You asked, and financial advisor Suze Orman answered. Consumerist readers submitted some questions for the TV host, New York Times bestselling author and motivational speaker and she sat down with Consumerist’s Chris Morran last week to discuss those financial tidibits.
We’ve pulled together a few grains of Suze’s wisdom below, check out the full video at the bottom for the complete conversation.
CM: One criticism is that your savings ethic is a little draconian, that you’d rather people give up luxuries even if they can afford them in favor of saving. What is your response to that?
SO: I would say if they’re going to say that’s draconian to be able to have a safety net at a time when they need one, because everything is absolutely uncertain when it comes to the United States of America… It could be any idiot out there who bought a home — and now one out of four of you are underwater in that home, many of you haven’t worked in two years. So yeah you can go out and buy everything while you’re making money and you can assume you don’t need a safety net, but if God forbid you lose your job, or God forbid you get sick, if God forbid reality hits you, smacks upside your head, you’re going to wish and pray and hope that you had listened to me. So you don’t have to listen to me, go out there and spend all the money that you want — you! Go out there and spend every penny you want. But you better pray, wish and hope that 100% of everything you do never goes wrong. It’s when something goes wrong, that’s when the safety net is there. Now if people had listened to me in 2006, it would’ve gotten them through 2008, 2009, 2010.
CM: What is one key piece of advice for people who don’t have a safety net?
SO: Here’s what you need to understand. If you don’t have enough money to pay your bills while your paycheck is coming in, how are you going to pay for those exact same bills later on in life when you no longer have a paycheck coming in? The only way you’re going to be able to do that is through retirement accounts and savings. So the time to start saving and cutting back is while you are making money. I don’t care whether it’s $50 a month, $25 a month, $10 a month. Ten dollars is more than nothing, a $100 is more than $10. So if you can’t do it all at once, which I know you can’t, you have to do something, and the best thing you can do, more now than to accumulate money is to pay down your debt. Stop spending money you don’t have to impress people you don’t even know or like. If you can get rid of your debt, then your expenses go down. If your expenses go down, you have more money that you can save. The key is if you don’t have money to save you start with getting your debt to go down. So stop buying, and start paying off you debt. Now, I get that they won’t like that. They wanna consume, they wanna look cool, they wanna be able to do these things. Now I’m telling you, that’s what you need to do if you want to live life for you.
CM: Can you put too much in your 401k?
SO: Here is the map. Let me map it out for you. Number one priority: Get yourself out of credit card debt. Number two priority, then create an 8-month emergency fund. After you’ve created an 8-month emergency fund, or as well as creating an 8-month emergency fund, do a Roth IRA. You can take money out of a Roth IRA at any time you want without taxes or penalties — if we’re talking about the money that you originally put in. If you have a 401K plan at work or a Roth 401k at work that matches your contribution, then you should no matter what, before all of these, you should sign up for that because that’s free money but only up to the point of a match.
CM: The latest thing came out that more people are using their credit cards more than they were a few months ago. Do you think credit cards are good for responsible people, ordoes it worry you that we’ll see in an increase in delinquents?
SO: Credit cards period, worry me. Credit cards were never really meant for people to go out and buy things and then pay little by little by little until you could own it. I am draconian! Now we’re going to see someone who’s really old-fashioned. I think you buy something, you have the money to buy it or you really need to think twice about buying it. Now obviously, a car, a home, maybe a dishwashing machine or whatever it is that you need, maybe you have to finance those, maybe on a credit card or whatever it is. But most of things today that people put on credit cards that get them in so much trouble , oh, clothes! Oh eating out, oh let’s go on this vacation — are things that you don’t need. They’re wants. And they are paying for those wants at a high interest rate for the rest of their lives. So I would like to see it that credit card usage was backed way up here. I’d like to see it that there were rewards for people who pay off their balance in full every month. Versus, get yourself in buy buy buy just for these rewards, so sure you think you have all these rewards and miles to go do something with, but at the same time you’re paying 20-30% interest on your credit card and it’s like you know you could’ve bought these things a long cheaper. be careful of rewards programs, they get you to spend money you don’t have.
CM: Is a cash-only existence possible?
SO: No. I’m a tremendous advocate of the debit cards, I’m a tremendous advocate of the pre-paid debit cards, if, and only if, the fees make sense. Many of these prepaid debit cards have very high fees, they’re not worth it whatsoever. But you cannot walk around with large sums of money,we don’t live in a culture where you can do that anymore. You can’t shop online cost effectively if you don’t have some piece of plastic.
compounding of time over here.
CM: In terms of prioritizing debt, would you say paying off credit card debit would usually go first?
SO: Not necessarily. Student loan debt. Because remember, again credit card debt is unsecured debt. If you really get into trouble, you can claim bankruptcy on unsecured debt. Student loan debt is debt that cannot be discharged with bankruptcy. So there are many students out there who have 6.8% interest rate on their Stafford loans, maybe they have a PLUS loan, that’s 7.9 or 8.1, that’s a high interest ate on debt that can never be discharged withbankrputcy. So depending on what you have going for yourself, I would actually be tackling my student loan debt first because that’s the debt that could really cause you big problems.
CM: One reader somewhat snarkily asked if you’ve ever had an original idea… What’s your response to that?
SO: Here’s what I would say to that snarky little reader — slap him upside his head as well — is how well are they doing financially speaking, really? Maybe I don’t have original ideas, but what I do have is an original way of how to express what people need to learn. I have a way of saying something that people understand. So they’ve ben hearing this over and over again for years. But they’ve been hearing about it from people in pin-striped suits, and they talk about it in this language that’s very dry and boring could put you to sleep in three seconds. There is nothing about me that is boring. Everything about me is exciting, and vibrant and alive. And I say it the way I say it, the way I dress, the way I look, the way I express myself, and that is original. So boyfriend, you are so denied, I can’t even tell you. Go get an original thought — like anybody has an original thought these days? I don’t think so.