Suze Orman's Financial Advice For Wise Bread Readers
Suze Orman is one of my favorite personal finance advisors. No one can kick my butt into gear like Suze. That's why I was thrilled when Suze invited Wise Bread to participate in a bloggers-only interview event, where she answered questions about how to survive in this tough economy.
You can read the full transcript below or jump to your favorite questions:
- What is the most common question you receive? What is the biggest financial mistake/trap families need to avoid in 2009? (Jump to question)
- What is the easiest thing someone can do right now to change their financial situation? Something that can be done in an hour? (Jump to question)
- Parents are torn between saving for college funds and their retirement. Which one should be the priority? (Jump to question)
- What do you do if you've simply run out of money? Bills keep coming in but your income and emergency fund doesn't cover it? (Jump to question)
- Best behavioral tips or tools for eliminating credit card debt? (Jump to question)
- How will the bailouts and economic crisis affect the average person? (Jump to question)
- Making a budget can be really intimidating. Any advice on how to get stated? (Jump to question)
- How would you rate Obama's handling of the economy so far? Any plans to help out the administration officially or unofficially? (Jump to question)
- A lot of financial advice stands the test of time, but given the current economic situation, has anything changed? Is anything more important now than it was just a year ago? (Jump to question)
- What are your plans for Best Life Week? What will you be sharing with viewers? (Jump to question)
That is just a taste of Suze's advice. Suze will be providing America with a comprehensive Financial Action Plan in January as part of Oprah's "Best Life Week." Suze will be on the show on January 8 and on Oprah.com's Live Chat on January 15 at 9 pm ET. (See full schedule) You can also enter a contest to get a free one-on-one consultation with Suze here.
The last time Suze went on the show she gave out free downloads of her popular book Women & Money. Just a reminder in case Suze is feeling generous again. Here's the full interview:
Please tell us a little bit about “Oprah’s Best Life Week” and what you’ll be sharing with viewers, online users.
For “Best Life Week”, obviously I’ll talk about my day with “Best Life Week”, which is, how does one live today a best life when you’re living a life if you have credit card debt, if you’re living a life where you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent payment, your mortgage payment, your car payment? If you’re living a life where you don’t even know how you’re going to make payments in order to pay your credit cards, in order to feed yourself?
For me, the definition of a best life is what actions can you take today so that your tomorrows are one that you don’t have to worry about where the next check is going to come from, where the next dollar is going to come from. How can you live a life when it comes to your money, a life of honesty, a life of integrity, a life of where, really, you walk towards your money rather than away from it? And in a period of time where the economy probably may be, since the Depression actually, is suffering total economic crisis here, on every possible level.
For 2009 to be a year that you live your absolute best life, you have to know how to deal with your money in every possible way. So on the show, as well as the Webinar later on, a week later, we’re going to take the areas that affect everybody: What do you do if you have credit card debt? How do you talk to people honestly? What can you do to change your tomorrows right then and there, starting that week? That’s what the “Best Life Week” is all about.
Sounds great. I’d like to follow up with that and ask you a two-parter. The first part is, what is the most commonly asked question that you receive? The second part is, what are the biggest financial mistakes/traps that families should avoid in the new year?
Yes. The second one, the biggest mistake and the trap that people make is that they think that they are meeting their monthly financial goals by simply putting things on credit cards, and then they only pay the minimum payment due on that credit card. People have gotten so used to living a life of plastic that they actually have gotten out of touch with the reality of what’s true and what’s not true; and this is going to be a serious mistake for 2009, because the credit card companies, if it hasn’t already happened to you and those of you listening as well, what you’re going to see them doing is they will be decreasing credit limits; they will be revoking credit cards and raising interest rates up to 32%.
So people who have been used to living day in and day out simply by charging things on credit cards are going to find themselves in a rude awakening, that if you don’t have cash, good luck. You may end up not being able to buy things at a grocery store anymore. So the biggest mistake people are making right now is thinking that they’re doing okay, but they’re really not doing okay because they’re charging their necessities on credit cards.
The number one question that I’m always asked is, how do I best get out of credit card debt? Suze, how can I turn my life around? What can I do so that I can start living an honest financial life? I’m asked that day in and day out, and again, the No. 1 question is always about credit cards.
Will (Wise Bread):
Thank you, Chrissy, Abe, Suze. This is Will Chen from Wise Bread, a personal finance blog... Thank you for speaking with us today.
I was wondering, what are some of the easiest things that someone can improve their financial situation right now? Something they can do within maybe under an hour or two that will totally change your financial position?
Truthfully, within an hour, in even less than an hour, what changes your financial position is knowing your financial position – getting honest with the position that you’re in financially speaking. The reason that most people get into trouble when it comes to money is they don’t know how much money they owe in totality. They don’t know the interest rates that they’re paying. They don’t know anything about what it really takes them to live month in and month out, on average, to live the lifestyle that they’re living.
What you can do to improve your financial situation in less than an hour is to get your checkbooks out, get your ATM statements out, get every possible thing over the past year that you have spent money on, and sit down and divide them in 12 different categories. In fact, on oprah.com, when we do the Webinar on January 15th, we will have done this for you, where there will be an electronic expense sheet that everybody will be able to have, so they can see what it really costs them to live month in and month out.
But basically what I’m asking people to do is go back and categorize everything that you have spent money on over the past year. Add them up and add it all together and divide by 12. That is how much money you need month in and month out to be coming in, so that you don’t get into credit card debt. You compare that to the amount of money you actually have coming in. Now we’re getting honest. If you don’t have enough money coming in, you have either one or two things to do: You have to cut down on your expenses and/or you have to make more money. So you can turn your entire financial life around in less than one hour by simply getting honest with what you have and what you don’t have.
Thank you so much on behalf of Wise Bread readers, Suze. Keep up the great work.
Thank you, Will.
Suze, this is Ashley Aikens on behalf of Babble.com. My first question is, one thing that comes up in discussions on our message boards is that cash-strapped parents are torn between saving money to their retirement funds and saving money for their children’s college funds. Which would you say should be a priority?
Now, without a shadow of a doubt, the parents’ retirement account. Forever I have been saying you cannot get a loan for retirement, that’s number one. Number two: There are today, because of the economic situation in the United States, you’re going to see over time staffer loans, which are loans for kids going to school, whether they’re subsidized, which you need financial aid for essentially, or unsubsidized. You’re going to see interest rates be relatively low on those loans.
Plus loans, which are loans for parents to help their children, at approximately an 8.5% interest rate: Those loans have been changed now where you do not have to pay those loans back until after the student has graduated school. So that is a new change for how plus loans work. So there are loans that one can get for a relatively good interest rate to see your kids through school. However, there is nothing that will help you retire unless you have money in an account to do so. So first, you have to save yourself before you can save your children.
In today’s day and age, especially with the markets being as low as they are, especially the fact that maybe you’ve already put some money in a retirement account and you’ve seen that money go down, you have got to continue to dollar-cost-average into good diversified investments as long as you have at least ten years or longer until you need this money, so that you can decrease the price of the investments that you have so that when these markets do finally recover, you can make money on it. So especially right now, given this economy, you have got to save yourself first and put money away for your own retirement before you put money away for your child’s college education.
Thank you, Suze.
Hilary (Baby Center):
This is Hilary Miller, I’m with Baby Center. Thank you for your time. A quick question: You brought this up in the beginning of your conversation and with parents who may be – they’ve saved perhaps not as much as you advise, three months of living expenses, but yet are threatened with not being able to pay mortgages, daycare and whatnot after that three months runs out, and their husband or whomever still hasn’t found the job, what do you advise doing now?
If I’m getting your question right, they’ve saved for three months, they don’t have income coming in. They’ve used up their three months, correct?
Getting close. Maybe the wife doesn’t earn enough to pay the bills.
Is the wife a stay-at-home mother or is the wife working as well?
Full-time working. See, here’s the thing, is that when you find yourself in a situation where the bills are still coming in, you have to pay them, and there isn’t enough money to do so, the normal thing that people do is they start charging things on credit cards that normally they would pay cash for. They go to the grocery store and they charge their groceries on a credit card and when the credit card bill comes in, they just pay the minimum.
Normally I would have to say, please don’t do that. You have to find another way. But let’s say in a time – and let’s be realistic about this – unemployment is skyrocketing here. We’re in recession. What if, no matter what, you can’t find another job, you’re already working five jobs, you’re doing everything you can possibly do? It’s at that point in time that if you’re just being realistic, then you might have to put things on credit cards so that you can feed yourself, so that you can possibly just get by day to day.
Is that something that I want to see you do? No. But that’s a reality, which is why you should always, if you can, if you can only have three months of an emergency fund, it would be great for you to also have credit cards that aren’t charged to the max, that have available credit limits on them, that in a dire case – the last-ditch effort after all your money is gone—that at least for a while, you can do ethical things with it.
Now, an ethical thing is not you use this credit card to go to Disneyland.; you use this credit card to go out to eat at a restaurant; you use this credit card to buy one item of clothing. Ethical things, truthfully, are you are going to the grocery store and you are buying beans and rice so that you can feed your kids. Do you see? So those are things that you just have to have as a backup if you don’t have anything else in place, because when you don’t have a backup, what do you do? Do you know how many people – mothers – are now calling in to my own Suze Orman Show to tell me that they are living in their cars with their children?
Yes. I know, we see a lot of that, and unfortunately a lot more recently.
To avoid that, you have got to plan for the worst and hope for the best. So all I’m asking everybody to do while things are still relatively okay, when you go into a store and you want to buy something, is it a need or is it a want? Are you going through your life saying, I’m going to buy this because I deserve it? What every single mother, especially, deserves is a life that she doesn’t have to worry about where the money’s going to come so she could feed herself and her children.
I kind of said that at the beginning: We deserve a good quality of life and a peaceful life. These things that we think we deserve, which are vacations, eating out, being able to go to the movies – those aren’t things that we deserve; those are things, if you do not have the money to pay for it, will eventually come back and bite you. And as you’re lying in your car at night, you’ll think of, oh, my God, I can’t believe what I did, and look at me now.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
J.D. (Get Rich Slowly):
Suze, this is J.D. from Get Rich Slowly. It’s good to talk to you, you’re one of my readers’ favorite financial experts.
Having once been over $35,000 in debt myself, I know that it’s one thing to say you’re ready to get out of debt and to stop using credit cards, but it’s another thing to actually maintain the dedication for the days and the years that are needed to pay that debt off. I’m wondering if you have any favorite behavioral tips or tools for maintaining motivation with new goals for a New Year’s resolution.
Yes. You know, J.D., what’s very fascinating is that the desire to want to use the drug known as credit cards is a very, very strong pull on people. It’s almost as strong – I’m very serious about this when I say this – as a narcotic, as tobacco, as well as alcohol. And in the same way that if you happen to be a drug addict or you happen to be an alcoholic, that normally what keeps you on the road of the straight and narrow is that you don’t hang out with people who drink. You don’t go into bars. You don’t keep alcohol around your house. You make it so that it’s easy for you to not get yourself in trouble because it’s right there.
The same, I have to say, is true when it comes to credit cards. You have to, even though you don’t want to close down your credit cards because that will hurt your FICO score, that doesn’t mean that you can’t rip them up. Doesn’t mean that you can’t cut them up as soon as you’re out of credit card debt where you just don’t see them.
So my advice to people who were once in credit card debt and now they’ve gotten themselves out of credit card debt is I would literally cut up all of my credit cards. I would not be carrying them, I would not even have them in the refrigerator. Some people say they put them in the freezer; oh, give me a break. Anything can come out of a freezer. I would cut them up 100%.
And if in fact I knew that I might seriously be tempted to call the credit card company and say, you know what, send it to me again – I would not care about my FICO score and I would literally call up the credit card company, close down the account and not give me any temptation whatsoever to get myself into credit card trouble. As soon as I got offers in the mail, they would immediately go into the trash.
The key is keeping good company, and when it comes to your money, you usually are keeping good company with other people who aren’t in credit card debt, other people who don’t entice you to spend money, other people who don’t say, let’s go on this vacation, oh, just put it on your credit card debt; other people that say, oh, please, let’s just go out to dinner. Good company are people that, I understand that you have credit card debt and you don’t have the money. Let’s go to your house and I’ll bring food. We don’t need to go on a vacation, let’s just go for a walk on the beach.
Again, when you leave your house, leave your house without any credit cards. You can go to the mall, you can go window-shop, you can enjoy the mall just like everybody else, but do not take your credit cards with you whenever you go out. If you see something that you want and you don’t have the credit cards, fine, you can’t buy it. If you’re still thinking about it one month later, maybe you really wanted it; who knew. But that keeps people in check. So don’t leave your house with credit cards. Cut up your credit cards once they’re paid off. If you need to go further than that, close them down and who cares about your FICO score. And keep good company. That would be my advice.
All right, thank you very much.
This is Patrick again, Suze. I wanted to follow up on a question that’s somewhat speaking to some current events, in terms of the auto bailout and the current economic situations we have going on and what that means for the average person.
You know, Patrick, it’s hard to know, isn’t it? It’s, everybody thought that if they finally – everybody got tired of the bailouts and they finally let Lehman Brothers fail, and look at what it caused; it caused the total collapse of possibly AIG and everything else. So it’s very, very difficult to know what will be the effect on the ordinary person out there if they let the automobile companies go under, if they save the automobile companies.
But what I find absolutely fascinating is that why in the world should we even bother with the Senate and the House, and why did they even go through all this when they voted it down and now, are they just going to give them the money from TARP anyway? So why did they make them go through the shenanigans when they could have just given them the money from TARP?
I’m so sorry to say that what all of us need to understand by the confusion that’s out there is that the people who are at the helm, all across the board, obviously at this point in time are totally confused, because they don’t even know what to do that will solve this problem. So we should all, as ordinary people, take a look at this and go, you know what? I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to know how much money I have, how much money I need. What do I need to do so that I never need to have a bailout from somebody else? And good luck any of us ever getting a bailout, that’s not going to happen.
But all of this – every single thing that you see happening today when it comes to money – is going to have a direct effect on the future of the middle class of the United States of America. The rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer; the middle class is disappearing, which is why every single one of us needs an action plan for the year 2009, which is why every single one of us needs to know personally how do we live our own best financial lives; not just, let’s just go through this 2009 with our heads in the sand like everybody else. What can we do to bolster up our own lives? Because if you just look what’s happening even today, last night, this whole week, with General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, you start to get an idea of how serious it is that our economy doesn’t have a clue which way to go. And it’s going to be a long time before anybody is able to solve these problems, and these problems are serious, serious problems.
So with that said, what it does is that this will fall onto the taxpayer, every single person in the United States of America, and their problems have become our problems. And the problem is, we can’t even handle our own problems, let alone somebody else’s problems. So that’s why living your best life, having an action plan for 2009, joining us on January 15th to put an action plan in order, for people to be given the tools so that they know how to put the right actions in place, is such a dire necessity on a one-on-one level, I can’t even tell you. More important than my entire history of dealing with money, 2009 is probably the most important year of our lives to get out of this.
Thank you so much, Suze, that was great perspective on a deep and very pertinent current-event situation. Thank you so much.
Suze, this is Ashley on behalf of Babble again. A question I have is, keeping to a budget can seem so intimidating for people who aren’t used to tracking their finances. So what would you say is the best way for them to start?
I have a really, really hard time with budgets, and the reason I have a hard time with budgets is that budgets are just like diets. Neither of them work. Neither of them work. You go on a diet, you restrict, you lose – I mean, it happens to me all the time. You lose five pounds, ten pounds, and then you get so frustrated because you didn’t get to do what you want; you now eat everything you want and now you gain 20.
The same is true with a budget. When you restrict and you restrict, all of a sudden you get so – you’re just so out there that you go and that’s when you all of a sudden start buying Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choo shoes and all these purses that you don’t need to spend that kind of money on. You just give up all hope. So I don’t like diets and I don’t like budgets. What do I like?
I like consciousness. I like people being able to decide what they should be spending money on and what they shouldn’t; what they want to eat and what they should be eating that’s good for them, versus what they know is bad. And when you stay in touch with who you are and what makes you healthy, so that you can live your best life – whether it’s with food, whether it’s with money, whether it’s with exercise, whether it’s with spirituality – all the topics that that Best Life Week is going to deal with – when you are in touch with who you are, and you make conscious decisions or decisions from a place of consciousness, knowing that it’s an intelligent decision, it’s a wise decision, it’s not an emotional decision, it’s not an irrational decision – then what happens is you automatically choose the right choices for you. You eat what’s good for you, you spend money on things that are wise for you and that you need, and everything falls in place.
So it’s not about budgets and being restricted. It’s not about diets and choosing the right – and limiting what you can and cannot eat. It’s getting in touch with your own power, so that you make the right choices for you, and when you make the right choices for you, then you live your best life. And when you live your best life, you feel even more powerful; that allows you to make even better choices for you.
Excellent advice, thank you.
Suze, this is Will from Wise Bread again. I’m actually live-chatting with some of our community members from Wise Bread, and one of them actually suggested that if you’re offered a cabinet position, you could be the secretary of savings. I’ve seen a lot of people make that suggestion around the Web. I was wondering if, one, how you would grade Obama’s handling of the economy so far; and two, what kind of role do you think you might play in his administration, either officially or unofficially?
You know, it’s hard to really, obviously, give him a grade so far; it’s like giving a child a grade who just enrolled in school but hasn’t even started school yet. It’s summer break and they’re going to start in September, but they haven’t really had an opportunity to do anything yet. I think he put his cabinet into position faster than I think anybody dreamt possible. I think he probably is more anxious than anybody in wanting to get involved with what’s going on. He himself said it as well as everybody, there can only be one President at a time; and I’m sure he wishes that it were him right now.
Do I wish that he were making these decisions right now? You bet I do, but he’s not. Do I think that he has what it takes? Do I think that he will make the necessary changes? Do I think that over time that it will be a challenge for him but will he over time be able to turn this around? I do. Do I think that his comments that it will be not necessarily one term, it may take longer than that – I do as well.
I have been known recently to be saying that I think that what you will see in the stock market, I think you’ll see it go up, down, up, down. I think you’ll see everything will be looking like it’s doing great, and then something will happen that sets us back – kind of like last night; we all thought that we were going to have this passage of the automobile bill, then all of a sudden it failed in the Senate.
So we’re going to take steps forward and back, but in the long run, two or three years from now, I think he will make some very unusual changes, and I think that we’ll get on a path so that starting probably in the year 2015, we will be on solid financial foundations once and for all, and all will be a very prosperous time again and a good time; but I think it will take at least that many years to get us to where we deserve to be.
With that said, if I were to be offered a cabinet position, would I take it? You know, I have no idea. Because I’m the kind of woman that’s very spontaneous, and I don’t really plan things out. It’s not like I have a goal to do that. I mean, I have one goal and one goal only right now in life, and that’s to change the way America thinks, feels and acts with their money, one wallet at a time.
I’ve been on a mission to change the savings rate in the United States of America, which is why we did the Save Yourself account with TDAmeritrade, where over 100,000 people opened up a Save Yourself account, and they were paid $100 simply for depositing $50 a month for 12 consecutive months into an account, that was FDIC insured and paid them a great interest rate. So that is my goal. How do we save the middle class? How do we, rather than having a highway into poverty, how do we really create a road out of poverty for people?
Somehow, I feel that I can be more effective, whether it’s on television, in the seminars, in the books, in whatever it is, one on one, without really having to play a political game, which – you know, that’s what politics is on some level. And I don’t know – maybe I’m just too honest for politics.
You might be, but you definitely have our support.
Thank you very much.
Suze, this is Jeremy Bollinger with About.com and GenXFinance.com. My question is this: A lot of financial advice stands the test of time, but given the current economic situation, rising unemployment, everything like that, has anything changed? Is anything more important now than it was just a year ago, or is the same advice still holding true?
The same advice is essentially still holding true, except that it’s probably more important today and it will be more important in 2009 than ever. It’s no secret that I have forever been saying, please get out of debt. Please do this, please do that – because it was so easy to see what was coming. It was so easy to see, with the barrage of interest-only negative amortization, option-only mortgages what eventually was going to happen, and that the downfall of the world economy was very close at hand. So more important than ever really is a priority to make sure that you are out of credit card debt, you do have an eight-month emergency fund, that you don’t stop contributing to your retirement, that you say no to your children, that you’re not afraid to really make tough decisions where you cut back and you understand the severity that really, the United States as well as the world is in when it comes to money.
It’s really, really, really important that the United States and the people of the United States of America understand that this is no joke. I’ve been saying this on television lately – I’m sorry, what were you going to say?
I was just going to say thanks; I thought you were done. Sorry.
But that it’s really no joke. Sometimes when people aren’t affected, because they still have their job and they’re still able to use their credit cards and they’re still able to make their car payments and everything seems like normal until one day they get a pink slip, one day they face something that they haven’t faced before – then it hits them. And I’m asking people, please don’t wait until that day happens to you, because there’s a good probability it will happen to you; and therefore, just take the actions now. Make the hard decisions now, because this is not going to be easy for the next year or two.