A 28-year-old woman sitting in the front row at one of Suze Orman’s events last year asked the celebrity financial adviser for some tips on retirement. Typically, that’s bread-and-butter stuff for Orman, who has made an absolute fortune over the years dropping knowledge on all things money.
But this was different.
The millennial had gotten a taste of the FIRE movement (“financial independence, retire early”), and she was looking to hang it up within two years.
“Well, how much money do you have?” Orman asked. “Two or three million?”
Yes, but with some debt.
“Really?” Orman could only shake her head. Kids these days.
“Don’t talk to me about it. If that’s what you want to do, go ahead. But 40 years from now, I hope you remember everything I’ve said.”
“I can’t wrap my brain around FIRE,” Orman told MarketWatch in an interview.
That’s putting it mildly compared with the smackdown she delivered last year when asked about the movement on the “Afford Anything” podcast.
She said then, “I personally think it is the biggest mistake, financially speaking, you will ever, ever make in your lifetime.”
Or, to boil it down: “I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!”
Orman is not one to shy away from extreme statements. Earlier this year, she made headlines for saying that people who buy a daily latte are “peeing $1 million down the drain as you are drinking that coffee.”
And as she dishes out the hate, she gets plenty thrown back at her. “There are people that hate my guts,” said Orman, who has been a lightning rod in the world of money for her entire career. “You don’t even want to know the things they say.”
One thing many critics have pointed out over the years: Such extreme views don’t always work out in real life.
Former MarketWatch columnist Chuck Jaffe years ago occasionally hosted a segment on his radio show entitled — you guessed it — “Why I Hate Suze Orman.” It was nothing personal. He said she’s “helped millions of people get a leg up on money management,” but he takes issue with much of her advice, from her habit of boiling things down to the overly simplistic (for instance: Rate your investments 1 to 5, and get rid of the 1s), to her laser-eyed focus on paying off one’s mortgage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders also had a problem with her “shaming millennials for buying coffee and avocado toast”:
Lately, though, it’s FIRE folks who really seem to have problems with Orman.
In the corners of the internet where early retirees and FIRE wannabes gather, response to her stance has been blistering. They say she’s missing the point. They just want to get out from under “the man.” Find that freedom. That independence. They work to live, not vice versa, and they’ll continue to make money, whether it be through investments, side hustles, etc.
As financial blogger Mr. Money Mustache — the most notable spokesperson for FIRE — put it: “Suze Orman goes on and on about what might go wrong, and how you need an incredible amount of money saved to protect you, just in case. But this thinking is completely backward — money will not cure your fear.” The FIRE movement isn’t so much about retirement, he says, but “living your best life in all ways rather than just the financial.”
But Suze has not been swayed.
Orman, who says she worked 20 hours a day in her heyday, contends sacrificing prime earning years — whether it be through irresponsible spending on things like a Starbucks
habit or dropping out of corporate America on a whim — will almost certainly come back to haunt the naive optimists when life smacks them upside the head. She knows this because, through her Women & Money podcast, she works through this stuff with her listeners on a daily basis.
“There’s no escaping the traumas that getting older can bring.”
“Almost every one of them says, ‘I’m older, I just got cancer’; ‘I’m older, my child was just in a car accident,’” she said. “They’re all about how they had money… and before they knew it, all the money in their 401(k) they had to take out.”
This perspective, she says, is often lost on the youth.
Her latest venture will give her another opportunity to spread her message to those she believes could use it the most: young women. Orman recently joined the board of advisors at Mogul, a burgeoning online platform dedicated to helping women live their best lives, financial and otherwise.
“My whole emphasis lately has been on women and money,” she said. “They have to learn that for them to be truly powerful in life they have to be powerful over their own money — how they think about it, how they feel about it, and how they invest it.”
Orman, who says she’s not getting directly compensated by Mogul for her work, will be the keynote speaker and host several breakout sessions at the Mogul X conference in New York in September.
Mogul’s 32-year-old founder Tiffany Pham, in stark contrast to Sanders and Orman’s FIRE-loving millennial critics, speaks like a Suze superfan.
“Through the decades, Suze has proven to be a true mogul,” said Pham, who landed on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2014. “She is an icon and role model to millions of women worldwide.”
Meanwhile, Orman isn’t sweating her emergence as somewhat of a villain in the FIRE community.
“Don’t talk to me about it. If that’s what you want to do, go ahead.” she said. “But 40 years from now, I hope you remember everything I’ve said. I hope you never have to experience these things, but I don’t know anybody in their 70s, 80s and 90s who has escaped serious medical disaster.”
In the meantime, Orman fully plans to stick with the approach she’s cultivated since she left waiting tables for Wall Street decades ago. An approach that has earned her a life of relative leisure on a private island in the Bahamas with a net worth estimated to be about $50 million.
“At 25, I know you think you’re never going to get older, you’re never going to get sick, and nobody in your life is ever going to have a stroke or dementia,” she said. “But the truth is, all of that is probably going to happen to you in your life. There’s no escaping the traumas that getting older can bring.”