For a couple of years now Oprah has tried putting her audience on a “debt diet”. Long before the recent meltdown Oprah had more than a few shows dedicated to getting her viewers to take responsbility for their personal debt. Since the meltdown she has stepped up the frequency of those shows. Her usual guest, Suze Orman, has explained the meltdown with more honesty than anyone else I have seen on TV or read in the press. Not only did she describe the greed and dishonesty that fueled the meltdown up and down the financial services food chain, but she also called out rank and file Americans for living a life of financial dishonesty. Buying too much house, using their home equity as a piggy bank, and piling up consumer debt to finance lifestyle choices that were far outside of the reach of their incomes.
There is something odd about listening to a multi-millionaire (Orman) and a billionaire (Oprah) talk about pinching pennies. But, being a person that gets a perverse pleasure out of paying off debt and helping others get their finances in order, I can understand their interests/motivation and I don’t think these shows are hypocritical for Orman and Oprah. They have tons of money and can afford pretty much anything they want. But that is the point, buy what you can afford, not what someone else can.
My one quibble with Oprah’s efforts get her viewers to be responsible about their finances, is that she still tends to have these shows that glorify high end luxury goods. Who can forget the thank you gift of 24 pairs of designer shoes that she got from Jessica Seinfeld that Oprah gushed about. And what about those “Favorite Things” episodes where Oprah parades out expensive gift after gift and then gives them all to each audience member. Great for those in the studio, but what does it say to her millions of viewers? It says “go out and buy some of these fantastically expensive gifts.” With all of O’s concerns about America’s overspending and some of the great shows she has done on money saving ideas, perhaps she will stay true to her quest and cancel the Favorite Things episode.