TIME Davos

What Obama and Davos Plutocrats Have in Common

A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.
A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Global wealth has changed dramatically. It's time our tax code should, too

If President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night and the chatter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which opened Wednesday, are any indication, inequality will be the hot economic topic for another year running.

The president’s proposals for changes to parts of the US tax code that mainly benefit the wealthy revives the conversation Warren Buffett started a few years back with his op-ed about why his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. (Answer: She works for wages, whereas the Oracle of Omaha earns money on money itself, in the form of capital gains, interest income, etc.) At the WEF in Davos, where world leaders meet every year to hash out the big geopolitical and economic issues of the day, one of the most talked about reports is Oxfam’s new brief looking at how the 85 richest people on the planet have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50%, a huge jump from last year when it took a full 388 plutocrats to equal that wealth. Some 20% of the billionaires come from the world of finance and insurance, a group whose wealth increased by 11 % in the last twelve months. And $550 million of it was spent lobbying policy makers in places like Washington, something Oxfam believes has been a major barrier to tax and intellectual property reform that creates a fairer economic system.

Plenty of those plutocrats are here on the Magic Mountain, and some are undoubtedly checking in with their tax planners. I expect that we’ll hear lots more in Davos this week about how to restructure tax codes for the 21st century, mainly because the nature of wealth and how it gets created has changed so dramatically. Today, more than ever since the Gilded Age, money begets money; income earned from wages has been stagnating for years, or decades even, depending on which type of workers you tally. Meanwhile, changes in the tax code and corporate compensation over the last 30 years or so has concentrated more financial resources at the very top of the socio-economic food chain. Indeed, financial assets (stocks, bonds, and such) are the dominant form of wealth for the top 0.1 %, which actually creates a snowball effect of inequality.

As French economist Thomas Piketty explained so thoroughly in his now famous 693 page tome on wealth inequality, Capital in the 21st Century, the returns on financial assets greatly out-weigh those from income earned the old-fashioned way—by working for wages. Even when you consider the salaries of the modern economy’s super-managers—the CEOs, bankers, accountants, agents, consultants and lawyers that groups like Occupy Wall Street railed against—it’s important to remember that somewhere between 30% to 80 % of their incomes are awarded not in cash but in stock options and stock equity. This type of income is taxed at a much lower rate than what most of us pay on the money we receive in our regular checks. That means the composition of super-manager pay has the booster-rocket effect of lowering taxes (and thus governments’ ability to provide support for the poor and middle classes) while increasing inequality in the economy as a whole.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

It’s a cycle that spins faster and faster as executives paid in stock make short-term business decisions that might undermine long-term growth in their companies even as they raise the value of their own options in the near. It’s no accident that corporate stock buybacks, which tend to bolster share prices but not underlying growth (you know, the kind that creates jobs for you and me), and corporate pay have gone up concurrently over the last four decades. There are any number of studies that illustrate the intersection between the markets, our tax system, and wealth gap; one of the most striking was done by economists James Galbraith and Travis Hale, who showed how during the late 1990s, changing income inequality tracked the go-go NASDAQ stock index to a remarkable degree.

As Piketty’s work shows, in the absence of some change-making event, like a war or a Great Depression that destroys financial asset value, the rich really do get richer–a lot richer–while the rest of us become relatively worse off. One of the few levers that governments have to combat this trend is the tax code. While Piketty argues for a global wealth tax, something that will likely never happen, President Obama’s stab at capital gains taxes and trust taxes is probably just the opening round in a tax debate that will go on throughout this year, and into the 2016 presidential race.

I say, bring it on—given that the nature of wealth has changed, it’s high time the tax system should too.

MONEY consumer psychology

7 Ways to Trick Yourself into Saving More Money in 2015

piggy bank in various clamps and a vice
Steve Greer—Getty Images

These simple strategies can help you squeeze more out of your budget—and end the year with a lot more cash socked away than you started with.

If your New Year’s resolutions included growing—or starting—your savings, you’re already ahead of the pack.

Only about a third of Americans recently surveyed by Fidelity made any kind of financial resolution this year; and of those who did, just over half were aiming to stash more cash.

Kudos to you for taking this important step toward financial security.

Want to make sure your good intentions aren’t derailed before the month is out? The key is taking initial actions that will make repeating good habits easier, says University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler.

“We tend to revert to our long-run tendencies,” says Thaler. “To effect real changes, you have to make some structural change in the environment.”

With that wisdom in mind, the seven life changes that follow will help you save more money this year.

1. Use Inertia to Your Advantage

Research by Thaler and others has shown that people are victims of inertia: If you aren’t used to saving money with regularity, it’s likely going to feel like such a chore to start that you’ll never bother—or, you’ll quit after one account transfer.

But when your money is already being saved automatically, inertia works in your favor, since it’ll take more effort to stop saving than to do nothing. That is why a growing number of 401(k) plans offer automatic enrollment with a default monthly contribution rate.

Still, you may need to stick a hand in the machine if you want to have financial freedom in retirement, since the default rate (often around 3% of salary) won’t get you far in your golden years. Most planners recommend saving at least 10% of income.

Even if you set up your own plan, you probably haven’t touched your contribution rate since; more than a third of participants haven’t, according to a TIAA-CREF survey.

You can benefit from another relatively new feature called “auto-escalation.” Offered by nearly half of companies, auto-escalation lets you set your savings rate to bump up annually at a date of your choosing and to an amount of your choosing.

For other savings accounts, harness your own “good” inertia by setting up automatic transfers on payday from checking to savings (if you don’t see the money, you won’t get attached to it). Better yet, ask your HR department if you can split your direct deposit to multiple accounts.

2. Keep Your Eye on One Prize

Setting up automatic savings works well if your income and expenses are predictable; but what if either or both aren’t set in stone? You can save money as you go, but you’ll be more successful if you narrow your objectives.

Research from the University of Toronto found that savers often feel overwhelmed by the number of goals they need to put away money for—a stress that can lead to failure. Thinking about multiple objectives forces people to consider tradeoffs, leaving them waffling over choices instead of taking action.

One solution? Prioritize your goals, then knock out one at a time. If you know you need to contribute $5,000 to your retirement funds this year, focus on completing that first. Once it’s done, move on to saving for that dream home.

Another strategy is to think about your goals as interconnected; participants in the Toronto study were also able to overcome their uncertainty about saving when they integrated their objectives into an umbrella goal. So, for example, if you are saving for both a car and a vacation, consider setting up a “road trip” fund.

3. Focus on the Future

A part of what keeps people from saving is that we don’t connect our future aspirations with our present selves, research shows.

One way to get around that is by running some numbers on your retirement using a calculator like T. Rowe Price’s. When participants in a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research were sent exact figures showing how retirement savings contributions translated into income in retirement, they increased their annual contributions by more than $1,000 on average.

Another easy trick? Download an app like AgingBooth, which will show you how you’ll look as a geezer. One study showed that interacting with a virtual reality image of yourself in old age can make you better at saving.

This trick can work for more than just retirement. Another study found that when savers were sent visual reminders of their savings goals, they ended up with more cash stored up. Consider leaving photos of your goal (e.g., images of your children or dream home) next to the computer where you do your online banking to cue you to put more away.

4. Ignore Raises and Bonuses

As Harvard professor Sendhil Mullainathan has said, the biggest problem with getting a bonus is it’ll likely make you want to celebrate and spend it all—plus some.

The windfall creates an “abundance shock,” which gives you a misleading sense of freedom.

The simplest solution to this problem is to pretend you never got the raise or bonus in the first place, and to instead direct that new money into savings right away. (Remember the 401(k) auto-escalation tip? Set your contribution to bump up the week you get your raise.)

The same goes for when you return an item to a store for a refund or get a transportation reimbursement check in the mail. The faster you put extra cash into savings, the faster you’ll forget about spending it.

5. Make it Contractual

Carrots and sticks work.

One study asked smokers who were trying to quit to save money in an account for six months; at the end of the period, if a urine test showed them free of nicotine, the money was theirs. If not, the cash was donated to charity.

Surprise, surprise: People who participated in the savings account were more likely to have been cigarette-free at the six-month mark than a control group.

If you’re the type who responds to disincentives, enlist a buddy who can help you enforce upon yourself some kind of punishment if you don’t live up to your savings goal (e.g., you might promise a roommate that you’ll clean the bathroom for six weeks).

Maybe you respond better to positive feedback? Simply having a supportive friend or relative to report to on a set schedule may help you achieve results, as many of those who have participated in a group weight loss program like Weight Watchers can attest. Or you might look for some (non-monetary) way to reward yourself if successful.

You can use the website Stickk.com—inspired by the aforementioned study on smokers—to set up a commitment contract that involves incentives or disincentives.

6. Keep Impulses from Undoing Your Budget

Setting aside cash is only half of the equation when it comes to saving more: It’s just as important to keep spending under control.

Most people know to shop carefully—and early—for big-ticket items like cars or airline tickets (which are cheapest 49 days before you’re due to fly). But the premium for procrastinating on smaller items can also add up: Studies show that people spend more on last-minute purchases partly because shopping becomes a defensive act, focused on avoiding disappointment vs. getting the best value.

So give yourself plenty of time to research any item you’re planning to buy. And always go shopping with a list.

When you see an item that tempts you to diverge from your list, give yourself a 24-hour cooling-off period. Ask a sales clerk to keep the item on hold. Or, put it in your online shopping cart, until the same time tomorrow (chances are, that e-tailer will send you a coupon).

Or you could try this trick that MONEY writer Brad Tuttle uses to determine whether an item is worthy of his dough: Pick a type of purchase you love—in his case, burritos—and use that as a unit of measurement. For example, if you see a $120 shirt you like, you can ask yourself, “Is this really worth 10 burritos?” Likewise, you could measure the cost of an item in terms of how many hours of work you had to put in to earn the money to pay for it.

Also, since gift-shopping procrastination undoes a lot of people’s budgets, you might think about starting a spreadsheet where you can jot down ideas for presents year-round. That way, someone’s birthday rolls around, you can shop for a specific item on price rather than spending out of desperation.

Finally, remember that “anchor” prices can bias us to be thrifty or extravagant. So when you are shopping for products that range widely in price (like clothes or cars), start by inspecting cheaper items before viewing pricier ones. That way your brain will stay “anchored” to lower prices, and view the costlier options with more scrutiny.

7. Force Yourself to Feel Guilty

Surveys show that about a third of people don’t check their credit card statements every month.

That’s a problem, and not only because vigilance is your best defense against extraneous charges or credit card fraud. Seeing your purchases enumerated can also help reign in spending by making you feel guilty—one of many reasons people avoid looking.

Another perk of staying up-to-date with your bills: It makes you more aware of paying for redundant services, like Geico and AAA car insurance or Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

Keep in mind that shaving off a recurring monthly payment gives you 12x the bump in savings. So a few of these expenses could boost your annual savings by a few hundred bucks. That’s a lot of burritos.

More on resolutions:

Read next: These Types of People End Up More Successful and Make More Money

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TIME Economics

Richest 1% to Boast More Wealth Than Rest of World by 2016

In 2014, the bottom 80% controlled only 5.5% of the world's wealth

Global income inequality is headed for a new milestone with the world’s richest 1% on track to control more wealth than everyone else on the planet by 2016, according to an Oxfam International report released Monday.

The charity also warns that spiraling inequality hampers the fight against global poverty at a time when 1 in 9 people does not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 per day.

“Oxfam’s report is just the latest evidence that inequality has reached shocking extremes, and continues to grow. It is time for the global leaders of modern capitalism, in addition to our politicians, to work to change the system to make it more inclusive, more equitable and more sustainable,” said Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima.

In 2014, the ultra-rich first percentile held 48% of the world’s income. By contrast, the poorest 80% of the world’s population only controlled a paltry 5.5% of its wealth, according to the report.

The study was published a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce a significant middle-class tax cut at his State of the Union address.

TIME russia

7 Western Assets Owned (for Now) by Russian Billionaires

Will the tanking Russian economy prompt its billionaires to shed their high profile holdings in the U.S. and Europe?

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is reportedly looking for a buyer for the NBA basketball team he bought five years ago, amid speculation that the his country’s shrinking economy may have squeezed his finances.

The 49-year-old businessman, worth roughly $11.1 billion, wants to unload the Brooklyn Nets, Bloomberg reports. A spokesman for Prokhorov told Bloomberg that the team is open to sale offers.

There are many reasons that Prokhorov, the first foreign owner of an NBA team, could be considering a sale. The team has suffered a dismal start to the season after a poor record last year, sinking his plans for a spot in the championships within five years. The team has also lost about $144 million in the last year, according to ESPN.

The billionaire may also be capitalizing on an apparently hot market for NBA teams after former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers last year for a record $2 billion. The Nets have been valued at around $1.3 billion, which means a sale could net Prokhorov nearly $1 billion in profits from his original, $220 million stake.

But as the Russian economy crumbles under falling oil prices and tough Western sanctions, the nation’s business elite are feeling the pressure. Last month alone, Russia’s richest 20 people — Prokhorov included — lost a combined $10 billion as the value of the ruble tumbled. They lost a combined $62 billion across the year, according to the analysis by Bloomberg.

And Prokhorov’s not alone. Russian billionaires have snapped up marquee items in Europe and the U.S., from sports teams to properties. There are growing fears that the downturn in Russia may prompt some of them to sell off their properties to cover losses.

Here’s a look at some of the highest profile assets owned by Russian oligarchs.

  • The Brooklyn Nets

    General view as fans watch a tip-off between the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic at the Barclays Center on Nov. 9, 2014 in Brooklyn, New York.
    General view as fans watch a tip-off between the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic at the Barclays Center on Nov. 9, 2014 in Brooklyn, New York. Alex Goodlett—Getty Images

    Mikhail Prokhorov, the seventh-richest Russian and the 107th richest person in the world, bought the team and a share of the team’s new Brooklyn arena, the Barclays Center, in 2010 (according to Bloomberg, his share of the arena is not for sale). The team made it to the playoffs in 2013 but still have little to show for high profile acquisitions of aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

  • Arsenal

    Arsenal players celebrate victory with mascot Gunnersauraus Rex after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London.
    Arsenal players celebrate victory with mascot Gunnersauraus Rex after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London. Clive Mason—Getty Images

    In 2007, Alisher Usmanov bought an initial stake in the Arsenal Football Club and now owns about 30% of the team. The Gunners won an FA Cup title last year after a nearly decade long drought, but 2014 wasn’t all good news for Usmanov, who lost the title of richest man in Russia to Viktor Vekselberg.

  • 15 Central Park West

    15 Central Park West, a luxury condominium building, stands in New York, U.S., on Jan. 6, 2009.
    15 Central Park West, a luxury condominium building, stands in New York, U.S., on Jan. 6, 2009. Bloomberg/Getty Images

    The record-breaking $88 million purchase of a penthouse on Central Park West in New York City in 2012 was linked to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made his fortune in the fertilizer industry. But Rybolovlev, worth $10.2 billion, could lose the property in an ugly and very expensive divorce settlement; in May, a Swiss court ordered him to pay a record-breaking $4.5 billion this year.

  • AS Monaco

    Yannick Ferreira Carrasco of Monaco shoots at goal during the French Ligue 1 match between AS Monaco FC and LOSC Lille at Louis II Stadium on Aug. 30, 2014 in Monaco,
    Yannick Ferreira Carrasco of Monaco shoots at goal during the French Ligue 1 match between AS Monaco FC and LOSC Lille at Louis II Stadium on Aug. 30, 2014 in Monaco, Kaz Photography/Getty Images

    Dmitry Rybolovlev lives in Monaco, where he has owned a majority stake in the local soccer team since 2011 and helped the red and white bounce back from a lengthy slump to be one of Europe’s strongest competitors — and biggest spenders. Could a record-setting divorce settlement representing half his fortune (though he’s still contesting the court’s ruling) and the effects of the dropping ruble push Rybolovlev to change that approach?

  • Star Island estate

    Single family homes on Star Island and the Venetian Islands are seen June 3, 2014 in Miami.
    Single family homes on Star Island and the Venetian Islands are seen June 3, 2014 in Miami. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

    Russian Vodka tycoon Roustam Tariko spent $25.5 million for an estate on Miami Beach’s Star Island in 2011, the largest Miami Beach sale in more than half a decade.

  • Chelsea F.C.

    Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 10, 2015 in London.
    Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 10, 2015 in London. Richard Heathcote—Getty Images

    Roman Abramovich shattered the record price paid for British soccer teams in 2003 when he paid $233 million for Chelsea FC. The steel tycoon, today Russia’s fourth wealthiest man, poured money into the team — until it made a profit last year — and helped it become one of the best in Europe. The team has won three Premier League titles as well as Europe’s Champions League under Abramovich’s ownership. While Abramovich’s fortune has shrunk by nearly two percent in the past year according to Bloomberg, representing a loss of more than 200 million dollars, he has given no indication of wanting to sell the team.

  • One Hyde Park

    One Hyde Park is seen London on May 2, 2014.
    One Hyde Park is seen London on May 2, 2014. Paul Hackett—Reuters

    Foreigners, including suspected Russian oligarchs, swooped in to buy up apartments in One Hyde Park, London’s most exclusive — and most expensive — residential tower. Some of the owners’ identities have been confirmed, like Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, who spent $220 million on an apartment. That was a record high spent in the U.K., until it was surpassed by another One Hyde Park buyer. But in the wake of the rubles plummet, Russian buyers in London’s luxury market have all but vanished, brokers told Bloomberg News last month.

TIME Economy

Wealth Gap Widens Between Whites and Minorities

The gap between white and black household wealth is the highest since 1989

The wealth disparity of U.S. households has widened dramatically along racial and ethnic lines during the recovery from the economic recession, according to a new report.

In 2007, at the start of the recession, white households in the U.S. had a net worth 10 times that of black households. But in 2013, white households were 13 times richer, according to the Pew Research Report out Friday. White households were eight times richer than Hispanic households in 2007 but 10 times richer in 2013.

FT_14.12.11_wealthGapRatios

Researchers note that while wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased a small amount between 2010 and 2013—2.4%—the wealth of Hispanic and black households actually fell dramatically, 14% for Hispanic households and 34% for black households.

Other racial and ethnic minorities were not broken out for analysis in the data compiled by Pew.

TIME Wealth

Jack Ma Is the Richest Person in Asia

Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview, in New York City on March 12, 2009.
Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during an interview in New York City on March 12, 2009 Chip East—Reuters

There are no surprises here, really

Jack Ma is Asia’s wealthiest billionaire.

Ma, the founder of China’s e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, as well as a runner-up for TIME’s Person of the Year, is worth $28.6 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 50-year-old is worth about $300 million more than Hong Kong real-estate-and-ports tycoon Li Ka-shing, who had been Asia’s richest person since April 5, 2012.

About half of Ma’s fortune comes from his 6.3% stake of Alibaba. The Hangzhou-based company is larger than Amazon.com and worth about $259 billion.

[Bloomberg]

TIME career

Being Rich Is Not a Priority for Women, Survey Shows

In a global survey, a majority of women did not list wealth as their top goal

When women are asked to imagine success, becoming extremely wealthy is not the first thing that comes into their minds. Instead, across countries and continents, mothers, daughters and wives are more concerned about financial security for their families.

That’s one of the main findings of a survey of women and men ages 21 to 69 in the United States, United Kingdom, China and Brazil. While economic concerns among both sexes continue to decline, most respondents are still worried about just getting by.

Nearly 80% of women said they’d rather have more money than power or sex in their lives, according to the survey, which was backed by public relations firm FleishmanHillard and Hearst media. Yet a deeper dive suggests the drive behind the money is for security as opposed to excelling financially.

The results have dramatic implications on not just women’s ability to accrue wealth, but also on financial planners. Women are expected to earn $18 trillion in the U.S. this year — 50% more than they earned five years ago. On a global level, by 2030, women will control two-thirds of our nation’s wealth. As taking smart risks with their money falls to the wayside in place of more practical bets like planning a family trip or going out to eat, women are less likely to invest their money.

What’s more is that women feel increasingly untrustworthy of financial institutions. Only about a third of women surveyed in the U.S. said they were loyal to one financial services company. That figured dropped to just 16% among women in the U.K. Also, more than half of women in the U.S., U.K. and China reported to be “overwhelmed” by the products and choices available today for financial services.

The cautious and overwhelmed attitude toward financial planners breeds an attitude of self-reliance, says Steve Kraus, senior vice president and chief insights officer Ipsos MediaCT’s audience measurement group, the third-party organization that conducted the report’s research. This leads women to believe that saving their money for a rainy day is better than taking it to a big bad bank.

“It is men who are more likely to say that they want to start spending again, and it is men that are most likely to say that I am going to invest in the coming months,” says Kraus. “There is not a lot of trust in financial brands right now, and we see growing numbers of women feel more self-reliant.”

Eve Ellis, a financial adviser with the Matterhorn Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, says it is too easy to generalize among an entire group of women about their attitudes toward financial planning and investing. Yet she has seen some women, in their desire for financial security, be overly cautious in their investment choices.

“Sadly, investors who are too cautious as they invest in the markets may miss opportunities to achieve the very security they seek,” she said. “The old credo too often stands true: No risk, no gain.”

The report did include a silver lining for financial planners looking to recruit more female clients. More than ever since the end of the Great Recession, women are thinking longterm about their financial strategy. Some 75% of women would opt out of a significant promotion if their child could get into a top college. This gives financial advisors a clue of how to talk to women about their future.

Fidelity is the most-trusted financial services brand among American women, according to the report. Kristen Robinson, senior vice president of women and young investors for personal investing at Fidelity, said women are looking for a holistic approach to investing. Partly to solve the common problem of feeling overwhelmed by investment choices, Robinson said the company is also working to increase its visibility among professional women by hosting more educational workshops.

“Women work very hard to make progress in so many ways. Yet only when they have the ability to control their own financial futures will they realize the full extent of their true power,” Fidelity CEO Abby Johnson and President of Personal Investing Kathy Murphy wrote in the October 6th issue of Fortune.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Economy

Report: Richest 1% Holds Nearly Half of the World’s Wealth

Luxury Superyachts At The Monaco Yacht Show
A Porsche 918 Spyder automobile, produced by Porsche SE, sits on the deck of the 88m luxury superyacht Quattroelle, in Monaco, France, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Balint Porneczi—Bloomberg / Getty Images

A new Credit Suisse report finds the gap between rich and poor widening on a global scale

The world not only surpassed a new milestone of wealth creation in 2014, but the richest 1% now own nearly half of the planet’s wealth, according to a new Credit Suisse report published Tuesday.

The Global Wealth Report estimated that the world’s combined wealth reached $263 trillion in 2014, a $20.1 trillion increase over the previous year. It marked the highest recorded increase since the financial panic of 2007, but the greatest accumulations of wealth occurred at the very upper echelons of earners.

“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth,” the report said. “In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets.”

Credit Suisse also noted widening gaps between the rungs of the wealth ladder: While only $3,650 would place a person in the wealthier half of the global population, $77,000 was needed to reach the top 10% and $798,000 to hit the top 1%.

MONEY financial advisers

Get in Touch With Your Prejudices…About Money

Tipped scale
Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

Financial planners need to understand that their feelings about wealth are in fact their feelings — not necessarily their clients'.

It’s only human to hear and see a situation through the lens of our bias and experience. And that’s often where we tap into when we speak.

So, when years ago, a client of mine expressed how she and her boyfriend were “freaked out” by his sudden and very dramatic jump in income, I can forgive myself for bungling my reply. I don’t remember exactly what I blurted out, but it was probably something along the lines of “What do you mean freaked out? Most people would love to be in your situation.”

I saw their situation through my lens: If he were well paid for work that had been his life’s passion, that could only be a good thing. I just couldn’t relate to the stress they were feeling and the cascading dominoes of what that high income now meant for them.

The reality is that their stress was related to the change they were experiencing, the change that psychologist Jim Grubman, in his book Strangers in Paradise, likens to what immigrants experience upon arriving in a new land. With both my client and her boyfriend having earned modest incomes up until then, how would this high income change each of them? How would it impact their relationships now that they had arrived in the Land of Wealth? Could they adapt in a healthy way? What if they bungled it?

Because of my lens and the money scripts playing in my own head, my ears focused just on the part about their jump in income. It was only because I asked her to elaborate on her “freaking out” that I understood the stress they felt. It’s now easy to see that I should have known that wealth and stress often go hand in hand.

This experience reinforced how important it is to bring my own biases to the surface and identify the lens I wear. It also reiterated that while it’s essential to learn about tax strategies and portfolio design, it’s equally important to continually study the cultural and psychological aspects of money. These go hand in hand too.

It’s from this place of deeper self-awareness and deeper understanding of the psychological side of money that I can truly be present with my clients who experience a windfall, to anchor them as the tidal wave hits, and to move forward with them after the wave passes.

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful in understanding my own biases surrounding money and getting a better idea of what my clients are thinking:

  • The Soul of Money book and workshop with Lynne Twist (www.lynnetwist.com). This was very useful for me at the beginning of my financial planning career; it helped me let go of a lot of mental baggage related to money.
  • Money Psychology teleclasses with Olivia Mellan (www.moneyharmony.com). Taking her classes, along with being coached by her, increased my understanding of gender and money, and how couples communicate about money.
  • Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Coaches, and Therapists by Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz. This important and accessible textbook for financial planners includes useful exercises to use with clients.
  • Strangers in Paradise by James Grubman (www.jamesgrubman.com). This book about generational wealth transfer among the superrich made me think more about what clients at all income levels go through when they become wealthier.
  • The Challenges of Wealth: Mastering the Personal and Financial Conflicts by Amy Domini, Dennis Pearne and Sharon Lee Rich. I read this when I had my first client who inherited wealth. It has exercises to help clients who feel knocked over by the experience.
  • Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall by Susan Bradley and Mary Martin. Written for the general public, it has advice for dealing with specific types of windfalls, whether it results from the death of a parent or winning the lottery. One important lesson: In these situations, it’s as normal and helpful to have a therapist as it is to have a lawyer or accountant on the client’s financial team.

——————-

Jennifer Lazarus is a certified financial planner and the founder of Lazarus Financial Planning, an independent, fee-only firm specializing in the financial planning needs of socially responsible investors in their 20s to 50s. She most enjoys helping people reach a place of empowerment and financial calm.

MONEY wealth inequality

The “Billionaire Census” Will Make You Hate the Ultra-Rich Even More

Private jet with red carpet
Jupiterimages—Getty Images

A new study gives some insight into how billionaires live. And yeah, it's about as cringey as you would expect.

Let’s face it, America has a complex relationship with the very rich.

On one hand, there’s a deep American tradition of respecting and even revering financial success, not least because of the moxy, gumption, elbow grease, and/or bootstrapping it often takes to achieve it.

On the other hand, there’s a growing belief that the playing field is unfairly tilted in favor of the rich — a belief driven by the fact that wage growth in the U.S. has stagnated for the past decade-plus and the top 10% of American earners control almost 75% of the country’s wealth.

So there’s definitely some don’t-call-it-class tension in this country, not to mention the world at large — and a recent “Billionaires Census” published by UBS and Wealth-X will do little to assuage it.

The report doesn’t quite live up to its promise of delivering “groundbreaking research on the world’s ultra high net worth (UHNW) population.” (Shocker: Rich people like rich people things.) But it does succeed at reminding everyone that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote long ago, the rich “are different from you and me.” (In case you didn’t know that already.)

Some highlights:

  • There are 2,325 billionaires in the world who collectively control $7.3 trillion dollars in total wealth. For perspective, that means a group of people about the size of a typical suburban high school student population could fund the entire United States defense budget for 14 years and still have enough left over to buy a spaceship (or three).
  • If you saw that last statistic and though, “Wow, I just wish there could be even more ultra-rich people” you’re in luck! The number of billionaires is expected to increase by more than 1,000 over the next six years.
  • The “typical billionaire” has $3.1 billion in assets and grew his wealth by 4.4% last year. That doesn’t sound like much, but here’s the thing about having lots of money: A median American household would make $13,244 if their net worth increased by 4.4%. The average billionaire pulling the same returns adds $136 million to his fortune.
  • Roughly half of all billionares are women. Just kidding: They’re almost all men. Only 286, or slightly more than one in ten ultra-rich people, are female. And no, that doesn’t mean the business word has at least allowed that many women to share in the spoils. Most female billionaires (65%) inherited their wealth, compared to 13% of male billionaires.
  • About 35% of billionaires don’t a have a college degree, which is probably something Peter Thiel repeats a lot at dinner parties.
  • According to the report, which includes a 2015 “Billionaire Social Calendar,” events like “Antigua Sailing Week” and the “Singapore Yacht Show” are a “‘must go’ for many billionaires and their social circles.”
  • “21% of Dubai’s billionaires have specific interest in private jets.”

The report can be enjoyed in full here.

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