Brother, Can You Spare Ten Mil?

Let this be our little secret, hmm?
“Be vewwy quiet. I’m hunting duckets”: Poor old rich guy

I find the nuances of wealth endlessly fascinating. But the aspect of it that I find most intriguing is the carefully maintained illusion of limitless capacity the rich apparently work to maintain.

By this, I mean the appearance that, when a rich person spends a lot of money on something, even with as much as they spend, it doesn’t mean anything to them, because they have a lot of money.

Obese cribFor example, we’ve heard announcements that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt recently purchased the $70 million, 880-acre Château Miraval in southern France, right. (Though, some reports say they bought it, some say they’re renting it, and some say they’re leasing it for 3 years.)

Did Brad and Angelina sweat to do this? Did they stay up late nights, pace the floor, call banks for loans, etc.? By the time we hear about it, the deal is done, and it appears effortless: Two glamorous stars just bought a big French estate. But from their end, are they just like us, but with more money; calling in favors, juggling bills when they need additional cash?

For a person, like me, with those questions, this New York Times piece—”It’s Not So Easy Being Less Rich”—is platinum.

The wealthy don’t generally speak publicly about their finances, in good times or bad. It’s in poor taste, for one, and their employers could fire them for talking even a little. But people who provide services to the wealthy — lawyers, art advisers, personal trainers and hairstylists — say they are getting an earful about their clients’ financial anxieties.

Interviews with the people who actually see the bank statements, like divorce lawyers and lenders, say their clients are definitely living on less than they did a year ago, regardless of how expansive the definition of “less” may be. Hairstylists and private jet rental companies say the wealthy are cutting back on luxuries like $350 highlights and $10,000-an-hour jet rentals. Even nutritionists and personal trainers notice a problem. The wealthy are eating more and gaining weight because of the stress.

The key issue, it seems, particularly in a downturn, is appearances.

“They fear their kids won’t get invited to the right birthday parties,” said Michele Kleier, an Upper East Side-based real estate broker. “If they have to give up things that are invisible, they’re O.K. as long as they don’t have give up things visible to the outside world.”

So New York’s very wealthy are addressing their distress in discreet and often awkward ways. They try to move their $165 sessions with personal trainers to a time slot that they know is already taken. They agree to tour multimillion-dollar apartments and then say the spaces don’t match their specifications. They apply for a line of credit before art auctions, supposedly to buy a painting or a sculpture, but use that borrowed money to pay other debts.


Other wealthy clients are cutting luxuries that they think their friends and relatives won’t notice, according to Mr. Del Gatto of Circa. At Circa’s midtown offices, he said, the seven consultation rooms have been busy with customers selling their precious gems. Some older couples, he said, are selling estate jewelry to help support their children who have lost Wall Street jobs. Bankers are paring down their collections of Patek Philippe watches. Wives from Greenwich and Scarsdale are selling 2-carat to 35-carat single-stone diamond rings. One recent client explained to Mr. Del Gatto that she was selling $2 million in diamonds she rarely wore, because her friends wouldn’t notice that they were gone.

“She said, ‘If I sold my Bentley or my important art, they would notice,’ ” he said. “That we hear, in differing examples, every day.”

Amazing. More money, more problems. Less money, even more problems.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 Tom Humes on 06.02.08 at 9:54 am

Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

Tom Humes

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