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The High Cost of Being Rich

by Stephen Lautens


June 27, 2003

I was digging through some clippings I had set aside when I found one that caught my eye. It was a poll about how the wealthiest Canadians see themselves.

In typical Canadian fashion, the Ipsos-Reid poll reported that 95% of Canada’s top earners don’t consider themselves wealthy, including three quarters of the people who are millionaires. In fact, 2% of the millionaires questioned felt they were "just able to maintain a basic standard of living" and 1% of Canada’s wealthiest reported that they were "struggling".

I didn’t realize things were that bad. Maybe there ought to be a home where we can look after millionaires down on their luck - besides the Senate I mean.

Last year Canada reportedly created more new millionaires proportionately than the United States. You’d think this is good news about the robust Canadian economy, with people happy and prospering, but after seeing the poll I’m afraid that now all it means is more people struggling to keep their heads above water, even if it is in the comfort of their own indoor swimming pools.

To make ends meet, Canada’s privileged underprivileged might have to cut a few corners. They might have to make that old tiara last through one more season. They’ll stock up on Gray Poupon mustard when it goes on sale. They’ll fire the team of landscapers and spend the weekends personally fishing gum wrappers out of the moat and scraping the pigeon poop off the gargoyles. Rich men will face the hard decision about whether to spend the money on plastic surgery for the old trophy wife, or if this is the year to invest in a new, younger one. Cigars will have to be lit with five dollar bills instead of hundreds.

There’s a lot to worry about if you are a Canadian millionaire. If you just made your first million fleecing investors, flipping real estate or selling orphans for spare parts, a big concern must be that if you spend any of it you could drop below the one million dollar mark and won’t get to call yourself an millionaire anymore. It would be pretty embarrassing to have to admit that you’re twenty bucks shy of seven figures. Talk about the pressure of keeping up with the Bronfmanns.

I suppose it’s true that money doesn’t buy you happiness - or at least that’s what I remind myself every time I open my bank statement. I remember that I am rich in ways that you can’t put a price on - just my luck.

There are people I know who bought very fancy cars, only to be afraid to park them anywhere. Others who live in great big houses that "require" landscaping because the neighbours will holler (actually rich people don’t holler - they pay a lawyer $400 an hour to do it for them). Then there’s the clothes you think you should wear, the food you think you should eat and the places you think you should be seen.

There’s no doubt about it - being rich can be very expensive.

I know someone who made a few bucks and placed their children in private school because they kept getting beaten up in the public system. After paying a fortune to get them into a snooty private school, it turned out the kids continued to get beaten up - but at least now they were being beaten up by a better class of person.

I suppose that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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