Voice of Experience: Suze Orman, Personal Finance Guru

suze_orman1.JPGContributed by Heather Cassell, Glass Hammer contributor and freelance writer in San Francisco.

As many of you loyal Glass Hammer readers know, we love the practical and down-to-earth financial advice for women offered by personal finance guru Suze Orman. In a recent interview with a Glass Hammer contributor, Orman explained that she didn’t buy into gender differences regarding how men and women think about and handle their money until five years into her Emmy Award-winning financial show, The Suze Orman Show, on CNBC. After listening to five years of callers’ questions and observing her own friends’ relationships with money, she began examining the differences in how women and men handle money.

“I really believed from day one that how a woman invests money is the same as how a man invests money,” said Orman in a telephone interview March 2007 soon after her New York Times bestselling book Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny.

“I really, really believed that until call after call on my show, friends of my own, people that I would meet started to really open my eyes up to something and it follows as: While women may be making more money, we are not [making] more out of what we make.”

Orman, who told the New York Times magazine that one journalist has estimated her liquid net worth at $25 million – and said “that’s pretty close,” is the author of five consecutive New York Times bestsellers. She has recently been seen on Oprah, evaluating women’s financial situations and assisting them on their way to personal and financial health. She also writes a financial column for O, The Oprah Magazine and the “Money Matters” column for Yahoo Personal Finance.

Orman, 56, said that women know how to make money, but she wrote Women and Money to go beyond the basics like “how a woman invests,” attacking the glass ceiling or what women earn. In Orman’s opinion, “those are all excuses…women are using and it’s a shame and no blame thing.”

Orman’s books have always discussed how women handle their money, and encouraged them not to give up control of their finances to their husbands or partners. Orman has recently pointed out the financial discrimination that some gay and lesbian people suffer by not being afforded the same rights as heterosexual married couples when it comes to money.

Orman, who casually came out in Deborah Solomon’s February 25, 2007 interview for the New York Times magazine is absolutely beside herself that if anything happens to either her partner of eight years, Kathy “K.T.” Travis, who is also a partner in the Suze Orman empire and a former advertising executive, or Orman, that both of them will lose half of the fortunes each one of them has amassed.

“Money has nothing to do…absolutely nothing to do with my sexuality,” said Orman, who said that she’s not attached to the word “marriage,” but that she wants legal recognition and the same rights as heterosexuals.

“I’m the money lady,” said Orman, who said she’s always been out in her professional relationships, so she was a bit surprised that her stating she is a lesbian was a surprise to the general public. But Orman said her coming out didn’t change anything in her life, because “I’m the one who educates you on what you need to know about money.”

The bottom line for Orman—when it comes to women and money—is to get women to change how they view their relationship with money to turn what she sees as a dysfunctional relationship into a healthy relationship.

“It does not matter if a woman is making $1 million a year; if a woman is a head of corporation; if a woman is a head of a billion dollars worth of buying for QVC; if a woman…is a teacher,” said Orman. “When a woman makes money the goal of her money is to make sure that [her] sister, her mother, [and] everybody around her is taken care of [first]. She will actually feel guilty if she is making more than her female counterparts. A man does not feel that way.”

So, Orman wrote another bestselling book personalized for women.

“This book is about why a woman doesn’t want to take care of her money in the same way she takes care of everything else,” said Orman, who said how women think about money is far different from how men think about money. “A man has no problem earning money knowing that he’s got to take care of himself in order for him to take care of his family. A woman earns money to take care of her family—so she writes herself out of the picture.”

While Orman’s mantra is “People first, then money, then things,” she has a new set of “qualities” for women that she calls the “eight qualities of a wealthy woman.” Orman wants women to “save themselves” financially by working towards each of these “qualities”: balance, courage, generosity, happiness, wisdom, cleanliness, and beauty. Everyone is familiar with these “qualities,” Orman said, but we don’t know “how they really work in relationship to our money” and help to create a “wealthy woman.”

“We never see that we are the ones doing things to ourselves,” said Orman. “We are not the product of some man doing this to us. Men did not do this to us. We are doing this to ourselves.”

Orman continued, “Those eight qualities of a wealthy woman…[are] a way for women to have a check list to see where are they going wrong—what aren’t they doing right—because those are the qualities of a wealthy woman.”