You can max out your 401(k), you can max out your IRA, but I've got another retirement plan: Marry rich.
Find an heir, an heiress or the rare self-made multimillionaire, and set yourself up for a life of luxury and perpetual idleness. I don't mean marrying into mere comfort, with a six-figure spouse and a nice house in the suburbs, although as a fallback plan you could do a lot worse for yourself.
If you're going to marry for money, it should be a lot of money, enough that you'll never have to work again to support the ostentatious habits you'll surely develop, even if you get kicked to the curb in an ugly divorce.
Not everybody can snag an obscenely wealthy spouse, but if you don't believe marrying rich is a viable strategy you could be fooling yourself out of a fortune. In fact, marrying money is the oldest, most tried-and-true get-rich-quick strategy in history. It's one of the few paths to wealth where your youth is an asset and not a liability. Use it while you've got it.
You don't have to think too hard to come up with people who've pulled this one off. Jacqueline Onassis did it twice -- who cares that she had to marry a guy named Aristotle? John Kerry, whose craggy face doesn't quite exude charm, nevertheless hit the jackpot when he married Teresa Heinz, the widow heiress of the Heinz ketchup fortune. Ed Schlossberg got in on the Kennedy action when he married Caroline; you think anyone would even know his name if that hadn't happened?
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No one's forgetting the example of Diana Spencer, Princess Di, who really cashed in big-time by marrying the Prince of Wales, and while that might not be the most cheerful example, she did get a $30 million settlement in the divorce.
Dare I even mention Kevin Federline, better known as K-Fed, a man with little apparent intelligence and no marketable skills who still managed to come out of his brief marriage to Britney Spears -- hardly a fate to be lamented -- with millions? With the exception of Lady Di, all these people look pretty happy to me.
Why shouldn't you be next?
It's not as though marrying rich is all that onerous. Most incredibly rich people are really looking for companionship, not a full-time bedroom slave. When you marry for the money, you're signing up to be a permanent walker for your rich spouse or a human accessory to be pulled out at dinner parties and public appearances. How hard can that really be?
And when you're off-duty, you'll have the kind of freedom most of us can only dream about. You can spend your time on philanthropy or, at the other end of the spectrum, on your pristine marble floor, sipping 18-year-old single-malt Scotch or whatever floats your boat.
Are you one of those old-fashioned types who believes in marrying for love? There's nothing wrong with being a romantic, but the numbers are on my side. According to the best
statistics available from the Census Bureau, about 30% of marriages end in divorce. According to the best sound bites available, it's 50%.
Even using the legitimate, smaller figures, there's a solid chance your love match won't last, and if you're not prepared, the divorce could leave you destitute. When you marry for money, there's none of the disappointment or heartbreak, and the divorce ought to leave you a small fortune, especially if you bare those pearly-whites and charm your way out of a pre-nup.
I know this is exactly the kind of thing I'm going to get pilloried for writing. That's OK, I didn't meet my hate-mail quota on the last column. Some people think there's a line between financial decisions and personal ones that you're simply not supposed to cross. That's completely bogus. Plenty of so-called personal finance gurus are happy to tell you how to live your life.
The fact is, who you marry could be the most important financial decision of your life, and it pays to start thinking about it early. No one denies this, but it's a taboo subject because we're supposed to marry for love or for looks, but we're despicably selfish if we so much as mention that we might marry for money.
Some puritans may believe my advice to marry for money is sexist, but I say rank opportunism knows no gender. Both men and women have been marrying into money for millennia. In fact, if you're male, there's never been a better time to make an economically advantageous civil union. The difference in pay between men and women stinks, but it's smaller than ever.
Another lame comment is one that a colleague recently pointed out to me, which draws on the peerless wisdom of Dr. Phil: "You know what they say about marrying rich? You pay for it every day." Like a real marriage and a job put together are that much easier? Call me skeptical.
As far as I'm concerned, someone with the proven ability to marry into money belongs on the same pedestal with luminaries such as Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch, Benjamin Graham and, of course, Jim Cramer (sucking up never hurt anybody).
And I'm not alone. I can remember one classmate, Jared, who used to harass me in the dining hall every day about Jim's picks on "Mad Money" (as if I, a mere writer and collaborator, were responsible for the rare stock that went down), and who absolutely idolized Kevin Federline for his financial acumen.
When the story broke that K-Fed, once a professional dancer, was going to get millions in his divorce from Britney Spears, Jared cashed out the 30-grand he'd been using to trade and vowed to spend lavishly and start hanging out at the law and business schools in order to attract the financially perfect mate. It's possible he was just kidding around, but I did run into him later with a very expensively accessorized young woman.
You know what? Jared is on the right track. It pays to be selfish, just like it pays to start thinking about how you're going to get your hooks into someone else's pocketbook or wallet permanently. How early? There's nothing wrong with getting started in college, although the pickings are slimmer. People get married in their 20s all the time, and if you're not on the prowl for a wealthy spouse by your late 20s, it's probably too late.
It's all about the percentages. You can spend a lifetime working hard to earn a lot of money. You can put your time, money and effort into investing to double your money every five or six years -- and that's if you're good, aggressive and already have enough money to make investing worthwhile.
You can be a speculator, taking on enormous risk with your investments in order to achieve equally massive returns. (This is actually something I recommend for people with money to spare in their 20s -- people my age -- and you'll make your money faster as long as you can tolerate the risk, but even that takes years to make you really wealthy.) Or you can become a millionaire overnight by marrying one. You tell me where the smart money is.
This is one of those strategies that's obviously not right for everyone, but that doesn't mean we should rule it out entirely. Most people don't think twice about working 80 hours a week and never spending any time with their loved ones, and that's all about the money. In comparison, actively hunting for a rich mate, or even merely keeping your bank account in mind when you appraise a potential life partner, is a very wise move.
Personally, I've resigned myself to shooting for little more than comfort, having invested almost 17 months in my 3L plan. That stands for "third-year law student." Her name is Jenny, and after she finishes school next year and gets a soul-destroying, six-figure job at a law firm, at about the same time she'll turn 26 and begin to really badger me about marriage, I'll have my retirement in the bag.
Sure, I won't be set for a life of luxury, but comfortable idleness is within striking distance. Plus, she has the added, but altogether unnecessary, advantages of being smart, funny and beautiful.
No knock on my terrific girlfriend, but if you're unattached you can aim higher, at least from a financial perspective. The options aren't limitless, but there are still plenty of unattached heirs and heiresses. Go for the newly single Prince William or his less-sought-after brother Prince Harry. I have to admit to putting more thought into the heiresses: Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald; Holly Branson, daughter of Richard; Amanda Hearst, great-granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst; and Paris Hilton, who needs no introduction but who might need a friend right now.