Suze, Oh Suze

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Although I've never met her, Suze Orman scares the pants ($12.95 @ Costco) off me. In part that's because I'm always a little frightened of anyone who obviously feels better every single day of their lives than I will probably feel on my very best day, ever.

Like a lot of people, sometimes I feel like crap. And then I have my bad days. Occasionally I feel OK, and sometimes even pretty good. On rare occasions I actually feel really good or even great. But I've never achieved the kind of toe curling Orman-gasm that Suze seems to be experiencing every time I see her on TV.

Whenever I watch her PBS show and see her entranced in a 100,000 watt performance that would scare even the Energizer Bunny back into his hole, I think maybe Suze's right. Maybe I'd feel better if I had more money. Because like most personal finance pundits these days, that's ultimately what Suze is prescribing: How to be happy by having more money. Or maybe, more accurately: How to get more money, to buy more stuff (including more Prozac), to be happy.

You see, I appear to be among a small and shrinking minority of Americans who actually believe the old saying "money can't buy happiness." And while I, like most people I know (other than Suze), have my ups and downs, I don't think money really has much to do with it. Other than I believe you can waste a lot of time getting
money you really don't need in order to enjoy life. In this way, money - or the exercise of pursuing money - may actually ensure that you won't find happiness, because you'll never have the time. Pretty ironic, isn't it?

Money is a relative commodity. That is, what's a lot of money to someone is considered very little money by someone else. All most people - particularly Americans - know is that they want MORE of it. They never really stop to think about what ENOUGH would even look like. All they know is that they want more than they have now. More than their parents had, and certainly more than the guy next door has. More than they ever thought they'd have, and probably more than they'll ever need.

One of the smartest, most accomplished businessmen I know was recently telling me that he was thinking about retiring, but couldn't figure out how much money he needed in order to do so. It wasn't because he couldn't do the math; he's a brilliant financier and God knows retirement savings calculators can be found on every finance-related site on the web. Heck, Suze publishes a new book on the subject every six months! No, as I talked with him I realized that what he was really saying was that he could not decide at what point he, personally, was prepared to say he had "enough;" that it was OK to stop the exercise of amassing wealth, that it was OK to declare victory and retire with his spoils.

In his must-read book The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook tackles the question I think more Americans, particularly those in the middle and upper economic class, should be asking themselves: Why, at a time when we enjoy a higher standard of living than ever before, are more of us feeling less happy than in previous generations? Easterbrook's conclusion isn't necessarily that "less is more," but it's absolutely clear from the research he presents that "more is NOT more." When it comes to the relationship between money, "things," and happiness, there isn't one. At least not beyond a base level of financial resources, which is north of the official U.S. poverty level, but not by much.

And so when you look at the advice brokered by Suze Orman and so many other personal finance gurus these days, understand that it's probably terrifically solid advice about how to get more money, although that's admittedly not my primary area of expertise. But if you accept that money truly can't buy happiness, then you find yourself, as I have, asking the next question: So why should I spend so much of my life in pursuit of more money? Why can't I just cut to the quick? Why can't I just live on less, and use my time to enjoy life more?

posted by Jeff Yeager at 10:52 AM


Blogger Kelley. Twizzle. Whatever. said...

I loved that book- Progress Paradox. But love Suze, too. Sorry. :( I read your post and thought, okay Jeff, I hear ya. But where just about everything costs so much money, (can't even take a simple bike ride without a bike...sigh...don't own a bike...go to the beach...parking is $20...sigh again)even simple experiences can hit my pocketbook pretty hard ?

October 25, 2007 5:57 AM  
Blogger upinVermont said...

$12.95 @ Costco? Carhartt overalls at Costco? Hmmm... Last time a bought a pair of Carhartt pants I almost lost my shirt (short sleeve: $16.95: Farmway: Carhartt).

Nice to see a cheapskate wearing Carhartts. Maybe I can follow in your bicycle treads after all... unless you were so cheap as to borrow those overalls for the photo shoot?


December 31, 2007 5:54 PM  
Blogger Elaine said...

If I want to own, not borrow, a book so I can enjoy repeated browsing, I ALWAYS check and can usually buy for FAR LESS at either or

January 7, 2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger miabeagle said...

I'm new to this site. Why not borrow the book at the public library or check out the flea market/used book store scene?

February 10, 2008 5:31 AM  
Blogger Popcorn said...

Maybe the book by Suze is 12.95 at Costco. The overalls can sometimes be found at thrift stores. I love thrift stores!

March 13, 2008 8:38 AM  
Blogger Jeff Yeager said...

Hey -

Gosh, now the Cheapskate is being brought to task for wearing Carhart bibs, my birthday gift from my honey. Sorry, oh, I'm way tooooo exravagent, I know.

Gotta' say that I find it odd how many folks want to say "you're not really cheap!" OK, so try me. Let's just see. Email me at if you want to give it a go - in person. Tell me what you want to do and I'll meet you there.

Stay Cheap (but not Fake)!
-Jeff Yeager

March 26, 2008 3:48 PM  
Blogger The Garden Faerie said...

Even if you did pay full-price for your Carhartts--so what? Being cheap doesn't mean you can't spend money for a product you feel is worth it. I'm cheap, but I like Clarks shoes. I buy them on eBay (never more than $30 including shipping), and I'm happy. They last a long time and I'm hard on my shoes; I walk a lot and comfort is key. I would even pay full price (OK, who am I kidding? retail sales prices) for them because it's VALUE I'm after. I don't wear Carhartts myself (I'm too round I expect), but a gardener friend (who got hers at Kiwanis) swears by them.

But that wasn't even my main point. My main point is, kudos for addressing the whole upbeat/high energy thing. While I overall think Suze is doing a lot of good in that she's at least getting people to think about their relationship with money, she definitely is a high-energy, go-go-go person. No matter what she does, that's who she is. I don't think it's fake; but the reality is, not everyone has that high an energy level. I tend to be more low energy. I push through it, and do things despite it, and people don't always believe me when I try to tell them I often feel slow and behind, energy wise. Sure, I can give a decent two-hour talk on topic I'm passionate about (gardening), and I love people asking questions and having an interactive presentation. I can be funny. I'm not a hermit. But I need time alone, quiet time. I can be "on," but it drains my batteries. I also get depressed. No one ever talks about this, especially not people in the public eye. Our whole society is oriented towards extroverts, but the truth is, there's nothing wrong with being shy, low key, and not super-powered. Thank you for addressing this, and I'm not meaning to apply things to you you may not have meant!
~ Monica

April 27, 2008 10:05 AM  
Blogger Who am I? No one at all... said...

Beware Suze Orman. I personally don't like Suze's message. I understand that a lot of what she says can help, but she also talks a lot about putting money in the stock market. I've been in the work force for 11 years, and had I not figured out that the stocks are crocks I would have lost tons of money. Most people don't realize how much insider trading goes on, and how much hidden fee and loading goes on when you buy a mutual fund. The final straw for me was when all the mutual fund scandals came out several years ago. Fortunately, I put my little money in a money market account and avoided this latest crash, but according to Suze she wants you in there. I believe it's all corrupt and the Wall streeters know the inside scoop and your and I aint in that club.

March 17, 2009 9:46 AM  
Blogger north9nj said...

suze orman is not as bad as most of the hacks in the media. one needs to borrow from all and arrive at your on conclusions. there are safe, cheap ways to invest that will net you more money with less time and worry and they can be found at your bank. you don't need to pay a finical adviser to lose your money. cd's, bonds, money markets and even stupid pass book accounts everyone thinks invest when really they need to safe. stay out of debt as best you can and you'll be way ahead of the game.

May 8, 2009 2:25 PM  

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