MANILA, Philippines—Visiting personal finance guru Suze Orman sees the Philippines soon shining in the global community as an investment hub and having more of its households emancipated out of their dependence on overseas remittances.
Orman, who was once described by USA Today as a “one-woman financial advice powerhouse,” said, however, that Filipino consumers should avoid going the way of the US, which had allowed its economy to grow on credit card and lending to people who could not afford homes and have been grappling with more people “on a highway to poverty.”
“Build this country on cash so that it could never collapse, then you can change your lives,” said Orman, who was raised in an unruly Chicago neighborhood and who used to wait on tables and sleep in her car before transcending poverty as a broker at American investment house Merrill Lynch.
The host of the award-winning Suze Orman Show, which airs every Saturday night on CNBC, is in town to fulfill a promise made for the last five years to her friend Doris Magsaysay-Ho, chairwoman of Asia Society Philippines, to help inspire Filipinos in their quest for financial freedom.
Orman, who earns around $190,000 on speaking engagements in the United States, agreed to speak before Filipinos pro bono and expressed interest in coming back and helping draft financial literacy programs for the country. In a speech before the employees of the Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands, Orman said the Philippines would likely shine in the global arena.
“You’re going to be taken note of in other countries, see investment money come to and you’ll see that the time for the Philippines has just about arrived. The question is, will you be able to hold on to the gifts that are about to come your way?” she said.
The American personal finance guru spoke strongly against incurring debt to purchase non-essential things, noting she had watched her own country fall apart because of this. She said consumers must distinguish between good and bad debt, good debt being amortizing to one day own a home. On the other hand, she said that credit card debt was “very bad debt.”
“If you have credit card debt, what that says about you is that you are buying things that you can’t afford,” she said, urging banks to issue credit cards only to those who could responsibly use credit. Ideally, credit card users should use their card all they want but pay everything when the bill arrives, according to Orman.
In the US, she said it was a common mistake for banks to even increase the credit limit when somebody had maxed out his ceiling and was only paying the minimum due. The best way to help these people would be to stop charging interest and as the borrowers pay off, reduce their credit limit.
For overseas Filipinos, Orman said her advice would be to consider whether sending money to adult brothers or relatives would only be encouraging dependence. “Is it possible that it’s hurting them rather than helping them?,” she said, adding that some people may not reach their potential or may not be driven into making contingency plans because they have remittances to fall back on.
But she stressed that for parents, it’s a whole different light, as she herself would want to take care of her mother.
For young people, they should realize that their best commodity is time and that by starting to regularly save a portion of their earnings regularly, they will accumulate more wealth with the help of compounding, which means earnings from an initial investment are reinvested over and over, according to Orman.
With the help of compounding, she said a person who would set aside $100 a month starting the age of 20 would end up with $1 million upon reaching 60. But if one waits until age 30 to start setting aside, the same person will end up with only $300,000 at age 60. This 10-year delay in starting an investment plan has thus cost the person $700,000, she noted.
Before becoming a prominent personal finance expert and inspirational speaker, Orman used to earn $400 a month as a waitress. She waited on table for seven years until the age of 30, when she dreamt of opening her own restaurant. She asked her mother for $20,000 to open her restaurant but her mother was unable to help her. One of her regular customers took a pity on Orman and pooled $50,000 from other customers to lend to her for 10 years without interest. She brought the money to Merrill Lynch but the broker convinced the then naive Orman to invest everything by speculating in the stock market. She said she was made to sign papers to make it appear that she was a sophisticated investor who was qualified to invest in stock options. Within three months, she lost all the money.
“If I hadn’t lost that money, I won’t be standing here today. Nothing ever goes wrong, everything happens for the best,” she said.
Realizing she still owed $50,000 to her customers, she thought of getting a job as a broker at Merrill, which at that time never hired female brokers. She was hired but with a caveat that she would be fired in six months.
One Merrill Lynch executive took a liking at Orman and advised her to sue Merrill Lynch for the bad handling on her $50,000 even when she was still an employee. This she did and because of the ongoing case, Merrill Lynch could not fire her.
As the case dragged on, she said she became one of Merrill Lynch’s top producers and realizing that the firm was earning more money than Orman’s $50,000-suit, the brokerage gave back her money plus interest.
Orman said this only showed that any wealth that she had made was something she had worked for. Even as she has gone a long way since then, Orman is not fond of splurging on jewelry, clothes or purses and has chosen to live in a tiny apartment in New York even if she can afford a penthouse.
“Every single person in this world has the ability to be more and have more and it’s the choices that we make about ourselves that become our net worth,” she said.