The $50 Million Dollar Trust: From Despair To Motivation

A few days ago, I posted an article about an individual trying to figure out how to manage a $50 million trust. For a number of reasons, that article has stuck in my mind, and my feelings on the situation have grown and changed. After reflecting on all of it for a while, I realized that my initial reaction to this tale isn’t all that different than many people’s reaction to such amounts of money, but as I reflected, I came around to a different viewpoint, a much healthier one.

When I first read about that trust and tried to imagine a situation where I could live quite well and simply follow my dreams without having to worry about day-to-day finances, I was incredibly jealous. I can scarcely dream of having such an opportunity – my biggest realistic hope is to build a very nice house for my family in fifteen years and retire there in thirty (or so), having worked hard all of my life. My biggest dreams can’t really be followed because they don’t make financial sense – I’d love to be able to take a serious crack at writing a great novel, for starters – but if I were in the situation with that trust, I could. Even a tenth of that trust would do the trick – I would put every dime of it in treasury notes, live off the payments, take complete care of my family, and still be able to follow those dreams of mine. The thought of that fills me with jealousy – there’s no other word for it.

As I thought aboout it more, I got angry. My first wave of anger was at the figurative hand dealt to me at birth – as good as the opportunities were that life has given me, I was angry that I wasn’t born with even more of them. My anger then moved on to me – why was I so foolish managing my money earlier in my life?

Over the last few days, though, the biggest feeling I get from thinking about the trust is motivation. I don’t have a $50 million trust waiting for me and neither will my son, but if I work hard, focus, and practice good sound financial discipline, I can put my son in a very good place to start out, and he’ll also have a strong sense of healthy money management. Who knows what heights he may be able to reach in his lifetime?

I may not be rich myself, but I’m learning the tools one needs to get there. I can then pass along those tools to my son and give him the boost he needs to reach dizzying heights. The same goes for my soon-to-arrive daughter, too.

Two years ago, I probably would have continued to burn with jealousy and then used that as an excuse to buy something ostentatious and unnecessary. Now it motivates me to be more frugal and look for investment opportunities.

It’s all in the mind, I guess.

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  1. Samantha says:

    Trent- I applaud your honesty on this situation. I think most people would be incredibly jealous and you took ownership of your feelings and used it as a learning situation. I think another thing that helps me is to recognize the feelings and realize how fortunate I am with what I have. Everytime I get depressed because I can’t do a homem improvement project because of the cost, I think of people in my town that may be losing their house or can’t afford their utilities.

  2. Stephen says:

    There’s a pseudo-related article in the NYTimes that is about multi-millionaires in Silicon Valley who consider themselves middle-class. Interestingly, some have made the same realization as you have at the end of your post.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/technology/05rich.html?ex=1344052800&en=e4158b9738e481a7&ei=5124&partner=digg&exprod=digg

  3. Brad says:

    I agree those feeling come up, but I am not sure such a trust is really a good thing. It will get squandered eventually, if not in this generation, then in one to come. It can also easily be twisted to create both lazy heirs and to fund causes that you would completely oppose.

    I think passing on a good inheritance, along with a heritage of debt-free living, is much better than a huge pile of cash.

    Even your note of “putting it all into T-Bills” shows that long term growth would no longer be an issue. While writing that novel might be great, is it really worth it if you don’t have enough passion to do it with the circumstances you currently face? How many great things have been born out of a pampered lifestyle?

    Brad

  4. motivation of another sort says:

    When my father was 18, he had millions of $ in the bank. He had an opportunity to secure my family with a lifetime of freedom, as well as have a little bit for whatever business he’d like to do. In his greed (for himself and also wanting the “best” for his family), he blew it all over the years.

    Today, he is $500,000 in debt, divorced, and lives dependent on my grandmother and uncles, while my mother and my brothers are dependent on her parents as well.

    My motivation is to rectify the damage that has been done, and one day teach my family to see money not as an end into itself but just as a necessary tool for functioning in the world we live in and accomplishing our dreams.

    My father had all the money he’d ever need, but he had no idea what he wanted to really accomplish with his life, and so he sought more and more money by investing everything in high-risk ventures, and it became his downfall.

  5. Lovely post, Trent–honest and insightful. Thanks.

    P.S. Hate to be a downer, Brad, but quite a few great things (one would almost venture to say most) have been born out of a pampered lifestyle. Having money equates to leisure time, which has historically provided people of elite classes the chance to do things like write great books, design beautiful buildings, prove new theorems, and make scientific discoveries. Now, a surplus of money provides Americans the chance to pursue low- or non-paid work of value to society.

  6. Mark says:

    You’ve got a great attitude on this — with one exception. Why put off writing a novel?

    Sure, a novel is less immediately lucrative than your website, especially at this stage. But you don’t seem like a person to say, “This is one of my biggest dreams, except I can’t pursue it unless I’m rich or retired.”

    Especially when that dream is nearly cost free, other than the opportunity cost of your time. And you can start small: a page a day is a book in a year. Or try Nanowrimo.

    If nothing else, novel writing is a frugal hobby.

  7. Eric says:

    I guess in some way, we’re all still hoping that great great great cousin we never met will leave us a huge nestegg :)

  8. Beth says:

    Interesting thoughts and comments so far. Maybe giving a person enough money to live quite well *forever* wouldn’t be good for everyone, but perhaps getting enough money to *get by* forever might be a true gift. What if I had a steady income that equated to ~24k after taxes per year?

    On the one hand that’s more than many people have to work with, but I don’t think it’s wealth in this country by any stretch of the imagination. However it *would* be enough to let a person travel the world for a year, or have one parent stay home with the kids, or allow the recipient to be an artist without starving. That would be pretty cool.

    Or, maybe a trust could be written not to give money every year, but to fund a sabbatical every five or ten years? That would be pretty amazing as well.

    Not that these will ever be issues for me, but they’re interesting ideas to toy with.

  9. Monica says:

    I also struggle with envy as someone I know received a large amount of money (not measured in millions though!) they did not have to work for, while I am scrimping and saving to build up a down payment. When I realized how envious I was, I was ashamed. I should be happy for that person. I am trying to be happy for them. I will do what I can with the resources that I have.

  10. paidtwice says:

    Thanks for being so honest Trent. My respect for you just went up a notch (not that it wasn’t high already). Keep doing what you do.

  11. Tyler says:

    The sad thing about this is that because people are always going to view others and WHAT they have more than what others DON’T have. People around the world would KILL for our lives, how easy we have it, the luxuries, etc. But we in America only seem to view what we DON’T have that the rich do. If everyone in this country could live in poor conditions for 1 week, this world would be a better place. Money is not everything –

    “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

  12. Erin says:

    Whenever you start to feel jealous, just remember that this poor girl probably had to lose her parents in order to acquire this money. I’m sure she’d willingly give up the money if it meant she could have her parents back.

  13. Wow, that’s incredibly honest and vulnerable. I have to admit to hearing about that and being shocked more than anything else. It is hard for me to think of real people with that much real money. But in the end I concluded that I’ve got a good life right now, I’ve just been irresponsible with it. However, the upside is that I can, just like you, be motivated to kick some butt and get things going well for my children.

  14. Rob W says:

    It’s worth some thought, not just from a “imagine what I could *stop* doing” but also “imagine what I could do”.

    And how moral do you want to be about it? If you were the wealthy parents… would it be “right” to save $50 million for a single child, yours, when you could save $1 million for your child instead and use the $49 million remaining to make a huge difference to some of the vast majority of humanity, who need it a lot more than your kid?

    Next imagine you have suddenly inherited $50 million from a distant ancestor. That money carries with it responsibility for how you use it. You can use $50 million to help yourself and your immediate family (which breaks down to probably $10 million each, and very minimal benefit, since you’re already healthy, free, comfortable, etc.). Or you can see how many other people you can help, and find out where your money will make the most difference. Play with the math and see how it comes out.

    Trent, on another subject — it’s sensible to want your own children to have the best opportunities possible, but also be careful of trying to force them into living out your dreams… that tends to end badly; they will have their own dreams. They will also feel differently about money depending on how comfortable they are while growing up — no matter how much you *want* to drill them in economy, if you had a fat trust from a great-aunt waiting in the wings, those lessons would seem pretty irrelevant (..until the money was gone, that is… but that might be too late).

  15. Jane says:

    I think it’s sad when people’s biggest goals relate only to themselves, their family and material items. Sure, that’s a fine starting point. But then challenge yourself to be a visionary and to be less selfish. I hope everyone’s life goals include something that makes the world a better place and that helps the millions of people in the world who suffer more than you do. So, you say you’d be fine with $5 million? I hope that if you get there, you give plenty of it away to people who go starving each night, who live in war torn situations, who don’t have basic shelter, or to any other worthy cause.

  16. James Jackson says:

    I love your honest reflection on this matter..very refreshing. This is what motivates me and I’m sure many other readers of your blog to come back here again and again. Keep it up.

    Just as an FYI, I’ve added some comments from the perspective of a former wealth advisor to your original post. It’s my first post :)

  17. Brad says:

    English Major,

    I could be wrong, but can you list the top ten of those things?

    I don’t dispute that money is required to make many things, but passion is far more important than money. You may need to talk someone with money into supporting you while you do your work, but that is doable if you have passion.

    I don’t see passionate being produced from a life of leisure. I would face a strong temptation to stay at home and play computer games if I had enough money. A few might be motivated to slave over the “novel to end all novels”, but I still believe that the lack of any pressure would end up being more of a detriment than the lack of money.

    Brad

  18. Brad says:

    Note that this doesn’t mean I don’t think you couldn’t do nice looking things with money, even ones people would admire. I am thinking more of truly life-changing things. I think passion plays a much stronger role in those.

    Looking at modern society almost proves my point. Very few novels today are likely to be remembered centuries from now, as one example. We have plenty of them, but I don’t know that they are really excellent.

    Brad

  19. Artist's Wife says:

    Brad,
    It seems from what you said, having money WOULD produce greater things, because we wouldn’t have to spend time making so-so things for money, as in your book example. You could argue that not-great books are written because the author needs to write SOMETHING in order to get paid. If they were rich, they might spend more time writing and produce a “passion”ate book (ie, one they want to write for its own sake, not money’s). Not true in every case of course, but certainly true for many.
    Also, your conclusion that a life of leisure does not produce great things is flawed, or at least the given example is. When you say that you would sit and play computer games if you had all day free, that is not because you have money, it is because you do not have a passion (not a judgement, just a conclusion from the example). *Passion is independent of money.* I don’t think not-having-money makes the situation better, since a) it will take away time from doing your passion as you need some way to pay bills and b) there are less resources to draw from if your passion happens to be an expensive one requiring a lot of equipment. At least with money these two things would be avoided.
    Either way though, I think that if you have a passion you will work towards it regardless of your financial situation.

  20. An Artist's Wife says:

    Brad,
    It seems from what you said, having money WOULD produce greater things, because we wouldn’t have to spend time making so-so things for money, as in your book example. You could argue that not-great books are written because the author needs to write SOMETHING in order to get paid. If they were rich, they might spend more time writing and produce a “passion”ate book (ie, one they want to write for its own sake, not money’s). Not true in every case of course, but certainly true for many.
    Also, your conclusion that a life of leisure does not produce great things is flawed, or at least the given example is. When you say that you would sit and play computer games if you had all day free, that is not because you have money, it is because you do not have a passion (not a judgement, just a conclusion from the example). *Passion is independent of money.* I don’t think not-having-money makes the situation better, since a) it will take away time from doing your passion as you need some way to pay bills and b) there are less resources to draw from if your passion happens to be an expensive one requiring a lot of equipment. At least with money these two things would be avoided.
    Either way though, I think that if you have a passion you will work towards it regardless of your financial situation.
    (Sorry if this posts twice, computer is acting funny..)

  21. An Artists Wife says:

    Brad,
    It seems from what you said, having money WOULD produce greater things, because we wouldn’t have to spend time making so-so things for money, as in your book example. You could argue that not-great books are written because the author needs to write SOMETHING in order to get paid. If they were rich, they might spend more time writing and produce a “passion”ate book (ie, one they want to write for its own sake, not money’s). Not true in every case of course, but certainly true for many.
    Also, your conclusion that a life of leisure does not produce great things is flawed, or at least the given example is. When you say that you would sit and play computer games if you had all day free, that is not because you have money, it is because you do not have a passion (not a judgement, just a conclusion from the example). *Passion is independent of money.* I don’t think not-having-money makes the situation better, since a) it will take away time from doing your passion as you need some way to pay bills and b) there are less resources to draw from if your passion happens to be an expensive one requiring a lot of equipment. At least with money these two things would be avoided.
    Either way though, I think that if you have a passion you will work towards it regardless of your financial situation.

  22. David says:

    Very thoughtful post. My wife and I are excited about being able to impact later generations with financial security but we also struggle with the possibility of removing the valuable experience of learning good financial stewardship through right and wrong decisions. I too find myself jealous when I read about huge sums of money but I don’t think I would trade it for the difficult years we had.

  23. Imelda says:

    I’m awed by your honesty, and glad you were able to share that.

    I understand how you felt–try working for the Rockefellers! Really makes you feel bitter at times. But every time I think of how lucky the people I work for were to be born into insane wealth, I find myself remembering…it doesn’t really matter.

    But I don’t mean to tell my own story. I actually meant to mention the NYTimes article that came out today (I hope this link works: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/technology/05rich.html?em&ex=1186632000&en=99bdca21cb7dc3f5&ei=5087 )

    It’s about Silicon Valley millionaires, and how so many continue working 80-hour workweeks, because they don’t think they have enough to get by. Every day they see their colleagues and superiors living multi-million dollar lifestyles, and they feel poor.

    Your post made me think of this–you often mention that you have a very comfortable lifestyle, because you can afford a nice home and take care of your family, and consider yourself upper middle class. But once one starts learning about people who have so much more…it stops mattering what one does have! Or at least, it feels that way. It just goes to prove what finance gurus are always saying– a person’s satisfaction with his or her own life comes from how he feels he compares with the people around him, and not from any objective criteria.

  24. rob says:

    Interesting post, I think it’s human nature to get jealous and angry, especially when comparing your state to others, I know I certainly have.

    I remember reading somewhere that people derive more satisfaction (i.e. “happiness”) if they know they are a little better off than their peers. Right or wrong, we tend to judge how content we are in relation to the people around us.

    I noticed that the great ones always “run their own race”. They maintain their equilibrium by only going after things that are most important to them, completely oblivious to how fast or slow everyone else is running.

  25. Nick in Iraq says:

    I would have felt the same way as all of you guys, except I just got this email. It seems I have a long lost cousin, who was married to Mrs. Wan Park in Nigeria. She contacted me and told me my long lost cousin named me his heir in his will and left me 9 million dollars. I am really looking forward to getting that money in my bank account soon.

    Seriously, though, I think it’s only natural to feel jealousy at people who have been handed money and have never had to do without. However, I have to agree that not having money creates a healthy perspective that you can’t get any other way.

  26. EricF says:

    I frequently have the same jealous feelings of others success, my latest is reading about various successful entrepreneurs. It helps to remember these feeling stem from fantasy. It isn’t really fair to compare one aspect of someone else’s life to my own. Thanks for the post.

  27. Brad says:

    Artist’s Wife,

    I guess I have seen far more examples of those struggling to get by who produce “great art” as opposed to those without a “care in the world” financially.

    In an ideal world, your idea of having plenty of money might work, but I don’t see it as having worked in practice in the great (relative) prosperity of the last 50 years. Very little great art. Lots to consume, but very little of lasting value.

    If your name indicates your situation, it is quite understandable why you think money would solve the problems. :)

    The saying, “be careful what you wish for, you might get it,” is around because things that seem “obvious” are not always as they seem.

    Brad

  28. An Artist's Wife says:

    Brad,
    Point taken, definitely! I suppose I am an idealist in certain ways, but I have to be given my situation. :) Money wouldn’t solve every problem for every artist (and I agree, it would probably make even more problems of a different nature) but I think it would have some positive sides.
    My main conclusion from all of this…I think perhaps the problem with today’s art isn’t the money as much as the “art world” and artists themselves. But that’s for another day, and a different post!

  29. Marta says:

    Nick in Iraq -

    Please tell me you are joking – not sure if I’m reading sarcasm in your post or not. That Nigeria thing is clearly an Internet scam (see Oprah’s Friday show for reference).

  30. Me and my self says:

    It’s funny that yesterday i’ve just been wondering what is the best part of life.

    So what is the best part of life? is it having a lot of money and being able to do what ever you want? Is it having financial freedom (licence to get anything without working for it anymore) and pursue your dream?

    I just watched ‘Pursue of Happiness’ staring Will Smith. I find the movie end a little bit strange. I even mumble to my fiancee, where is the part when he has become super rich, when Will Smith can buy all he can’t afford before, where he can show others his wealth?

    But after I think about it again, and again. I suddenly found that the story of this man is the best part of his life. not his money. Other man may get the same amount by stealing or other bad ways, but it is not glory, and he might not be happy for his concious will keep telling him unclean money, and he will be afraid that people will steal his money for he did it… and WORST is there is no satisfaction for nothing is achieved or fulfiled.

    a day is a present … you will arrive into it once.. and will naver go back there …make the best story out of it, money is not everything.

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