Why many billionaires still do chores


A new Forbes survey of the world’s richest people found many still do household chores like taking out the garbage and grocery shopping.
Image source: Getty Images

The world of the super wealthy may be brimming with private jets, mega mansions and more dough than most could even dream of, but the day-to-day lives of billionaires look a whole lot more typical than many would expect.

That’s at least according to the results of a recent survey by Forbes. The poll of 65 of the richest people on Earth found that, while they could easily outsource, many billionaires still choose to do at least some household chores and other domestic tasks themselves. More than a third said they regularly grocery shop and take out the garbage, while 40% cook and walk their dogs. More than half of the respondents said they watch their children or grandchildren’s sports games. (Perhaps it’s the competitive instinct.)

Still, these ultra-rich have their limits, the survey suggests. Clearly greenbacks do not correlate with green thumbs as just 10% of those polled reported doing yardwork on a regular basis. The only task less popular was laundry, which just 8% of the billionaires said they tend to do.

There are myriad reasons why at least some members of the super rich still do these ordinary tasks. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates–the world’s No. 3 and No. 5 richest people worth an estimated US$151.9 billion and US$106.3 billion, respectively–have both previously discussed their habits of washing the dishes every night. “Other people volunteer, but I like the way I do it,” Gates reasoned simply in a 2014 Reddit Q&A.

For some, like real estate investor Charles Cohen, whose estimated US$3.6 billion empire includes high-end office buildings in New York City and the movie theater chain Landmark Theatres, doing chores is a way to relax outside of work. “It’s funny you bring this up because I’m just driving back from Home Depot right now with some extra sprinklers and light bulbs,” Cohen said in a recent phone call. “I like going out and doing stuff on my own.”

The real estate mogul described tasks like grocery shopping and grilling as a “great way to break up the week.” Cohen said he grew up in the Westchester suburbs of New York with a housekeeper, and that he and his wife try to do more of the work around the house in part to set an example for their children. “It’s all about doing the things you enjoy doing and creating a lifestyle that defines the way you are and the way you want your children to perceive you, and the values you want them to embrace,” Cohen said. (Not that he and his family live a frugal life. They own a 16 hectare Connecticut estate with a private screening room and a vineyard in France.)

Frank VanderSloot, the founder and executive chairman of the health and wellness business Melaleuca, and the richest person in Idaho, said doing household chores feels natural to him because of the way he grew up. The son of a railroad worker, VanderSloot recalls waking up before school to chop wood and milk the cows on his family’s farm in northern Idaho.

“I’m running a multi-billion dollar business. I have a lot going on, so it’s obviously not the best use of my time to be doing stuff around the house that I could hire someone to do.”

– Jeff Greene

“People think that you’re a different person because of the size of your checking account, but it doesn’t work that way, at least I don’t think it does,” said VanderSloot. He noted that he and his wife, Belinda, hired someone to help with cleaning around the house, which has 15 rooms to accommodate their 14 children and 54 grandchildren when they come to visit. But he and his wife handle most household chores, including cooking and laundry; they pay their grandchildren to do their yardwork.

“I think that wealth or success will test your character more than failure ever could, and you’ve got to measure up to that,” he said. “If success changes you, then I think you’ve missed the whole point of life.”

Another billionaire, who asked for anonymity, said he does everything from taking out the trash to washing his clothes—“yes, even laundry and occasional ironing”—because he is “just not comfortable accepting personal services from others”.

 Not everyone has quite the same philosophy. After all, as the survey indicates, the majority don’t do all these chores: 60% said they don’t cook; 62% said they don’t take out their garbage and 92% don’t do laundry. Some may have good reasons. Jeff Greene, the Palm Beach-based real estate mogul who first made his fortune shorting subprime mortgages during the Great Recession, insists that while he’s “pretty down to earth,” most household chores and tasks are handled by his staff. “I’m running a multi-billion dollar business. I have a lot going on, so it’s obviously not the best use of my time to be doing stuff around the house that I could hire someone to do,” he said.

When he has time outside of work, Greene said he prioritises spending time with his three young children, who he drives to and from school each day. “We’re very involved with our kids,” he said, adding: “It’s nice to do … Compared to fighting with some contractor about a deadline, I’d rather be stuck with my kids.”

This article was first published on forbes. com