Almost half of Americans surveyed in a Harris Poll, commissioned by Nerd Wallet, said that emotions have caused them to spend more than they can reasonably afford.
You don’t own a 45-acre village in France and you haven’t spent $18 million to renovate a 150-foot yacht. You don’t own 14 residences, plus a collection of islands in the Bahamas. You don’t pay more than $3.5 million a year to pay for a staff of 40 people, or spend a purported $30,000 per month on wine.
In short, you’re not Johnny Depp.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have similar personal financial problems.
Depp’s issues have been fodder for the tabloids. He sued his former business managers because he is missing $40 million. The managers have countersued, saying they warned Depp about the consequences of his flamboyant spending on 200 works of art, a collection of exotic and collectible guitars, private jet rides, gifts of jewelry, the monthly wine bill and more.
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The managers laid the blame squarely on the famous actor himself, saying “Depp, and Depp alone, is fully responsible for any financial turmoil he finds himself in today.”
Yet where Johnny Depp differs from a lot of ordinary consumers and investors is mostly in the magnitude of the problems.
Depp is getting paid $20 million per film, or $1 million per week on any project.
But his spending problems are relative to those earnings.
Almost half of Americans surveyed in a Harris Poll released last week, commissioned by Nerd Wallet, said that emotions have caused them to spend more than they can reasonably afford. The number of emotional over-spenders was higher for the millennial generation — which has less money to spend and less experience handling money than baby boomers — and was more likely in households with a lower income.
A few decades ago, consumers regularly balanced their checking accounts. Today’s teenagers don’t know the meaning of the phrase. I recently visited a high-school class where none of the 30 students knew what balancing a checkbook was; they were told to ask their parents about the process, and every single student reported back that their parents said they balance their checkbook no more than once per year, if at all.
The good news is that modern technology has made it so that people write fewer checks, and their accounts have fewer issues.
But if they aren’t balancing a checkbook, they’re also not reconciling their transactions, protecting themselves against errors and seeing some of the many ways that their money disappears. They don’t see fees and other ancillary costs that can bleed their account.
Recently, I looked at my own statement and noticed a charge from the gym that my family goes to. When my youngest daughter came home for the holidays, her membership was reactivated; had I not checked the statement, I would have missed that the gym reactivated monthly billing as well, which would have meant paying monthly dues while my daughter was off at graduate school.
Moreover, in many cases with fees and expenses, consumers have no little or no recourse; the fee, the price increase or the expense was agreed to in the fine print somewhere, but is most easily spotted when someone looks at a spending statement and wonders “What the heck is that?”
While F. Scott Fitzgerald held that the rich are different from you and me, and the Notorious B.I. G. asserted that more money equaled more problems, financial advisers are quick to note that rich, average or poor all face the same financial questions when it comes to spending.
“The first secret to financial planning — which shocks people — is ‘Spend less than you earn,’ ” explained Michael S. Falk of Focus Consulting Group in Chicago. “You start by living within your means, no matter how much you are making. If you always spend less than you earn, the question is did you save the difference, and how have you invested it.”
That’s a lot better than spending more than you earn, and having the question be “What did you do with all the money you could have saved?”
Remember, too, that extravagances don’t help you when times get tight. Things — whether it is Depp’s yacht or the village in France — aren’t much help in times of stress and financial crisis. You won’t have to sell a village — the way Depp reportedly will — to settle a divorce, but you will face financial challenges along the way.
Said Falk: “People should invest first in financial comfort; having enough money to pay your bills, to handle emergencies and such is a big comfort, a lot more comfort than you are going to get out of the wine or the clothes or the other things that you really can’t afford but that you are spending on now.”