A lot of people wonder: What's it really like to be a billionaire?

Few people truly understand the lives that billionaires lead. Sure, we see stuff on TV, we imagine the amazing things that they could do, and we envision the things we would do if we were billionaires. But it still leaves us wondering: what is it truly like to be a billionaire?

Let me be completely transparent. I am not a billionaire.

However, I am blessed to have friends who are billionaires. As a tech entrepreneur, I've formed professional and personal relationships with wealthy people in other industries.

One of my personal friends is a billionaire. He's not a "billionaire" in the fragile sense that his "net worth" includes creative accounting that hypothetically might be worth a billion. No, this guy is the real deal.

He is the creator of a insanely successful business in an massive industry. He is brilliant, hard working, and supported by his family members.

As his friend for the past seven years, I've spent a lot of time with him -- learning, talking, and trying to learn from his success.

One thing I've learned is this: Our voyeuristic obsession with the lives of billionaires isn't going to be satisfied if we're hoping to see lavish displays of opulence and excess. Instead, what you'll probably see is calculated decisions of frugality and prudence.

In other words, billionaires live pretty boring lives. Every day isn't a wild party with entertainment from Beyoncé, bottomless Dom Perignons, and free Ferraris for everyone.

Being a billionaire is quite different. Here are some of the things that I've learned from my billionaire friends.

It's not about fulfilling a job. It's about a job fulfilling you.

Do billionaires have to work?

Probably not. But most of them do. Usually, they do so because they really like what they do. They choose to work because they love to work.

Although my billionaire friend is technically retired, he works 30-50 hours a week for the sheer love of the game.

Yes, they buy yachts. (But not for the reasons you might think.)

Billionaires buy yachts, right? Of course. That's the cliché.

But why do billionaires buy yachts? For show? For pleasure? For a lack of anything better to do with their vast coffers of wealth?

My billionaire friend owns a yacht, even though he doesn't seem like the yacht-owning type. His boat is massive, and obviously very expensive.

I asked him

Why did you buy a yacht?

He laughed, and said

You're going to think I'm crazy. I'll tell you why. It's because I'm OCD about toilets and germs! If I rented a yacht, I would be sharing a toilet with people that I don't know. So I purchased my own.

That might be a pretty high price for a super clean toilet, but my friend considers it a worthy expenditure. The yacht has more than bathrooms. In fact, it has a helipad, huge luxurious suites, and a beautiful pool.

For him, the yacht is not a status symbol. He uses his yacht purposefully -- to entertain, and to enjoy experiences with his family.

They spend extravagantly on experiences.

Do all billionaires have really nice homes?

Nope. As a case in point, my friend's home is nice, but not as luxurious as you might think. There are fewer than six hundred billionaires in the United States, but he lives in home that thousands of less wealthy people could afford.

He doesn't have any Bentleys, Bugattis, or Rolls Royces in his garage. His idea of a "fancy car" is a late model Camry.

What does he spend money on, if not cars and houses?

Experiences.

The high net worth individuals I'm acquainted with spend money to obtain experiences. They don't brag about these experiences or flaunt them like some reality star on Instagram. Instead, they seek experiences that build family memories or fulfill personal interests.

One of my friends gifted his son with a jet fighter ride over Moscow. He is also a Titanic hobbyist, so he took a submarine expedition to view the wreckage. (By comparison, more people have visited outer space than have visited the sunken Titanic.)

Experiences don't have to be extravagant to be memorable. And that's the point of the experiences-- to build memories.

My friend knows that experiences can pull his family closer together. He gets to watch his children learn and grow through their experiences.

Memories last longer than money, and they are far more meaningful.

They don't just give their money away.

When someone is wealthy, they get hit up for money all the time.

There's an expectation that a billionaire will give vast sums of money to their family members, charities, relief organizations, and religious organizations.

What few people realize is how complicated it is to give money away. Donating money, especially charitable contributions, involves complex accounting procedures, tax records, and financial transfers.

That's why ultra-wealthy people hire an organization or individual to manage their philanthropy.

My billionaire friends and acquaintances are generous givers, but the way they give their money away really surprised me.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. They gave their money away before they had a lot to give. Generosity is part of one's character, not a result of one's net worth. My wealthy friends were making generous donations before they became wealthy. As their wealth grew, so did the amount of their donations.
  2. They don't give their money to anyone who asks. Instead, they give to causes that they truly believe in. Generosity is a two-way street. The receiver benefits from the money. But the giver benefits from the joy of giving. Wealthy givers enjoy the fulfillment that comes from contributing to causes that excite them.
  3. They don't give their money to individuals. This may come as a surprise, but most wealthy people avoid giving their money to individual people. Why? Have you heard of the " curse of the lottery?" Individuals who make a lot of money in a windfall often end up broke, depressed, and tragically damaged by the money that they win. Money is more ruinous than most people realize, and billionaire givers don't want to inflict this damage upon others. Instead, they give their money to responsible, vetted organizations who distribute this money with care and intentionality.

My wealthy friend told me,

I'm not leaving any money for my kids.

My mind reeled. Not giving money to his kids? But why not?

I will give my kids a good start. I'll give them some reliable transportation -- maybe a Camry or an Accord. I'll buy them a modest home. I'll pay for college, as long as they keep their grades up. But I want them to learn the satisfaction and joy of hard work.

They know what it feels like to live comfortably. But I want them to know what it feels like to work hard, to start at the bottom, and to strive for success.

As my billionaire friend has learned, there is more joy in the striving than there is enjoying one's status. He wants his children to know that joy for themselves.

They care more about mind then money.

The ultra-wealthy people I'm acquainted seem disinterested in money.

What they are interested in is their minds -- intellectual pursuits, greater knowledge, and deeper meaning.

When I have conversations with billionaires, we hardly ever talk about their fancy toys or exorbitant expenditures (unless I pry). Instead, they are asking me questions about my area of expertise, sharing with me the things that they have learned, or discussing topics such as art and culture.

Well, they can afford to, we might think. The rest of us have to worry about making ends meet!

Their interest in the mind, however, is consistent with their entire approach to life.

Their wealth is a byproduct of the mental focus that they have cultivated throughout their lives. Their greatest asset is their minds. By focusing their minds on their work, and honing their craft, they have been able to succeed.

They look and dress normally.

Not all billionaires look like George Clooney or Kim Kardashian. (Neither Clooney nor Kardashian are worth close to $1bn anyway.)

When meeting with my billionaire friend in his home, he wears Nike flip-flops, worn-out jeans, and t-shirts. Once, he even came downstairs to meet me, featuring a fresh ketchup stain on his shirt.

He doesn't care. He doesn't have to! He doesn't have anything to prove, and he's not trying to show off.

They try to save money.

Billionaires aren't spendthrifts. In fact, most billionaires that I know try to save money.

The term "save money" might conjure up images of clipping coupons or waiting in a line on Thanksgiving night for doorbuster Black Friday deal. But that's not what they do.

Instead, they choose not to spend money in areas that they don't care about.

One example is my friend and his family who choose to buy their own groceries and prepare their own food. They could hire a prestigious live-in chef to create gourmet feasts every day, but they value the experience of cooking together as a family.

Billionaires, more than most people, realize the power that money brings, and the great responsibility they have as a result.

It's this mindset -- an awareness of money's power -- that leads them to save money in some areas and spend freely in other areas.

They are intentional in how they live.

I respect my billionaire friend deeply, but not because of the huge amount of money he's earned over his lifetime.

I respect him because he lives life purposefully. Every day, he asks himself these five questions.

  1. Did I practice gratitude today? No matter your net worth, there is always something to be thankful for. Practicing gratitude deepens your joy.
  2. Did I enjoy fulfillment today? He looks for fulfillment beyond the money. He seeks fulfillment by cultivating his relationships, contributing to causes he cares about, and appreciating his experiences.
  3. Did I improve the quality of my life today? This doesn't mean that he's increasing his net worth or making some new investment. Instead, he's referring to exercising, eating healthy, and spending time with his family.
  4. Did I improve someone's life today? My friend's "work" hours are mostly spent giving value to non-profit organizations through financial generosity and advice. However, he also seeks to make a difference in people's life on an individual basis.
  5. Did I invest value into my family today? He is constantly asking the question "Am I spoiling my kids? Are they learning to become productive member of society?" He is passionate about teaching them the value of giving to society rather than taking from society.

You won't find my billionaire friend hanging out at the Country Club or hiding out on his yacht. In fact, you're more likely to find him and his family volunteering at the homeless shelter.

He has experienced life at the top, and knows that spending money on stuff doesn't satisfy. Instead, he's discovered the joy of giving to others, and adding value where it matters most.

What is it really like to be a billionaire? I may never experience it personally, but I do know some things. If we remove Monaco vacations and 200-foot yachts from the equation, the life of a billionaire is not all that glamorous to most people. But for me, how they are changing the world is priceless.

Published on: Dec 1, 2016