Suze Orman – A Wet Blanket on FIRE

Suze Orman FIRE Movement

Suze Orman – A Wet Blanket on FIRE

Suze Orman did a smack down of the FIRE movement on Paula Pant’s podcast. She said she “hates it hates it hates it.” Interesting since her publicist asked Paula for the interview, and well as asking this of other FIRE podcasters, in order to push Suze’s new book, products and events. Talk about inviting yourself to dinner and then complaining about the food!

Mr. Money Mustache did an excellent job of correcting her misimpression’s of what we all are up to with saving and investing money early in life so we can be free to pursue what matters more than money. I don’t have anything to add to his explanation.

Coach Carson posted a balanced, informative response, appreciating Suze’s admonition to be sure you have enough for a risk-free retirement. Suze enumerated a string “what can go wrong” scenarios as evidence that early retirement (on less than 10 million) leaves you vulnerable when life hands you lemons – a whole tree of lemons. He – and MMM – responded even-handedly but ultimately, here’s what Carson said she got wrong:

  1. Early retirees are not withdrawing from life. They’re embracing a purposeful life MORE fully than ever.
  2. Early retirees are not wild risk-takers. They are calculated risk-takers. They see the old bargain of a 9-to-5 job until they’re 70 as riskier than an early-retirement.
  3. The retirement plans of most early retirees aren’t naive, fragile castles built on sand.  At least the ones I know of are anti-fragile, multilayered, flexible plans built on a combination of investment savings, retirement accounts, side businesses, and backup plans.

 

Here are examples from my own life about having enough to meet life’s unexpected catastrophes.

 

I had cancer and survived – physically and financially. In fact, my FI allowed me to heal without the pressure of “going back to work”. Additionally, it allowed me the luxury to take many months to go deep into my life to ask whether I wanted to go back to my old life or forward to a new one.

I asked:”Who else inside me wants to live who had not yet had a chance?” From that introspection I changed almost everything: where I lived, who I lived with, what I most valued, what I needed to grow, what I did on a daily basis. And insurance paid for all the treatment and several house sits gave me shelter to sweat through the transformation.

I’ve also been disabled several times in my FI years. First time was a herniated disk that ultimately needed surgery. I was cared for my dear friends, both during my disability and after my successful surgery. Four decades later I had arthritis and had a  hip replacement, even while writing the update to Your Money or Your Life.

Again, friends helped me before, during and afterwards to get to the surgery, come home, get fed and washed for the first weeks and to PT appointments. My insurance paid for treatment and my social networks paid in the currency of love. In my younger years I was susceptible to depressions and healed those with friends, rest and ultimately just the right meds. All out of pocket but affordable as I used the system judiciously.  And now, God bless, Medicare affords me therapy and i’m really really sane.

I’m not sure what health risks, if you are insured, will bankrupt you. Yes, it is a risk to leave a corporate job with insurance and go naked into FI, buying insurance on the aftermarket, but FIers are even figuring that out, and some who travel internationally buy one of many traveler’s 1-2 year policies.

 

Health insurance though, is only part strategy.

 

Ultimately we need political change.  It should be a citizen benefit not a corporate job benefit. The United States in the last hold out in developed countries for private insurance but Medicare for all is building momentum. It’s only a matter of time – and in the meantime, we factor the costs into our FI income.

I’ve also had my partner die, my basement flood, the siding on my house fail, a car die and more common “exceptional expenses”. That’s what a 6 month cushion is for, and through thrift and some smart sharing economy choices the cushion  account filled again.

But this post isn’t to prove that much of what life throws at you post early retirement can be addressed fairly easily through a combination of building close relationships with family and friends, insurance, level headed and lower cost choices, a MacGyver DIY knack and some gigging.

This post is to challenge Suze’s experience with retirement and retirement itself.

She said to Paula:

“I’m telling you, I just did it for three years on my private island. I retired at 65. I shut down the Suze Orman show. I sold five homes. I got rid of five cars. I stopped going on QVC. I stopped writing for Oprah’s magazine. I stopped giving talks. I stopped doing everything, and I had a great time for three years. I learned how to fish. I learned how to win tournaments. I learned how to be the captain on my boat. and all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, there’s still stuff for me to do.” Now. I was in a field that everybody welcomed me back, when I came back. They were excited to see me in the halls of NBC and MSNBC, and everywhere that I went this past week.”

I think there is retiring forward and retiring backward (subject of another post in draft form). Suze did what many early retirees do. She left her day job. She got rid of more excess not needed in a post job life. For most it’s getting rid of the car to impress clients or five suits for a weekly rotation at the office. For Suze it was five cars and five homes (I’m not sure why she had that many).

 

Indeed, the simple life is one of the lures of early retirement.

 

This can mean time in nature, reading, meditation and family life. For many FIers, compensatory spending disappears, the shopping you do to reward yourself for a tough week at work. For Suze it was quitting the QVC habit. FIers might travel to exotic places. For some it’s backpacking. For Suze it was living on her private island. And people tend to learn new skills. For most it’s a language or an instrument or home cooking. For Suze it was fishing and tournaments and being a captain of a boat.

And then, a couple of years in more or less, the identity confrontation lands with a thud. Who am I now that I am not my job? How do I explain myself to others? How can I gain the respect and voice I had with my old job? I was somebody. Now I’m nobody.

Retiring forward is using this crisis of identity to grow spiritually or take on some of the bigger issues in the world through volunteering, study, serving on boards, entrepreneurship, training or social innovations. Or they attend to the relationships they neglected as they hurried to their million or two.

Not everyone does this. Many retire backwards, returning to their old professions after they’ve filled up on travel or hobbies, perhaps on their own terms, because that’s where they felt competent, needed and, truth be told, important. Many do a bit of both and feel their way along to who they will be and  how they might spend their time in this new world of freedom, choices and sovereignty.

From Suze’s account, it sounds like she retired backwards into her old role. Okay. But what did she learn in those hiatus years that she can share with her audience? It seems from other comments she learned that even 10 million in a retirement account is not enough. That shit happens and money is the answer. I hope for all our sakes that she learned more than that and will share it.

But I also want to question retirement itself. There were many reasons our current retirement system developed as it did.  In 1889 German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck  established the first government inspired retirement strategy to pacify the socialist rabble, to give them something inside the system so they wouldn’t break it. Even before that, Roman Emperor Augustus began paying pensions, funded by taxes, to Roman Legionnaires who had served 20 years.

After the Civil War pensions were were offered to soldiers and the widows of the fallen . In the late 1880s, starting with American Express and the B&O railroad, corporations began to offer pensions. As longevity increased, the idea arose that older workers needed to bow out so younger workers could take their jobs. And then came the 1950s and the idea of your “golden years” when you could play golf, socialize, and bounce the grandchildren.

It was a halcyon vision of no longer working, only playing, of the end of laboring, of golf carts and Sun City. As Boomers retire, many anticipating another 2 decades of living, the idea of the Third Act is challenging the image of the rocker. Perhaps they no longer need the money, but they need the meaning that comes from working with others in ways that contribute to society.

Twenty years of puttering and socializing isn’t much fun, especially for people as smart as those in the FIRE movement.

Retirement now requires reinvention which requires a deep dive into identity, belonging and values. As they say of aging, retirement is not for sissies. You are free to do whatever you want, but what do you want? And who is the one wanting it?

 

Post FI Life

 

I find the FIRE movement lacking in clarity about this post-retirement journey, probably because most are in their wealth accumulation phase. From my own long experience I don’t think classic retirement (in the sense of disengaging from work in the best sense) is correctly placed at 30 in the seasons of a life. At 30 you are just finding your way. At 40 your are finding your voice, your power and leadership. At 50 your influence is in full swing.

After I “retired” in my late 20s I built skills and homesteaded, then traveled, volunteered, wrote, organized groups. At 40 I first felt the power of my own personality and purpose. I was 47 when Your Money or Your Life was published. In my 50s I was at the top of my game, speaking around the world about “enoughess.” I’ve slowed down a bit in my 60’s and early 70’s just because my body is aging – and my mind too – but I am coming into my spiritual prime. I will be very interested in seeing what people who’ve “fired” do with their lives – I’m sure it will be interesting.

The question for early-retirees is, “To what am I dedicating my freedom?” It’s really not about how many millions you have – Suze’s assertion. Nor how much play you can do before you get bored and go back to your old job.

I suspect that Suze had a blast in her own way, but she didn’t find anything in herself that wasn’t Suze, so crawled back into that identity – and then asked to be on FIRE bloggers’ podcasts to relaunch Suze.

Nobody seems to know who came up with FIRE (financial independence retire early)

 

In Your Money or Your Life we promised FI as a reward for systematically examining your relationship with money. I think this is what most people attracted to FIRE really want. Independence of thought. Of how they use their time. Of options. Of choices. Of dedicating their attention to something less soul-searing than cubicle life or the endless boring meetings of middle management. Retirement and freedom are two different animals. Doing “nothing” and doing your passion full time are not even the same species.

People don’t have to follow my path of service, spirituality and social innovation. There are so many ways to use your time for happiness, meaning, purpose and contribution. At the end of the day, we all want to have a well-lived life. Five houses and five cars and a private island – without a higher purpose – mean nothing.

A final story Joe Dominguez use to tell. A broker wanted to impress a client with the prowess of his investment firm. He took the prospect down to the marina to show off the executives’ yachts. “That’s the CEO’s yacht. That’s the COO’s yacht. That’s the CFO’s yacht.” Each was grander than the last, but the client asked, “And where are the customer’s yacht?”

In my view, the FIRE yachts are more like Arcs – stocked with just enough of everything you need (in pairs so it will multiply) to cast off from your old life to make a better world and bring the dove of peace to earth.

 

36 Comments
  • Kevin Singel
    Posted at 05:04h, 14 October Reply

    This is the deep insight right here: “Retirement and freedom are two different animals. Doing “nothing” and doing your passion full time are not even the same species.“ This is what Suze missed. I think because her work and her passion are the same thing. This is NOT true for most of us. I was good at what I did but it wasn’t a passion. Now in FIRE I’m passion focused.

    PS it’s “ark” not “arc”. 😉

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 00:44h, 15 October Reply

      thanks. will correct! it looked wrong but i just kept going

  • Chad Carson
    Posted at 17:26h, 15 October Reply

    Wow. I’m going to reread this several times to let it sink in. Thank you for sharing, Vicki (and for referencing my own response to Suze).

    Several things about your message here stand out. But I think the most important to me is your point about the phases of life. I’m 38 years old now, and I really do feel like I’m finding my voice, power, and leadership. And at 30 I really was just figuring it out. I look forward to many more years of growth (if I’m so fortunate) – primarily the internal kind – but also external as I hope to add value to people’s lives in many ways.

    I also find your emphasis on “the crisis of identity” to be right on. It’s why our superficial social interactions always start with “what do you do?” It’s basically asking what identity do you have? What value do you have? Why do you matter?

    I am personally drawn to the transition of identity you’ve mentioned – of service, contribution, and passing on the many gifts and advantages I’ve received from others. This fits as a father, husband, a teacher, and a thought leader.

    But all of those roles are not quite as simple as wealth building or traditional job ladder climbing. The goals aren’t as clear cut. And I love that! Another area for growth.

    Thanks for challenging all of us in the FIRE movement to expand our ideas of FI/RE. And in my case, thank you for the original inspiration to seek FI and a place called enough!

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 23:52h, 15 October Reply

      hi Chad,
      it’s good to hear that my reflections on post FI challenges make sense to you. About the phases of life and the “crisis of identity.” I think FIRE is too new a “movement” to have considered these ontological questions that arise post FI. I’m gratified that so many are willing to enter into this more ambiguous territory.

  • Physician on FIRE
    Posted at 18:15h, 15 October Reply

    Amen.

    To FIRE is to balance the risk of ditching your primary source of income (a.k.a. “retiring”) too soon versus the risk staying too long and not having enough time, if any, to try living life according to your own chosen principles without relying on the next paycheck or the ones after that.

    I look at it as minimizing the likelihood of regret — someday, I expect I’ll regret either staying as long as I did or not hanging on a bit longer to have a larger stash (or is it ‘stache?) to work with as an early retiree.

    I love the “Where are the Customers’ Yachts?” question. It’s actually a book from 1940 from Fred Schwed with the subtitle “A Good Hard Look at Wall Street.” I had my yacht moment when treated to a pre-game tailgate in the big donors’ section, front row upper deck seats at the 50-yard line, and all of it paid for by my buddy’s mentor in a financial services firm. Clearly, all of this was being paid for on the backs of their clients’ hard work. I vowed then not to trust my financial future to anyone but myself.

    Cheers!
    -Physician on FIRE

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 23:53h, 15 October Reply

      I love that idea of minimizing regret and maximizing satisfaction, joy and creativity. I call “health” insurance nest egg insurance. I’m glad to have access to the western medicine system when i need it without draining my nest egg.

  • Frank Vasquez Jr.
    Posted at 19:34h, 15 October Reply

    Thanks for writing this.

    You know Joe got that story from a book of the same name, “Where are the Customer’s Yachts?” by Fred Schwed published in 1940. Some things don’t change much, and the relationship between the financial industry and the average person is one of them.

  • Sharon Chung
    Posted at 23:19h, 15 October Reply

    You wrote this so well, Vicki. Even though, I retired late, I was inspired by your money or your life cassette course back in the early 90’s. I retired three years ago at 68. I had reached my cross over point earlier, but had meaningful work so I kept going. I was a stay at home mom and homeschooled my children. I then explored the world of work after a divorce. I was in my forties when I graduated from college. I actually attended college with my children.

    After homeschooling my children I became a credentialed teacher, a manager of a union newspaper, co owned a learning center, had a housecleaning/pet sitting and house sitting business.. At the end I was working in government contract accounting for a friends start up business to help people in Africa. Without your money or your life I would have been lost. Work was hard for me, but I am glad I did it, but happy I did retire.
    The last three years I haven’t exactly been living on an island, but my partner and I have traveled between California, Colorado, Minneapolis, North Carolina and Maine, spending time with our children and grandchildren. In life’s unexpected Challenges I did get a concussion, so I have been learning a lot about myself during this recovery. Finally saw my father’s grave last year in northern Maine in the midst of a beautiful autumn. It was if nature were giving us the chance to celebrate while releasing so much sadness. . thank you for following your path. Your have guided so many by example. May Suze be touched as well.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 23:54h, 15 October Reply

      Thanks for this feedback. I doubt Suze will see my post, and even further doubt that she’d be moved by it – but you never know.

  • Frogdancer Jones
    Posted at 19:33h, 16 October Reply

    Beautifully and thoughtfully written.
    You know, I agree with you about life’s phases. I’m in my mid 50’s and, though I’d love to have my freedom from the commute and the essay marking, in some ways I’m glad I came late to the FI/RE party. I’ll be retiring just before 60 – to me that’s still early. I’m a teacher and I love my job (most days!) so I’ve spent my life doing meaningful work and built my life and my career on my own efforts while supporting my family. All of that takes time.
    On a side note, my third son is halfway through your book. He’s enjoying it. 🙂

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 19:43h, 16 October Reply

      thanks for the appreciation and may your son be part of yet one more generation that “gets it” about money, stuff and meaning.

  • Todd @ Invested Wallet
    Posted at 14:02h, 18 October Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Vicki, I think you summed this up perfectly. I need to re-read this a few times though as I think I missed some nuggets of info.

    As far as Suze, I understood some of her points but I also think she and her team had a good marketing agenda to stir the pot.

  • Megan Lim
    Posted at 13:27h, 19 October Reply

    I didn’t realize you blogged as well. What a wonderfully insightful article and a lovely rebuttal to Suze’s doom and gloom. I feel safer listening to the worlds of our FIRE matriarch. 🙂

  • Stephen A. Schullo
    Posted at 14:00h, 19 October Reply

    I don’t watch Suzy because one time she ripped apart a caller. Even though she says good thing and I like her “denied” feature of her program she is way over the top for me. Her blatant attack on this wonderful movement reminds me of my negative experience with the older generation in the 1960s when I grew my hair over my ears. I KID YOU NOT! It’s not her chronological age its Suzy’s thinking that is OLD.

  • Kathleen Conway
    Posted at 12:03h, 22 October Reply

    You are hard on Suze.; she did not necessarily “crawl back” to her old self, she has renewed her area of competence. If she enjoys that, why judge? Suze Orman has probably done more than any other financial writer to address “too much ness” and the lack of financial savvy that keeps people in debt.

    I am not a particular fan of hers, but I don’t see it as either /or., Suze or FIRE. Her main criticism of FIRE is that there’s a very long period to fund if you retire at. say, 35.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 21:04h, 22 October Reply

      Thank you for this. I was strong because she was so brutal in her misinformed lash out. Yes, her information is basic financial soundness. I like her advice. I’m glad many have benefitted. She may preach enoughness, but her flaunting her lavish lifestyle and tens of millions in the bank does nothing for people’s sense of enoughness which often comes from comparison to what others have. Just my view.

  • Roxanna Pifer
    Posted at 13:43h, 22 October Reply

    ”Who else inside me wants to live who had not yet had a chance?” Wow, this sums up my life perfectly. Coming from alcoholism and poverty, surviving cancer with two little kids, and FIREing at 49, the number of “new mes” who have had a chance to live continues to amaze me. Leaving work has allowed me a year to heal from the stress of corporate life (the 6th me). I am now diving head first into a busy, humanitarian, volunteering life with the Red Cross and I couldn’t be happier. Having control of our finances and fearlessly investing while taking leaps of faith is what has allowed me to re-imagine myself multiple times.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 20:59h, 22 October Reply

      i love this! and identify. I think it’s a quality of soul that allows us to shed skins multiple times and feel more expanded and “ourselves” with each shedding.

  • Mark Hanik
    Posted at 17:37h, 22 October Reply

    Vicki,
    Thank you for the Suze post. I have to agree with some comments above and say that I think Suze, does not completely get what is behind the FI movement. For me, I have been pondering leaving my job, since I feel that the passion I once had for it, is no longer there and although that saddens me, when I read this article, I started to get excited, because I believe I am closer than I think or feel I am to a massive change in my life and becoming an FIer. My plan has always been to continue working, but at a different pace and role. I really would love the time to spend with my family. One question that I keep struggling with is health insurance. I am in my 40’s and recently started a family, so health insurance is a huge item on my mind. My company pays 80% of my health insurance plan and I the remaining 20%. From a quick search on the web, I found out that awesome health insurance costs about $30,000 a year, at least in NY. My health plan through work costs approximately $27,000. Although that sounds high (and probably is) I am wondering if you could create another blog about health insurance and blog about your personal experience as well as ask for people to share their personal experiences with what works and what did not. I totally understand that insurance would be different for a single person versus a family plan (and there are so many what if’s). For me, I feel that this is the one factor that is holding me back from retiring forward (Btw, love that expression) at least in my mind.
    Thank you for your life energy,
    Mark

  • Daniel Pedersen
    Posted at 19:47h, 22 October Reply

    Silly Suzy, always acting like a clown and putting on a show. Thanks for the thoughtful rebuttal.

    On FiRE here is sunny Kamloops, BC.

    Daniel

  • Outside the Box: Suze Orman missed the point of retirement, and that’s why she went back to work | Market Tamer
    Posted at 13:27h, 23 October Reply

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  • Will Powell
    Posted at 14:43h, 23 October Reply

    I was enlightened to read your article, and I will continue to be as I re-read in the future. Thank you for taking the diligence to break down the assumptions Suzy continues to make, projecting herself in her financial advice for others. One can understand just how out-of-touch from most FIers she is from your article. I feel this is dangerous, since i hold firmly that advice should allow for the sovereign goals and values of the individual receiving it. Otherwise you are nothing more than a ring master, attempting to gain attention, an entertainer, a captain of a yacht that is sailing on your own course, in circles.

  • Trippe
    Posted at 15:08h, 23 October Reply

    Suzi Orman makes me cringe so I guess I am not one of the ‘believes’. I retired at 65 after a car crash that nearly killed me. I doubt I would have worked more than a couple years more anyway. I found out I was not making much after considering my pension and social security. I liked my job and sometimes wish I was still working. I am 67 now and started a blog about retirement so will see how it goes!

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  • javier a torres
    Posted at 01:06h, 25 October Reply

    Suzi Orman is helpful but up to a point. Her concepts will never meet “enoughness” so she is good for those who enjoy the American dream or I might say the American nightmare

  • Hollis Wagenstein
    Posted at 20:27h, 26 October Reply

    Another great article! I have shared many of YMOYL and FIRE resources on the financial blog I write (which addresses trading and investing as a vocation). Almost all FIRE commentary focuses on CHOOSING when to retire or reinvent your life. IMHO there may be a large, underserved group of people who DIDN’T get to choose retirement. People who left the workforce due to disability, outsourcing, unexpected family crises, etc. “Ready or not, there you go!” It happened to me. I suffered catastrophic disability in my 40’s, . I spent what should have been my peak earning years learning how to walk again in a water tank. Luckily, with the inspiration of YMOYL and FIRE, I was able to keep on keepin’; on. I still live an abundant and reasonably secure life, in large part because I made some good choices w.r.t. insurance coverage. I’d like to see more case studies and advice aimed at people whose lives don’t follow the predictable or prescribed FIRE trajectory. What do you do when it all falls apart? That said… You don’t have to be a millionaire to live an abundant life, but you have to think like one.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 01:56h, 27 October Reply

      Involuntary FIRE. as in fired! from a job or from health. so much of this is about attitude and generating options no matter what. Great idea to ask for stories about this topic

  • Gale Bozek
    Posted at 23:12h, 27 October Reply

    I loved watching Suze Orman because she espoused a lot of the same things about money that my mother did. I’m in the process of reading step 8 of your book and it’s amazing to me how much of your book I already do. I retired at 62 when I decided that my SSA survivor’s benefits and nice state pension would be enough for me to live the way I wanted to. I’m reading the book because I’m sure I’m wasting about $500 a month and would like to use that money as a vacation fund. I’m already putting aside a good amount of money monthly from the income coming in, but hey, everyone needs a goal. I loved my job but my main reason for retiring was that I knew I would be able to save more money after I retired. The first thing I did was pay off my car and then my house. Gotta say, I love retirement.

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  • Nadine Bangerter
    Posted at 12:55h, 29 October Reply

    Thank you Vicki!! I read your book decades ago and have been thankful I quit putting money and my working self before a purposeful life since then. Many times, as I make decisions to spend money, I use your guidance.: The money we spend is really how we prioritize our life. It not only enabled my husband and I to retire at 62 but we love our life. Its definitely not a private island with a boat, its a mix-up of family, friends, travel, renovating an old house, knitting, hiking, kayaking, cooking and community service. I don’t know how it could be any fuller. And it certainly doesn’t require a fortune. Suzi missed the bigger boat!! Thank you so much!!

  • Dianne Emerson
    Posted at 15:52h, 29 October Reply

    Before you start taking advice from Suze O, please look at this documentary. I actually have communicated with the producer in the past, it is quite well known that Suzie fits into the category of a con aka psychopath. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZJh25-sO98&t=36s

  • Carol and Doug Danz
    Posted at 17:26h, 29 October Reply

    Wow! What a great piece! Yeah, I’m one of your new converts ready to retire and your insights are invaluable as hubby and I are about to “retire” (but not). I love your focus on redefining retirement as more of a “resizing’ rather than give up life for a “recliner retirement”. Thanks!! Keep writing!

  • Geof
    Posted at 17:53h, 29 October Reply

    Agree 110 % with early retirement. I am into my second year of retirement life after retiring at age 63. I loved my 7 to 5 job, but I love my total freedom even more. I now have the opportunity to do volunteer work the schools with no limitations on time availability. Plus travel, and homebrewing, family, and home projects. There is not enough time in the day ! Orman also got it wrong in a recent AARP article about waiting in until 70 to draw SS.

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