By Tess Townsend The Day, New London, Conn.
Buy what you need, not what you want.
This was a cardinal rule laid down by motivational speaker Suze Orman on Sunday at the Well Healed Woman conference hosted by Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in the Uncas Ballroom at Mohegan Sun.
As more than 1,000 conference attendees -- an overwhelming majority of them women -- dined on chocolate high "healed" shoes, Orman shone a light on a less-obvious component of health for women: financial stability.
"Women, the day has come that you have to give as much to yourselves as you give of yourselves," said the author of 10 books including "The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom."
Her advice mainly centered on paying off debt. She asked audience members to stand if they had credit card debt, then told those standing not to buy any of her books but check them out of the library.
She told them to buy gas to get to work but not to drive away to a vacation spot.
"You need to live below your means but within your needs," she said.
The topic that generated the most interest in the room was retirement. Orman encouraged opting into a Roth 401(k) savings plan, in which an employee puts post-tax earnings toward retirement. Traditional 401(k)s are comprised of pre-tax earnings.
Orman said that the Roth model is preferable because the employee knows what taxes she will pay on the funds upfront, rather than waiting to pay an unknown tax rate when she withdraws funds during retirement.
In a traditional 401(k), funds are taxed as they are withdrawn, she said. She cautioned against making oneself susceptible to possible increases in tax rates.
Her comments on retirement spurred a question-and-answer period that extended her presentation by about an hour.
One woman asked what fund to pull from first if one has some savings in a traditional 401(k) and some in a Roth plan. Orman said to take from the traditional plan first if you fall into a lower tax bracket, allowing your Roth savings to continue to grow.
Orman's talk ended with a standing ovation and a short break for the author, who has in the past been named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine.
Following her break, Orman was scheduled to sign books -- that is, for those who had no credit card debt.