This millionaire says ‘It’s really hard being rich’
Being extremely wealthy isn't the carefree, champagne-soaked free-for-all you might imagine it to be - at least according to Jennifer Risher.
She and her husband, David, earned tens of millions of dollars in the tech world before the ages of 35, and suddenly found themselves in an elite tax bracket without a manual on how to navigate the potential pitfalls of isolation and strained social relationships.
"We see wealth from a really narrow perspective: the glitz, the glamour and the greed, but we don't see the reality," Risher, 55, told The New York Post. "Money is a taboo subject, but it really shouldn't be."
The mother of two calls her new book, We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth, "a coming out" as rich, something she had previously struggled with.
While attending a writing workshop at Squaw Valley, in California near Lake Tahoe, she was terrified to introduce herself.
"I was going to say, 'My name is Jennifer, and I'm writing about how hard it is to have a lot of money.' It doesn't go over well," said Risher. "One lady even said, 'You don't look rich.' I don't think it was a compliment."
But Risher has a lot of dough. Both she and her husband, David, worked at Microsoft in the early '90s, where they learned about the joys of stock options. Then, in 1997, David left the computer giant to join a little-known online book company called Amazon before it went public.
"This book is not prescriptive. This is not how to do rich right. This is my story," said Risher, who grew up in a middle-class household while her husband was raised by a single mother who struggled financially.
She said newly rich individuals like herself are relatively common, citing a US Trust study in which 77 per cent of wealthy respondents said they grew up poor and also a 2017 Fidelity study that found 86 per cent of wealth is self-made.
Risher went from earning $19,500 a year at a Seattle ad agency and allowing herself one latte a week to landing what would be an extremely lucrative gig at Microsoft, first in human resources and later in marketing. After 18 months at Microsoft, a quarter of her stock - $300,000 - was vested. Her husband was also looking at a windfall.
That was just the start. After Risher gave birth to her first daughter, her husband's career vaulted into the stratosphere.
"Initially, when David joined Amazon, I had just had a baby, and I didn't identify as a stay-at-home mum. I didn't identify as a wealthy woman."
But while she shied away from talking about it, she learned to embrace excess - including private jets, a lavish wardrobe makeover and a second home in the Napa Valley.
Still, Risher, who grew up with frugal parents, began worrying about the impact money was having on her children. The family started flying commercial. "With our six-year-old wondering if we were taking a private jet, and our four-year-old questioning whether we were flying international first class, I believed something had to change," she writes.
Wealth also complicated her social life and family relations until she learned to open up.
One friend almost didn't invite her family to a Cirque du Soleil show because the pal worried they'd only be happy with front-row seats. "That shocked me, and I felt so horrible for her to think about the finances. Her friendship meant more to me than front-row seats. That conversation also made me more aware of how out-of-touch I could be," said Risher.
A yearly gift of $20,000 she had given her brother also created ill feelings. She felt he was unappreciative, but she later learned he simply felt awkward. "We were able to connect as two people who loved and trusted one another."
Risher believes it's more important than ever for the rich to start talking about money. "Our silence keeps the status quo in place and keeps us from examining our relationship with money. It keeps us in our bubble and unaware. It keeps us stuck in that 'us versus them' mindset," she said.
Today, she and her husband are philanthropists living in the Bay Area in the US. David is currently the CEO of Worldreader, which provides a free digital library of books to people living in developing nations.
Meanwhile, Risher, who is worth millions, says she is still growing accustomed to her relationship with wealth.
"Still to this day, I will drive around the block looking for free parking," said Risher. "I will say, 'C'mon, just park in a lot or pay an ATM fee.' It takes a conscious shift to remind myself."
Originally published as Millionaire: 'It's really hard being rich'