WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE THE SLOW AND MUNDANE
By DOLORES KONG
The Boston Globe
Nobody wants to be a millionaire? That's one
conclusion that can be drawn, now that the ABC game
show that made Regis Philbin a household name has
dropped in ratings and may be cancelled next season.
At its height, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"
entertained audiences four nights a week, apparent
testimony to a national obsession with money. Now the
show is down to twice weekly, a special edition with
celebrities in the hot seat on Mondays and regular
folks on Thursdays.
But there's another conclusion about money and culture
in America that may be more accurately drawn from the
fading popularity of the show: The short attention
span that afflicts television audiences and network
executives may be the same reason people have a hard
time building wealth slowly in this country.
For the most part, Americans want to win the lottery,
hit the jackpot, strike gold, or otherwise get rich
quickly. They don't want to live below their means,
save and invest over decades, and aim for the gradual
accumulation of wealth. That takes too long. It's
Statistics suggest we're a nation of spendthrifts, not
savers, with rising levels of consumer debt and an
increasing share of households with negative net
worth. In fact, consumer spending accounts for about
two-thirds of the US gross domestic product.
In November, US consumers had a record $1.652 trillion
in outstanding credit card and consumer loan debt,
according to the latest Federal Reserve survey. Part
of that record amount stemmed from zero percent
interest car loans, but the nation's burden of
consumer debt had been hitting new highs even before
last fall's auto financing deals.
Between 1989 and 1998, the share of US households with
a negative net worth jumped from 7.3 percent to 8.0
percent, according to another Fed survey. That span of
time included some of the best years for the economy
and the stock market.
But for people who continue to aspire to seven
figures, there's another set of statistics, about
growing rich slowly:
A 21-year-old who invests $3,000 a year - the new
maximum contribution limit for an individual
retirement account in 2002 - at 8 percent annual
interest could amass $1 million by retirement at age
A 37-year-old who invests $11,000 a year - the new
maximum contribution limit for a 401(k) plan in 2002 -
at 8 percent interest could reach $1 million by 65.
Real people have built wealth this way, as documented
in such books as "The Millionaire Next Door," by
Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko; "The
Millionaire Mind," by Thomas J. Stanley and "Eight
Steps to Seven Figures," by Charles B. Carlson.
Everyday millionaires aren't necessarily the smartest
kids on the block, living in the most beautiful
houses, or driving the latest luxury SUVs. In fact,
they're more likely to be frugal, have little or no
debt, and drive used or old cars. They're also
patient, long- term investors, who may work at such
ordinary jobs as plumbing contractor or pharmacist.
This may not be the stuff of good TV game shows or
front-page newspaper headlines. But the odds of your
making a million this way may be better than your
chances of striking it rich on "Millionaire" or
winning the lottery.
If you need more convincing, there's a fun little Web
site, www.armchairmillionaire.com, with a "$1 million
Calculator" that shows you how you can
"Get-Rich-Slowly-But-Surely." Enter your age, your
monthly take-home pay, your total savings inside and
outside retirement plans, and your ongoing 401(k) or
IRA contributions, and the calculator will crunch the
numbers and tell you if and when you might reach a
million bucks, based on a certain set of assumptions.
The Web site also explains the power of tax-deferred
savings, automatically investing the same amount every
month, diversification, and compounding over time.
One problem with the site, however, is the example of
Lewis and Lynette, a real-life couple aspiring to be
millionaires using the Armchair Millionaire's model
portfolio and investing strategy. The couple's latest
portfolio statistics date from June 5, 2001, a long
time ago considering what has happened in the stock
market since then.
If you're still not convinced, or you don't have the
patience, there's still a long shot you can get on to
Philbin's show and hit the jackpot.
A diehard fan, Curt Alliaume, has started a campaign
to save "Regis and Millionaire on ABC!" at a special
Web site, www.geocities.com/calliaume/save regis.html.
He's asking people to e-mail or write ABC and watch
the show Mondays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 9 p.m.
"Improved ratings work wonders," he writes.
But you better hurry. You, like Regis, may be running
out of time.