Why So Many Stars Have Money Trouble (and What You Can Learn From Them)

Gary Dourdan bankruptcy
Gary Dourdan bankruptcy

Nearly every week, it seems there's a new story about a celebrity running into money trouble.

A recent example, Gary Dourdan -- the actor who formerly starred as a detective on "CSI" -- filed for bankruptcy in August. Dourdan claimed almost $15,000 a month in earnings but only $321 in disposable income after paying bills and other obligations.

What is it about being a celebrity that seems to lend itself to financial woes? Here are a few of the biggest reasons that celebrities can't seem to handle their money -- and what we common folk can learn from them.

1. Ongoing extravagances
The careers that celebrities usually have aren't like those most ordinary people experience. Rather than earning a stable paycheck you can count on month in and month out, jobs in acting, music, and professional sports have wide swings in earnings both on a month-to-month basis and throughout a career. As a result, many celebrities make the mistake of thinking that their top-earning years will continue indefinitely, and they spend money as if they'll be able to sustain that high income long enough to pay down the massive financial obligations they take on. When careers end or popularity wanes, celebrities suddenly find themselves in way over their heads.

The lesson here is to be realistic about your career earnings potential. If you have a windfall year, don't make changes that will boost your cost of living permanently. Instead, recognize that it may be a one-time event and keep living below your means.

2. Expensive entourages
Being a celebrity comes with expenses that most people don't have to consider. Between security and bodyguards, pricey agents, and countless professionals ranging from accountants and financial advisors to lawyers and publicity staff, celebrities can go through million-dollar paychecks a lot faster than you'd think possible. Sometimes, the professionals whom celebrities hire turn out to be disreputable. But even honest advisors are costly, and when you add up all their bills, they can take a huge bite out of even substantial incomes.

You may never need a bodyguard, but watching expenses is still smart. For instance, if you've ever considered trying to boost your income by doing things like starting your own business, be sure to take into account the added costs of getting the help you need. Otherwise, you could end up digging yourself a deep hole before you ever get started with your new venture.

3. Bad planning
When money's coming in hand over fist, it's tempting just to let financial issues sort themselves out. But more often than not, celebrities looking back on their past mistakes can point to a lack of planning as the primary one.

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While buying a home for mom is a generous act after signing that first big contract, even kinder -- and smarter -- is putting money aside to help cover the costs of her medical bills years down the road. But thinking well into the future is something that often eludes those living it up in the moment. Celebrity or not, it's often big-ticket expenses -- medical emergencies, home or car repair bills, for example -- that can send one's finances into a tailspin. Don't ignore potential (and expected) money sinkholes: Track and tweak your current spending and set aside funds for short-, mid-, and long-term needs.

4. Uncle Sam's grabby hands
One of the toughest things for celebrities to get a handle on is their tax liability. With many celebrities working across the nation if not the world, the complexity of state, federal, and international tax obligations can be overwhelming. You know how hard it is to manage a single federal and state tax return. Now, imagine how tough it would be to deal with dozens of different states, each having its own forms and rules to figure out.

Celebrities often have the flexibility of living where they want, giving them some tax planning opportunities that you may not have. But by paying attention to chances to reap tax savings while staying out of costly tax traps, you can ensure that you'll keep as much of your take-home pay as you possibly can.

Be smart
Celebrities aren't the only ones who get into money trouble; many people have the same difficulty keeping their spending in check and living within their means. By being aware of the reasons that even celebrities have trouble hanging on to their money, you can put yourself in a better position to stay solvent even in tough times.


For more on facing challenges and being smart with your money:

Originally published