Get out the handkerchiefs and Kleenex. Rumor has it that It’s Not So Easy Being Less Rich.
NANCY CHEMTOB, a divorce lawyer in Manhattan, has found that her days have become crammed seeing clients, all worried about how an economic downturn will affect their marriages. One of her clients recently confessed that his net worth had decreased to $8 million from more than $20 million, and he thinks that his wife will leave him. He has hidden their fall in fortune by taking on debt to pay for her extravagant clothes and vacations.
“I literally had to sit there and tell him that he had to tell his wife that she had to stop spending,” she said. “He was actually scared she would leave him because their financial situation changed so drastically.”
“They fear their kids won’t get invited to the right birthday parties,” said Michele Kleier, an Upper East Side-based real estate broker. “If they have to give up things that are invisible, they’re O.K. as long as they don’t have give up things visible to the outside world.”
So New York’s very wealthy are addressing their distress in discreet and often awkward ways. They try to move their $165 sessions with personal trainers to a time slot that they know is already taken. They agree to tour multimillion-dollar apartments and then say the spaces don’t match their specifications. They apply for a line of credit before art auctions, supposedly to buy a painting or a sculpture, but use that borrowed money to pay other debts.
Other wealthy clients are cutting luxuries that they think their friends and relatives won’t notice, according to Mr. Del Gatto of Circa. At Circa’s midtown offices, he said, the seven consultation rooms have been busy with customers selling their precious gems. Some older couples, he said, are selling estate jewelry to help support their children who have lost Wall Street jobs. Bankers are paring down their collections of Patek Philippe watches. Wives from Greenwich and Scarsdale are selling 2-carat to 35-carat single-stone diamond rings. One recent client explained to Mr. Del Gatto that she was selling $2 million in diamonds she rarely wore, because her friends wouldn’t notice that they were gone.
“She said, ‘If I sold my Bentley or my important art, they would notice,’ ” he said. “That we hear, in differing examples, every day.”
On a spring afternoon, a half-dozen hairstylists to the very wealthy talked about how customers are stretching their $350 highlights and $150 haircuts to every eight weeks instead of six weeks. Some women are cutting out highlights entirely, saying they would “rather be brunettes.”
The very wealthy can’t hide anything from their nutritionists and personal trainers, because they see the weight gain. Heather Bauer, a dietitian who works with many Wall Street executives who pay $600 to $800 a month for her services, says her clients have been eating and drinking more in the last six months. She sees results of this indulging each time they step on a scale, and in their journals that record what they’ve eaten.
ONE Wall Street executive, Ms. Bauer said, snacks on nuts in her office all day to manage the stress of potentially losing her position, while another confesses to inhaling four bowls of cereal at 10 p.m. Even their sex lives are suffering, Ms. Bauer said, because of the stress or because the weight gain makes them feel unattractive.
Her clients blame the economy for their out-of-control waistlines.
Gee, how could anyone possibly survive on $2 million a year when they were once making $8 million a year? I have been sobbing all day at this sad tale of extreme misery.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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