How Do The Super Rich Spend Their Money? Ask An Asset Manager!

The below is analysis of how the Ultra High Net Worth consumer spends his or her money. While clearly there are many variations, the document is well sourced. It was put together by an Asset Manager, Will Wister, who has allowed me to reprint an answer he originally posted in Quora below:

(Editor’s Note:  Wister’s use of the Super Rich spending is skewed a bit to the high side as those numbers represented the spending only by the people who participated in specific category.  The actually spending number per household is closer to $2.9 million per household instead of $4.351 that he calculates.  Nevertheless, the analysis brings together close to a dozen sources which combined paint a very helpful picture.)

How do the super-rich spend their money?

http://www.quora.com/How-do-the-super-rich-spend-their-money

Excluding money reinvested to generate even more wealth, I’m asking for a breakdown of how super-wealthy people (say, more than $50 million) ultimately spend that money. What percentage is for luxury goods for themselves, and what sort of luxuries do they like? What percentage is left to their family? How much goes to philanthropy, and which sorts of causes do they prefer (in particular, do the… (more)

1) The philanthropy statistics were surprising:

Statistics from the IRS show that people with incomes of more than $1 million give 3.6% of their income to charity, vs. 3.5% for those with incomes below $1 million. [1][3]

These statistics suggest that the ultra-rich people do not give a large percentage of their income, even though arguably they could afford to give significantly more.

What happens when rich people die? On average, 20.8% of estates over $20 million was given to charity. However 48.8% of people with estates over $20 million gave nothing to charity.

This suggests that some rich people are quite charitable when they die, while others are not.

Those with a gross income of $1-10 million gave 0.46% to 0.6% of their investment assets away each year. Those with an income of $10 million or more typically gave away 1.2% of their estimated investment assets each year. For reference the average amount of investible assets in the last group was $152 million and they gave $1.53 million on average[8].

This data is corroborated by a Merrill Lynch/Bank of America survey that has also some statistics on high net worth giving, and which causes are supported.[9] The average net worth of respondents was $10.7 million. They gave $54,016 directly to charity, of which $12,759 went to education, $9,985 went to religious charities, $7,641 went for youth and family services, $5,531  went to the arts,  $4,587 went to international causes, $4,511 went to health, $3,410  went to Environment/ Animal Care, and the rest went to other causes.

2) Luxury Spending on an annual basis

A survey of those who own private jets was recently completed[2]. The average net worth of jet owners in the survey was $89.3 million and their average annual net income was $9.2 million. The average person surveyed had at least two residences worth $2 million each, so it’s arguable that real estate is a priority. Of course each family was very different, but here is how they spent their money on an annual basis, on average:

  1. Art : $1,746,000
  2. Home Improvement : $542,000
  3. Yacht Rentals : $404,000
  4. Jewelry : $248,000
  5. Cars : $226,000 per year
  6. Parties & Events at Hotels and Resorts : $224,000
  7. Villa / Chalet Rental : $168,000
  8. Hotels & Resorts : $157,000
  9. Watches : $147,000
  10. Cruises : $138,000
  11. Clothes : $117,000
  12. Spa treatments : $107,000
  13. Guided Tours & Experiential Travel : $98,000
  14. Alcohol : $29,000

Theoretically these purchases would be shared by the families who purchased them although some in the family would clearly benefit from certain purchases more than others. 70% of the respondents of the survey were men, yet spending on items like clothing, spa treatments, and jewelry exceeded spending on cars and watches, indicating that men in the survey likely bought luxuries for their family as well as themselves.

At that level of wealth, spending on domestic staff is likely to be quite high, and even though it’s not a traditional luxury, perhaps other surveys will include statistics on personal chefs, gardeners, cleaning ladies, nannies, etc. It goes further as the survey indicates that only 34% of this group opens their own mail and only 19% pay their own bills, suggesting secretaries or accountants were employed as well.

The total value of items on this list is $4.351 million which amounts to 4.9% of assets and 47% of income for this group. However the true percentage of luxury spending is likely higher than that because this list is incomplete. In addition to domestic staff, real estate spending is notably absent from the totals. Also the money spent on private jets is missing, as everyone in this survey owns a jet. Unlike charitable contributions, luxury spending is not tax deductible, so taxes would meaningfully also raise the total amount of money required to support this lifestyle on an annual basis.

3) How much do the wealthy save?

The savings rate for the top quintile of incomes is highly variable and often negative. [4][5] When the stock market rises, the wealthy spend more.

As Alan Greenspan said [6] :
Conventional regression analysis suggests that a permanent one-dollar increase in the level of household wealth raises the annual level of personal consumption expenditures approximately 3 to 5 cents after due consideration of lags.
If one assumes that the wealthy spend 3 to 5 percent of their household wealth per year, that is indeed a very high number. A well-constructed portfolio of stocks and bonds might be expected to gain 4-8% per year on average, so 3 to 5 percent would be a very high percentage of the expected annual gains. It gets worse when you factor in inflation which might average around 2% and capital gains taxes which would would need to be paid when assets were sold to finance the spending. Considering that wealthy people often have additional income from high paying jobs or non-public assets, this spending percentage becomes more understandable.

The vast majority of investible assets are owned by the wealthy. The top 1% of people own 43% of financial wealth, and the top 20% control over 90%[10]. It’s possible that this data might be different for the ultra-wealthy, however one thing to keep in mind is that an extra $10 million of wealth via capital appreciation suggests an extra $400,000 of annual spending which, as indicated by the above luxury spending survey could be achieved any number of ways.

It could be that spending increases in response to simply feeling better about the asset increase, so it’s certainly possible that the 3 to 5% is not a steady number. However if that were true, spending would have fallen after an initial rise, and Greenspan would have likely have highlighted that issue in his research, which he did not.

4) Conclusions:

  1. The ultra-rich don’t appear to give a lot of money to charity – as a percentage of their incomes or assets during their lives. Some fraction of the wealthy are more charitable when they die.
  2. The ultra-rich don’t appear to save a lot of money – as a percentage of their income or assets.
  3. The ultra-rich appear to spend large amounts of money on luxury goods which benefit themselves and their families. The amount spent on luxury goods seems to help make sense of the lower amounts spent on philanthropy and saving.

[1] http://supportingadvancement.com…
[2] http://biz.yahoo.com/special/lux…
[2b] http://www.elitetraveler.com/bus…
[3] Anyone with a net worth of 50 million almost certainly is invested in some combination of stocks and bonds that provides them with an income over 1 million.
[4] http://answers.google.com/answer…
[5] http://news.google.com/newspaper…
[6] http://www.bis.org/review/r01090…
[7] http://www.charitynavigator.org/…
[8] http://www.toledocf.org/clientup…
[9] http://www.philanthropy.iupui.ed…
[10] http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorul…

About Doug Gollan

I am Editor-in-Chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons and DG Amazing Experiences, and a Contributor to Forbes.com.
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