The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life:
Keep What You Have and Create What You Deserve

Author:   Suze Orman
Publisher/Date:   Free Press / Simon & Schuster / 2003
ISBN:   0-7432-4517-2 (Hardback, 322 pages)
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Suze Orman's latest offering, The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life, doesn't stray very far from her previous works:   She makes some very telling, prescient points regarding personal finance, but her style and delivery − at times, she practically pleads with the reader − may strike some folks as ...

. . . well, annoying.

Aside from this, Ms. Orman is due a large amount of credit for uncovering a handful of money problems (and the inherent reasons for those problems) that most other authors either miss entirely or elect to overlook. For instance, no other author of whom I'm aware has covered the perils of parental over-financing educational items in the interest of a child's future and its debt-free beginnings.

The fact that so many parents are not putting their own financial health first is a huge problem in America today. For this reason, it is very important that we look a little more closely at the reasons that Maya's parents [couple who became drowned by debt in order to fund their daughter Maya's private education] may have chosen to put themselves in financial jeopardy. Their actions were not those of mean or selfish people. Theirs were the actions of parents who love their child more than they love themselves and who were under the widely-shared illusion that parents must take care of their children's entire future, rather than find a way for the whole family to work on their future together.

Even though I know that this concept may be difficult for you to accept, I very much want you to see that you do not need to jeopardize your own financial future in order to guard your child's health and well-being. Can you also see that sometimes when you are sacrificing your own well-being to help someone else, in the long run you may in fact be hurting him or her?

When it comes to the underlying reasons for why people may self-sabotage their own financial positions, Orman also possesses a talent for "finding the simple" in problems that often seem painfully complex. These simplicities usually form the basis for all the "laws of money" that her books cover in detail. In the following passage, Orman is expounding on her first law:   Truth creates money; lies destroy it.

This may not sound like much, but spend a few moments considering the far-reaching implications of that statement. Really, how many common situations might this apply to, albeit somewhat covertly? How many financial problems began with people not just "spending too much," but with people lying to themselves about what exactly "too much" was in their particular case? Lots and lots. This is quite a profound explanation for a truckload of financial pitfalls, and a profoundly simple one. Which is what we're looking for:

Explanations so true and so simple that they that might finally flip the epiphany switch for a reader.

You tell the world every day, in minor and profound ways, who you are, financially speaking. You express this through the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, the shopping bags you carry, and dozens of other outward subtle cues. But are you telling the truth? More important, every day you also tell yourself who you are, by the choices you make with your money and the effect these choices have on your life and future. Again, how truthful are you to yourself?

When lies are woven into the fabric of your financial life, that fabric will inevitably fray.

Over the years I have come to learn that, to one extent or another, most people tend to lie about who they are when it comes to their money. I have learned the hard way that financial lies destroy financial lives, and that telling the truth about yourself and your money is the only way to keep what you have and create what you deserve.

Orman Overlap

Readers familiar with Ms. Orman's previous books will find a good deal of overlap in this one, although most ideas are either rephrased and/or expounded upon. (I would say that these changes are, overall, improvements.) Of this book's 312 pages of actual content (not including the "About the Author" stuff and indexes), 178 are devoted to covering the five "Laws of Money" themselves, with the remaining 134 pages comprising a "Laws of Money Guidebook."

This guidebook section — which, honestly, I didn't realize the book even had when I purchased it, and wasn't exactly wild about when I did realize it — is a plethora of fill-in-the-blank tables and assorted questionnaires for the reader to fill out and contemplate. Whether or not this section will bring about any further revelations is debatable; I expect that most people tend to simply read such guidebooks without ever filling them out or spending a great deal of time thinking about them. Well, actually, I just regard them as "filler."

And Then There's the Market...

I was happy to see Orman devote some time and text to covering stock-market investments; her previous advice in this arena amounted to little more than "Find some good no-load mutual funds, buy them when you can, and hold on to them indefinitely." Readers of my articles know that this is NOT the way I think investing should be handled.

In Laws of Money, Ms. Orman writes that Law #2 is Look At What You Have, Not What You Had. This idea (and it's not one she originated; stock-market and trading books have preached this for years) most readily applies to the investment and retirement accounts of today's browbeaten market participants. It's pointless, and even harmful, to try to make a decision about what to do with your tech-company stock shares which are now worth, say, $15,000, when all you can think about is how in early 2000 those same shares were worth $150,000. Focus on protecting your $15,000. Don't worry about regaining your $150,000 ... because in all likelihood you never will.

Overall, I'd say The Laws of Money is a worthwhile read, but unless you're a diehard Suze Orman fan, I'd wait until I could pick it up cheap (as in used). Unfortunately, there's not a great deal of new material here, and I don't feel as though the $17 I shelled out for it at Barnes & Noble, fresh off the New Bestseller rack, was especially well-spent.

But who knows:   Maybe I'm just still miffed about the guidebook section.

Michael • April, 2003

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