I got a kick out of Kevin Roose’s feature in the New York Times on “Living Like a Billionaire, if Only For a Day.” The idea is that he would fly on a private jet, visit various private clubs, be chauffeured around and wear a nice watch. As he notes, we are “obsessed with the lives of the ultrarich.”
Obsessed we may be, but I think we also have a lot of misconceptions about the lives of high-net worth individuals. I was reminded of this during the Super Bowl commercials about some $1 million giveaway, that featured people jumping in what seemed like a pool of gold. The average millionaire in this country is quite likely to be a 60-something person with a professional job who’s saved and invested his whole life. Judging by my reader demographics, let’s say your parents or your parents’ friends. Do they have gold in their bathtubs? Probably not.
Obviously, $1 billion is a different matter. But again, we often get bad impressions. Roose dresses up in a smashing suit…to find his partner on the private jet is in casual clothes. Awkward!
The part of Roose’s piece I found most believable, though, from interviews I’ve done of high-net worth individuals is this: “One thing I’ve noticed so far is that when you’re a billionaire, you’re never alone.” There’s also the maddening, and corresponding, matter of time poverty. Here’s how this happens.
A billion dollars has to be well cared for. You can’t just go deposit it in the local Citibank. You’ll need private banking services. But even if you try to outsource most of the official money management to an existing firm, you’ll want your own people to keep an eye on it. You don’t want to wind up like Bernie Madoff’s victims! So you get your own lawyer and accountant at least, probably on payroll since it’s most efficient.
But that means you have a payroll, and you’re managing that. You outsource that to a manager, but that’s another person who’s around.
The same thing happens in your personal life. You get a couple of residences, because why not? You’re worth north of $1 billion, it’s not like having a $10 million California beach house and a $15 million penthouse in Manhattan and a ski chalet in Vail makes a big dent in your net worth. You like to ski! But someone has to manage these various properties. So then you have caretakers and landscapers and maids and so forth on the payroll. Decisions must be made. Your business or household manager can handle a lot of this, but occasionally you get involved (“really? I didn’t know my company was having an event for all the VPs at my ski place…”) So there are people around you, asking questions.
Even in your family life this happens. Let’s say our billionaire has school-aged kids around. Even if the primary parent in this family really wants to “raise her kids herself,” something will happen like one kid wants to go to lacrosse practice at the same time another has swim lessons. Is she going to say no because she can’t drive them both at the same time? Doubtful. So then there are other caregivers driving people around, helping out with bedtimes while our billionaire is traveling. When he comes home, his impression is that there’s always people at the main house too.
So there’s always something to manage, and since even the mightiest among us has no more than 24 hours a day, there’s always a sense of being short on time. That’s why, when Roose visits the $13,000/year gym, this scene happens: “Let’s go, champ,” Mr. Sitaras said, after I suit up leisurely in the locker room. “No wasted time in here.”
No wasted time. Because time is money, and if you’re worth $1 billion, time is worth a lot of money. But you can see how these various stresses — while nice to have — might contribute to the finding that moment-by-moment happiness doesn’t rise past an income of $75,000. Overall life satisfaction, yes. One can imagine our billionaire is very proud of the life and the institutions he’s built. But right now he’s mad that his workout session has run a little long because he’s got a plane to catch to go visit those VPs at his place in Vail.
(photo courtesy flickr user miggslives)