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Personal finance advice relies on shame; what if we tried empathy?

Personal finance advice relies on shame; what if we tried empathy?

When June applied to be on the Suze Orman show in 2012, she was a young doctor making $58,000 a year with $240,000 in student loans from medical school and $40,000 in credit card debt. As a divorced mother with three children, who was also caring for a terminally ill parent, June’s income barely covered her living expenses. When a friend suggested that she apply to be on the Suze Orman show, June agreed; she wasn’t familiar with the show but figured it couldn’t hurt to get some professional advice. 



a woman holding a cell phone: @outlandvideography via Twenty20


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@outlandvideography via Twenty20

Initially, her experience with the show producer was positive. The producer told June that she was working so hard and she was exactly the kind of person Suze wanted to help. 

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That’s why she was so surprised when Orman, one of the most well-known faces in the personal finance industry, started off by telling June that she shouldn’t have gone to medical school. Orman then advised her to declare bankruptcy, questioned if she should buy her children Christmas presents, implied that June was spending money on her children to make up for her guilt over the divorce, and said that June’s 16-year old child needed to start working to help take on the responsibility of June’s debt. 

“Tell them the situation you have gotten yourself into.” Suze yelled. “Let them see the reality of when you are irresponsible with facing the truth — what it can cause.” 

This advice may seem shocking, but most traditional money advice is built on shame, often packaged as tough love and personal responsibility. In a shame-based framework, financial stability is accessible to everyone. Certain financial decisions are positioned as entirely positive, such as homeownership and 529 education savings plans, while other financial decisions are considered

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