Does Money Breed Insensitivity?

When does money equal more privilege than the rest of us?

Does Money Make You Insensitive?


Many of you may have listened to Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast with Suze Orman where Orman completely destroys the idea of FIRE (Financial Independent Retire Early). I was utterly speechless at the comments that she made.


Orman’s Perspectives


Orman speaks of the money she has, her private island, her prior 5 houses and 5 cars, and the tens of millions (or more) that she has made over her lifetime. She thinks retirement requires millions of dollars, and that $80 thousand a year is not enough to live on.


She goes so far as to talk about extremes, like what if a pole goes through the front of your windshield and you are disabled? She also thinks parents should pay for private school and post-secondary education for children.


When did people with money forget what it’s like to not have money?


What Orman did not realize was that she was so opinionated, she made listeners like me absolutely sick. From the idea that lower income earners can never dream of FIRE, and that FIRE will break our economy, it was demoralizing.


Orman is not the only one who forgets what it’s like to not have a 6-figure income. My background of working for professionals reminds me of the differences between the haves and the have nots.


Does Privilege Breed Insensitivity?


Some people find it encouraging to see others who have amassed a large income, but there are others who simply did not have the means to attend a post-secondary education institution for the extra years it takes to become a doctor, lawyer, or other professional designation. What bothers me the most is when the assistant/employee/lower-wage earner is clearly an important and necessary part of the foundation of a high wage earner’s enterprise, and yet they are treated as unnecessary, and paid either under a living wage or just at a living wage.


I want to ask them, was there a time when you did not know how you were going to pay rent? Did you ever have to decide between going on a vacation or investing in your retirement? Did you ever stop to think that your employees do not have the same options as you in life? And yet, without them, you would not be as successful as you are today.


I spoke about the inequalities in my minimum wage post, and still wonder what it will take for people like Orman to realize that the options for her and the options for the rest of us will never be the same.


Some of us will be fortunate, and may have a successful career, minimal health issues, and be able to plan for retirement. Some of us will always be playing catch up; hoping we can work long enough to save for retirement.  But for those who are extremely wealthy, why do you forget the struggles? Why do you discount the privilege?


While I am not saying that those who are wealthy beyond their needs should give handouts to others, I am really hoping that they consider paving the way for some others to find opportunities. Many wealthy people use charitable donations to minimize taxes, but when was the last time they stepped out of their private island comfort zone and gave a hand up? Got their hands dirty, and blessed people who work hard and may never have enough to travel their continent, never mind the world?


Callout to the Wealthy


This is a callout to all those who have had tremendous success. Please reach out to someone and help them on their way. People like Orman need to stop putting others down for not having as much as she was blessed with, and she is not a matriarch or model for the rest of us. She is someone who has been fortunate and forgets that our life doesn’t need to be 45 years of steady work in the event of a tragic accident or dire straits.


The FIRE movement will still pay taxes, and will open up other jobs that may not otherwise be available. It’s all about options, and when people like Orman tell you that it’s stupid to desire the freedom of options, and that her words are “truths”, she forgets that there may be other paths, and other roads which can lead to the same place.


Are you pro FIRE or do you think Orman is right that it’s a slippery slide to the end? Do you think privileged folk forget the rest of us? I’d like to hear from you.


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3 thoughts on “Does Money Breed Insensitivity?”

  1. I listened to that interview and I never heard Suze put anyone down for having less than her. Sure she seems to think that six million isn’t enough to retire at age 35 with but that is more a matter of her using unrealistic assumptions than her hating on anybody. People with net worth’s in the tens or hundreds of millions ranges simply are not going to see the world the way you do. She spent $30,000 a month keeping 24×7 personal nursing for her mom. That is $360,000 a year. So at least in her case living on $80,000 would not have allowed her to take care of her mom the way she wanted.

    I don’t know Suze and I never agreed with some of her advice but I was standing behind her checking into a hotel one time years ago. She was already a big deal, this was at the zenith of her popularity, and the desk attendant was very rude, ignoring her to carry on an obviously personal and non-emergency conversation on her phone. Suze was patient and kind as she waited several minutes to be checked into a room and never snapped or complained about what was truly one of the worst customer service treatments I’ve ever seen. It was the low income earner that treated the mega-millionaire like trash, not the other way around.

    Her other points on the interview were valid. We were made to work and if we have nothing to pursue with passion we will not thrive and that usually involves something that looks like work. Traveling the world for decades with no purpose won’t work for many, it will become boring and tedious. I think the experience of this community shows that her numbers are way too conservative but she is entitled to her opinion. And that includes her opinion that retiring early is a bad idea based on economics and human nature. I don’t agree unless you have no passion to pursue after you retire, but I’m not mad at her about it. Plus if you want a lot of readers and to make a humongous pile of money don’t you think that pointing out potential problems with something very popular is an effective way of grabbing some popularity? She even has you giving her free advertising in your blog!

  2. Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading your article – I wasn’t aware of Suze’s appearance on Afford Anything podcast, but I’m literally downloading it right now to listen to at the gym later this evening.

    I think a lot of wealthy individuals feel like their own hard work, etc. is the only reason for their wealth. They forget or ignore that there is also a lot of luck involved in becoming wealthy. It seems to take both hard work and luck working together to really generate great results. In Suze’s case (my opinion) the more success she is having, the more she may feel it is because of her and less and less related to the luck factor.

    To answer your question – Suze seems to be a bit disengaged from reality and is a great example of how some ultra-wealthy are really out of touch with the average human.

  3. I’m a Suze Orman fan. Though I never agreed with everything Orman has advised, of course (no two people can agree 100% of the time), when it came time to give me older kids a book to read on the basics of money, I gave them Courage to be Rich by Orman — I do think she has some solid common sense advice to share.
    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but Orman has always been about saving and prepping for unexpected, doomsday scenarios so I’m not surprised to hear she is critical of the FIRE movement, at least the people expecting to retire on the 4% rule. That said, I think FIRE perfectly aligns with her own People First, then Money, then Things tagline, so can’t wait to hear if she discusses that in the podcast.
    To the point about money making people insensitive, there have been studies that actually prove that point. This article in Scientific American details some of these:
    Hopefully, we can use those findings as a warning to ourselves to watch our behavior and compassion to others as we reach/ hit FI.

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