Lifestyles of the Formerly Rich and Famous

Getting ahead financially really isn’t complex, or hard to do. We just need to do one thing: Spend less than we make. Yes, it really is that simple to say, but often that hard to do. We just get addicted to our “stuff,” and our lifestyle. Yet, any drop in income has us in denial and clinging to our former spending habits, instead of making some basic adjustments. But with less income, that lifestyle now has to be financed with debt. And like blowing up a balloon, there will always be an end to that shell game.

The rich and famous are even more likely to go through this denial phase. But denial only goes for a short period of time. And that time-frame is often shorter for the rich, since they choose (yes, it’s a choice) to have monthly expense which are a whole lot more than for the rest of us.

In the entertainment field, Zsa Za Gabor, Marvin Gaye, Mick Fleetwood and Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame have all been through a bankruptcy. As has Sopranos actress Lorraine Bracco, M.A.S.H. star Gary Burghoff, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and singers Natalie Cole, Elton John, and Toni Braxton. The most famous bankruptcy likely still to come will be Michael Jackson. Somehow an estimated $500 to $800 million net worth in the 1980s is all spent, and then some. Jackson is holding on by his fingernails, with hedge fund financing and multiple mortgages on his Neverland ranch and his Beatles music catalogue.

But this common, often self-imposed problem, does not just apply to the rich. With bankruptcies up 16% year over last year, and the current recession, more and more people are reaching the danger level.

The National Post last week had a story of a drywaller whose income shrunk drastically last summer. Yet, for more than six months, he stayed in denial by using credit cards to maintain his lifestyle, and to make payment on his “baby,” as he called his Honda Acura. That may work for a while, but by January he had filed for bankruptcy.

Optimism is a great mindset, but when it comes to our debt and finances, staying realistic is always a much better frame of mind. And don’t kid yourself. Filing for bankruptcy is neither easy nor fun. Along with a death in the family or perhaps a divorce, bankruptcy will always rate amongst the top five traumatic experiences of a lifetime.

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