Some women exude power. A kind of power that does not originate from money and fame alone, but is rooted in self-assuredness accrued through one’s journey through life. Suze Orman is one of them. One of the world’s leading financial gurus, bestselling author and host of Women and Money podcast, Orman is a force of nature when it comes to dissecting our collective attitude towards money, and how it is mired by what society really expects from different genders.

In other words, you may well be a female CEO of a company earning the big bucks and yet find yourself depending on a man to have all that money invested for you. Why do women fear taking charge of their own wealth? And what happens when they don’t? The global financial icon explains it in a conversation with wknd. at the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Women’s relationship with money is a talking point now. But you thought of it 30 years ago. What compelled you to talk about the subject at that time?

That’s a good question. I was a waitress, making $400 (Dh1,469) a month from the age of 23 till I was 30. I watched my parents not have any money and the sadness that, I thought, came from it. By a fluke set of circumstances, when I finally got into the financial world, because I was the only woman at the time among the 105 stockbrokers at Merill Lynch, they automatically directed every woman that walked through the door to me. I began noticing that these women would then refer their male counterparts to me as well. And I began to understand that the key to managing finances in a family really comes through with a woman. Therefore, I knew that women needed a female voice to relate to because men did not speak to them in a way that truly involved them.

I set out to include women and, in turn, have those women include their male counterparts. You can’t exclude who you are in a relationship with because that’s the recipe for divorce. Also, I realised that men knew nothing about money, even though they said they did. They were financial fakers because their egos were so large that they would not admit to not knowing. Hence, I started focusing on women.

From Gen X to Gen Z, how have women’s relationship with money changed?

I don’t know if they have. Women are still women before they are anything else. We have the ability, in most cases, to give birth; we have the ability, in most cases, to feed that which we have given birth to. By nature, we are nurturers, which is why we put everyone else before us even to this day. We don’t think about ourselves in that when we work, we don’t believe the money we are making is for us. We may look like we are very powerful, we may look like we are presidents or CEOs of companies. I interview such women and the truth is they don’t know about their personal money. And it blows me away how many incredibly young as well as middle-aged women made millions of dollars, gave it to their male counterparts to invest it for them and then it’s all gone. The man leaves and you realise it’s all in his name. And the women never once took the time to look at what the men were doing with the money. While I have utmost respect for the TikTok generation, they are learning about money from people who may or may not know what they are talking about. With money, you’ve got to be careful about who your teacher is. So, I am worried about the younger generation.

The Suze Orman Show was a pop culture phenomenon. The men found you intimidating. Did you make a conscious effort to be so?

No. Men, in my opinion, get intimidated when they hear something they don’t know about. They get intimidated when you are not afraid to tell them the truth about what you are thinking. The truth is: one of the largest segments of my audience was men. Can you believe 27-year-old boys would watch the show? I used to wonder why and then realised that they didn’t have a role model to talk to them about money. Money was a conversation that wasn’t to be had. They didn’t know how much money their parents were making, they didn’t know how much debts they had, they knew nothing other than the allowance they’d get. They would tune in and see this woman in a leather jacket speaking their language, and it endeared them to me.

It was interesting that as much as men said they were intimidated by me, how much they also loved me. I wrote a book called Women and Money in 2007. As I toured the country, I would always hold up the book and say, “I know you all think this is for women.” But then I would cover the alphabets W and O with my other hand so that it could become men and money. If you don’t understand how women feel, act and what they want to do with money, your relationship with them will never work.

What they need and what they want from money is different from what men need and want. That’s how I brought men and women together when it came to this conversation. The truth of the matter is that you can’t go to war with half an army. Men and women, in a majority of cases, are a whole unit, but you have to understand how different they really are when it comes to money.

In certain societies, women are told their finances are interlinked with their husband’s. A number of millennial women broke away from that mould. Is there wisdom in doing so?

Tremendous wisdom, because you enter a relationship as an autonomous human being. And how you feel about your money may be different from how your husband might be feeling. Therefore, you have to retain that identity and ability to be able to leave (the relationship) if you ever want to without having to ask for permission. Too many women stay in abusive relationships because they don’t have money.

Out of love and respect, you should allow each other to feel independent. It is in that independence that true dependence is created, which is rooted in love. That freedom allows for a stronger bond. When you don’t have to ask for permission, you become stronger because then no one is able to put you down. And when no one is able to put you down, you are able to build yourself.

Has living through the pandemic changed the way we look at money?

It hasn’t. If anything, it has hurt it. In the US, for example, people were given one stipend and cheque after another. There were subsidies and people didn’t have to spend money because they weren’t going to work. They were receiving salaries and ended up having more money in their savings account than they had before.

Then the world opened up again, and everyone went on a spending spree. A few years have passed, and now they find themselves without any money while the spending habits have remained intact and debts have been created. Now minimum payments are being done on debts, which is growing.

The hardest thing to do is remember and the easiest thing to do is forget. We forgot the recession of 2007-08. We saw the pandemic as an infringement on our personal freedoms. We didn’t understand what it was going to do to us financially. And because of that, we find ourselves in an inflationary environment where people are struggling to buy food at grocery stores.

They can’t afford to buy homes because their costs have skyrocketed and interest rates have become high. Insurance costs have shot through the roof to a point where many people’s insurance premiums are equal to their mortgage payments. Nobody has really looked at what the pandemic has financially fed into in terms of economic unaffordability of everyday needs.

For mid-career women, especially those who struggle to save, what has that entailed?

When you say you are not able to save, you are telling yourself the biggest lie of your life. Don’t tell me you are not spending money on manicures or gyms or getting things for your kids so that when they go to school, they look good. Don’t tell me you don’t have at least $10 (Dh37) a month that you can put away. $10 a month, after a year, is $120 (Dh440). You build up small and then have a savings account.

I co-founded a company in the United States called SecureSave, which offers one of the first employer-sponsored emergency savings accounts for employees. The way it works is that the employee designates $10 or $25 in their name per pay cheque into a savings account in their name. Their employer gives them $3-5 per pay cheque as a match that goes into this. Over a year’s period of time now, an average employee saves around $1,000 (Dh3,672).

Seventy five per cent of the people in the United States don’t have $400 (Dh1,469) as an emergency fund. They may look like they have money, but their clothes are charged to their credit cards, they are mortgaged up to the hilt. So, for the first time, they are learning how to save. We have changed the psychological behaviour of spenders and turned them into savers because they never thought they could save before, and we are paying them to save. When they have money, they are more powerful and secure.

You consider eating out to be the biggest waste of money. Why?

When I was a waitress in California, I would save money to go to a fancy restaurant at San Francisco. We had $200 (Dh734) between four of us. When we arrived at the restaurant, we gave $200 to the restaurant manager and said, “This is all we have. So please get us anything within this budget and also include the tip.” He took such kindness to us that he gave us everything.

When you don’t have money, you want all the things you think people with money do. Once you have all the money in the world, those pleasures don’t mean a whole lot to you anymore. There is no point in paying at an expensive restaurant through your credit card. Even to this day, I feel I can take those $200, invest it and turn it into $1,000.

So, when I look at going out, I look at the future value of that money I am going to spend. I’d rather eat at home where I know what is in the food. It’s just so much more fulfilling for me. Obviously, I do have to eat out at times, but when I would travel in the United States with my team, we would carry pots and pans and a little cooker with us. In a hotel, we would cook food. There are wants and there are needs; I like to spend money on needs.

Equal pay for equal work is a global talking point. How can women tackle wage gap issues better?

Stop saying yes to being paid less. It’s our individual responsibility to not accept less simply because we need a job. Know what you want to be paid or start in a job that may be paying you less, but then it is your job to make those you depend on for a pay cheque, in turn, depend on you. Once an employer is dependent on you, you can ask for any amount of money you want.

During 2007-08, when every company was laying off, women were still employed while men were laid off. Men refused to work for less than what they were making, while the women were like, “It’s okay I will take a pay cut,” “It’s okay, I will give up on my vacation.” It was interesting to note that women are willing to give up on so many things just so they can keep doing the job. If women had security fund, they would make different choices. If what they wanted was denied to them, they would go and find it somewhere else. As women, we’ve got to stop wanting the system to save us.

We’ve got to stop wanting men to save us. You have to understand that bottomline is all that matters to corporations, and if you accept less, that increases their bottomline. I was never afraid to say, “This is what I am worth and that’s the bottomline; if you don’t want to pay me, that’s fine because you are not going to find another me.” But I knew that. And because I was not afraid of them saying no to me, they never said no. When you are sure of who you are, it’s that power that attracts people. When you have debts, they can sense your powerlessness, and powerlessness repels people.

The UAE is the lifestyle capital of the Arab world. The perception is that it offers luxe living, even though it offers so much more. How can we navigate that fine line between living the good life while also saving for the future?

During 1998-99, I was making so much money that it was not even funny. My books were selling a million copies a month, and I needed to be in New York. I could have afforded a multimillion-dollar penthouse at Park Avenue. But I didn’t need that. So I bought a $240,000 apartment on 57th Street and wrote a cheque for it. That’s when I learnt the difference between buying what you need and buying something more than what you need. I started to learn the pleasures of nature, of enjoying the things that were around me without having to pay for them even if I could.

The other day, I went down to a beach here. I loved watching people have fun and it didn’t cost me a thing. We have to learn how loving life doesn’t mean spending money to love your life. It means loving what you are able to do when you are respectful of what you have. And if you don’t have it, so what? Does it matter if I have only one set of earrings and necklace? Maybe I don’t need more.

People need to learn that what they do, what they wear, the home they live in, the car they drive does not define who they really are. When those things become goals, you better sit down and have a good talk with yourself, because that is not the purpose of money. The purpose of money is for you to feel secure.


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