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Lay Off, Suze Orman!

5 minute read
Anita Hamilton

If you want to get rich like Suze Orman, the CNBC personal-finance guru, you must first toss out that old mascara, say your full name while standing in front of the mirror and discover true inner harmony. Women have a “totally dysfunctional” relationship with money, Orman writes in her new book, Women & Money, and these ego-boosting exercises are crucial to curing it. “Lasting net worth,” she writes, comes from “a healthy and strong sense of self-worth.”

Orman’s best seller is the latest personal-finance book for women that devotes just as much ink to analyzing our psyches as it does to building our nest eggs. Women are “voluntarily committing financial suicide,” Orman writes, because our “inner nurturer” gives too much away. In Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever inform us that the key to getting a raise is overcoming “personal entitlement issues.” And even though Jean Chatzky, an occasional TIME contributor, admits in her book Make Money Not Excuses that fewer than 5% of Americans–women and men in equal measure–are compulsive shoppers, she devotes 25 of the book’s 261 pages to making women feel guilty for every nonessential thing they buy.

All these books claim to help empower women, but they wind up doing exactly the opposite. Most egregiously, they exaggerate women’s financial foibles at a time when we are making more money than ever before. While still not on a par with men’s, women’s salaries were 77% of men’s in 2005, compared with 65% in 1985. These financial frenemies go on to suggest that our misguided habits are the root of this overblown “problem,” discounting the economic forces that deflate women’s earnings in the first place–things like unpaid family leave and wage stagnation for women-dominated occupations like home health aides and teachers. As Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead, says, “We are still holding on to the idea that women’s problems are emotional.”

Look closely at the numbers, though, and women don’t seem so hopeless with money after all. Median annual credit-card debt for single women was just $1,900 in 2004, compared with $2,000 for single men, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. But don’t tell that to Glinda Bridgforth, author of Girl, Get Your Credit Straight!, who recommends visualization and meditation to help us break plastic’s grip on our financial well-being.

A favorite target for the money queens is the alleged penchant of women, especially frivolous single women, to waste money on themselves. As Lois Frankel writes in Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich, “Buying those morning lattes, extra outfits and expensive dinners with friends adds up to having less in your retirement and savings accounts.” Women do spend $1,069–$246 more than men do–on clothing every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004-2005 Consumer Expenditure Survey. But that’s chump change compared with what single men spend on car ownership ($846 more than single women), eating out ($752 more), alcoholic drinks ($280 more) and audiovisual gear ($143 more). Cutting back on needless spending isn’t a bad idea for anyone, but “renegotiating your credit-card balances or getting a lower cost on your IRA probably saves you a lot more money,” says Christian Weller, an economist at the Center for American Progress. “That’s much more prudent advice to women than saying ‘Don’t go buying all those Prada shoes.'”

And that “inner nurturer”? Turns out her problems can’t be solved with a daily affirmation. While women are more likely to care for dependents, why they do so is less important than the financial consequences, says Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor specializing in bankruptcy law. “I don’t know what the dynamic is,” Warren says. “The point is, they take it on and do it.” And as a result, single women with children are three times as likely to file for bankruptcy as single women without children. It’s not too hard to figure out that the high cost of raising kids, not women’s urge to nurture, is the culprit.

Orman, Chatzky and their sisters in armchair behavioral psychology do eventually get around to sharing specific strategies for saving for retirement, building up an emergency cash reserve and investing in mutual funds and stocks. But other books, like Kiplinger’s Money Smart Women by Janet Bodnar, avoid the patronizing finger wagging and stick to giving advice that women can really use–like explaining when you can tap your Roth IRA to help with a down payment on your first house. You’ll save so much money, you may decide to treat yourself to a latte. After all, you’ve earned it.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine.] WHO SPENDS MORE MONEY? Although single women splurge on a few items, single men spend more money overall

Men Women Car ownership $2,000 $1,154 Eating out 1,847 1,095 Entertainment 1,459 1,075 Clothes and related services 823 1,069 Audio and visual equipment 632 489 Personal-care products 196 458 Alcoholic beverages 501 221 Tobacco and smoking 266 137

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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