How to Live as Well as a Billionaire

When you think about the rich — the really rich — you may find yourself marveling at their… well, their money.

Take Bill Gates. If you think $10 million is a fortune, consider this: He has 5,000 of them. If he put his money in $1,000 bills, he’d have 50 million of them!

But how much better does he live? Sure, he’s got a huge house. And a yacht. He’s probably got a jet too. But who needs that crap? Really!

If you make at least $100,000 a year ($150,000 if you are raising a family), you can live as well as Bill Gates does — and I’ll prove it to you. If you aren’t yet making that much, you’ll have to put aside this essay until you are. (If you’re following ETR, it shouldn’t take very long.)

Let’s start by identifying some of life’s basic experiences:

  • sleeping
  • working
  • dressing
  • eating/drinking
  • leisure

Now the purpose of becoming rich — you would think — would be to make each of these experiences as rewarding as possible.

Take sleeping. What does a billionaire want out of his sleep time? I’d say the same thing you do: blissful, uninterrupted unconsciousness. And what will give you that (besides peace of mind, which you can’t buy)?

Answer: a great mattress.

And how much does a great mattress cost? Maybe $1,500. That means you can buy yourself a billion-dollar sleep for no more than $1,500. If you are making $100,000 a year, you can afford it.

So get rid of that lumpy thing you are sleeping on and get yourself the best mattress you can find. Then go to sleep every night content that Bill Gates can have it no better.

Buying Yourself the Best

You can pay almost any price for any thing. But after a certain point, you are no longer paying for quality, you are paying for prestige.

Take steak. Ask someone who knows about beef and you will be told that the quality of a steak is mostly a matter of the cut you buy. (Let’s face it – there’s no great skill in cooking a filet mignon.)

Order a filet at Ruth’s Chris and, for around $30, you are getting the best steak money can buy. Eat the same thing at Le Cirque and you’ll pay $75. What’s the difference?

Yes — just prestige.

The same is true when it comes to your clothing. Beautiful, comfortable clothes are not cheap, but they don’t have to cost a fortune. You can buy the world’s best pair of slacks for $150 or you can spend 10 times that amount. The difference will be the label on the waistband.

Champagne, anyone? When Consumer Reports asked a group of wine experts to evaluate a variety of Champagnes, the four that came out on top sold for less than $40. Dom Perignon, fifth on their list, will set you back $115. A better bottle of bubbly can be had for only $28.

The point is this: The best material things in life are affordable. They are not cheap — quality never is. But if you buy them selectively and use them with care, you can enjoy a life as materially rich as Bill Gates on an income that wouldn’t get him through lunch.

Here’s how you can live rich, starting today:

Your Dream House

I have lived in a three-room mud house in Africa and a 5,000-square-foot mansion — and I can tell you this: The quality of a home has little or nothing to do with how much it costs or how big it is.

Think about the houses you most admire. They are probably NOT ostentatious. One of my current favorites is a modest three-bedroom in Cleveland, which has been transformed by the lady who owns it into a museum reflecting her love of travel, dance, and learning. Every room is a gem. I am completely comfortable and endlessly amused in this rich and interesting place.

In every important way, her home is worth more than Bill Gates’s 40,000-square-foot monstrosity in Seattle — yet it has a market value of only about $150,000.

Your Car

I have a friend, a wealthy friend, who loves cars, especially sports cars. He drives a Camaro. Why? Because he says it is as good as a Corvette, a Porsche, or even a Ferrari. Instead of forking out $150,000 plus… he gets his thrills at one-sixth the price.

What about prestige? Well, you usually have to pay more for that. But if you are willing to go the classic route… and buy a car whose design doesn’t change every year or so… you can buy yourself prestige at an affordable rate. For example, I drive a mint-condition NSX that you couldn’t tell from a brand-new one. My car is worth about $30,000. You’d have to pay almost three times that amount for a new one. The same holds true for older Mercedes and BMWs.

In fact, in terms of “living rich,” you should never buy a new car. You’ll save a bundle by purchasing a late model vehicle with low mileage. If you shop around, you can find a five- or 10-year-old car at 25 percent or 30 percent of the new-car price, and it will be just as good.

Your Wardrobe

What does it cost to dress like the world’s richest people? Much less than you think.

If you can forget about brand names and focus on quality, you will save thousands. As with cars, you’ll do better by going for a classic look. That way, you won’t have to discard perfectly good items simply because the width of the lapel or length of the hemline is no longer “in.”

The other big secret of dressing rich is this: Less is more.

Ralph Lauren — a guy who has the money and resources to dress as rich as can be — wears the same thing almost every day: classic-cut jeans and a T-shirt.

And don’t turn up your nose at high-end consignment shops. What could be more elegant than a vintage suit, properly tailored, impeccably clean?

There are many books on this subject. They all say pretty much the same thing. Having a few really nice pieces is much better — more enjoyable for you, more impressive to others – than a wardrobe full of trendy, ordinary stuff.

Want specifics? Get yourself two or three pairs of slacks (or skirts). One or two suits (or dresses). Two or three pairs of shoes. Buy only what looks great on you.

Make sure your socks are cashmere ($19.50 at Banana Republic) and your T-shirts and underwear are the finest cotton (or silk). Use only one cologne or perfume, and only your favorite personal-care products. The rule is to have much less, but enjoy everything you have.

Buy classic. Buy selectively. Insist on quality. Simple is better than complex. Understated is better than flashy. Do this and you will have what Bill Gates can afford to have: a very pleasant feeling each time you pull on your shirt or buckle your belt.

Food and Drink

Want a billion-dollar meal? Take a good bottle of wine, a baguette of freshly baked bread, some imported cheese, ham, and mustard, and go to the nearest park with a friend or loved one. You need only a knife and a corkscrew — what you have in your kitchen is fine — to prepare and serve a truly memorable meal.

Le Cirque? Well, I told you what I think about eating there. But if there’s an expensive restaurant you are dying to try, go ahead and treat yourself. Don’t do it too often, though. As someone who has eaten countless expensive meals, I know how tiring rich food can be. More important, I can remember few expensive meals that surpassed the simple wine and cheese lunches my wife and I have enjoyed when we were lucky enough to have them.

Music, Books, Movies, Etc.

With today’s technology, even a $300 boom box sounds great. So don’t even try to tell me you need to spend more than a grand on a sound system for your home. The secret is to select only the best music to play on it. Nobody — no matter how wealthy — has more than you to choose from.

The great thing about books: the best ones cost no more than the worst ones. Treat yourself richly by spending your money and time only on that which makes you feel richer afterward. The same is true for movies, theater, and just about any other form of entertainment.

There is only one extravagance you can’t buy reasonably: front-row tickets to professional basketball games. I have made the mistake of becoming a Miami Heat fan. If you are smart, you will learn to love college ball.

Your Office

Warren Buffett’s office doesn’t look like it belongs to a multi-billionaire. The walls are paneled plywood. The desk is a tabletop. He doesn’t need a cathedral-sized space and an altar-sized desk. He is not God, and he knows it.

But the room is uniquely his, with a comfortable chair, good lighting, and a place for everything. The only decorations are souvenirs and other objects that inspire him. Buffett’s office looks like no one else’s. And it works for him.

That’s what you want for your office.

I’m not saying your office should not be luxurious. I am saying it should be luxurious in a personal way. You will be spending most of your waking life in your office, so put as much thought and care into it as you do your home.


Shopping for a Christmas present for my wife, I wandered into an antique shop that specialized in silver. The proprietor, a genteel, 86-year-old lady from Georgia, showed me this and that. And then, when she sensed I was looking for something very special, took me to the back room and showed me a collection of silverware by the Baltimore-based silversmith Reed & Barton. “If you were a millionaire,” she said in her seductive southern drawl, “You could not buy a finer set of silverware than this.”

It cost me $4,500. Nothing to be sneezed at, but that was for 14 place settings and a lot of serving pieces. Just think about it. You can own the finest silverware that money can buy — antique silverware, at that — for $4,500. Such a set of silverware could last you all your life, could give you endless pleasure and make even your ordinary meals elegant. The Queen Mother herself couldn’t do better.

I’m thinking about getting rid of the rest of our silverware and using only this. That’s how much I like it.

Reaping the Well-Deserved Rewards of Living Rich

If you fill your life with the best of everything, but you are too busy to enjoy it, you’ve missed the boat.

So do this…

Think about your schedule and pick yourself a half-hour a day to do nothing but enjoy yourself. (For some people, this is easy. For others, it’s tough. If it’s tough for you, tell yourself you’ll work smarter this way.) During this half-hour, do something a billionaire might do. Sip a cup of espresso. Have a Cognac. Contemplate your good fortune. Breathe deeply. Smile.

Then get back to work.

It’s All Entirely Within Your Reach

The way you dress, the way you eat and drink… even the home you live in… can be as good as any billionaire’s. Spend time shopping. Limit your possessions. And take a half-hour a day to really appreciate the good things you have. That’s all there is to it. (Oh, yes. And don’t scrimp on the mattress.)

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]