The Plaza Hotel’s most prized apartments offer sweeping views of New York’s Central Park. Suze Orman wasn’t sold.

Instead, in 2007 Ms. Orman and her wife, Kathy Travis, bought a 1,275-square-foot apartment in the Plaza that faces the courtyard for $3.6 million. “The same apartment on the other side with park views was $3 million more,” Ms. Orman explained. She also noted that by skipping the view, she and her wife can put guests in a hotel room across the way that faces their living room. “We’ll hold up a sign in the window that says, ‘breakfast is ready!’”

Ms. Orman, the 63-year-old personal finance expert and television personality, has made a name for herself giving Americans straight-talking, tough-love advice on saving money, investing cautiously and not overspending. Her oft-repeated mantra: “People first, then money, then things.”

She takes a similarly pragmatic approach to her portfolio of properties, which includes a South Florida condo, a waterfront parcel in the Bahamas and a condo near Johannesburg, South Africa. Ms. Orman said she doesn’t try to invest in real estate, saying it isn’t “my forte.” Instead, she buys places she likes—often relatively modest homes in nice locations—and is willing to pay market rate for them. Despite current low interest rates, for her own homes she likes to pay cash. “If I can’t write a check for it, I can’t afford it,” she said.

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