A friend said something very interesting the other day. She said she wouldn’t know how to spend a billion dollars even if the money was handed to her. Her imagination stopped at, maximum, a few million. She said, “You probably need to be super-rich to even visualise spending like the super-rich”.
I wish I could have gone to Qatar to check, having read recently that the country is the “best in the world at being rich”, having not just the highest GDP per capita but also the world’s most millionaires per capita. But since no one gave me a billion dollars to buy an Airbus ($810) to help with my survey, I just asked people in India instead.
Most people expressed simple desires. Travelling topped almost everyone’s list, with property purchases at number 2. Many said they’d stop working and just bum around.
A few women said they’d shop for clothes, jewellery and bags “without looking at price tags”. The “best high-end cars” popped up on some wish lists.
The very young talked about donating to the needy, as well as “children and dogs”; the older lot said they would “not give to the poor” but to friends and family. Reminded that she had spent only a few measly million, one young lady muttered feebly about “FDs”.
One enterprising lad said he would hire a team of top financiers to help him plan how to spend his billion, part of which would go to set up a state-of-the-art hospital and a top-end school. Both would work pro bono, he declared. One young professional said, after ensuring the security of everyone he loved, he would take a world tour and then resume working (only now as the boss of his own firm) and invest his money in a way that would keep the capital safe and bring in regular income for the rest of his life. An elderly self-made millionaire said he would invest all the money.
No one evinced a desire for big-ticket items, like travelling to the moon, buying a football team or a private island or even a plane or yacht. “It didn’t strike us,” they said, when asked why they hadn’t. But would they like to, I persisted. “Yeah, ok,” said some. “Not really,” was the response of most.
So what do the answers mean? I’ve always assumed that despite being told ad infinitum that “money can’t buy you happiness,” it’s a rare individual who doesn’t dream of being rich (or richer). Have I been wrong all along? Do people not want additional wealth? Or do they want to be rich(er) but only for the choices, and not the objects, money can buy them?
Is money just a tool that lets us take control of our own life and destiny? Or is that only the desire of people who don’t actually have the big bucks, and, thereby, lack the freedom to do only what their heart wants? Do desires change when you actually become super-rich? Can some true-blue billionaire please respond?