Giant Clocks And Pickled Sharks (And Charity, Too): Here’s What Billionaires Spend Their Money On

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If you were one of the wealthiest people in the world, how would you spend your fortune?

Most people would indulge their wildest impulses by buying expensive cars, private planes, and massive mansions. Real-life billionaires, however…well, they buy all of those things, but then they keep spending. After all, a billion dollars is a lot of money—and when you’ve got a practically unlimited supply of cash, you’ve got to get creative to spend it.


We decided to look into how the world’s wealthiest people spend their money. Some of their expenditures are understandable; others, not so much.

Bill Gates won’t be giving his money to his children.

With an estimated net worth of $96.5 billion, Bill Gates is famously one of the richest people in the world. However, he no longer derives the majority of his wealth from Microsoft, as he only owns about 1 percent of the company’s stock.

That’s largely because he donated $35.8 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity he founded with his wife, Melinda. The foundation is dedicated to fighting poverty and reducing child mortality rates worldwide. Gates plans to give most of his wealth to charitable causes—not to his three children.

“It’s not a favor to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth,” Gates told This Morning in 2016. “It distorts anything they might do, creating their own path.”

The Gates kids will receive college tuition from their parents, but they won’t be able to live off their father’s achievements forever.

“Our kids will receive a great education and some money, so they are never going to be poorly off, but they’ll go out and have their own career,” the Microsoft co-founder said.

That’s a nice thought, but you shouldn’t get the impression that Gates lives a quiet, modest life. In 2014, he completed work on his $123 million estate in Medina, Washington, which is nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 (after the fictional home of Citizen Kane character Charles Foster Kane).

Filipe Fortes/Flickr

The property is equipped with a high-tech sensor system that allows music to follow guests from room to room, and $80,000 computer screens on the walls can change the artwork with the touch of a button. Gates’ pool even has an underwater music system, and there’s a dedicated trampoline room with a 20-foot ceiling.

In case that’s not impressive enough: Gates has a favorite tree, a 40-year-old maple near his home’s driveway. It’s monitored by computers, so if it gets too dry, it’s watered automatically.

Warren Buffett only spends heavily on one thing.

Gates’ close friend Warren Buffett prefers a more modest lifestyle.  

Generally speaking, you don’t get rich by spending money, and the Berkshire Hathaway owner is legendarily frugal. He lives in a house that he purchased in the 1950s for $31,500; today, it’s worth about $652,000. It’s not exactly a shack, but it’s not the oversized mansion you might imagine.

“I’m happy there,” Buffett explained to BBC. “I’d move if I thought I’d be happier someplace else.”


He uses that same approach when shopping for vehicles. Until 2014, Buffett drove a 2006 Cadillac DTS, a relatively modest sedan. He upgraded to a newer Cadillac at his daughter’s insistence, and he asked her to negotiate for it since he was worried that he wouldn’t get a good price (after all, if a famous billionaire wanders into your car dealership, you’re probably not going to cut him any deals).

Buffett donated his old vehicle to Girls Inc., a charitable organization. That wasn’t his only donation that year—not by a long shot. He has committed to gradually giving away 99 percent of his wealth to philanthropic causes, and as of 2017, he has donated more than $46 billion.

As Buffett explained, he doesn’t believe that he’d benefit from spending his fortune on his family.

“Were we to use more than 1 percent of my claim checks (Berkshire Hathaway stock certificates) on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced,” he wrote. “In contrast, that remaining 99 percent can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”

To date, Buffett has made his largest contributions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In an open letter to his friend, Bill Gates noted that his foundation had saved an estimated 122 million lives.

“Remember the laugh we had when we traveled together to Hong Kong and decided to get lunch at McDonald’s?” Gates wrote. “You offered to pay, dug into your pocket, and pulled out…coupons! Melinda just found this photo of me and ‘the big spender.’ It reminded us how much you value a good deal. That’s why we want to point you to this number, 122 million. Saving children’s lives is the best deal in philanthropy.”

Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen paid $8 million for a preserved shark.

Look, we could fill this article with stories about benevolent billionaires, but when we see a headline like “Billionaire Buys Preserved Shark,” we’ve got to look into it.

Steve Cohen oversees Point72 Asset Management, a $13 billion hedge fund. His estimated worth is $12.8 billion, and yes, he paid $8 million for a pickled shark.

Cohen has an eye for art, and he reportedly purchased Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living for $8 million in 2004. That “sculpture” consists of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde inside a special display case.

There was just one problem: The shark was decomposing since it was never deep-injected with formaldehyde.

New York Magazine reported that Cohen consulted with several conservators before making the purchase, so he knew what he was getting into. He also had help from the artist; when Hirst learned of the purchase, he offered to replace the tiger shark. Cohen funded the operation, referring to the expense as “inconsequential.” The newer, fresher fish was installed in 2006.


Cohen also owns Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing, which he reportedly purchased for $141 million (the largest amount ever for a statue), and he paid $155 million for Pablo Picasso’s The Dream. Those are arguably smart purchases since art tends to appreciate in value.

A more questionable expenditure: In 2015, Cohen was rumored to have paid $100,000 to hang out with Food Network star Guy Fieri. Cohen was apparently a big fan of Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, so he contacted the spikey-haired reality star and offered him the exorbitant sum. The two remain friends and are occasionally seen together.

Cohen insists that the original story is false, but if we paid $100,000 to hang out with Guy Fieri, we’d probably deny it, too.

Amancio Ortega is one of the world’s wealthiest people, but you probably haven’t heard of him.

That’s by design. Ortega fiercely guards his privacy, and he’s only given three interviews since he amassed his impressive fortune. Per Forbes, Ortega is worth $62.7 billion, largely due to his ownership of the Inditex clothing conglomerate, which has eight brands and about 7,500 stores worldwide.

The Spanish businessman is the sixth-richest person in the world, ahead of Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and both of the Koch brothers, among others. Nevertheless, he’s one of the least famous people on this list.

Like many of his fellow billionaires, Ortega maintains a frugal appearance. He eats lunch with his employees in his company’s cafeteria and reportedly visits the same coffee shop every day.

However, Ortega does spend lavishly at times. He owns a Global Express BD-700, a luxury private jet that cost a reported $45 million, along with a 220-foot yacht named Drizzle worth about $53 million. He also owns large office buildings in London, New York, and other major cities, and in 2015, one of his companies purchased an entire block of properties in Miami’s South Beach for about $370 million.

If that sounds like a lot, consider this: Ortega typically earns more than $400 million each year in dividends alone.

With that said, the billionaire also spends lavishly on his charities. In 2017, he pledged $344 million to equip Spanish hospitals with state-of-the-art medical equipment through his Amancio Ortega Foundation.

Carlos Slim is Mexico’s wealthiest person, and it’s not even close.

Slim owns América Móvil, the biggest mobile telecommunications firm in Latin America. Over the last several decades, he has diversified his portfolio considerably, purchasing stakes in real estate, construction, and even The New York Times. His estimated net worth is around $60 billion.

So, what does he do with his cash? Not much. While he owns several rare cars (including a Bentley Continental Flying Spur and a custom Mercedes), he’s often seen driving a Chevy Suburban. He normally drives himself around the busy streets of Mexico City. Reportedly, Slim doesn’t own any private jets, choosing to fly commercial instead.

World Travel & Tourism Council/Flickr

But Slim does spend heavily on two things: art and charity. He owns the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, where he displays his extensive collection of mostly European art, including the world’s largest private collection of the works of the sculptor Rodin.

“When I started buying art, in Mexico the museums didn’t have many European works,” Slim told The Telegraph during a rare interview. “Periodically there would be exhibitions that came to Mexico, but it was a small percentage of the total art on show. …Now those people who can’t travel abroad have somewhere they can go to see great European art.”


In recent years, Slim has started dividing his corporate empire among his children. He has also poured money into charitable causes, including $50 million to the World Wildlife Fund and $100 million to his private foundation, Fundación Carlos Slim.

“I believe that we have to find means for all desirable things to be universally accessible,” Slim said. “Culture. Entertainment. Sport. Communication. Health. Food. Housing. The fundamental things.”

Jeff Bezos and his soon-to-be ex-wife MacKenzie are worth about $131 billion.

Forbes ranked the Amazon entrepreneur as the world’s wealthiest person in 2019. That might change slightly when the divorce is finalized in July; MacKenzie will reportedly receive 4 percent of Amazon, which is worth tens of billions of dollars.

So, what will he do with his remaining fortune? That’s simple: Go to space. Bezos is currently liquidating about $1 billion of Amazon stock each year to fund Blue Origin, his space exploration company. Blue Origin is known for its well-publicized feuds with competitor SpaceX, another spacecraft company founded by Tesla’s Elon Musk.

“You’re not going to spend [a $131 billion fortune] on a second dinner out,” Bezos told Business Insider. “That’s not what we are talking about. I am very lucky that I feel like I have a mission-driven purpose with Blue Origin that is, I think, incredibly important for civilization long term. And I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that.”

With that said, Bezos also admitted to the occasional extravagance. He spends on vacations with his family (notably, he mentioned visiting a wolf preserve to interact with timberwolves), he owns a wristwatch worth about $8,000, and he invested $42 million on a 500-foot-tall clock.

Wait, what?

The “10,000 Year Clock” is a project by the Long Now Foundation. It will function for 10 millenia, and it’s intended to build awareness of the dangers threatening humanity. The goal: Get humans to live long enough to see the clock’s final chime.

Hey, if you’ve got the money, we suppose that’s one way to spend it. Compared to some of the other people on this list, Bezos isn’t especially charitable, as he has given less than 0.1 percent of his net worth to charity.

Still, he seems dedicated to helping humanity in his own way—even if that means building a giant clock.

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