Number Words Sound Similar

You will notice people tossing million, billion, trillion around as if they are similar. They’re not. People, especially the media and politicians, take advantage of our conflating them.

Let’s compare

How much is a million? A big number, nice income, even a nice portfolio.

It is this big. Begin counting at the rate of one number per second. You will reach a million in a million seconds which is 277.778 hours or 11.574 days. You’ll be very sleepy by then.

A billion and a million are nothing alike. A billion is 1,000 times bigger, so 11, 574 days. That is 31.687 years. Big difference 32 years versus 12 days.

Then a trillion. That’s a thousand billion. So you will get there counting in 31,687 years. When American politicians say the budget for next year is 5.793 trillion, do you think about the rhyming sound or the 184,000 years it would take to count to that number? Maybe you could think better at spending $180,000 per second, every second of every day, weekends and statutory holidays included. More than a million dollars every six seconds. I don’t know about you, but I think I would run out of things to spend it on before even ten minutes passed. $110,000,000.

Numbers have meaning, but we cannot understand any but the smallest of them.

What is super-rich about?

Elon Mush has a personal net worth of about $275,000,000,000. Just a number, right? What does it mean?

Let’s suppose he invests all of it in government bonds at 2%, and he keeps 1% after taxes. His spendable cash income would be $2.75 billion each year. His task is to find ways to spend a bit over $7.55 million every day. Forever! And that never touches the capital.

You may recall a 1985 movie with Richard Pryor, John Candy, and Rick Moranis in which Brewster is tasked to spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit much more. It was not easy. It included buying a very rare stamp and using it to mail a letter. Brewster’s Millions

What would you do if you had to spend the 1% a year income on Elon’s money? The first six months might be easy enough; that’s barely over a billion. But forever? One of my friends claims Elon is waiting for the price to fall, and he will buy Canada.

The problem with not understanding numbers

People look at great wealth and assume it is all being spent. Unlikely. I suppose there is a billion or two to spend, but after that, not much makes sense. Using it productively, like in a business, is all you can do, and that compounds the problem if you are good at it.

In fairness, we should pity these folks instead of being envious. More, we should be grateful. Their wealth helps us too. Do you think working for someone poor would be better?

The bits to take away

Having great wealth is not about spending. It is about using it productively.

Eventually, some will go to children or a charity, but much will go to the government as estate tax or income tax. Does anyone think the government will use it better? Milton Friedman once said if the government took over the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand in five years.

Let’s leave money with those who know how to use it productively.


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I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don@moneyfyi.com.

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