Published November 15, 2007
After shedding hair and panties last year, Britney Spears rarely shocks.
So when court papers recently revealed that the pop tart doesn't save or invest any of her roughly $737,000 monthly income, financial and entertainment insiders weren't surprised.
In fact, they say, Britney may be on her way to joining the ranks of rapper MC Hammer and members of the R&B group TLC — celeb acts that spent too much, too fast and saved or invested far too little, and wound up filing for bankruptcy.
"Most high earners, like celebrities, should view themselves like ballplayers do," said Everett Weinberger, a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch. "You need to put away money right at the beginning, assuming that it may end. ... Young people can be very shortsighted, forgetting that they're not going to be famous forever."
Celebrities are not unlike many Americans in their spending habits, Weinberger added.
"Most people have not written down a budget, and it turns out that they've spent far more than they think," he said.
Michael Jackson knows this story all too well. He's defaulted on a $23 million loan, and if he doesn't pay the full amount — plus $212,963.83 in interest — by the end of January, he could lose his beloved Neverland Ranch.
Twelve years ago, the female R&B group TLC was also forced to file for bankruptcy, despite selling a staggering 23 million records.
Britney may not be far behind. Court papers show that she spends $102,000 each month on entertainment, gifts and vacations. Her monthly clothing bill is a whopping $16,000 — $1,000 more than she forks over for child support.
Spears' spending habits may seem "Crazy," but Britney has company in her Young Hollywood counterparts.
Lindsay Lohan reportedly spent more than $1 million on clothes last year, but her publicist denied it. (Her stylist Rachel Zoe also reportedly said that her client’s closet is filled with $8,000 Prada dresses and $2,000 Prada bags.)
And Jessica Simpson's penchant for $1,400 Egyptian-cotton sheets was well-documented on MTV's ill-fated "Newlyweds."
These tales are not unusual. Ornate jewels, private jets and multiple homes have become the norm for celebs, not the exception. And a large entourage of handlers is more than ready to go along for the ride.
In the 1990s, after reaping over $33 million from the international hit "U Can't Touch This," MC Hammer hired a whopping 200 employees, added $2 million worth of marble, two pools and three waterfalls to his home south of Oakland, Calif., and bought 17 cars and a stable of thoroughbred race horses. But there wasn't enough money coming in to justify the lifestyle.
Hammer released an album, "Inside Out," in 1995 that was widely panned. The album floundered, peaking at No. 119 on the Billboard charts. Shortly afterward, Giant Records dropped the crooner from its roster.
Thirteen million dollars in debt, Hammer filed for bankruptcy on April 3, 1996.
"There are people like MC Hammer who sort of believe there's an entourage that [needs] to go everywhere with them," said a publicist who’s worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years. "The show 'Entourage' is a pretty good depiction of how people can suck things out of you."
The prerequisite manager, agent, attorney and publicist are nothing new. But today, celebrities also hire countless assistants, bodyguards and stylists. There are so many people following the herd that the job descriptions quickly become unclear.
"What return are you getting?" the publicist asked. "Are these people doing the job they need to do?"
Weinberger also advises celebs to be careful about the number of people they have on the payroll.
"It's far better to have one person who you trust intimately. That way, the odds of someone ripping you off are much lower," he said.
In 2001, Dana Giacchetto, the former money manager of Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, was found guilty of stealing $10 million from the stars to fuel his lavish lifestyle. He was operating a classic Ponzi scheme — moving money from one account to another, taking funds from one investor to pay another.
With these cautionary tales in mind, some celebrities invest first, spend later. The 29-year-old singer Usher may have an estimated net worth of $35 million, but he's keeping plenty of it in the bank.
Sure, he rides around in a $500,000 chauffer-driven Maybach. And his mansion in Atlanta is no small affair.
Yet Usher told Forbes that he's spent less than 10 percent of his total earnings. Instead, he's opted for fixed-income investments, blue-chip stocks and real estate.
Rapper Jay-Z owns a stake in the New Jersey Nets, co-owns the Rocawear clothing line and is president of Universal Music Group's Def Jam Recording.
Sean "Diddy" Combs has interests in Bad Boy Records, the clothing lines Sean John and Sean by Sean Combs, a movie production company and two restaurants.
And Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons owns a management company, a clothing line called Phat Farm, a movie production house, TV shows, a magazine and an advertising agency.
The three men are worth approximately $547 million, $358 million and $340 million respectively.
This hasn't escaped Usher. He's invested $9 million in the Cleveland Cavaliers, provided seed capital for a new bank, launched his own clothing line and record label. And unlike other stars, Usher has not been seduced by real estate.
"Celebrities tend to over-invest in real estate because it's tangible and sexy," Weinberger said. "They see that beautiful house in Florida or California and have to have it. People should know, in general, that real estate is not going to appreciate as well as the stock market."
Nevertheless, real estate can always be sold off to pay creditors, whereas handbags, stilettos and sheaths lose value the minute the tags are cut.
"It's not fun to talk about money. It's much more fun to buy things," Weinberger admits. "I don't want to deny anyone. People should enjoy themselves. The only question is: do you know exactly what you're spending your money on?"
Do you, Britney?