How much money is enough?

By Caitlin Kelly

Interesting, if scary, essay in The New York Times recently, by a former Wall Streeter — who once sneered at his $3.6 million bonus as insufficient:

After graduation, I got a job at Bank of America, by the grace of a managing director willing to take a chance on a kid who had called him every day for three weeks…At the end of my first year I was thrilled to receive a $40,000 bonus. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to check my balance before I withdrew money. But a week later, a trader who was only four years my senior got hired away by C.S.F.B. for $900,000. After my initial envious shock — his haul was 22 times the size of my bonus — I grew excited at how much money was available.

Over the next few years I worked like a maniac and began to move up the Wall Street ladder. I became a bond and credit default swap trader, one of the more lucrative roles in the business. Just four years after I started at Bank of America, Citibank offered me a “1.75 by 2” which means $1.75 million per year for two years, and I used it to get a promotion. I started dating a pretty blonde and rented a loft apartment on Bond Street for $6,000 a month.

I felt so important…The satisfaction wasn’t just about the money. It was about the power…

Still, I was nagged by envy. On a trading desk everyone sits together, from interns to managing directors. When the guy next to you makes $10 million, $1 million or $2 million doesn’t look so sweet.

If you live — as we do — in an area filled with seriously wealthy people, some of whom attend the same church as we do, or sit beside us on the same commuter train, it’s disorienting to realize what “enough” looks like to those of us whose annual incomes are a puny fraction of theirs.

My first husband, a physician, earns in one month what I make in a not-great year writing.

A new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a true-life story of a former trader whose life defined greed. Cate Blanchett should get an Oscar nomination for her role in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film, about a New York woman who tumbles from tremendous wealth into poverty.

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And here’s a stunning bit of new data, from Oxfam –– 85 people own nearly half the world’s wealth.

Here’s a sobering list of how much money you’ll need for retirement — if you need or want $4,000 a month, your stash needs to be $666,000. Very few people can ever manage to save that much, especially when battered by multiple recessions and a weak economy.

People who live nowhere near NYC have no idea how insanely expensive it is or why we put up with it — for some of us, it’s where we need to be professionally; my husband spends more than $5,000 a year just to get to his office, between train, cab and subway. There’s no practical way to cut that fixed cost, a stupid number to many of you, I know.

But moving an hour or two further away from the city to save on housing costs also means an even longer commute, (which costs more), and sharply diminishes the time and energy to spend on its cultural, social and professional opportunities — fine for some, not for others.

Let alone the time one has to see one’s family, relax or have a life; one of my favorite books is the classic, Your Money or Your Life, which makes clear that’s the tradeoff many of us make, with only 24 hours in every day.

One writer I know profitably pounds the drum of endless productivity — a very American obsession — with books like 168 Hours.

What the point of making huge bank if you’re working all the time and/or too exhausted to enjoy your personal interests, (or even have any!), let alone nurture intimate relationships with anything beyond your computer screen or phone?

Credit Suisse recently made headlines by suggesting its junior bankers take Saturdays off.

I come from a family with money, some inherited, some earned, but will never enjoy a lavish life like theirs, which is sometimes a little depressing after watching them spend freely on jewels, furs, limousines, property, cars, travel and antiques. You develop a taste for the best, with extremely limited ability to buy it yourself.

So what’s really “enough”?

For us, at the moment, it’s having decent retirement savings and adding to them every year, no matter how much immediate fun it costs us.

It’s my husband’s job that he still enjoys and which, thank God, offers a pension.

Above all, it’s good health — without which billions in the bank means damn little.

How much money is enough for you these days?