Suze Orman is the ebullient financial guru whose glossy color photo adorns the covers of her New York Times bestselling books. She’s the energetic motivational speaker on your television, speaking to you on her cable show, giving you great advice on PBS, or entertaining audiences as a guest on numerous talk shows. Most importantly, though, Suze Orman is a money advisor for the common people — the intelligent financial planner who offers gentle but firm counsel as everyday people try to figure out how to spend and save the money they earn.
Many of us feel like we know Orman personally, as her warmth and friendliness comes through, no matter what she does. However, as with any high profile personality, there’s a whole lot more to Ms. Orman than what you see on the TV screen. Even though you think you may know her, here are 20 things that you probably didn’t know about Suze Orman.
1. Orman’s net worth is quite impressive by any measure. If you ask her what she’s worth, she’ll tell you that she’s got approximately $25 million in liquid assets. But that’s not all there is — she also owns some real estate valued at around $7 million, and has another $1 million invested in the market. Add it all up, and you’ve got a total of around $33 million. It’s not enough to get Orman on any lists of the richest women in America, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
2. Despite her immense wealth, Orman comes from remarkably humble roots. She was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago by a working class Jewish family. Her mother was employed as a secretary, while her father worked in food service, taking jobs as a deli manager and a worker in a chicken factory, among others. While the family was not poor, they were not a family of means by any stretch of the imagination, and her appreciation of the value of a dollar probably stemmed from her formative years.
3. Given how well and how often Orman speaks these days, it may come as a big surprise to learn that she had a significant speech impediment as a child. It was a huge blow to her self esteem when she was younger, because she always did poorly in grammar and reading as a result of her inability to speak properly. Obviously, Orman has worked on this issue and made huge strides toward improvement; while she will tell you that some traces of the impediment remain, many of her fans don’t notice it at all.
4. Orman attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but you may be surprised to learn that she didn’t major in finance, economics, or business — she majored in social work. What’s more, she was supposed to be in the school’s graduating class of 1973, but she did not get her degree because she didn’t complete the school’s foreign language requirement. She did finally take a few Spanish classes a few years later in 1976 to get the credits and earn her degree. Then, in 2009, her alma mater bestowed Orman with an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree. So, while she doesn’t seem to insist on being called Dr. Orman, the title is apt.
5. Orman’s very first business venture on her own was opening up a restaurant. She had worked as a waitress for six years at the Buttercup Bakery in California’s Bay Area, so she figured she knew the terrain pretty well, However, due to some financial mismanagement, the restaurant never got off the ground, which leads us to the sixth thing you don’t know about Suze Orman.
6. Orman had $50,000 to open her restaurant, and on the advice of a trusted friend, she invested it in a Merrill Lynch money market fund. However, her broker was far more aggressive than he should have been, and within several months, all of her money was completely gone. It was a heartbreaking moment, for sure, but it was also a transforming and truly life changing one, as it made Orman think that she could do a better job than her broker. With some self-taught knowledge, she set out to get a job for herself at a brokerage.
7. Orman was actually hired as a broker at Merrill Lynch after this harrowing experience, though if you ask her why they took her on, she’ll tell you that it wasn’t because of her extensive experience or impressive business acumen. No, Orman believes she was hired at Merrill Lynch because they needed to get some women on staff. It was a great foot in the door for her financial career, though, and it later led to her earning a job as Vice President of Investments at Prudential in 1983.
8. Even though Orman was able to land a fairly cushy job at Merrill Lynch, she still lived more or less as she had when she was a waitress: she was incredibly and unapologetically frugal. For example, instead of splurging on a new car, she still drove a run-down older model. Instead of eating out at fancy restaurants during her lunch break, she opted for inexpensive fast food. She just wasn’t extravagant at all, as she knew that she still had to pass her Series 7 exam, which all stock brokers have to pass, and she wasn’t taking any chances whatsoever. It was a great early lesson in financial stability, and her ability to understand the value of a dollar is probably one of the things that helped her become such a successful financial advisor.
9. Orman actually sued Merrill Lynch while she was an employee there. As she learned more and more about the financial industry, she realized that her original Merrill Lynch broker had broken several rules that had caused him to lose all of her money. Believing she had a case, she sued her employer, who could not fire her while the case was still going on. In the ensuing months, Orman proved herself to be a formidable broker in her own right, and Merrill Lynch settled with their new superstar. She got back all $50,000 that had been lost, plus interest.
10. Orman is a bestselling author who has had ten books on The New York Times bestseller list. Her first was You’ve Earned It, Don’t Lose It: Mistakes You Can’t Afford To Make When You Retire in 1995, and her most recent was The Money Class: Learn to Create Your New American Dream in 2011. While she seeks to empower all with her writing, she’s especially interested in empowering women, and her 2007 book Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny spoke to that goal.
11. Orman’s CNBC show, simply titled The Suze Orman Show, aired from 2002 until 2015. It was a big success for both Orman and the network, as listeners responded to her warm style and useful advice. The show had a Saturday night time slot and regularly attracted a quarter of a million viewers.
12. Like many other lifestyle gurus, Suze Orman has a strong connection with Oprah Winfrey. Appearances on Winfrey’s show helped boost Orman’s popularity and book sales, and she’s done a mini-series on OWN (that’s the Oprah Winfrey Network). Currently, Orman writes a popular financial advice column for O Magazine.
13. You wouldn’t think that there would be a connection between Suze Orman and John Belushi, but you’d be wrong. Orman and Belushi were actually roommates in college, as Belushi was dating her close friend. When Belushi finally made it to the big time on Saturday Night Live, Orman would often tune in to watch her friend’s hilarious antics.
14. You know that Orman is highly influential, but you may not know that some well respected institutions have recognized her for her influence as well. Forbes has named her one of the top ten most influential celebrities as well as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Time Magazine has named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people on more than one occasion as well. She holds two Emmy awards for Outstanding Service Show, and numerous Gracie Allen Awards from American Women in Radio and Television. And, just in case you were wondering about her financial industry cred, in 1999, Smart Money Magazine named Orman one of the top 30 power brokers.
15. Unlike many individuals who work in the financial sector, Orman considers herself a Democrat. She has donated money to the campaigns of several Democratic candidates, and has also gone on the record as a supporter of President Obama and his policies.
16. Orman has never been one to hide her sexuality, so while it was never a secret, she did officially come out as gay in 2007. She has been with her partner Kathy Travis since 2001, and the two were married in 2010.
17. What’s the secret to Orman’s success. Many individuals, both media professionals and average, everyday people, credit her charisma over her credentials. It’s not to say that she doesn’t have the credentials, but she’s highly personable, she’s great to talk to, and she has (as fellow financial advisor cum multimedia celeb Dave Ramsey might say) the heart of a teacher rather than the head of a stock broker. Orman celebrates the victories of her admirers with them — you really feel like she’s your fan. And, when her followers hit on financial hard times, she’s a sympathetic listener, offering a sympathetic ear and some gentle guidance. Orman gives her fans exactly what they need, no matter what financial situations they may find themselves in.
18. When Orman was just getting started in the financial world, she went against her frugal instincts and spent several thousand dollars on a Cartier watch; she even took money out of her 401k so she could afford it. Orman mostly did it to look flashy and impress a women she was dating, but the watch did nothing but act as a physical reminder of a very poor financial decision. It was an albatross around her wrist. Many years later, when a friend expressed how lovely the watch was, Orman removed it from her wrist and gifted it to her shocked friend. She was finally free of the burden of everything the watch symbolized, and she made her friend incredibly happy.
19. Orman tries to take good care of herself by eating well: mostly organic food, and not a lot of junk. However, when it’s time for her to splurge, she’ll do it with something like a tray of burritos from Taco Bell. It’s not a move she makes often, as she certainly recognizes that it’s not exactly healthy, but when she wants to treat herself to a break from the healthful fare, she goes for the fast food just like the rest of us. It’s also a reminder of her salad days at Merrill Lynch, when she was frugal to a fault and ate lunch at Taco Bell while her colleagues were out at high end restaurants feasting on steaks and martinis.
20. If you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live, you know that cast member Kristen Wiig does a spot-on impression of Orman, and it’s hilarious. But what does Orman think of her “Live from New York” caricature? She absolutely loves it! She’s called it the “greatest honor in my life,” explaining that when you’ve been turned into a character on a show like SNL, “You have made it into the culture of America. You are an icon.”