How big do you want your nest egg to be?

One hundred dollar notes are seen in this photo illustration at a bank in Seoul January 9, 2013. — Reuters pic
One hundred dollar notes are seen in this photo illustration at a bank in Seoul January 9, 2013. — Reuters pic

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NEW YORK, Feb 26 — Twenty million dollars. That’s how much Julien Mellon needs to live the life he wants. With that kind of cash, Mellon, a 32-year-old tour guide, could buy a “beautiful” home with enough left over to spend US$100,000 (RM444,000) a year (“in 2017 dollars”) until the day he dies.

That same number would also work for Celeste Hilling, the founder, chief and product formulator at Skin Authority. Twenty million would allow her to put her 17-year-old daughter through college, “give to philanthropy — especially women’s and children’s causes — start another company, and travel as part of work combined with personal pursuits,” said Hilling, 58.

And then there is Susan Sosnow, a real estate investor and landlord. All Sosnow, 49, needs to feel secure is US$36,000 a year. Really. She nets a fraction of that as a landlord.

Explaining the relatively low figure, she said: “I’m not interested in travelling; I’m interested in creating paradise at home, Candyland. I’m still driving the ’99 Ford Escort wagon I bought for US$3,200 cash in 2004. But sometimes it sits in my driveway for a week and I just ride my bike around.”

With just a bit more, she said: “I’d be able to pay my bills, contribute to my IRA and have some left over for home improvements.”

Money may not buy happiness, but it can certainly buy freedom and security, which contribute mightily to happiness.

It also helps alleviate sadness, as a 2015 paper found. In the study, researchers examined data from over 12,000 Americans. Wealthier individuals did not experience greater feelings of happiness on a day-to-day basis, but they did experience reduced feelings of sadness.

“We argue that this reduction in sadness occurs because money provides a sense of perceived control,” said Elizabeth W. Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the paper. She also co-authored the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending.

Jill Falcon, 46, a single stay-at-home mother of a 4-year-old, agrees. While she does not believe there is a number to buy happiness, “Money buys safety, convenience, luxury,” she said. “It can reduce worries and stress. I would love the freedom money would bring.”

At a time when the ranks of the ultrawealthy — millionaires and even billionaires — are on the rise, the magic number for many people is surprisingly modest.

So how much is “enough”? Clearly, the definition of enough depends on where you live and your responsibilities. Sosnow is single and lives in Gainesville, Florida, which is significantly less expensive than San Diego, where Hilling lives with her husband and daughter, or Brooklyn, where Mellon resides.

For Falcon, “enough” is somewhere between US$8 million and US$10 million, so she could give her daughter “the best of everything,” as she put it: “Private school, college, money for an advanced degree at an Ivy League university, two homes, unlimited vacations. Retirement. Cars, gas, food, shelter, extras. I’d also like to make sure my mom is set for life not having to worry about money.”

But it’s not pure hedonism. Falcon also wants to contribute to charity.

So does Andrea Todd. Her number hovers around US$65 million. With that she would travel with her family. But “I see that as an educational experience more than a luxury item purchased with a windfall,” said Todd, 51, a writer and teacher in Sacramento who is married with three children. “We’d travel cheap and dirty, with immersion in mind.”

But she would also buy a farm for animals, as Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey, did. While Todd would continue teaching at Cristo Rey, a Catholic high school in Sacramento, she would not take a salary. She would also give money to all her alma maters that would be used for tuition. “I worked my way through Catholic school and college,” she said. “It would make me very happy to ensure other students were relieved of that stress.”

“We have a half mil in the bank, and I panic all the time about not having enough,” Todd said. In addition to her parents and in-laws, all of whom are in their 90s “with two pension plans possibly running out,” her two children will be heading to college in the next five years. She also has a US$500,000 home with US$400,000 still owed on it and a retirement fund that did not begin until 2002, when her husband graduated from law school.

Others would like enough money to allow them to pursue other interests. Valerie Smaldone, a media personality and brand strategist in New York, who declined to give her age, said she could make it work with a monthly stipend of US$10,000 for the rest of her life. She’d like a minimum of US$250,000 in retirement income on top of that, which would continue to appreciate yearly.

She doesn’t plan to ever stop working, but if she had “stupid money” to live off, she said, she would “produce a film or a play, or provide funding to animals who are abused. Learn something I always wanted to learn. Take a serious wine course, or do something in the food industry.”

Melissa Soalt, the founder of global self-defence programmes for women, would be set with a cool US$5 million. “Being self-employed often means having to ‘sing for my supper,’” said Soalt, 61, of Amherst, Massachusetts. “This would take some of the pressure off. It would not only make my life more secure — I would purchase a modest home — but allow me to do more to help the world.”

“Without the actual money, things remain realistically out of reach,” she added.

Kendall Rush, 47 and a grandfather, knows exactly how he would allocate his fantasy US$6 million: He would take US$2 million to pay off debts for himself and his immediate family, secure housing and transportation, and set up a communal trust fund with the rest for emergencies and medical. “The third million would go toward relocation of myself and my household,” Rush, a help-desk administrator for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, New York, wrote in an email. “Half a million for educational trust fund for kids and family. Half a million in personal accounts for day-to-day expenses. One million for investments stocks/bonds. One million to invest in small, local businesses.”

Steve Sims, 50, a father of three and the founder of Bluefish, an international executive concierge service with United States headquarters in Los Angeles, has a more philosophical approach to lucre. “Being an unwealthy kid from East London, and now living on Mulholland Drive in Hollywood, I’m not exactly living on street corners,” Sims said. “In East London, if I got 250 pounds a week, I thought I was golden boy, because I could walk into a pub and drink myself stupid.”

As he got older and made money, he felt the need to show off all the trappings of his rich life. “I remember buying a Porsche and then a Bentley because it looked better,” he said. He has also owned a Ferrari.

He got rid of them (now he collects motorcycles — he has nine), but he is fond of his lifestyle. So if for some reason he could no longer work, he would like US$10 million. “Ten million dollars wouldn’t affect my lifestyle and allow me to continue it,” which includes zipping around the world at a moment’s notice, he said.

Lynne Dewhurst McBurney, 50, who manages litigation for a financial services company and lives with her husband and son in Ridgewood, New Jersey, would not quit her job if she got her US$6 million. But she might retire earlier.

“Maybe it’s a secret homage to Lee Majors,” she said, referring to the actor who played the lead in “The Six Million Dollar Man,” a 1970s television show. “But it’s more like, own my home plus a pied-à-terre in Paris, and a cottage in Maine, and live off interest income from the US$4 million we’d have left,” she said.

Mellon has a more visceral reason for how he arrived at his US$20 million number. “The real story for me personally is how bad it hurts that I don’t believe I will ever be able to own a home in the place where I grew up,” said Mellon, who was raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. The actress Michelle Williams “bought the house I grew up dreaming of” in the Victorian Flatbush Historic District, said Mellon.

If housing weren’t an issue, he would need very little: just enough to invest so he would never need to work again. “If I assume that I can own it outright, I imagine having enough to replace the boiler and fix the roof and keep up with my membership at MoMA,” he said.

As for Sosnow, her life is simple and straightforward. “If I wanted more money, I could pursue it, but why?” she said. — The New York Times

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