Saturday night before last, Suze Orman issued yet another directive to her followers about credit cards. Readers may recall that back in March Suze told us that we should make only the minimum payments on our cards until we had an emergency fund equal to eight months’ expenses built up. That inspired one of my many unsuccessful business ideas.
Well, March was a long time ago. Stock and house prices are up, the recession has ended, and it even looks like the unemployment rate has crested. So I guess it is time for Suze to change strategies once again. This time the idea is to drop the cards. "Let’s go back to the times when you literally paid cash for everything. That’s right. Cash. Stop using your credit cards altogether.”
I don’t watch Orman’s show. I found out about this from a post at SmartSpending, as well as a post at Get Rich Slowly. That post, written by our friend Baker from ManvsDebt, has the virtue of an embedded video of Orman challenging us to spend only in cash. You can even sign up to join her Back to Cash Movement.
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One of several recurring sub-themes here at Bad Money Advice is that some givers of personal finance advice, particularly the mass market gurus, say things that can only be justified assuming an irrational audience incapable of acting in their own best interest.
So, for example, when Suze Orman tells her readers that they should absolutely never borrow from their 401k account to pay off a credit card balance, I give her a hard time for giving terrible advice based on the assumption that her audience has no willpower and will merely run up the credit card balance again.
But when I criticize the gurus for giving bad money advice that is, in fact, bad psychotherapy, I do not mean that everybody ought to be able to behave in a perfectly rational manner around money. Quite the opposite. We are all merely human, not uber-logical Vulcans. We act sub-optimally around money (and everything else) for a variety of emotional and behavioral reasons.
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I’ve always wanted to invent my own derivative. I realize some of you may think that’s strange, but for a finance geek like me, it’s only natural. And I think I’ve come up with a good one.
It’s for people without appropriately large emergency funds to live off if they lose their job or otherwise fall into financial distress. I call it the Expensive Loan Option, or ELO. The way it works is that you pay me a fee of $X per year and I guarantee that you will be able to get a loan at any time during that year for $5X at 20% interest. So, for example, if you want to be sure of being able to borrow $10,000 at 20% interest at any time during the next year, just pay me $2000 and you can sleep soundly.
Excited? Well, of course you are. Perhaps you have a nice job and enough liquid assets to pay four months of expenses should something nasty happen. That’s okay, but the Fabulous Suze Orman has told you that you need eight months worth of liquid assets. No problem! Just buy an ELO from me. If it costs you $3500 a month to support that glam lifestyle of yours, then just sign up for a $14,000 ELO for the modest fee of only $2800. I take PayPal.
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Every day it becomes increasingly clear that the Great Recession marks the beginning of a a New World Economic Order. And with the new comes an end of many parts of the old. Some will not be missed. (E.g. no-doc mortgages, investment banks, Circuit City.) Others will be missed by the nostalgically inclined. (Newspapers that actually print on paper, the Big Three Automakers, movie theatres.)
And last week Free Money Finance brought sad news of another part of our culture that is disappearing. Maybe The Latte Factor is Now Less of a Factor? Apparently, caffeine vendors from Starbuck to McDonald’s are now cutting prices, meaning that doing without your morning fix just isn’t the compelling savings it once was.
Not that it was really ever that compelling. Indeed, I am saddened by the news because The Latte Factor® is such an excellent example of symbolic frugality that I will miss it. Realizing that this may be my last chance to take it out for a spin, here goes.
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Some days I agonize over what to write about. Other days the decision is made for me. Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Magazine had a long story on Suze Orman, so this is one of those days without agony.
The genre of the article can probably best be described as celebrity profile. It’s not quite a puff piece. It mentions just enough minor flaws to give its subject some character and the author does her journalistic duty by mentioning that Orman once did advertising for GM and certainly does what she does for the money.
On the other hand, there is not much in the way of discussion of what Orman has to say, other than what is necessary to explain what it is that she does for a living to the few readers of the Times who have not yet heard of her. Mostly, the article is about the fact that she is wildly popular right now, without much discussion of why.
Which might strike a person as a little odd if they thought of Orman as a writer or pundit. It would be hard to imagine a story on a spike in popularity of, say, Malcolm Gladwell or Rush Limbaugh, without a few paragraphs on what made them particularly big just now and maybe even a hint of criticism from a responsible third party.
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