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Suze Orman decides what you can afford

  • Story Highlights
  • Suze Orman explains what two couples' finances can handle in this economy
  • Ken and Deb want to get divorced because living under the same roof is hard
  • Until Chris and Michaela save emergency fund, insurance -- hobby is out
  • Orman: "No.1 deficit in this country is women not taking care of themselves"
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Oprah

(OPRAH.com) -- People across the country are counting their pennies more closely than ever and asking themselves some tough questions about what they can really afford. Suze Orman is here to approve or deny what your finances can handle -- and this time around, she's settling a few family feuds.

Money expert Suze Orman answers the question that keeps people up at night: Can I afford this?

Money expert Suze Orman answers the question that keeps people up at night: Can I afford this?

Many women have husbands with expensive hobbies, and Michaela is one of them. Michaela has her own Mary Kay business and just started her own cake decorating business.

Her husband Chris works in sales and is the ultimate Washington Redskins fan. "When I met him, I knew he was a Redskins fan. I just really had no clue he was a Redskins fanatic," she says.

Michaela estimates her husband has spent about $25,000 on his "man cave"--including a $2,200 television, a $900 surround-sound system, custom-framed photos worth about $300 and a poker table worth $500 to $1,000.

Chris spares no expense to get Redskins gear for their three kids, Michaela says -- including jerseys and a Power Wheels Escalade in the Redskins' burgundy color. "I happen to know my husband's e-mail password, and there are 320 e-mails of tracking purchases," she says. "I would say that [delivery services are] at our house almost every day." Oprah.com: Battle your urge to splurge

Michaela says Chris didn't grow up with much and now wants to enjoy some of his success. But Chris and Michaela aren't debt-free. Together, they owe $130,000 in student loans. "It often makes me wonder if we will ever get them paid off. If we'll ever get to the point where we can start thinking about our kids' college and the future so they don't have the loans that we have," she says. Video Watch saving money in tough times »

So Michaela has a question for Orman: "With all of our student loans and his fabulous hobby, can we afford his hobby or should we be putting the money somewhere else?"

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Chris estimates that he spends about $7,000 a year on his hobby. Can he keep it up? Orman runs the numbers.

Chris and Michaela's monthly income is $9,000, and their monthly expenses are $7,700. Even with $1,300 leftover every month, they still face their large student debts and only have $5,000 in an emergency fund.

"In this economy, what I'd like to see is that people have at least an eight-month emergency fund, which would be $40,000 because we have three children here," Orman says.

Orman denies Chris -- but with love. "We only have $5,000 of an emergency fund," she says.

Chris and Michaela have life insurance, but Orman says it's simply not enough. Chris is insured for $350,000, and Michaela is insured for $200,000. The couple still owes $290,000 on their mortgage, which is $2,200 each month. If Chris dies, his life insurance policy will only cover the mortgage --and still leaves the Michaela with $4,000 a month in expenses.

"What is the rule of thumb? You plan for the worst and you hope for the best," Orman says. "But [Chris is] in sales. Anybody in sales, anything can happen at any time. So I love that you love football ... But you cannot afford it, sir."

Chris takes everything in stride. He says he's already started to look into better life insurance policies and wants to start college savings funds for his kids. "My friend, he gets it!" Orman says. Oprah.com: How to save for college

Ken and Deb are a couple facing a heart-wrenching life decision in the middle of a poor economy -- divorce. Married for 12 years, the couple has a 9-year-old son and twin 7-year-old girls, one with Down's Syndrome.

"Having the three children, it's been taxing on us. It just seems like we never get a chance to be alone and be together and just talk things out," Ken says. "We're just not on the same page."

Deb says she doesn't put Ken -- or herself -- first. "My children are first and foremost in our life, and I don't think that's a good way to build a marriage or a life either," she says. "You kind of cast the other person aside."

Ken and Deb signed separation papers in April 2008 but still live together in the house they purchased 10 years ago.

"Ken and I have been living in separate rooms since last November. He lives down the hall in what used to be our home office, and it's very difficult living under the same roof," Deb says. "Unfortunately, we cannot afford to financially divorce and move on with our lives."

In April 2009, Ken and Deb will be officially divorced. To complicate matters, Ken recently found out that he will be losing his job. "I think if Ken and I separated, we'd both be more relaxed and we'd be happier people," Deb says. "Obviously, we cannot afford to maintain separate households."

Deb has come to Orman for help with her question -- can she afford to get divorced?

Before Ken lost his job, the couple made a combined $4,500 a month. With only Deb's income, the household total will decrease to $1,645. Monthly expenses that will not decrease total about $4,300 each month. The couple also has $10,000 in credit card debt.

Despite their precarious financial situation, Orman approves Deb for a divorce.

"In this particular situation, if they were to sell the house, there is enough equity in the house to pay off their mortgages for them to have $10,000 extra to pay off the credit card debt and for them each to have $5,000 to start over in renting an apartment," Orman says.

Orman says Deb could rent an apartment for about $800 a month. "And on everything else that I figured for her, she could live in that apartment with her children and make it for $1,645 a month, also assuming that one day Ken will have to pay child support when he does get a job," Orman says.

Still, Orman says the real question here isn't about the money. "Can she afford not to, emotionally speaking?" Orman says.

Because Deb says she never puts herself first, Orman wants to know how much longer Deb would stay in a marriage she says is already over.

"How much longer are you going to stay in a situation that you know is absolutely over because you think you don't have the money to leave?" Orman says. "You lose your soul for money. You lose your children in terms of not understanding what's happening for money. Is money worth that?"

But Deb's not alone. Orman says the No.1 deficit in this country is women not taking care of themselves. "Women give of themselves. They never give to themselves. And that we have to change," Orman says.

Deb says she's willing to try Orman's recommendations. "I think we need to be separate to find out what we both need," she says. Oprah.com: Can one woman afford her dream wedding?

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