Most people who look to Suze Orman for financial advice already have a bit of cushion in their pocketbooks. But over the past few years...
Most people who look to Suze Orman for financial advice already have a bit of cushion in their pocketbooks.
But over the past few years, as the straight-talking author and CNBC host directed her readers and viewers not to use credit cards, to stop wasting their money on lattes and to sock away eight months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, some viewers in their 20s had an equally blunt message for her: You don’t get our situation.
“You know what? They were right,” said Orman, 53, who will be in Lake Forest Park on Friday to sign copies of her new book aimed at readers under 35, “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke” (Riverhead Books, 394 pp., $24.95).
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Orman, whose past best sellers include “The Courage to Be Rich” and “The Road to Wealth,” interviewed scores of people in their 20s and 30s who described being pinned down by rising housing costs, student loans and credit-card debt while their salaries remain comparatively low.
“In their mind, my other books were for people who had money, who really thought they could have financial freedom,” Orman said by phone recently from New York. “I needed to become very unorthodox in my financial advice in order to give this entire generation advice that would really help them.”
Good credit, bad credit
The author of “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke” will read at 6 p.m. Friday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, free (206-366-3333; www.thirdplacebooks.com).
In “The Money Book,” Orman offers pragmatic plans of action for young adults — or, as she calls them, “YF&Bers” — to tackle financial challenges ranging from getting out of debt to saving for a home. Orman said that to relate to a younger audience, she needed to change or tweak some of her previous advice.
Take credit cards, for instance. Orman has always railed against the pitfalls of credit-card debt, sometimes instructing guests on her television show to pull cards out of their wallet and cut them up with scissors.
But now Orman has softened her stance, saying it’s acceptable for cash-strapped young workers to use credit to fill the gaps for a year or two, provided that they buy only essential items with cards and limit the total balance to 10 percent of their annual take-home pay. Faithful payments on their accounts will raise their all-important credit score, which down the road will lead to lower interest rates on cars, houses and other major purchases.
“A good use [of credit] is to go into a grocery store to charge your food, to feed yourself — fine,” Orman said. “A bad use is to go into a restaurant to treat three of your friends on your credit card with money that you don’t have.”
Orman also has reversed course on the “latte factor,” an attention-grabbing piece of advice she gave in 1999’s “The Courage to Be Rich,” when she told readers they could make more than $160,000 over 30 years if they abandoned their daily espresso fix and spent the money on stocks instead.
Today, Orman says “little pleasures” such as lattes can keep a person satisfied and help stave off the impulse to make more reckless purchases.
“You cut [lattes] out, you go one week, three weeks, five weeks, maybe you have saved $100,” she said. “Now you’re in a store. You see a pair of Manolo Blahniks and you go, ‘I deserve something. I am working hard. … I deserve a treat.’ You’ve been denying yourself these lattes, and that little savings of lattes has now translated into a $700 pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a $600 pair of Manolo Blahniks.”
As for that elusive eight-month emergency fund, Orman says she now realizes it’s unrealistic to expect most young workers to raise such a sum, especially in cities where rents and mortgages have risen exponentially. But she does say young professionals can build their savings by getting roommates, raising their car-insurance deductibles and living in up-and-coming neighborhoods instead of the trendiest areas.
When it comes to transportation, Orman says it’s “insane” when you’re young and struggling to buy a new car, which loses 20 percent of its value once you drive it off the lot. Certified pre-owned cars are a thriftier option, she says.
Pitching a deal
That advice might come as a surprise to the legions of viewers who saw her on a TV commercial late last year pitching a zero-percent financing deal for new General Motors cars. But Orman insists she hasn’t changed her tune.
“Buying a new car is the stupidest thing you will ever do in your entire life. I say it in my new book; I’ve said it in every book I have ever written,” she said. “When GM came to me and asked me to do it, I said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ ”
Orman said she agreed to appear in the ad, for which she wrote the copy, because she considered the limited-time, “Lock ‘n’ Roll” deal to be “one of the best financing deals I have ever seen in my life.” She said her objective for the commercial was to alert those bent on buying new cars to at least “do it the wisest way possible.”
But once the ad aired, journalism and ethics professors were quoted in news stories saying that the commercial tarnished Orman’s reputation for unbiased financial advice.
Orman, a certified financial planner and a former Merrill Lynch executive who owns her CNBC program, “The Suze Orman Show,” said she does not consider herself a journalist.
“I am not a columnist,” she said. “I am a commentator with my own show on CNBC. I can say anything I want to say. … Nothing’s changed. The brand is absolutely intact, and it was the stupid writers who only wanted to get me because they thought I was a columnist on CNBC and had a different ethical standard.”
On shoulders of the young
Orman scoffs at the stereotype that members of generations X and Y are spoiled and financially careless. Recalling her days at the University of Illinois, where she spent $150 per semester on tuition in 1969, she observed that costs for housing, education and retirement have spiraled upward while entry-level salaries have failed to keep pace.
“Parents constantly corner me,” she said. “They go, ‘Suze, you have got to get our children to understand why they can’t have instant gratification — you have to teach them how to save. … They’re just totally irresponsible.’ Not true. It’s really not true.
“Everything has escalated out of proportion — except one thing has not, and that is the salary that many of these kids are getting when they graduate college. Everything is being transferred onto the shoulders of this generation.”
Orman notes that today’s young workers, many with starting salaries between $20,000 and $30,000 a year, are expected to pay for their own retirement while also funding the coming wave of baby-boomer retirements. Their student loans routinely approach six figures. And in an ever-rising housing market, their rents and mortgages take up a larger chunk of their earnings than their parents or grandparents had to cough up.
It’s a daunting set of circumstances. But Orman, who also is hosting a PBS special in conjunction with “The Money Book,” said the outlook doesn’t have to be bleak.
“I want to propel this generation into understanding that they don’t have to be broke forever,” she said.
Jake Batsell, former retail reporter for The Seattle Times, teaches journalism at the University of North Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.