oprah, The View, etc. to give advice. Most of them are just Media Personalities (Dr. Phil is the quintessential example), rather than true experts. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

    Not that I am not going to watch Dooce on Oprah today, because I totally am.

  2. Apr 6, 2009

    Yeah, she’s definitely a Personality. And not a good one. She likes to patronize her audience, and then say something super rude to them as if she is just trying to tell it like it is. NO LIKEY. I get the feeling that Dave Ramsey might think some of his audience members are “simple folk,” but he does a good job of convincing me that he empathizes with them, at the very least. That’s another thing, he has been in financial trouble before, and while that certainly shouldn’t be a requirement, I think it helps in the believability department.

    And yeah, I’ll be watching dooce today and taking notes. Sigh.

  3. Snakey
    Apr 6, 2009

    I agree her tone often creeps into smugness; she used to come across with more empathy. Maybe some people get off on the scolding act and she’s adopted it as a high-ratings strategy? Oh, and I hate the whipping boy/S&M attitude towards the guy who reads email at the end of her show. The old guy always seemed terrified (and who can forget when she asked him to lift his arms so the camera could capture the big armpit sweat stains?!). The current one, I think, is taking advantage of the opportunity but not-so-secretly loathes her (witness his “I will not dignify this gig with a structured-collar shirt” attitude).

    Also, I think it’s easier for Ramsey to have a consistent message because he’s always been critical of debt and sees financial independence as a moral/ethical victory. His message, so stingy in a bull market, makes ample sense in the current economy. Suze is spinning to a more fiscally restrained message, but I think her change of heart is market-driven. In other words, when the market rebounds I think she’ll rebound her message too… while Ramsey will still be talking of the fall of 2008 to his great grandchildren.

  4. Apr 6, 2009

    @Snakey, yes, Ramsey can come across as a fuddy duddy or a sky-is-falling kind of guy in the wrong market. I guess what I like is that he is consistent and he’s at one extreme, so you can use him as a sort of checks-and-balances system. I definitely don’t follow him to the letter, but I like to use him as a sort of reality check for myself to keep myself in line. But I think the appeal is largely personal. I just don’t like Suze, she annoys me. So I find it hard to take her seriously.

  5. Apr 6, 2009

    I admit I only watched this with half of one eye/ear while doing other stuff, but I *think* I caught her say that you shouldn’t pay off your cc balances because in this new economy, once you do, you have a chance of the cc company cutting you off. Then, when you “really need” credit the most, you won’t have it.

    To me this is just idiotic. Keep paying minimums (i.e. only interest – become an indentured servant to the cc companies) so you can have the privilege of possibly putting more on credit???? Why? Why on God’s green earth would you do that rather than paying off the cards and setting aside savings (maybe a little of both, simultaneously) so if disaster strikes, you can be your own safety net, instead of credit? To do *anything* in order to cater to the whims of the ever-changing credit company market is just stupid.

    Really in tough times THE best financial advice is to live below (maybe WAY below if you are both laid off) your means. If you have NO income coming in, or just unemployment coming in, you HAVE NO means. She talked about “cutting it to the bone” and referenced “finding many ways to save” but didn’t detail what those things were. Now *that* advice would have been useful.

    She told one couple: Guess what!? I found you $1400 (or $1800? whatever it was) a month savings in your budget. That’s a show I want to see.

  6. Apr 6, 2009

    Yes! Good point, Juliet. I had forgotten about that part–use your cards so that you will still have them when a real emergency strikes. Great. That will last you 30 days, and then your credit card will be due. DUH. What’s the bigger emergency, short term lack of cash, or adding more bills that will continue to drain your cash for years. I don’t understand why they don’t advocate getting a part time job more often–go work at a gas station or something and make that cash. There ARE solutions, they are called stop-gap jobs.

  7. Apr 8, 2009

    I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me a few days to read this, especially as it contains evidence that you’ve been reading my blog. Then again, you did forget where you read the Ramsey/Orman red/blue thing, so maybe we’re even.

    Amongst differences between the two, Ramsey seems like a gentle friendly guy, while Orman is, well, kinda mean. As I said in my post, I’d much rather sit next to Ramsey on a plane, even though I am much much closer to Orman in terms of cultural background.

    Orman is an empty vessel for what her audience wants to hear. As what they want to hear changes, so does her message. In a way she is the human incarnation of a nagging motherly voice in the back of your head telling you to act responsibly around money. The problem being that the voice doesn’t give useful advice, only reinforces what you already thought you should be doing.

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