Monday, March 28, 2011

Would someone please tell Suze Orman to shut the f**k up?


   Suze Orman's grand roll-out of "urgent changes" we need to make in our financial priorities is way, way too late. 
    The "New Reality" she's suddenly discovered has been my mother's reality for 92 years, and the reality of millions of others of her generation. It is the reality of cheerful thrift and charming modesty. It is the reality of living within your means, saving for the future, and shunning excess and extravagance. It is the reality of comporting oneself with dignity and class, not flaunting your gold-encrusted net worth. It is not "keeping up with the Joneses" -- it is keeping your eyes on the real prize: an emotionally and intellectually satisfying life.
    Orman has written about "The Courage to be Rich." It really doesn't take courage, Suze. It just takes blind ambition and questionable priorities.

   "Money is the currency of life,"says Orman, "because it is the external measurement system that all of us have as to how we judge where we are in our own lives." All I can say to that is: Speak for yourself.
   Anyway -- in a radical turnabout --  she is currently proclaiming that the "old American Dream is Dead." Somebody should have killed it a long time ago, but Orman was too busy pumping it up and basking in its sparkly rewards.
   “It used to be more, bigger, best,”  she said last week. “Everybody in America started to define themselves by all these things they had around them. And all of a sudden it came tumbling down. So the old American dream has died, and that is a good thing.”

   Why did this preachy, smarty-pants "financial powerhouse" wait until it all came "tumbling down" to perceive that the Dream's foundation was shoddy, cheap and on shaky ground?
   Her solution is "a dream where you actually get more pleasure out of saving than you do spending. It’s a dream where you live below your means but within your needs. You are not spending every penny, you are not impressing people."
    Nice thought, Suze, but it won't come easily to those who have been programmed for so long to "spend every penny," and then whip out the credit card and spend some more. 
   Millions of those people, though, were forced to confront the "New Reality" years before Orman saw the light. After they got through all those stages of grief and the anguish of deprivation, many began to acquire the skills of smart shopping. Coupons were clipped, strategies were shared, and these newly energized ladies began shunning even sale prices until the items were marked down yet again. Yard sales and thrift shops were packed with people cheerfully hunting for bargains. They learned what previous generations knew all along: Being thrifty is rewarding. It can actually make you feel quite triumphant.
    Our family always lived below our means -- so we're in pretty good shape at this point --  and perhaps many millions more would have as well, if our Oracles of Wealth hadn't filled our minds with images of sumptuous lifestyles and fabulous accoutrements, daring us to "unleash the millionaire within" and devote our "finest energies" to "reaching the pinnacle of success.". 


    Orman became wealthy in the world of high finance, which she once described as a "real turn-on." But she got really, really rich by trying to entice the rest of us to LOVE money, to shower ourselves with THINGS (because we deserved them!) and magically transform ourselves into "wealth magnets" by "putting the right energy out there" that would send thousand-dollar bills hurtling straight into our laps. 
   One of her many mottoes is, "financial freedom is our birthright."
   How does that work, exactly? From what I have seen of the "New Reality," you can work your ass off -- if you can find a job -- and still remain poor and thus "unsuccessful."
   Orman's "go for it!" gospel, her "reach for that golden ring" refrain,  was always spiritually bankrupt. Now that we're surrounded by financial bankruptcy -- on both a personal and a national level -- she's wisely realized that she can make even more money  (she already has nearly thirty million dollars, she has shyly acknowledged) by changing her tune. 
   "It's time for financial honesty," she says.

    It's always been the time for financial honesty, but thanks to "gurus" such as Orman, who pressed us to become part of "The Money Class," most of us have driven right off the cliff of dishonesty, and now the chickens -- scrawny and barely able to squawk -- are coming home to roost. She is noticing this, and has thus written a new best-seller to tell us about it.
  Orman has finally been hit by a thunderbolt thought: Saving can be fun. Yes it is, Suze, and it always was. Buying things you can't afford is bad, she now admonishes. Where was she when everybody was buying things they couldn't afford? Many of them are losing their homes and lining up at food banks.
    Financial responsibility isn't a whim that comes and goes, depending on how well the economy is doing. It is a lifestyle, verging on a religion, that is based upon values -- values that are just now occurring to Orman. Simplicity is a virtue. Being wasteful and self-indulgent are not. Generosity and restraint are virtues. Flaunting your wealth, as Orman always has -- is just tacky.
   Surrounding ourselves with ever more material goods does not lead to happiness -- in fact it can become a desperate and destructive addiction. Using what you already have in a charming new way is fun, and it's free.

   Thanks to my mother's resourcefulness and creativity, we grew up in a very rich environment, but the richness had little to do with money. She created a wonderful home for us, a home that was spotless, orderly and awash in natural light, and which had touches of beauty and originality everywhere. We were surrounded by classical music, flowers, art, books, nature, ideas and her colorful flair for contemporary design, not to mention the endless banquet of health-conscious, gourmet food that she placed before us, much of it straight from her organic garden. 

    She taught us that style wasn't about rushing out to buy what everyone else was wearing, but rather about using taste and flair to create our own unique looks by combining items from the "75 percent off" racks with beautifully tailored pieces from second-hand shops and wittily adding scarves and other accessories that she'd been accumulating since the 1930s. She turned shopping into an exhilarating safari: We cunningly stalked our prey, and we emerged with a sense of real victory. We were beating consumer culture at its own game, and we drove home giddy with delight. Occasionally she would first take us to Auerbach's bargain basement cafe, where we had pie and coffee. This was one of our most special treats as children: Drinking coffee with Mama after a long morning in the trenches of consumerism.
   "Living Well and Looking Good on as Little as Possible is the Best Revenge" -- that was the implied motto, and it has served me well.  
   There are very few ways in which I would presume to hold myself up as a model, but I know how to live on very little money, and I enjoy it. I feel fine about my 22-year-old car, a clunky old desktop computer and used furniture. I don't do much shopping anymore, but when I did, my favorite venues were garage sales and Deseret Industries second-hand store. 
   I actually get more pleasure from a tweedy blazer, or a book, or a basket or a painting that someone else has already owned than I would get if the items were new. To me, they are more valuable and interesting, because they have a "history." 
   We don't have cable TV or cellphones. We don't eat out, because we love our own food, which is good, basic, nutritious rice-and-beans fare, with lots of colorful vegetables thrown in, many of which we grow. We don't go to movies -- we get wonderful foreign and alternative DVD films from the library. We don't travel -- what a hassle! -- but we love the travel and nature programs on PBS. I feel as if I've been all over the world.
   I realize that few people would want to take it to this extreme. But spending less doesn't have to feel like a deprivation. I have always found it to be satisfying, liberating and empowering -- and it has a moral pleasure to it as well. 
    Waste not, want not. How old-fashioned! And how very true.