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Personal Stories. Personal Growth.

  • Georgette Todd

Okay Suze Orman, I Guess I'll Check You Out But I Have My Doubts

I'm 40 and financially illiterate. Can I realistically change my self-defeating relationship with money after a lifetime of dysfunction, avoidance, fear, and failure?

I'm far from proud to admit this, but money is my least favorite subject in the world. I’ve never had a good relationship with money and the cliff note reason for that begins with my childhood.

The first nine years of my life, I was raised by a single mother who, for as long as I can remember, lived off of Victim of Violent Crime and disability checks due to her being shot in the back of her head with a .38. She survived, barely, but she was incapable of working.

Growing up, money was never discussed in my household. Financial support always came from the ether, or rather the government. Things got paid for but I didn’t understand how and I never really asked.

The men my mother attracted into our lives were poor themselves and either absent (my biological father) or abusive (my stepfather). I lived in homeless shelters, hotels, and campgrounds years before I entered foster care. When I finally entered the system at age 14, I bounced around more institutions and homes. Again, I was living off the government.

They don’t teach you anything about finances in the foster care system.

It wasn't until I was 16-years-old that I saw a parental figure go out and earn money with a 9-5 job. My last foster mother encouraged me to get a job myself, which I did. I saved almost every penny from my mall job because I was terrified of becoming homeless upon aging out of foster care. I didn't invest that money because that topic was never brought up with me. I never personally knew anyone who invested money. I didn't know what a 401(k) was until my senior year of college and by then, I was still in survival mode but with crushing student loan debt. I had some government help with going to college but not enough to cover everything.

At 26-years-old, in addition to a college education, I also had a lot of student loan debt, no retirement account, an extremely limited knowledge about money, and a real, deeply embedded, lifelong fear of finances. The only thing I had going for myself at that age was youth.

Time. I no longer have that asset.

I’m 40 now. I still have massive student loan debt. I don’t have any other debt outside of that. I’ve never owned property. I’ve never driven a new car. My clothes are well-maintained but old. I don’t spend money frivolously as I rarely treat myself and while I do have a Roth IRA, I haven’t contributed every year. My earning power has been stagnant and nearly flat-lined these past seven years and now we’re in the midst of a pandemic where my burgeoning career in events has been sidelined.

I’m trying to find a way to earn a sustainable living doing what I'm passionate about and love, but I have yet to be successful there. I know exactly what I want to do, I just don’t know how I’m going to do it to where I can have peace of mind financially.

Anyway, that’s my not so great relationship with money in a nutshell. I have resigned to being working poor for the rest of my life. My partner is financially independent and though he is sustaining us, he knows I wish I was more on equal footing like I once was when I was salaried. He was the one who encouraged me to get a Roth IRA by the way and after years of fighting him on it, I relented. He doesn’t understand why I get so emotional over money. He wouldn’t. He doesn’t have a background like mine.

When my friend, Arzo Yusuf, announced on her social media that she would be interviewing world-leading financial expert and Oprah favorite, Suze Orman, I was excited for her. Arzo is an entrepreneur and Orman is a big get.

I knew of Orman since college but I’ve haven’t read any of her books. It’s nothing against her. I’ve just generally stayed away from any financial guru because investing is such a foreign world to me. You might as well speak Pig Latin gobbledygook. I know the only way to get familiar with a topic is to read up on it and learn from the experts but I have such a psychological block with money. I avoid it. I hate the concept of it. I don’t trust it. I don’t believe in it. I see what money can do but that world is so far away from me. I’m so used to living in lack, not abundance. I wouldn’t even know what to do with abundance except spend it. When I’m poor, I can save like crazy. When I had an abundant salary that was the only time I was frivolous.

I listened to Arzo’s podcast more because of my love and support for her than of Orman. I seriously doubted an hour of conversation was going to enlighten me and undo decades of real financial damage. So, I had little expectations for the interview. Not because of Arzo and to a degree, not because of Orman. I just have a hardened mindset about money and every financially successful person I know has had help from parents—including the richest person in the world.

Here’s what first surprised me about Orman in the interview. Her parents didn’t help her at all. All these years, I presumed she just came from money. I assume all rich, pretty people yakity-yakking on TV came from wealth. Not Orman. She lived in a van before she became a waitress. Her waitress job is when she discovered her love of serving people.

Orman’s road to success wasn’t smooth either. She talked about her struggles and all that she has overcome to be where she is at today. She suffered poverty, abuse, a learning disability and she didn’t have parental guidance that led her to the life she has today as a multi-millionaire many times over. For someone with my background, as illogical as this will sound, I am more likely to absorb advice from someone I can relate to and identify with than the Warren Buffets of the world.

Unexpectedly, this interview planted a seed in that before I do anything to improve my finances, Orman suggested a “Lessons Learned” journal. In that journal, I should write out all the lessons I’ve learned, list all my mistakes, and breakdown why I made the choices that I made. I have yet to do this activity but consider this blog entry a preface to that journal.

I also appreciated Orman’s intent. As mentioned already, she discovered on her waitress job how much she loves to serve others. She sees herself continuing that line of work except this time she's now “serving up a plate of financial advice.” You can tell from the interview, Orman really wants to help others. That energy and enthusiasm combined with her financial success and personal life story have definitely nabbed my waning attention. I’m not a convert because I’ve haven’t even read her work, but at least now I’m curious whereas, before Arzo’s interview, I wasn’t.

Arzo, to her credit, focused less on the nuts and bolts of Orman’s financial advice and spent more attention on having a money mindset and overcoming obstacles. As a listener, and someone who’s a mess in this area, I deeply appreciated that angle and approach.

My only critique is that I do think Orman glossed over the debilitating impact abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder has. She's a survivor and you can tell she meant well when she said, “You shouldn’t let abuse be an excuse to keep you from being the person you were born to be.” To that, I thought, “Yes, that sounds nice but it's way easier said than done.” In fairness to Orman, she then went on to admit that she doesn’t understand why there are some people out there who really need help and for some reason, they just can’t turn it around. I wished this topic was explored more because I think there’s a lot of fertile ground there.

For example, look at me. I’m reasonably intelligent. I have a Master’s Degree and yet I freeze up and get defensive at the mere mention of money. I avoid the subject whenever I can and I’ve been resistant to the Suze Ormans of the world. I’m even resistant to the advice of my longtime partner, who is financially successful and savvy. Why? What’s going on internally in those quiet moments when I make financial decisions that have compounded over time, leading me to zero financial freedoms?

Perhaps I’ll get an answer in my journal when I write it all out. Who knows? Until then, I encourage you to listen to Arzo’s interview with Orman and after my journal entries, I’ll go check out this Suze Orman.