Tag Archives: wealth

What I’ve Been Reading: May 8th


“For me, this is an industry that’s really wrestling with how it defines its own professionalism.”

Or lack thereof, I guess.

We’re living in a food carnival. . .” This article about obesity in the US is full of possible policy prescriptions, some of which sound like good ideas, and some of which sound like a bit too much government involvement.

It makes me angry when charities are used as profit-making opportunities. Beware the Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF).

“I ask myself what the heck are these people doing stealing from our veterans. because that’s what they are doing,” Simpsons said. “I don’t care how you look at it. These people have sacrificed for our country. And there are some people out there raising money to abuse ’em and that just makes me mad.”

Black Women and Fat“: in some ways, I envy the difference in cultural ideals that makes curves more acceptable. At the same time, Randall’s article shows that the cultural ideals might trend toward the extreme opposite of super skinny, and what we really need is an ideal of a healthy (but not cookie-cutter) woman.

How out of touch are the leaders of the United States? Very, it would seem. It really seems as if they don’t consider how laws affect the majority of the population. Why do I say this, you ask? Well first, you can be too poor to file for bankruptcy. Yeah, you read that correctly. Second, the pool lift requirements going into effect later this month mean that hundreds of thousands of pools across the country must install lifts costing upwards of $3500 – perhaps well upwards. That means some hotels and public pools may opt to close rather than buy a lift. Thankfully this law has some language protecting community pools,* but it’s still fantastically inconsiderate, especially given all the ambiguity surrounding the requirements. Are politicians seriously so wealthy that how laws effect less affluent people doesn’t even occur to them? Do they even give one second of thought to the law of unintended consequences?

I haven’t been too taken by any freshly pressed blogs lately, but I did enjoy this one about funny signage around the world.

Atheists joke about eating babies, but some Chinese people really do eat babies, apparently. Makes the joke lose a lot of its humor.

I’ll admit I haven’t finished reading this yet, but so far it’s great. Boys often perceive reading as girly (wtf?). I guess this is kind of like the color pink. I mean, 300 years ago most girls couldn’t read, and now it’s something only girls do? Anyway, the author wrote about how to talk to little girls, and now she’s writing about how to talk to little boys. 🙂

Dear Stephens, Fuck you. Because a few 2012 graduates you’ve met were not particularly well-educated and because the focus of the entire education system has changed from brute memorization to thinking skills, you’ve thrown out my entire graduating class? You call us less-educated than any class before us, and you call our majors useless. What was your major, Stephens? Did you graduate during the slow recovery of the worst economic recession in 70 years? Didn’t think so. Who was president of the US in 1874?**

*”The rules also allow for possible exceptions for municipal pools, in that they must bring existing pools into compliance, “to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so,” and “unless doing so results in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a (swimming) program, or in an undue financial and administrative burden,” according to a USDOJ overview of the standards.

**That’s right, I picked an arbitrary date. History is a very, very large thing, full of many, many facts. Too many, in fact, for any one person to know them all. They’re basically all important, but not knowing something as arbitrary as the US president in a given year doesn’t necessarily mean we’re uneducated.

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Entitlement to Others’ Wealth

Entitlement. It’s a word with many meanings. Its popular uses at present in the United States seem to be 1)referring to entitlement programs like Social Security and 2) referring to the supposedly-popular sentiment of entitlement (to a job, to an education, to money, etc.) among Millennials. The first is factual, the second is very much a matter of opinion, and I am not referring to either.

I want to talk about a different kind of entitlement. The entitlement people feel to money in their family, particularly the money of grandparents and parents. Why do I want to talk about this? Because the popularity of the idea that you are somehow entitled to money other people have earned is distressing.

I’ll start with an example from television. Recently, a wealthy character (CeCe) on Gossip Girl died. She left all her money to a young woman (Ivy) completely unrelated to her. CeCe’s children and grandchildren freaked out, plotting to deprive Ivy of her new-found wealth. These characters acted as if the money already belonged to them before CeCe died. They acted as if they were entitled to the money, and as if CeCe had no right to dispose of her money however she wished. Particularly disgusting is that all of the disinherited individuals have plenty of money, they simply feel so entitled to what belonged to their mother/grandmother that they can’t accept her decision.

That’s a fictional example, of course. How about some real world examples? Someone close to my family told me that a person he knows, let’s call him Jeff, asked his father for Jeff’s inheritance early. In other words, Jeff asked for what he expected to be his inheritance before Jeff’s father died. Talk about entitlement, Jeff tried to take the money before it had ceased to belong to his father. Additionally, one of Jeff’s brothers, call him Lyle, told another brother, who happened to have taken on the responsibility of bringing his father to the doctor and checking on him, call him Kyle, to stop taking such good care of their father so he would hurry up and die.

Here’s an example from my own life, albeit a bit different: My grandfather mentioned his will the other day. In a psuedo-threat he said he wouldn’t give me any of his money in his will (his will has already been written, I doubt if any changes will be made thus it wasn’t a real threat), as if it would matter to me. As if I had decided that I was entitled to his money. I told him I didn’t expect him to give me anything, before or after he dies. I’ve never formed such expectations. All I have ever expected from my family is some level of affection.

It disturbs me that people, of all ages, don’t distinguish between their own money and the money that belongs to their family members. I think a vivid example is when people win the lottery – their family and friends often ask for money, gifts, and loans, and they react poorly when not given what they want. If you have a million dollars (or a billion or 100 million or whatever amount), that money belongs to only those who earned (or won) it – you.

My grandfather’s money belongs only to my grandfather. While I may criticize some of the ways in which he spends it (and I do occasionally), I have no say over it. I don’t expect one. My mother’s money? It’s her money. She can do as she likes with it. If she wants to spend it on me, I probably won’t argue, but I do not expect it. My paternal grandfather’s money? It’s his. While he is wealthy enough that I might inherit a small gift when he passes, I don’t expect it. If he decides to give that money to charity or a complete stranger, that’s fine.

You are only in charge of your own money. If you are a couple, you may share control over collective earnings. Others’ money is not yours. It is theirs to do as they wish with. Being related to someone does not give you a claim to their money before or after they die, unless, I suppose, a will is not in existence, but I’m not speaking from a legal standpoint, I’m speaking from a moral one.

If your family member or loved one built their own wealth, your relationship does not entitle you to a cut of that wealth. If you grew up wealthy, but only because of other people’s money, you are not entitled to wealth. If your friend won the lottery, you are not entitled to a gift or a loan or anything else.

We don’t deserve other people’s money because we were a good friend or a good daughter or simply related or we grew up with their money. We don’t deserve their money at all, really. Not usually anyway. Not if you nursed them through cancer or Alzheimer’s, and not if you were a devoted and loyal friend all your life. Because doing those things? They’re things that should be done out of love or friendship or duty (or even because you are paid to do so as a nurse or other care-taker). They’re not things that should be done solely or even mostly in the hopes of inheritance.

We are not entitled to anyone else’s wealth. No one is entitled to bequeath their wealth to family members or charities or even to people in general because it belongs only to one person. That person has a right to decide what to do with their money and they deserve for their decisions to be respected, even if they left all their money in trust to pay for a parrot.

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Why $500,000 Is A Lot Of Money And The Difference Between Living Expenses and Luxury Expenses

This article is a few years old, but you should read it before you read any of my comments.

The entire articles read as, “Well when you are pulling in lots of money you have to spend all or almost all of it on frivolous stuff, so it’s hard to live on a salary as small as $500K.”

Let’s look at what’s listed as “living expenses,” shall we?

Not one, but two vacations per year. And not camping trip vacations or even carefully budgeted special trips to Disneyworld or whatever:

Barbara Corcoran, a real estate executive, said that most well-to-do families take at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes.

Total minimum cost: $16,000.

How are two $8,000 vacations a year “living expenses”? They are entirely not necessary to live.*

A summer house? I’ll freely allow the apartment expenses to be considered part of living expenses since rent or mortgage and property taxes are usually a large portion of everyone’s cost of living, but a summer house? I don’t freaking care how much your summer house in Southampton that’s “not the top of the market” costs, it’s not part of your living expenses. And why didn’t you go to the house that you own for vacation instead of going to far away places two times a year?

A car and driver? Or a driver that doubles as a bodyguard? Okay, I can’t say I know the culture in this case very well, but is a bodyguard really necessary? I can hardly say that I think a driver is by any means a real living expense unless you maybe physically cannot drive yourself.**

A personal trainer. Isn’t that quaint? Er, except not. Personal trainers are luxuries. Counting them as living expenses is like counting the cost of renting a private jet as a living expense. It’s not. You are perfectly capable of working out without a trainer. Us little people, when we want the benefit of a trainer, buy workout dvds or pay for the occasional session with a trainer.

Then we get to the parties.

The work in the gym pays off when one must don a formal gown for a charity gala. “Going to those parties,” said David Patrick Columbia, who is the editor of the New York Social Diary (newyorksocialdiary.com), “a woman can spend $10,000 or $15,000 on a dress. If she goes to three or four of those a year, she’s not going to wear the same dress.”

Total cost for three gowns: about $35,000.

Or, she could not spend $15,000 on a dress. I understand that fashion is an important part of the culture, but there’s a pretty low threshold at which all dresses begin to look the same. After a certain point all each additional dollar will get you is closer to an even more famous designer label. Don’t complain about spending this much on gowns. This is not a living expense. It’s a luxury. Other people have to buy $100 or $200 gowns when we need to wear something nice. And most of us consider that gown purchase a luxury.

Then the writer talks about tutoring their kids. They’re already sending them to cushy private school, why exactly do they need tutors?

In addition to paying tuition, “You’re not going to get through private school without tutoring a kid,” said Sandy Bass, the editor of Private School Insider, a newsletter that covers private schools in the New York City area

Seriously? If the private schools aren’t doing a good enough job teaching your students at $32,000 a kid, then why are you sending them there? If everyone needs tutoring to get through school, there’s something wrong with the school. I hate to attack any child-related costs, but this one is just unreasonable even if it is a relatively small expense (they allow for $3750 for tutoring).

Nanny. Right. Did you know some people actually raise their own children? No, seriously. They do. When they’re lucky enough that only one spouse has to work, the other spouse often spends much of their time raising their children. Go figure. Who knew. Nannies in one-earner households provide a luxury service.

To recap, living expenses are: food, regular clothing, housing expenses, education expenses. Luxury expenses are: vacations, summer homes, private tutoring, nannies, $10,000 dresses, driver/bodyguards.

I’m not saying it doesn’t cost a lot to live on that level in New York City. It clearly does, but this article is really out of touch with reality.

Sure, the solution may seem simple: move to Brooklyn or Hoboken, put the children in public schools and buy a MetroCard. But more than a few of the New York-based financial executives who would have their pay limited are men (and they are almost invariably men) whose identities are entwined with living a certain way in a certain neighborhood west of Third Avenue: a life of private schools, summer houses and charity galas that only a seven-figure income can stretch to cover.

The solution isn’t necessarily to move to a different neighborhood. It’s to learn how to live within your income. To learn how to save for the future and to understand that sometimes that means limiting what you purchase and budgeting properly so you can comfortably spend money on actual living expenses (mortgage payments, co-op fees, school expenses for children, food, day-to-day clothing, you know, stuff you need to actually live comfortably?). Skip a charity gala or two or go somewhere close or inexpensive for vacation.

And when it comes to this:

“Five hundred thousand dollars means taking their kids out of private school and selling their home in a fire sale.”

No. Five hundred thousand dollars means learning to budget your after-tax earnings and seriously curtailing much of your frivolous luxury spending. Re-wearing outfits. Learning to raise your kids without a nanny and help them with their homework yourself. Maybe then you may have to consider selling a home. Maybe then they’d learn some financial responsibility and not get our country into financial messes in their attempts to make money in quick but unsubstantial ways.

Wonder if anyone’s considered that if these kids did end up in public school (gasp!…?), the public schools systems might benefit from having wealthy adults who invest in their children***?

*You can argue that vacations are necessary for healthy living all you want. The fact remains that you need not spend $8,000 twice a year on vacation just to stay healthy.

**Blind people, for example, could reasonably say they need a driver. Or people without limbs.

***I don’t know a lot about NYC schools, and I am not trying to suggest the parents of kids in public schools are not invested in their children’s lives. I’m just trying to point out that this group of the population – these wealthy individuals – being involved in the public schools might benefit that system. I could be completely wrong.

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