Marilyn Monroe asked in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”
Seem ridiculous? Then this isn’t your road. See it like this: You wouldn’t marry someone physically repulsive to you, so why marry someone fiscally repulsive? If money moves you, shop among the rich. If you don’t like the notion, fine. Leave the rich to those who care.
Today, marrying for money is often decried. But marrying well is not new; it’s archetypal in literature and mythology—the beautiful peasant girl marrying the earnest prince. In Europe, most marriages used to be arranged among people of comparable wealth. Marrying up was applauded! Marrying down was failure. Because of finances and technology, folks moved in limited circles. They chose mates from their circle or one was chosen by family from outside.
Only more recently has it been common for lovers to choose for themselves—paving another road to riches. Right or wrong, it’s taken an unseemly connotation. Whereas in Pride and Prejudice we cheer when the heroine bags rich Mr. Darcy, now she might be called a “gold-digger.” She shouldn’t.
Warning: Marrying money can be rough whether done by a man or woman. We had a young female family friend of considerable inheritance. She married a handsome, energetic young man. All seemed peachy—kids and all. Did he marry for money? Hard to know! We do know he borrowed from her to start his own firm with modest success—it eventually sold for $5 million—which would make him his own man. On the very evening the deal closed, at a celebratory dinner she announced she was leaving him for her kayak instructor. What a slap! She liked being boss. His success annoyed her. She got revenge and a new boy-toy. To show her, he took up with his kayak instructor. True story. It can be a bumpy road when money skips love.
Yes, marrying money doesn’t always work—but marrying in general doesn’t always work, either. Divorce rates are high everywhere. Still, there’s zero evidence the divorce rate among those who marry up in wealth is any higher than for the general population. If you go about it right, you can do a lot to stack the odds in your favor. Most basic advice: Marrying rich is marvelous, but you must make sure it’s someone you will be good to and who will be good to you. Money can’t ever be a replacement for love. But it can make a nice addition—icing on a cake.
You may laugh, but this road is legitimate. In a 2007 Wall Street Journal survey, two-thirds of women said they’d be “very” or “extremely willing” to marry for money. It isn’t just women—half of men surveyed said they’d marry for money, too. Interestingly, women in their 20s had both the highest expectations of divorce (71 percent) and the highest asking prices ($2.5 million).1
I reemphasize, marrying rich doesn’t mean marrying badly. My paternal great-grandfather, Philip I. Fisher, worked his whole life for Levi Strauss—the person and the firm. My grandfather Dr. Arthur L. Fisher (whom I wrote about at length in my 2007 book, The Only Three Questions That Count), was a direct beneficiary of marrying for money, and so am I. His eldest sister, Caroline, openly married for money in the nineteenth century when courted—through my great-grandfather’s introduction—by a wealthy Levi Strauss relative, Henry Sahlein. Typical of nineteenth-century marriages, she came to love him during marriage. This was just the way it was done back then. He provided for her generously. She, in turn, provided for her many family members, including putting her brother (my grandfather) through medical school and my father through college. If she hadn’t married for money, I’m certain my youth would have been tougher. I benefited through three generations. For decades, our family had a Thanksgiving dinner, started by Caroline in the 1920s and later run by her granddaughters. I went almost every year and gave thanks for Caroline marrying for money. Today, the only difference is you want to establish love before the wedding vows. Otherwise the same principles apply.
First, how do you find an appropriate rich paramour? Fret the other stuff later—falling in love, convincing them to marry you, you to marry them, prenups, and so on. First, find the rich folks. They aren’t everywhere—as of 2013, only the top 1 percent of Americans had incomes over $428,000.2 That may not be enough for you. The top-earning 0.1 percent earn over $1.9 million3—now we’re talking. Still, that’s only about 300,000 people. Many are already married (though that may pose no problem for some on this road, since many may soon divorce anyway).
Another story, to emphasize the importance of just finding an eligible rich amour. I knew a guy with about $300 million liquid—a founder-CEO who sold his business. He was 55, footloose, a bachelor—never married, no kids, no worries. He had modest desires, simple clothes, drove a VW—didn’t really care for luxuries. He owned stocks and bonds. Whenever stocks wiggled, it drove him nuts so he finally put everything in bonds. I used to cite him in client seminars to show why some people needed stocks and others did not. He had more money than he ever needed, didn’t need the higher returns from stocks, and their volatility bothered him. Bonds made him comfy. I finally stopped telling the story because every time I did, a few single ladies remained afterward or phoned later to ask for his contact information. True story! They were at the seminar, going where the money was. They were thinking well. They weren’t committed to marrying him, stalking him, or anything else—just to finding him. So how do you find him/her?
Like real estate, the three most strategic aspects in moneyed-mate hunting are location, location, and location. There are places you’re more likely to bump elbows with the wealthy. If this is your road, go there. Where? Look at the Forbes 400. You needn’t set your sights so high, but it’s a good geo-wealthical map. On Forbes’ website (www.forbes.com) is a country map showing where the richest live—an almost perfect visual of where the more modestly rich live. If a state has a high percentage of billionaires, it’s safe to assume there will also be similar concentrations of folks with $5 million, $20 million, even $200 million. They flock together because they come from the same basic wealth-generating sources.
As of 2016, California had the most Forbes 400 members—90, or 23 percent. New York was next with 69—mostly New York City (54). Florida (40) and Texas (33) also had lots. Those states are big, so it makes sense they’d have lots of rich folks. Per capita, the place to be is Wyoming—with one member for every 116,000 people. (Of course, there are only about 580,000 Wyomingans—few to choose from.) Next? Montana! One billionaire for every 256,000. South Carolina is bad—only one out of 4.8 million. Still, that beats Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, Vermont, and West Virginia—all with none.4 No mega-wealthy probably translates to fewer plain-old wealthy folks. So leave the poorer places and move to the richer—that’s where they’ll be! Simple first step.
Because divorce runs high everywhere, you may be safer marrying in a community property versus a common law state. Most are common law—41 in all—meaning each spouse has completely separate legal and property rights. Sounds grand, unless you aim to marry well—you always run the risk of being dumped! While I’m not advocating you marry expecting to divorce, you should marry with full awareness that the wealthy do not escape high divorce rates, and you should be prepared for that risk.
In a common law state, if the time comes to divvy up assets, you’re usually subject to what’s known as “equitable distribution of the assets.” Equitable? Sounds fair, right? Except “equitable” is in the eye of the judge. What you get becomes a court case, and for that you must review Chapter 6 and how court cases can sometimes become popularity contests—both sides vying for the judge’s favor. If the judge decides you’re the bad guy (like Heather Mills McCartney later this chapter), you may end up with less. And if you married for money, your wealthier mate might be able to buy better legal advice. That’s too much uncertainty. You can battle uncertainty with an ironclad prenup or by finding a moneyed mate elsewhere.
For example, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin are community property states. There, each spouse typically owns 50 percent of all income and assets acquired during marriage—even if one spouse earns big and the other nothing. Spouses also share equally in debt, but that shouldn’t impact you if you travel this road properly. (Laws vary by state, so check with the IRS in your state: http://www.irs.gov/irm/part25/ch13s01.html.)
A general rule (with many exceptions, of course) is that community property states are better for the poorer partner in marriage, worse for the richer. Warning: When a recently married richer spouse wants to move from California to Georgia, he may be anticipating divorce. But moving to another community state is safe. I recently convinced my wife of 46 years to move from California to Washington—community property to community property—so she knew it wasn’t for divorce planning. Think about it.
Next, improve your odds rise by focusing your career and social activities around the wealthy folks. If you’re in finance or investments (93 billionaires), you’re more likely to meet a rich mate than in the telecom industry (one). The service industry is fine (18)—maybe get a job in management consulting. Head to Silicon Valley to swim in the tech pool (55), or New York and Hollywood to nab a media or entertainment mogul (29). If you’re into environmental causes, you’re out of luck—they have none—but oil and gas have 25 billionaires.5 The mega-wealthy do lots of charity, but they may not like you if you attack the source of their wealth, so Greenpeace meetings aren’t a likely meeting spot. But you could volunteer for causes like free trade, malaria-fighting mosquito nets, or vaccinating children globally (very uncontroversial).
If you can stomach it, Republican or Democratic Party activities are a great way to meet rich party donors. Both parties have an ongoing multitude of events to entice and maintain their wealthy donor bases. (Both parties are about comparable in size and wealth, but typically come from different and somewhat conflicting industry slices. The oil guys, for example, are more likely to be Republican. Plaintiff’s lawyers are more likely Democrats.) If you become a fund-raising volunteer, you’ll naturally meet donors.
These activities tend to work best centered around larger cities and state capitals for obvious reasons. Community charities are a similar approach without the political edge and are everywhere. Just as you’re more likely to find a rich mate in rich community property states like California or Nevada than poor states like West Virginia or South Carolina, you’re more likely to meet them if you volunteer for the right social or political forums.
It really is about right place, right time. Melinda Gates would never have met Bill Gates had she not been in Washington working for Microsoft. Since he was always a workaholic, it would have been weird for him to find love anywhere else. Most of the ultra-rich are like that. They are very obsessed with what they do. You must be where they are.
Another perfect place is free investment seminars. Pick those aimed at high-net-worth investors as opposed to ones for people trying to get rich. Brokerage firms do these in every major community every week, trying to sell attendees commission-based investing products. The audience is a mixture of money, and they usually allow walk-ins—which is good if this is your road. My firm hasn’t done these kinds of prospecting seminars in years, but we used to, and there were always—always—single people with money in the crowd. New York is great for this—maybe the best.
One night in the 1990s we were doing one of these in Manhattan at the Plaza Hotel. Regis Philbin attended and people gawked—his presence lent the audience a sense of glamour. He ducked out fast before the crowd could maul him. A smattering of attendees hung around after, chatting with me and a coterie from my firm. Among them was a striking young brunette, chatting up one of our reps. Our employees were headed for drinks afterward. Her story was so interesting, our rep brought her to tell her story.
She was a young practicing dentist who sought marriage but heeded Marilyn Monroe’s credo—that you don’t marry purely for money, but why not money, too? She had a lot going for her and expected much back.
Every evening, Monday through Thursday, after drilling and filling, she sought a seminar hotel. Her two favorites were the Plaza and the Grand Hyatt, since they held multiple seminars every night. She picked seminars that looked like they might have the most money and a not-too-old crowd. That’s how she got to us. Then she approached the gate keepers and showed them her dentist business card. She said she could almost always talk herself in. If she couldn’t, she’d go down the hall to another seminar and get in there. Inside, there was always free food. Four nights a week she ate free—very frugal. She mingled pre-seminar, seeking targets. She was very direct—asked what they were doing there, told them her career, asked about theirs, and generally flirted—all with men picked at her discretion. In that first conversation she always asked if they wanted children—right then, right there—because the children topic was to her both critical and a gateway as to whether they might be appropriate marriage material or not.
With ones she liked she exchanged business cards and offered one free dental exam—that offer made them remember her. In a week she would call men she liked. If they didn’t recall her vividly she knew she hadn’t made a great impression and backed off. If they did, she asked to meet for drinks on the weekend. She said she’d been doing it a bit over a year and had dates every single weekend, taking every Sunday off. She received several marriage proposals, but never yet from quite the right guy.
But she said she had every confidence that within a year she would find Mr. Right. I’m sure she did. Marilyn would have been proud. We never heard from her again (we stopped doing that kind of seminar), but I believe she succeeded since she built a machine for it. She seemed way out on the bell curve in her method. But there is someone for everyone, and I’m sure one night, the right moneyed man met her and had his light lit. Few are as disciplined and dedicated to this road as this young woman was. But if you’re disciplined, you can do exactly what she did and it will work for you, too. I’m certain of it.
You probably must marry someone older. Few richies are very young—only 114 of the Forbes 400 are under 40. And many are married. However, Snapchat cofounder Bobby Murphy, worth $1.8 billion, is a mere 28 and still unattached.6 (Sorry, ladies, his compadre Evan Spiegel, just 26 and worth $2.1 billion, squires supermodel Miranda Kerr.)7 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 31, went off the market after this book first came out, as did Ivanka Trump, who stands to inherit billions from her real-estate-mogul-turned-president daddy, Donald. But two of three Airbnb cofounders—Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky ($3.3 billion each and both in their mid-30s)—are single.8 So is the youngest SABMiller scion, Julio Mario Santo Domingo III—just 31, and worth $2.4 billion.9 But most are older. This isn’t just the older guy, younger wife—older rich women like younger men, too. Examples: The younger-man marriages of Julianne Moore and Katie Couric. Think of people like a fine wine, improved with age, and in their prime. If you find this assessment lacking romance, remember love is vital on this road, but romance is somewhat optional.
While discounting romance, a fine wine must be well maintained. And like a good bottle of wine, a marriage must be packaged well, with a good prenuptial agreement, particularly outside community property states. The prenup will keep you contained in case of any breakage.
Even in community property states a prenup is vital—assets acquired before marriage can be in play. You need a deal for who gets what, how, and when. Prenuptials are unpopular among young folk these days. They feel too contractual—overwhelming romance. But to marry money, you must. If that’s distasteful, consider: You wouldn’t enter another arrangement without a contract. You don’t adopt a child, buy a home or car, start a job, hire a money manager, even join a gym without a contract. Why is marriage different? Since marriage is arguably the most serious partnership, a prenup is even more vital.
Sometimes wine goes bad! You can’t control the other person in a marriage. Hence, the matter of divorce. It’s never a goal but always a risk. What happens then? How much should you get? Put another way: How much is your life worth? What should your return be per year married? Your time and affection are valuable. It’s up to you to value it. If you don’t, no one else will.
Consider Ron Perelman, a private equity OPMer (Chapter 7) worth $12.2 billion.10 Ironically, some say he married wife number one, Faith Golding, for money. Shortly after their 1965 marriage (no prenup),11 Ron borrowed money from Faith to buy his first business. But Ron was super successful. They divorced 20 years later. She got $8 million12—less than half a million for each married year. That seems light from a guy like Perelman.
Wife number two, Claudia Cohen, a high-society gossip columnist and television personality, fared better. When they quit, Claudia got $80 million for her nine years and one daughter—$8.9 million a year!13 Wife three, Patricia Duff, was a political fund-raiser (great way to meet richies, as said before) and sometimes-TV personality. If you want some juicy soap opera–like divorce shenanigans, Google their divorce. She had one child by him and got $30 million after 18 months of marriage.14 That’s $20 million a year just to bicker in Le Cirque with a guy who couldn’t stay married!
Next came Ellen Barkin. I really loved her in 1991’s Switch and 1992’s Man Trouble. Later, her career slowed, but she used celebrity for money through marriage. (See Chapter 4 on using celebrity to get money and acting being a young and rough road.) She married Perelman in 2000; it ended by 2006. Reports vary on what she got. Her friends claim $20 million, his claim $60 million. Say it’s $40 million—$6.66 million a year for entertaining the guy who owns Revlon. In preparing this book and reading her side of the saga, I believe she thought her marriage would last and was shocked it ended. Divorce, again, is never a goal, but always a risk. Still, as Chapter 4 shows, precious few actresses make $6 million a year. And I bet none as old as Barkin do.
But $6.66 million a year is far from $20 million. Where did Barkin go wrong? All his other wives had at least one child—she didn’t. Maybe that was it. Also, she had a prenup, but she just didn’t demand enough. Looking at Perelman’s history, she should have known there was the risk he couldn’t stay married and demanded pay for early failure. After all, if the marriage endured, the prenuptial terms would never get applied and cost him nothing. My point: Always demand a lot up-front. What is “a lot”? In Perelman’s case, you use his history, as in, “at least as much as your best-paid former got—inflation-adjusted.” Hopefully wife number five, Anna Chapman, took note.
If you don’t do this right at the start, it costs at the end. Perelman has more experience and better lawyers than you do, so a great lawyer is essential. For example, Heather Mills McCartney got more out of Paul McCartney than Perelman’s financially most successful wife, Claudia Cohen, did—both with one child each. And that despite Perelman being vastly richer than Paul McCartney, and Heather Mills being a more obvious problem in front of a judge than Cohen. Even the judge said Mills was a pest!15 And judges rarely talk, much less squawk.
You need a good prenup because the list of moneyed marriages ending in divorce is long, like all marriages. A few examples? Neil Diamond’s ex, Marcia Murphey, got $150 million for her 25-year marriage.16 Diane Richie, Lionel Richie’s former wife, got $20 million for eight years. Wendy McCaw, wife of telecom magnate Craig McCaw, got $460 million—$23 million a year for 20 years! The McCaws did it right and remain amicable.17 If you do it, do it right with a prenup, and remain amicable after.
Anna Nicole Smith is perhaps the most infamous. She married James Howard Marshall, an attorney and oil tycoon, who passed away leaving only a verbal agreement (her claim) to give her half his money. She died a few years later of a drug overdose, with the estate still in dispute (there are other tabloid details I won’t delve into here—anything you want to know and more is in the blogosphere). The moral of Ms. Smith’s tale is, always do it right:
The stereotype of “marrying money” is the young woman, older man. But this isn’t just a female’s game! Plenty of men marry successful, wealthy women—older or younger. Fewer, yes, because men otherwise control more wealth. That’s not sexist. Just look at the Forbes 400—it’s mostly men, for whatever reason. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t as legitimate a road for men as women.
For example, if John McCain has had successes in life qualifying him to run for president, surely his biggest, as near as I can tell, is marrying well. Great-looking, long-lasting, graceful, and mega-rich Cindy! (You’ve heard the jokes. She even came with her own beer supply!) Ditto for former Secretary of State John Kerry (net worth $199 million),18 who married his wealth—twice! Wife one, Julia Thorne, was an American blueblood with a fortune to match. But she couldn’t stomach political life (who can blame her?) and suffered from depression.19 Kerry divorced and did it again with Teresa Heinz. Ironically, she married her money, too! Working as a UN translator, she met and married Republican Senator John Heinz—the ketchup Heinz. When he died in a 1991 plane crash, she got about a billion, maybe more.20 By 1995, she’d changed parties and remarried. Kerry proves you can marry money that came from marrying money.
I would describe Kerry as someone who used celebrity to marry money, similar to what Ellen Barkin did.
Jane Fonda’s first hubby, former politician Tom Hayden, got away with between $2 million to over $10 million, depending on which source you believe. For a third-tier politico, that’s not bad. Then Fonda parlayed her aging fame into a richer marriage (like Ellen Barkin!) with Forbes 400-er Ted Turner. She must have known it couldn’t last. She has claimed she never had a good relationship with any man. My guess is half those who marry money don’t expect it to last, based on either divorce being so common or their own life experiences.
But they needn’t end sadly. McCain’s and Kerry’s marriages seem to work. Christopher McKown, president of a small health care consulting business, has been married to Abigail Johnson for nearly 30 years. She came from Fidelity family money and now runs part of the firm and is worth $13 billion in her own right.21 Meg Whitman, onetime eBay CEO worth $2.3 billion,22 is still married to her brain surgeon husband—36 years and counting.23 Brain surgery’s pretty good money, but not as good as being married to a former CEO.
Brain surgeons seem to have a sixth sense about marrying well. Take the late Dr. Glen Nelson. He had the good fortune to marry former Carlson CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson—net worth $1.6 billion.24 Did he marry her just for money? I’d guess decidedly not—they were together for decades before he passed in 2016, had four children, and suffered the tragic death of one daughter. Plus, for a period Marilyn left the family business to raise her kids and support her husband’s medical career. Family money is nice, but CEO money makes it nicer—Marilyn returned to replace her founder father as CEO. Dr. Nelson wasn’t the only fellow clever enough to marry a wealthy Carlson girl. Edwin “Skip” Gage has been long, and by all accounts happily, married to Marilyn’s equally wealthy sister, Barbara Carlson Gage.
Stedman Graham is interesting. He’s Oprah’s longtime companion, and though once engaged, they remain unmarried. He’s CEO of his own company, S. Graham & Associates, a consulting firm that seems to primarily promote his books and speaking engagements.25 He’s a smart guy, very active in his community, but maybe wouldn’t be so successful if not for his connection to Oprah. But Oprah says they’ll never marry.26 He won’t see a dime of Oprah’s $2.8 billion27 since she decided not to include him in her will.28 But here’s a guy who fell in with an insanely wealthy woman, and they’ve been together forever and seem very happy. He doesn’t seem to care about locking up any of her wealth for himself, but he’s benefited from her wealth and connections. Remember, marrying well doesn’t mean cynically finding a rich target to dupe. Hopefully, it means finding someone you can love and respect, and my goodness, doesn’t it help if she has money, too?
Love is in the eye of the beholder. What one man loves, another finds boring. By the time you’re my age, you’ve met a great many couples where it’s impossible for you to see what one of them sees in the other. Yet that doesn’t mean love isn’t burning brightly there—and forever. It isn’t for me to tell you what to find fascinating in a mate. But whatever it is that turns you on, there’s no reason that person can’t be wealthy as well. If you found wealth repugnant, which some do, you wouldn’t be reading this book in the first place.
Many settle in marriage too easily. When romance strikes and endures for a relatively few months, folks start thinking “marriage,” as if love can only be found with that one person in life. Wrong! There’s an old saying, “There is someone for everyone.” Well, if you work at it, there are really quite a lot of people you could fall permanently in love with. It’s just a matter of working to find them and then picking the very best one for you. The most optimal. And that can include wealth.
Today there are so many wealthy people that if you set your sights solely among the wealthy, you can find love there, just as likely as you could find love at the local bookstore. Perhaps the most important step is accepting that it’s OK to seek love among the wealthy—that there’s nothing wrong with it.
Think it through, go where the money is, home in locally, make a plan, and work the plan like our young dentist example—and there’s simply no reason you can’t find wealthy love, and in no longer than it would take to find it among the nonwealthy. It’s really all a mindset, and a fine one at that, if getting rich this way is your goal.
Like other roads, there’s more you can read to help your journey. Most “marry rich” books are satires or take potshots at both sides of mixed-wealth marriages and are a disservice. Ignore them. A few particularly good books that may help you include: