Tag Archives: bankruptcy

How to lose $150 million

Boris Becker

We have written a lot about planning and investing.  But there’s nothing quite as instructive as learning from mistakes.  Learning from others’ mistakes is less painful than making our own mistakes.

This sets up an example of financial mistakes I learned about recently.

Sometimes the most surreal things happen. For example, anyone who remembers the 1980s’ tennis prodigy Boris Becker may be shocked to learn that last month, in a London courtroom, Becker was declared bankrupt.

After winning Wimbledon and countless other tournaments, Becker’s personal fortune was estimated to have reached $150 million. So how could this have happened? How could he have gone from $150 million to zero, and what can we learn from it?

Sports figures often find that they have developed “posses,” hangers-on who encourage extravagant lifestyles.  Fame and fortune at an early age lead to a number of personal mistakes.  These are often combined with poor investment decisions.  In the case of Becker they include things like Nigerian oil companies, and “… a sports website, an organic food business, and more notably, a planned 19-story high-rise in Dubai called the Boris Becker Business Tower, whose backers went bust in 2011.”

This is a special problem for people who become wealthy in sports and entertainment.  Too often they turn their financial lives over to agents who get them involved in complicated schemes that go sour.

The key to gaining wealth and – most especially – for keeping it is: keep it simple.  During 30 plus years of investing the biggest mistakes I have seen made is people getting involved in complex deals, partnerships, and relationships that they don’t really understand.

We provide education for our clients on investment strategy and develop portfolios that allow people to keep what they have earned.  Don’t be like Boris Becker.

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Lifestyle and Financial Success – Some Examples

I read an article recently about a woman with a PhD from Harvard, held a high government position in the Treasury Department and worked at the Federal Reserve. You would think that this person would be smart about finances and investments.

You would be wrong. She messed up, but was able to recover.

Academic skills and executive level jobs – in or out of government – don’t automatically translate into wise lifestyle decisions and certainly not wise investment decisions. Having a high paying job provides you with the opportunity to save for retirement. But for too many people it provides for an extravagant lifestyle.

You may never have heard of Curtis James Jackson III, but if you are familiar with the current music scene you may have heard of “50 Cent.” He is reputed to have earned about $30 million a year but he just filed for bankruptcy claiming he owes between $10 and $50 million to his creditors.

How does this sort of thing happen? Some of it could be the result of poor investment decisions. But lifestyle is the primary reason that highly paid entertainment figures, athletes and the like go broke. They spend money on expensive things – homes, cars, planes – entertainment, and on “posses” (friends and hangers-on) who they support not realizing that their money is not literally endless.

Of course “50 Cent” is not typical, but the woman who we discussed at the beginning of this essay had the same problem,  on a smaller scale. She and her husband had a huge home that absorbed a lot of their income. There was a big mismatch between their current lifestyle and the savings that were supposed to support them in retirement. In addition, they kept too much of their savings in cash or cash-equivalents because, while they were educated, they were not investment experts.

We have met too many couples who are in their 50s, are earning $150,000 to $350,000 a year, and want to retire in about a decade. But they have not really focused enough on asset gathering. Their lifestyle absorbs most of their income and their investment decisions have lacked a plan.

Does this mean that retirement for them is bleak? No. But it requires facing some facts about lifestyle, savings and investing that will require some smart decisions. This is the point at which a good financial planner and advisor can help people get their financial life in order, before it’s too late.

If this sounds like someone you know, give us a call. We may be able to help.

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