President's Blog: How the Wealthiest Americans Spend Their Money


There are two goals which prompt Americans to earn as much money as they can with the hope of someday being wealthy.

The first goal is security. Having the funds to secure your home, your safety and the financial and educational future of your children has got to be the overriding motivation to acquiring wealth. Life without financial concern is unknown to most Americans and is assumed by them to be the best possible way to live.

The second goal for acquiring wealth is far less considerate and thoughtful; Americans with great wealth get to buy more stuff.

The dream of great wealth in America translates into “having it all”, even though that definition is different for every American. Once the financial foundation is set and the staples have all been acquired, wealthy investors have the ability to make purchases and donations as they see fit within whatever constraints exist in their portfolio.

Part of Spectrem’s study of extremely affluent investors – The Wealthiest Americans – included questions about expenditures over the 12-month period prior to the survey being taken. From those questions, Spectrem was able to point to certain types of expenditures that most attract the wealthiest investors, and those that are more aligned with personal preference.

The study inquires about more than a dozen ways The Wealthiest Americans might spend their disposable dollars, from what might be considered frivolous spending to spending with an eye toward accomplishing something that has value to others.

According to the study, 90 percent of The Wealthiest Americans contribute to charitable organizations, and it shows that 19 percent contributed more than $100,000 in the year prior to the survey being taken. That’s more money applied to charity than in any of the other categories offered for so-called “discretionary” spending.

That is certainly the most well-intentioned expenditure among the choices offered. It’s fair to believe that most Americans would find a way to be charitable when they had great wealth. After all, investors with far less wealth manage to make charitable donations as well.

The Wealthiest Americans also make donations to political causes, although that is not nearly as prevalent. In fact, more than one-quarter of the wealthiest investors did not make any political donations in the year prior to the study (only 10 percent did not make charitable contributions in that time period). Of those that did donate to political causes, 25 percent donated more than $25,000 and 10 percent donated more than $100,000.

There is no question investors believe that with great wealth would come great vacations, and the wealthiest investors do in fact get away from it all. Almost half spent at least $25,000 annually on vacations in the year studied, and 10 percent spent at least $100,000 to travel away from home.

All other “fun’’ expenditures, like jewelry and cars and sports event tickets, are purchased, but not at the same level of vacation spending or donations. Sometimes the most revealing research is on the investors who do not spend for fun, like the 27 percent who spent no money on collectibles or the 16 percent which spend nothing on automobiles in the year of the study.

There is one area studied that does play to conventional wisdom and stereotypes of the wealthy American. Most wealthy investors do spend money on household staff, and almost 40 percent spend more than $25,000 annually on maids, nannies, lawn care and the like.

Then there are those of the wealthiest investors who do with their “discretionary’’ dollars what all other investors do: fix up the house. Home improvement is an expensive proposition, and a majority of those investors spent at least $10,000 in the 12-month period on home improvement.

How does this spending compare to spending habits of investors with lesser wealth? Spectrem has covered that as well, with our new whitepaper Spending Habits of the Wealthiest Americans, which compares investors with a net worth over $25 million to those with a net worth between $5 million and $25 million.

And what did that whitepaper find out? A great many things, actually, but mostly that nobody spends much money on boats these days.