Suze Orman: What Does She Know?

If Americans know one person who dishes out financial advice, it’s Suze Orman. She’s huge, right? USA Today (who doesn’t trust this reputable publication? Um, okay, sarcasm creeping in …) says Suze has been called “a force in the world of personal finance” and “a one woman financial advice powerhouse.”

Never mind those shiny accolades, according to her website, Suze is a “New York Times mega best selling author” (mega? Is this necessary? The book either makes the cut as a best seller or not, there’s no minor, middling, or mega best sellers – but, hey, that’s hollow marketing schtick for you); “two-time Emmy award winning television host, magazine and online columnist, writer/producer, and one of the top motivational speakers in the world today. Orman is undeniably America’s most recognized expert on personal finance.”

Whew! Those are some credentials!?

But … so what? Why should I listen to Orman? Because mainstream pop media sings her praises? Because she’s an extremely capable, and well-financed, self- promoter? Here’s my concern: with all of her activities, how is it possible that she’s able to focus sufficient energy on remaining a financial expert?

Let me be clear: my point is not to undermine Suze Orman. In fact, based on my readings of her, and despite over the top promotional glop, I’d say that she’s one of the more reliably informative talking heads operating in the personal finance sphere. And I completely respect her becoming the Oprah of personal finance, morphing her self into a hugely successful business. But again, her fame and fortune by itself isn’t sufficient reason for me to follow her advice.

Who Do You Trust?

Not only does Orman dish out piles of financial advice, she also sells stuff like a “Protection Portfolio: Gold Edition with Personal Finance Online Course Offer”. And you have the option of paying in five easy instalments! Or, take her online Personal Finance course for a fee, buy one of her many books, finance related ‘kits’, CDs or DVDs.

For me, this is where I raise a bushy eyebrow or two. Because her business model works like this: continually churn out financial advice/information for the purpose of drawing more eyeballs. Convert eyeballs to acolytes who open their wallets to buy stuff peddled via website. And repeat.

With a clear cut self-interest in generating revenue through sales, should I trust her advice knowing she’s serving it out with the intent to sell? I mean, her advice could be construed as a movie teaser: read me, like me, trust me. Now that I have your trust, buy my stuff.

That said, simply because Orman’s hustling to make a buck, or several million, this alone doesn’t make her untrustworthy. Besides, it’s not like she’s the only one looking to monetize her know how.

But she’s the biggest in the personal finance guru world. And given her public stature, I figure she’s fair game to illustrate my point:

When educating your self about finances, money management, investing and all others matters related to money, consider your source.

Question not only the authors qualifications to broadcast their know how, but also the bias that we all bring to the broadsheet, which way do we slant, right, left, somewhere in the middle? Is there an ulterior motive underlying the publication? And don’t limit yourself to only one source. Read several so-called expert advice bloggers or mainstream publishers to get a comprehensive lay of the land.

Wear A Mustache

Contrast Orman with a website called The site was started six years ago by a guy who wanted to share his thoughts about all financial matters, big and small.

In my opinion, this was the best personal finance site not only in the blogging virtual world but also compared to any mainstream media (notice I used the past tense. This is because the site publishes only one or two posts a month now; after six years and more than 400 posts, the author is understandably slowing down. For a review of some of the author’s best material, go to the archives page).

Within a year or two of the first posting, hundreds of thousands of people visited the site daily, with many of them engaging with fellow readers on the sites interactive forums. And here’s what made the site special: the author is smart, funny, and well educated when it comes to finance issues. Posts are well written, hugely informative, cover a range of topics and are holistic in that the author ties in money issues to broader perspectives related to life and the meaning of money.

Does Mustache sell anything on his site? Nope. While there’s the occasional third party advertisement from which the author derives revenue, the site is not a shopping destination. And for me, this adds to the author’s honesty and credibility.

Why am I singing this person’s praises, given that he’s a blogging competitor? Ha! Why not? Why shouldn’t I direct readers to another site I consider worthwhile? Why shouldn’t I be generous with my knowledge and share with others? Besides, it feels good and right to give back.

Meditate On This

BuddhaMoney (that’s us!) and other personal finance bloggers have this advantage over corporate media: we’re not necessarily in it for the dough. Then why do we spend so much time and energy, and our own coin, building a blog and sharing knowledge? Well, the motivating reward is not always money.

Sometimes, for those lucky enough, the reward comes in the forum of giving, not taking. Sure, it’s a kick to see readership numbers increase, to know that you’re reaching a wider audience, to receive positive reader feedback that proves, if only for one post, that you’re writing hasn’t been sucked into a black hole.

As for me, I count myself among the lucky.