Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The malaise of the newly rich

On the day the biggest lottery in the world, Spain's famouse El Gordo, was drawn, Helen Monks reports on the guilty curse of the newly wealthy: affluenza

By Helen Monks  /  THE OBSERVER

ILLUSTRATION: JUNE HSU

Most money worries stem from not having enough of the stuff, but spare a thought for those struggling to find peace of mind because they have too much cash.

While at this time of year the too-rich are unlikely to figure highly in the sympathy stakes, dramatic action taken by the likes of British multi-millionaire media mogul Chris Evans offers food for thought to those of us bemoaning our financial shortcomings. Evans has been grabbing the headlines with his latest enterprise -- a street market stall stocked full of possessions amassed over the years to fill his homes across the globe.

Rather than guaranteeing happiness, great wealth appears to have bought the star a sense of confusion and emptiness. He apparently told reporters checking out the wares in London's Camden Market: "Nobody teaches you how to be wealthy and materialism has not bought me happiness. I had nine houses, which is a bit repugnant, don't you think?"

Evans is seemingly not alone and psychologists have identified the condition of "affluenza" as a malaise affecting some who become rapidly wealthy or tire of their riches. Symptoms include materialism, but also shame, guilt and a sense of disorientation.

Financial consultant Matt Pitcher deals with several very wealthy clients, some of whom have built up their wealth over a short time, and recognizes that many share a similar uneasy relationship with their affluence.

"Their finances can very quickly become a mess," he says. "They don't know where half of their money goes, they have cash building up in inappropriate places -- such as their current account -- and have no handle on how much they have and what that means. Many become very insecure over their cash and some actually end up worrying they don't have enough money." In short, Pitcher argues, great wealth can cause more problems than it solves.

Arguably, the most extreme cases of wealth-shock and subsequent affluenza might be found among lottery winners who can be earning minimum wage on Saturday night and find themselves multi-millionaires by Sunday morning. Yet this affects only a tiny fraction of individuals. Far more people find themselves suddenly very wealthy either because of professional success or, increasingly, substantial divorce settlements. How can they enjoy their money and avoid getting dragged into a vortex of guilt and/or financial chaos?

Dot Renshaw deals with British lottery winners every week in her role as head of player services at Camelot, the company that runs the UK's Lotto, and she says that winners experience a range of emotions: "Quite a lot of people don't even want to hold their ticket, realizing that winning the cash can bring responsibilities.

"Everyone goes through a curve of getting used to their win: some hit the ground running, while for others it might take up to a year for it to sink in. Many winners experience guilt, wondering why fate chose them to receive the prize and not someone else."

One of the key messages communicated to British lottery winners is not to rush into major decisions: "It might be tempting to run out and buy a new house, for example, but we advise people to consider the impact on their lives and that what they want then might not be what they want in six months" time," says Renshaw.

Simon Davis, senior investment consultant at BDO Stoy Hayward, says: "If you build up wealth rather quickly, don't shoot for the stars straight away. Think about what you want and what you need and start to prioritize.

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