The Admirable Suze Orman

I was recently flattered to be on a list of media winners from the credit crisis. But arguably the biggest winner of all wasn’t on the list: Suze Orman, who’s the subject of a mildly skeptical article in today’s WSJ.

For some reason, people are often surprised when I say I’m a fan of Orman. Maybe they don’t really listen to her advice, and just consider her another blonde celebrity. But if you’re looking for someone who’s been consistently grounded and sensible, since long before the current crisis hit, look no further.

Thanks to her job, Orman’s also in touch with many more real Americans than most of us living in the coastal-elite bubble. What the comfortably-off consider fear-mongering, Orman sees as just being realistic:

Ms. Orman says she is simply giving her audiences the facts, and that its members really are living on the edge. "I haven’t changed anything that I have said all these years," she adds. "For those people who are in credit-card debt… those who have already been foreclosed on… They are the people calling my shows, and they are in bread lines."

I’m reminded of Barbie Snodgrass, the overworked and underpaid Ohio woman who talked to TNY’s George Packer:

The two jobs that kept her “constantly moving” brought in a little more than forty thousand dollars a year, but after the mortgage (a thousand a month), car payments (three hundred and fifty), levies for supplies at the girls’ public high school, fuel, electricity, stomach medicine, and a hundred dollars’ worth of groceries each week (down from eight bags to four at Kroger’s supermarket, because of inflation) there was basically nothing left to spend…

The circumstances of Snodgrass’s life made it impossible for her to imagine that there could possibly be enough taxable money in Obama’s upper-income category [over $250k/year] –which meant that he was being dishonest, and that she would eventually be the one to pay. “He’ll keep going down, and when it’s to people who make forty-five or fifty thousand it’s going to hit me,” she said. “I’d have to sell my home and live in a five-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment with gang bangers out in my yard, and I’d be scared to death to leave my house.”

Joe the plumber notwithstanding, there’s an enormous number of Americans who don’t know anybody earning more than $250,000 a year; Suze Orman can speak to these Americans — and especially the women among them — like no one else in or out of government. When she does so, she gives good advice. That advice might not always be followed to the letter, but thanks to Orman, there are now millions of Americans who have a very good idea what they should be doing, financially.

Yes, Orman’s doing very well herself out of the crisis: the endorsement offers are rolling in, and she’s more in demand than ever. But that’s not a conflict. As far as I’m concerned, the more that Orman gets out in front of the public the better: she’s a constant reminder of the virtues of spending no more than you earn, paying down high-interest debt first, and other such basics.

Orman’s hardly the only person to have become a multi-millionaire by giving out financial advice. But with her there’s a difference: most of the people in that group give out bad financial advice, with an emphasis on getting rich off your investments. Orman gives out good financial advice. And so I don’t begrudge her her success in the slightest.

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