I had never heard of Amber Heard until her pending divorce with Johnny Depp went mainstream on May 27. She’s accusing Johnny of physically and mentally abusing her for years. Terrible, if true. Meanwhile, Johnny’s close friend believes she’s blackmailing Johnny for his money. Dishonorable, if true. Whatever the truth may be, only a judge can decide the outcome.
Amber is asking Johnny to pay her attorneys’ fees and for spousal support. Makes sense since Johnny makes millions a year and they did get married on Feb 13, 2015. As a personal finance writer, I’m interested in reviewing Amber’s monthly income and expenses since they were made public and seeing if we can learn anything from it. I’ve always wondered how celebrities can afford their lifestyles on oftentimes ephemeral income streams. Let’s have a look.
It costs a fortune to constantly look good in public. While you and I can wear the same jeans and t-shirt everyday without anybody giving a damn, celebrities need new outfits every time they go out. They’ve got to spend money on personal trainers, nutritionists, and stylists. Goodness forbid they get photographed flying in economy class or driving a Honda Fit!
Being a male celebrity with a penchant for dating lots of women might be even more expensive. Male celebrities can’t just take their date out to In N’ Out Burger in Pasadena for lunch. They’ve got to take their women to Paris and stay at a $5,000 a night boutique hotel where a French toast with juice costs $50! He needs to pay for a private car to sightsee for 800 € a day instead of riding the wonderfully efficient subway system for 1.75 € because walking in Louboutins for more than 15 minutes is painful.
Because everybody believes celebrities make a lot of money and because the mass media loves to show off their fabulous lifestyles, celebrities are stuck in a financial death trap where they have to spend elevated amounts of money they can’t afford. When their short careers are over, financial ruin is not far behind if they haven’t been consistently saving and investing.
$10,000 a month on average is the typical base salary of a 29 yo MBA grad from a top 20 school. At 30 years old, Amber makes a top 20% income in America. Not bad!
Rent: $10,000 a month in rent might seem like a lot of money, but as I wrote in the post, What Type Of People Spend More Than $100,000 A Year On Rent, there are plenty of people who pay such high prices. It’s expensive living in big cities, so I’ll give her a pass. She could probably save $4,000 a month and still find a decent place. If $120,000 a year in rent doesn’t scare you into owning your primary residence, I don’t know what will. Inflation is a killer.
Healthcare: At $3,000 a month, Amber must have some type of chronic illness that requires expensive medicines and frequent doctors visits. Treating mental health is also very expensive as well. Nothing is more important than our health, so there’s not much she can cut here. It’s sad that even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a 30 year old woman still has to pay $36,000 a year in healthcare costs. Here’s a post on the subsidy amounts you can get by income for Obamacare.
Groceries and household supplies: $68 a day is reasonable, especially since she has a $10,000 a month place to maintain. I just got this really sweet two-in-one spray mop at Walgreens for $25. But the replacement pads cost just as much! I couldn’t find a line item for meals, but I think it goes under Entertainment below. Maybe she’s buying only the finest organic produce in order to eat healthy and look good.
Clothing: Nice clothes, bags, and shoes are expensive! I was checking out the Louis Vuitton flagship store on Champs Elysees and basic handbags regularly cost $2,000 each. Hopefully she can cut costs here if she really needs to. But again, it must be a little embarrassing for a celebrity to always be seen wearing the same outfit.
Entertainment, Gifts, and Vacation: $10,000 every month is an incredible amount to spend. Perhaps Amber is giving a lot of money away to people in need. We all know that blowing lots of money on vacation is easy. If not, this is another area where Amber can easily cut back.
Miscellaneous: Agents, publicists, and attorneys can eat into one’s personal profits very quickly, especially attorney fees which are variable. One of my long time personal finance consulting clients is a Hollywood agent, and she earns 10% on everything her client gets paid for the duration of the contract. She tries to tell her clients to aggressively save when they have work because who knows when they will be killed off? Just watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Hopefully with all the publicity Amber is getting now, she can lower this $10,000 – $20,000 monthly cost soon.
It’s possible that Amber is overstating her expenses and understating her income to maximize her potential settlement. My divorce lawyer friend says this is a common move. But given Amber’s income and expenses as an actress are highly volatile, it’s hard to argue against her numbers.
Here are three takeaways from this unfortunate situation.
1) Be careful who you hang with. Anybody who starts hanging out with rich or famous people will feel pressure to spend more money to match their lifestyles. Every time I meet up with my friend who drives a Maserati and wears a $20,000 watch, I always get the urge to follow suit until my normal frugal self kicks in a day later. It’s hard to live within your financial means if you’re always hanging out with people who make you feel cheap. I’ve found the best way to look and feel your best is to simply stay fit and healthy. Once you’re fit, your self-esteem shoots through the roof, and there’s no need to spend a lot of money looking good at all.
2) Have a financially independent mindset. There must be some part of Amber who believed it was OK to spend 4X her gross income because she could always fall back on Johnny to support her. If you have a partner or spouse, enjoy their love, but also constantly be building your individual wealth and skills. Relationships end all the time and you can’t depend on a divorce settlement to go your way. It is very hard to get a reasonable paying job if you’ve been out of the workforce for 10 years. Stay sharp! Keep one foot in the water by at least updating your site or online profile so it looks like you’re keeping up with the trends of the industry you left or are interested in.
3) Get help before it’s too late. A lot of financial disaster can be prevented if you seek advice from people who’ve been there. It’s easy to think we know it all, but I can assure you that more serious mistakes will happen if we don’t spend time listening to those with experience. Do not be too proud to ask for help either. The people closest to you will feel honored to provide guidance. It is worth seeking professional financial advice as well, especially if large amounts of money are at stake.
It’s going to take a Herculean effort for Amber to cut $33,700 in monthly expenses to be able to live within her means and still not save a single dollar. But if she can focus on being more stealth and get more acting/modeling/appearance gigs, I think she will be OK. Of course, if Johnny could help her, even better.
Update 8/18/2016: Amber Heard received a $7M settlement and donated all to charity! Heard said she’s donating half of the settlement to American Civil Liberties Union, “with a particular focus to stop violence against women,” and to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where she has worked as a volunteer for the past ten years.
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