Suze Orman Says Oprah Taught Her An 'Encyclopedia Version Of Life'

As The Oprah Winfrey show ends its final season this week, host Michel Martin speaks with Suze Orman, a contributor to that show and O Magazine. Orman talks about her relationship with Oprah and her book Women and Money.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: As "The Oprah Winfrey Show" wraps its final season this week, we are checking in with a few of the stars whom many Americans have gotten to know through that program. Yesterday, we spoke with psychologist Phillip McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil. Today we speak with Suze Orman. She's made a name for herself as a personal finance guru for people who like their money talk straight, no chaser.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "THE SUZE ORMAN SHOW")

SUZE ORMAN: So you're going to take 120,000 of your $150,000 savings, which is going to leave you $30,000 left, to buy a car that the second you drive it off the lot is going to depreciate almost $36,000? Is that what you're going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes.

ORMAN: I don't think so.

MARTIN: I don't think so. That's a clip of "The Suze Orman Show" on CNBC. Suze Orman had to learn some tough lessons about money herself before she rose to fame as a financial adviser. She lost her hard-earned savings to an unscrupulous broker back when she was working as a waitress in the 1980s and saving to open her own business.

Since then, Suze Orman learned the investment business for herself, founded her own financial planning group, hosted her own programs on PBS and CNBC, and has been a frequent guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" as well as a regular columnist for O magazine. Orman is also the author of eight consecutive New York Times bestsellers about personal finance. Her latest is "The Money Class, Learn to Create Your Own New American Dream."

And Suze Orman is with us now from her home office in New York. Suze Orman, thank you so much for joining us.

ORMAN: Anytime, Michel. You know, I'm a numbers gal. So now it's nine consecutive New York Times bestsellers.

MARTIN: Nine. Yes, ma'am. Nine. Yes, ma'am. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So to that end, this book has a very bracing message. I'll just read a short sentence from just the very beginning of the book. And you say that: is it time then to pronounce the American Dream dead? In many ways it pains me to say this, but in my opinion the American Dream as we knew it is dead. Tough message.

ORMAN: Tough message, but a real message. You know, many people are dreaming. Let me rent. Let me have a job. Let me work until I'm 70. That's not what the American Dream used to be. It used to be, let me own a home. Let me retire at 59 and a half or 65 at the latest. Let me do this. And now, really, given what's happened, good luck with anything happening unless you do it yourself.

MARTIN: How did you meet Oprah, by the way?

ORMAN: It was in 1997 and I got a call from Katy Davis. She still is a senior supervising producer to this day. And she wanted me to come on to talk about the spiritual side of divorce. She had seen a book that I had written called "The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying."

So they thought, oh, I'd be the perfect author to speak about the spiritual side of divorce. I said, there isn't a spiritual side of divorce. And she said, no, you've got to come on. I said, I don't talk about that - not interested. She tried for three months to get me to come on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." And for three months I said no, Oprah deserves the best. I am not the best when it comes to divorce. What do I know about divorce? Nothing at that time.

And so eventually she - she was quite the producer. I said, OK, I'll come on. I come on and I have a - my segment is about for three minutes. So I sat down and Oprah asked me a question and the question went something like this, what is, you know, the key to life. And I looked at her and I said, when you can be happy in your sadness as you are in your happiness. Then you know the key to life.

She looks at me and says, we're going to have to do an hour show on you. And that, bam, the show ends, she walks off the stage and I'm sitting there going, what? And then a few months later we did an hour on "The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom" book. That was the first of 14 shows that we did on that book alone. And that's how it all started.

MARTIN: Why do you think you two clicked?

ORMAN: I think we clicked because Oprah asked me, really, a question that she probably thought that I was going to answer like all the other financial advisers that were on her show, you know, previously, that went, oh, you know, the key to life is making sure you have enough money to do this, to have this, to have that.

I did not answer her financially. I answered her spiritually. And that is where Oprah comes from. She comes from a place of the truth within her. And I think that's why we clicked. And to this day I think that's why we still continue to click.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're speaking with financial guru and bestselling author Suze Orman. We're talking about her latest book, "The Money Class, Learn to Create Your New American Dream." And we also want to talk about Oprah.

What do you think you learned from her and what do you think she's learned from you?

ORMAN: I've learned from her really how to stand in one's truth, how if you just simply are who you are, you know, you're heavy, you're thin, you're happy, you're sad - if you just speak your truth as it comes into your mind, then that's what people relate to.

I think Oprah's learned from me that it's OK to be harsh on people because in one's harshness you can see transformation happen right before your very eyes. So you know, I think Oprah's also learned that there is another side of money presented in that way. But I think she always knew that. You know, I don't know what she's learned from me. But I can tell you I've learned an encyclopedia version of life from Ms. Winfrey.

MARTIN: Well, before you harsh on me, I'm going to let you go back to the other stuff that you're doing. You do have a new program coming out on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, called "Money Class."

ORMAN: Yes.

MARTIN: Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

ORMAN: Yes, you know, we're going to have a live studio audience and the basis of this program is what can your money teach you about who you are. You know, most of you are used to seeing me looking into that camera telling you something and nobody else around me. But the truth is I am fabulous with a live audience and it really will come to life that way. And so that's essentially what you will be seeing, and you will be learning more about who you are and what you have.

MARTIN: Well, what about the - just as we mentioned, this is the last week of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on the broadcast network. So, what are your feelings about that, if you don't mind my asking?

ORMAN: Yeah, obviously it's sad. But I'm sad for a different reason that most people are sad, is that for God knows how many years now, 13 years, I've had very intimate relationships with the producers, the hair and makeup people, the camera guys, and I'm not going to see them anymore.

As far as Oprah, I couldn't be more excited for her if I tried. She's now going to go from a little diner that millions of people obviously go into, to a true restaurant that's going to serve up every facet of her vision.

MARTIN: And so we'll still be able to read your column in O magazine.

ORMAN: Of course. You'll be able to see, you know, if Oprah's somewhere, I hope I'm always lucky enough to be just a few steps behind her. You betcha.

MARTIN: Suze Orman is host of "The Suze Orman Show" on CNBC and author of "The Money Class, Learn to Create Your Own New American Dream." It's her 10th book, her ninth consecutive New York Times bestseller. She also has a new show coming out on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. It's called "The Money Class." And she was kind enough to join us from her home office in New York. Suze Orman, thank you.

ORMAN: Anytime, Michel.

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