Suze Orman on the 'New' American Dream

In her latest book, financial guru puts happiness ahead of material goods.

Mar. 8, 2011— -- It was a chance meeting with financial guru Suze Orman seven years ago that changed Deontae Murphy's life.

In October 2003, his mother, Dionne Murphy, brought him to New York from their home near Washington, D.C., as a present for his tenth birthday. While at Rockefeller Center, they ran into Orman.

"How much allowance do you get?" Orman asked him at the time.

"$10," he said.

"And if I told you that if you put it in the bank, the bank would pay you, what would you do?" she asked.

"I would put it in," he said.

He did, and so did his mother. She started investing in a 529 college fund for her son, based on Orman's advice.

The Murphys didn't have any further contact with Orman until a few months ago, when Deontae, now 17, entered his senior year of high school and started applying to colleges.

In the intervening years, his mother had managed to put away $570 a month so that his college fund now stood at more than $30,000. Deontae said he wrote an e-mail to "The Suze Orman Show" to let them know how much the advice helped. He will be the first one in his family to go to college.

To Orman, the Murphys' story illustrated what she said she has been preaching and writing about for years.

"Dionne is somebody who chose life over financial death," Orman said. "She is somebody who set her goal on the fact that she wanted her child to go to college, she did not want to get in credit card debt, she wanted to do it the right way and no one was going to stop her. She is living the American dream."

In her 10th and most recent book, "The Money Class," Orman writes about the death of the "old" American dream, which was materialistic.

"It used to be more, bigger, best," she said. "Everybody in America started to define themselves by all these things they had around them. And all of a sudden it came tumbling down. So the old American dream has died, and that is a good thing."

A good thing, she said, because those values were false.

Orman said a new American dream is now emerging, rooted in reality. Family and responsibility have replaced the want for the biggest house on the block.

"It's a dream where you actually get more pleasure out of saving than you do spending," Orman said. "It's a dream where you live below your means but within your needs. You are not spending every penny, you are not impressing people. You are living a life where you can sleep at night and you are actually happy."

Redefining the American Dream

Orman predicts that up to 60 percent of Americans will be renters of their homes, not buyers, as the new American dream grows.

Buyers will put down 20 percent to purchase a home, she said, but only after they have accumulated that money as well as an eight-month emergency fund. They will take out 15- or 30-year fixed rate mortgages, not variable-rate or exotic loans. They will be working longer -- to age 67 or 70 -- rather than dipping into Social Security at 62.

In light of this financial revolution, Orman reversed some of her previous advice, particularly when it came to seniors investing their money.

Her rule used to be that as investors age, they should switch from investing in stocks to bonds. Now, she said, they "should invest in exchange traded funds or dividend-paying stocks that give you a high-dividend yield, because you have to get income for this money. You cannot just let it sit there."

Orman also offered these tips, among other resources and helpful tools on her website, to help Americans navigate their personal finances:

1. Live below your means, but within your needs.

"If you were to live below your means, meaning you can afford a 3,000 square foot home," she said, "you [should] buy a 2,000 square foot home. Why waste money? Just because you can afford it doesn't mean you should buy it."

2. The pleasure of saving equals the pleasure of spending.

Wouldn't it be great, she asked, if we got as much pleasure out of putting $300 in a Roth IRA as buying a new dress at the mall?

3. If you're only slightly underwater on your house, keep plugging away to pay off your mortgage faster.

"If you're going to live in the house make it your goal to just pay off your mortgage," Orman said."Eventually, years from now maybe, it will come back up, but what do you care what the value of your home is? Because if that's a home that you are staying in for the rest of your life and you love that home, you love your neighbors, don't get tied up in, 'Oh, I'm $20,000 underwater.' Just keep doing it, pay your house off, and you will be okay."

4. Focus on what will be gained, not lost.

"Focus on what you have," Orman said. "It's not a loss. It's actually a gain."

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