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Lifestyles of the young and ultra-rich

About the author

Bryan Borzykowski is a Toronto-based business writer and editor. He writes about personal finance, wealth issues and other money topics for BBC Capital and also contributes to the New York Times, CNBC, CNNMoney, Canadian Business and the Globe and Mail. He’s written three investing and personal finance books, too. Follow him on Twitter @bborzyko. 

What do the young and rich have that the rest of us don't — besides the toys? (Getty)

What do the young and rich have that the rest of us don't — besides the toys? (Getty)

David Schottenstein talks about his array of rare whiskies like a teenager might talk about his sports card collection. The 30-year-old multi-millionaire — his net worth has been estimated at around $50 million — owns bottles worth $20,000 or more.

“I once bought a bottle that was used at Princess Diana’s wedding,” he said, adding that he only paid $350 for it at an auction.

His most prized vintage: a Macallan 60 that was distilled in 1949 in Craigellachie, Scotland and bought in 2009. “I’ll never drink it,” he said of the scotch that Christie’s auction house values at between $16,000 and $25,000. “If I get bored of it I’ll sell it.”

It’s just one of the many pricey things that Schottenstein collects, though he says he pays less than the sticker price and considers his purchases as investments that will grow in value. He likes buying jewellery, too, and owns some pieces that are now valued at $200,000.

There aren’t many people like Schottenstein — 20- and 30-somethings who have more money than they could have ever imagined — but you have probably heard of a few of them. 

According to Wealth-X, a company that tracks the ultra wealthy set, 1.6% of Ultra- High-Net-Worth (UHNW) individuals — defined as having more than $30m in assets — are under 30, while 5.5% are between the ages of 30 and 39. Among them: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Napster founder Sean Parker and TAL Education Group founder Zhang Bangxin.

Many young UHNW individuals are, like Schottenstein, entrepreneurs. Schottenstein sold his first business, custom tailor Astor & Black, in 2011 to a private equity firm for about $42m and now runs Viewabill, a technology company that helps businesses track their legal bills.

For the young and extremely affluent, life is a complicated mix of spending and saving that includes buying big ticket items like cars, houses, alcohol and handbags, travelling around the world and reinvesting in their businesses to make even more money, said Mark McMullen, the Geneva-based head of family office for Stonehage, a wealth management firm that deals with ultra-wealthy individuals around the world.

The under-35 group of wealthy typically tries to use the money they have to make even more.

“These are highly entrepreneurial, highly ambitious people,” McMullen said. “Because they’ve made money quickly, they think it’s easy to do and they often try and recreate what they’ve already done.”

Meet the new young and rich — stave off your jealousy and you may be surprised by just how practical some of them are.

No Hollywood Here

When Sonita Lontoh, an Indonesia-raised entrepreneur who now lives in Silicon Valley, sold her first business — China-focused gaming company wan1wan.com —  at the tender age of 26, she immediately rushed out to buy a $24,000 pink Hermes handbag.

Having so much money was “liberating,” she said.

One misconception that people have about wealthy young people is that they live like Lindsay Lohan — occasionally-troubled and always after the finest things —  said Tim Pritchard an advisor to the ultra wealthy at Richardson GMP, a Toronto-based wealth management firm.

Pritchard, who counts young business owners and wealthy professional sports stars as clients, said some do get mixed up with illicit drugs and excessive drinking, but the vast majority are workaholics and their desire to build companies usually doesn’t change.

For instance, Lontoh, now-38, didn’t suddenly become a hard-living Hollywood type replete with all-night drinking and all-day shopping sprees. She bought a loft with her husband that cost seven-figures, flies in first class more often, occasionally takes private jets and indulges in her handbag habit, but, she said otherwise her lifestyle did not change dramatically.

“I did not party all the time,” said the tech executive, although some of her wealthy friends did.

Living large doesn’t last

That’s not to say that some people don’t live it up.

David Daneshgar made millions from poker in his 20s (Chris Ferenzi)

David Daneshgar, now 32, was one of the top poker five players in the world — and would regularly jet off to Barcelona, Monaco or other luxury destinations at a moment’s notice.

He stayed in the top hotels — one suite his friends rented in Barcelona cost about $4,000 a night — and would often wine and dine other wealthy individuals.  When he made his first million at age 24 he bought a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S for $110,000, in cash. He always flew first class or on a private jet.

But living in the fast lane is only fun for so long. Things began to change for him when he turned 30. He saw other wealthy poker players around his age “lose touch with reality” and blow all their money. He didn’t want to go broke.

“I realised that money has no value,” he said. “I matured and wanted to do something for other people.”

In 2011, he used his winnings to start Bloomnation.com, an online marketplace for florists who want to sell custom floral arrangements. He’s already received about $2m in venture capital funding. Of course, he hopes to get even richer off the business when he sells it one day.

While he’s still wealthy, he’s not nearly as lavish a spender as he once was. He’ll take the occasional jet trip, but nowadays he mostly flies economy class.

“My life has changed,” he said. “I’m more focused on my business.”

More money, more changes

Young multi-millionaires, especially entrepreneurs, concern themselves more with creating companies than hiring a personal shopper—most aren’t ostentatious about their wealth, explained Pritchard, the financial adviser.

“For a lot of these young business owners, it’s not necessarily apparent that they’re extremely wealthy,” said Pritchard. “They have a nice car, but a lot of their wealth is tied up in their business and their time is taken up by running it.”

How people approach wealth often depends on how much they have. For the high net-worth person who has assets of between $5m and $10m, life doesn’t change that much, said Gautam Batra, an investment strategist at London-based Signa Wealth, an investment firm that’s geared to wealthy individuals. After buying a seven-figure house, you’re not left with as much as you’d think, he said.

Above the $10m mark, managing money becomes a much more involved process. “That’s something different,” he said. It gets even more intense when you exceed $100m, when planning becomes more about channelling those funds into something productive. Most young ultra-rich people have no idea what to do with their money and they need advice, said McMullen.

Much of that advice is around investing in real estate, buying other businesses, buying into the stock market, setting prenuptial agreements before marriage and how to avoid spoiling their children.

Schottenstein has always been a responsible saver, he said, and while he loves his whisky collection, he spends most of his money on philanthropic causes. He gives away about 35% of his income a year to a number of different causes.

His first major purchase was a building in Montreal that he turned into a Jewish community centre for the city’s Russian Jews, a community his wife is a part of. He also built a soup kitchen in Israel that now feeds 250 people a day.  

While Schottenstein said he has friends who spend too much — one young business-owning friend used to pay $25,000 in rent a month for a New York apartment; he’s nearly broke now — most of the young and wealthy people he knows aren’t living like kings.

“It might be fun to go out here and there, but you have to realise that burning money isn’t going to make you happy,” he said. “You get to a point where you don’t just think about today. You have to think about the long-term too.”

(This story was amended to show that David Schottenstein's purchases are considered investments and corrected to show that ultra-high-net-worth is considered $30m in assets (not $25m))

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The under-35 group of wealthy typically tries to use the money they have to make even more.

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