A few weeks ago I was watching Suze Orman’s show on a Saturday night (I live a fast-paced, exciting life), which featured an interview with a young woman whose personal finances had brought her (literally) to tears.
This woman (I can’t remember her name, so let’s call her “Jenny”) was 31 years old with $95,000 in student loan debt, $16,000 in credit card debt, a $21,000 personal loan to her mother, and she had no savings. Although Jenny had a college degree, a good job, a decent income and a fiancé who loves her, she said she felt like a failure. This 31-year-old woman said that she felt like she had sabotaged her future with too much debt. She felt like she couldn’t afford to get married, or buy a house, or move forward with her life.
Orman is known for her no-nonsense financial advice that is infused with personal empowerment. She always advises people to take charge of their lives as well as their money. You can’t achieve financial success until you feel in control of your life. Jenny’s story was no different.
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[Check Your Credit: Don't Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.Orman said to Jenny, “Look at yourself. You’re 31 years old, you’re beautiful, you have a college degree and a job and a fiancé and a family who love you. Why are you crying?”
And Jenny replied that she felt like she couldn’t afford to do the things in life that she most wanted to do – like buy a house and have a big wedding.
Orman asked, “Why do you want to buy a house? Do you have any idea how many millions of Americans would love to get out from under their mortgages right now?”
(This is an interesting point. Despite many decades of being told that homeownership is “the American dream,” the past five years of declines in the housing market have turned that dream into a nightmare for millions of families who are now stuck with homes they can’t afford to sell.)
Then Orman said to Jenny: “When I look at you, I see a healthy, beautiful, vibrant young woman who has her whole life ahead of her. Who cares if you have some debt? Who cares about the ‘things’ you’ve been told you’re supposed to want to buy with your money? You have power. You have a job. You have already achieved great things by getting a college degree and working your way through school. But instead of focusing on ‘things,’ focus on the people in your life who really matter to you.”
And of course, Orman helped Jenny put together a detailed plan to get out of debt faster, consolidate her student loans, trade in her expensive leased Lexus for a cheap used car, and save a few hundred dollars on restaurant meals and manicures to put toward an emergency savings fund. But perhaps the most important lesson of this show was this:
Your financial life is often a reflection of how things are going in your overall life.
Problems in your life will show up in your money life. If you feel like your life is out of control, then this feeling will often manifest itself in a lack of control over your finances. If you feel confident and powerful in your life, then your personal finances will often follow.
Orman’s advice to Jenny is something that we all can take note of in uncertain times: focus on what you have. Focus on the people who make you smile, not the “things” that make you cry.