I was reminded by an article yesterday about how much this idea of “waste” bothers me. The article was about some billionaire who spent somewhere between $5-$20 million on their 70th birthday party. Nobody knows, except maybe the billionaire and his accountant, how much was actually spent. But of course, people make guesses.
This party was a big affair with camels, a famous singer, trapeze artists, and fireworks. The guest list was a “who’s who” of other multimillionaires and billionaires.
Of course, this was met with cynicism and criticism. People called it frivolous and wasteful. But let me just put this into perspective for a moment. Let’s forget about the total dollars spent and instead focus on what its cost looks like as a percentage of this man’s net worth. Forbes has him at about $10 billion dollars.
The average person, me included, has no idea what that level of wealth actually means. We look at those huge numbers and either shake our heads or stand in amazement at the ostentation (grand display).
Let’s assume he spent at the top end of the estimates, $20 million. That is .002 of his net wealth, less than 1/4 of 1%. The average net worth of a 70-year-old in America is about $250,000. If that person were to spend the same percentage on his birthday party, he would spend about $500. That’d be enough to hire a photographer to document the day. Someone else would have to chip in for the cake, decorations, drinks, etc.
Did you catch that? On the HIGH end of the estimates, he only spent the equivalent of $500. If your grandpa or father spent $500 throwing a birthday bash for himself, would you criticize his waste of money? Wouldn’t you be more likely to encourage him to spend more than that? After all, you only turn 70 once.
To be sure, $20 million is no small amount of money. I could think of a lot of things that I could do with that much money. I could set myself, and 19 of my closest friends, up so that we wouldn’t have to work for the rest of our lives. I could buy a yacht and a small crew and sail around the world. I could…I could…I could.
But I don’t have that much money, do I? I think the root of the problem when people criticize other’s spending of money is that we are jealous. We want what other people have. We think, “man, why didn’t he give that money to me? I would have appreciated it a lot more than those people who attended the party.”
But even after all is said and done, is the money really wasted? The definition of waste is “an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.” Let’s put this party to the “waste” test.
- Expending something carelessly – I bet this party has been in the planning stages for months. You can’t exactly get a heard of camels, Gwen Stefani, and a cake the shape of a temple without a lot of forethought and planning.No, I don’t think you can say this money was spent carelessly, quite the opposite actually.
- Using something extravagantly – At first glance, I’d have to say yes, this money was spent very extravagantly. But let’s take a moment and define extravagant…”lacking restraint in spending money or using resources; costing too much money; exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate; absurd.”This word “extravagant” is completely fluid. It is totally based on the individuals perspective. Could this billionaire have spent a lot more than $20 million? You bet he could have. But he didn’t. He had restraint because he didn’t spend all he had. Far far from it. The other two uses are also purely based on one’s opinions. How much is too much? Who defines what is reasonable?Remember, this was only the equivalent of $500 to you or me. So objectively, I’d have to say that this wasn’t extravagant considering the level of wealth.
- Spending to no purpose – This is where the idea of wasting money really starts to bug me. This money did a whole lot of good to a whole lot of people. After the party was over and the bills were paid, there is now $20 million that is in the pockets of dozens of business owners that wasn’t there before.Do you think the supplier of the camels thinks the billionaire wasted his money? What about the pilots that flew in all the guests? What about the caterer, the event planner, the security detail, the cake maker, the decorator, the janitors? They are all putting food on the table because of this wealthy man turning 70 and having a big party.And what about all the guests? I’m sure they enjoyed themselves immensely. Would they say the money was spent to no purpose?I can say pretty confidently that I do not believe this money was wasted. Now, if he had burned up all that money in one great big bonfire, then yes I would say it was wasted.
I am reminded of what some said when Jesus was anointed with expensive perfume, not long before His death. “Why this waste of perfume?” This woman was rebuked for pouring out about $50,000 worth of oil. Jesus did not rebuke her. He did the opposite.
We don’t know woman’s background. But evidently, she had the means to buy the oil. Maybe it was a lot of money to her or maybe it wasn’t. We don’t know. We do know that she decided this was her way to honor Jesus.
My point is not to say spending money on an eastern themed party with camels and fireworks is the same as pouring oil on Jesus’ feet. My point is that we should not judge others on the spending of their money.
When you have a net worth of $10 billion, then you may be in a position of authority to make such a statement. But until then, take care of your own household and manage the money that you have.
And think twice before you say “that was a waste of money.” You don’t know the people that were helped, the businesses that were saved, or the greater purposes of God.
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Please comment below.