The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned From the Siegels

 

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The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned From the SiegelIf you have Netflix, you might have stumbled across a recently added documentary called The Queen of Versailles. If you’ve seen it, you’re probably rolling your eyes in disgust right about now.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a real treat.  The documentary follows the rise and subsequent fall of real estate moguls David and Jacqueline Siegel, the owners of time share company, Westgate Resorts.

 

Fun fact: You might remember when Mr. Siegel famously emailed all of his employees to tell them that if President Obama won re-election that they would be fired.  Yeah, that guy.

 

Introducing the Siegels

So, let me go ahead and set the stage.  It’s 2008 and the Siegels are making more money than they know what to do with.  Everything is going great.  Westgate Resorts is making tons of cash by selling timeshares to their middle class customers whom the Siegels  lovingly refer to as “moochers” and “Walmart shoppers.”

 

Sure, the Siegels are making a ton of money, but they are spending it like it’s going out of style.  Mrs. Siegel, whose ego is only outsized by her enormous fake breasts, shops like a mad woman.  Throughout the show, she brags of her various purchases, including things like $10,000 ostrich feathered pants, $17,000 boots, and private jets.

 

The Largest Home in America

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the documentary itself is actually named after a new home that they are building, Versailles.  Their current home, at over 30,000 feet, is just “busting at the seams”.   Therefore, the Siegels find it prudent to begin construction on the largest home in America.  Versailles, at 90,000 feet, will have 30 bathrooms, ten kitchens, a roller rink, and a full size baseball field, just to name a few gems.  Puke.

 

Fast forward a few years and the great recession hits.  Westgate Resorts, whose cash flow depends on cheap and easy credit, is unable to continue business as usual.  Mr. Siegel regretfully has to lay off thousands of employees while blaming the entire situation on “the bankers.”  Amazingly, he takes little responsibility and doesn’t seem to recognize the link between his cash flow problems and his family’s excessive spending.  In fact, he lectures throughout the movie about the importance of having a mortgage on anything you can in order to “make money on your money.”  Oh, the irony. 

 

As the shit hits the fan, there’s a lot of “boo-hooing” about the banker’s unfair tactics.  At one point, Mrs. Siegel even implies that she thinks it’s unfair that they didn’t get part of the TARP bailout.  I swear.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

 

How the Siegels Cope

It’s hard to summarize the majority of The Queen of Versailles, but let me try.  Mrs. Siegel repeatedly participates in retail therapy and soothes her sadness with shopping sprees.  Several of  the family pets die because the Siegel family members are all too lazy and selfish to take care of them.  Their housekeepers cry and dream about the life they could have had if they weren’t paid slaves.

 

The documentary ends without much of a resolution to any of their problems.  Their 90,000-foot unfinished house is left on the market.  Therefore, they are really “roughing it” in their tiny 30,000-foot shack.  Mrs. Siegel laments on how she married Mr. Siegel, who is thirty years her senior,  “for rich or for poor.”  Again, I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

 

Things I Learned From The Queen of Versailles

1.  There should be such a thing as “enough” money. The Siegels had so much money that it completely robbed them of their common sense.  Additionally, Mr. Siegel’s pursuit of even more money left no time for anything else.  At 74 years old, he was working around the clock planning his imminent financial comeback. It was a sad thing to see, watching a man his age feel like a failure when he obviously still had plenty of money and a lot to be proud of. Shouldn’t there be a point when you have “enough” money?

 

2.  There is such a thing as “too much stuff.”  The Siegels had away too much clutter in their house.  I literally screamed at the screen, “stop buying so much shit!”  They focused on accumulating possessions to such an extreme that they didn’t notice their own lives falling apart.  Pets were dying.  Their dogs were crapping all over the floor.  Their giant mega-mansion was cluttered and unkempt.  Having such a large home and so many possessions made their lives extremely complicated.  Sadly, they didn’t even appear to realize it.

 

3.  Being rich doesn’t mean you’re happy.  By the end of the documentary, the Siegel’s marriage was on the rocks.  The kids didn’t show much love for their dad, and it was evident that his workaholic lifestyle had impacted the entire family.  At 74, when most people are hopefully retired and enjoying the fruits of their labor, Mr. Siegel was competely obsessed with having more money and more stuff…and becoming less and less happy.  At one point in the documentary, he was sitting in a ridiculous giant gold throne complaining about what had become of his life. “Nothing makes me happy anymore.”  Mr. Siegel had money and power that most people could only dream of …and none of it was enough.

 

4.  Being in debt sucks.  I’m not saying that debt is always a bad thing.  I just think that there is something great about owning one’s own home and possessions.  Imagine if the Siegel’s had paid cash for their home and the new home they were building.  Imagine if they had chosen to live a slightly more modest lifestyle and saved the rest of their cash for a rainy day.  If they had forgone things like $17,000 boots and $10,000 pants, and used that money to pay off debt, they would have been a lot better off.  Being debt free means being able to weather almost any economic storm.

 

The saddest part of “The Queen of Versailles” was the end.  Mr. Siegel was finishing his final interview, during which he was asked what his hopes were.  “A plane…a yacht.”  The sad man’s life was falling apart and all he could wish for was more stuff.

 

There’s a lesson in there for all of us.  We’re all here because we are searching for our own financial freedom.  But what happens when we find it?  My hope is to never lose track of what is truly valuable to me – my family.  Fancy pants, private jets, and a starter castle might be nice…but it would never be worth letting my entire life fall apart.  And when I reach my financial goals, I’m going to stop chasing them.  There will always be more money, someone else’s money.  The key is to know when the money I have is “enough.” When I get there, I’m going to stop and enjoy it.

 

 

 

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Wow, this is a great reminder that unless we check ourselves we will always want more stuff. What a sad story about the Siegels….they could have easily weathered the recession if they hadn’t spent like there was no tomorrow. At some point we have to be content with what we have.

    • I think they’re still doing fine. They might not get that bigger home, but I think they’ll survive =)

    • I watched it last night on Bravo. Very sad as how these people have this huge house to begin with and Mr. Siegel chooses to sit in a very paper cluttered room…on a couch watching Shrek trying to figure how he is going to make a comeback. I would have guessed Mr. Siegel to be in her 50’s…she doesn’t look to be in her 40’s at all…even with the Botox injections. The saddest part is when she is buying random stuff at Walmart for Christmas presents for the kids…even a bike….and when one of the nannies enters the garage you see about 20 bikes already in the garage…what gives? However she does manage to gift herself the $2,000 caviar for Christmas. I also like how the dog is eating the leftovers from the Christmas party they threw right off the table…she went to bed leaving the house a disaster.

    • Did no one get the comments from both parents at how sad it is that their children now might have to go to college instead of inheriting a business??? I have no respect for people that do respect others or animals. These people are plain stupid & got rich off of even stupider people – who buys timeshares? biggest scam ever! And cover your friggin breasts – you look like a hoochie mama!…This is a very broken family because of excess! This documentary enrages me!

  2. Wow, I had wanted to see that movie, but now I’m just confused. I’ve heard a lot about that movie, but never in such negative terms.

    • Do you have Netflix? Watch it and tell me what you think! I hadn’t read anything about it until I watched it. They seemed like awful people to me. I thought I was being nice when I wrote this =/

  3. This sounds like one of those movies that wouldn’t be terribly fun to watch – but that we all should watch to see what happens when we let money control our lives.

    I’d heard about it filming, but I hadn’t realized it was out and on Netflix yet. Thanks!

  4. Wow, I don’t know where to start. I’ve not heard of the movie but think I’ll pass now as it’ll probably just p!ss me off on some level. Sure, some of that stuff might be nice to have…but I am MUCH happier being content and debt free.

    • That’s what I thought. I mean, a 90,000 sq. foot house? Who changes all those furnace filters? The thought of having that much to look after stresses me out….even if they have housekeepers.

  5. Here’s the part they didn’t get: those $10K pants or $17K boots, that 30K sq. ft. mansion, those things satisfy only for a moment or two. No matter what bauble you set your sights on, it does really satisfy, let’s not deny that. But… after a month or two, it becomes old hat. That’s just because human beings are wired that way. The name the learned people have for it is adaptation – we adapt to any new thing we have and it recedes into the background of our consciousness. (Ashley Furniture may have counted on that, but that’s another story!)

    And the only way to get back that thrill of “that new thing” is to go get another, better, one. Jewelry is famous for this. What’s better than a diamond? A bigger one, of course.

    All of us fall into the same trap, whether it be books, food, clothes, cars, fishing poles or china. The trick is to see it for what it is and derive our satisfaction from something else than “buying.” A friend of mine found he liked shopping for a new car recently. However, he realized that once he buys a car, he can’t do that any more. So he’s now NOT bought two cars, and he’s on to his third… while his old Buick does just fine getting him around!

  6. Sounds like a depressing documentary, albeit one with some powerful lessons.

    Yes, there should be enough money, but that is a personal value that has to be arrived at based upon some type of moral system. No morals, no values. No limit to what people think they need.

    As to debt? Yes, it sucks. But the US government has taken it upon themselves to heap mountains of debt on to the young as well as future generations. We the people will never be out of (government created) debt.

  7. I’m fairly sure I couldn’t watch this show. I’d spend the majority of it yelling at the screen.

  8. I only saw the trailer which I guess sums most of it, those people are crazy! Financial bulimia and a lot more money diseases…

  9. I actually loved the movie, I thought it was exceedingly entertaining and a well made documentary. The filmmaker had gone in originally to document the building of the largest single family home in the USA when the recession hit and suddenly she had a change of topic on her hands.

    Some things I found really interesting:

    * Despite looking and acting somewhat “plastic,” she had a degree in engineering and had actually worked in business for a while. She isn’t as dumb as she looks. At least she wasn’t at some point.

    * The niece that they took guardianship of apparently had been living in poverty and the interview with her as to how she adjusted to the uber rich lifestyle was interesting. She recognizes for what it is but still can’t stop feeling like she wants more.

    * They had no plans for their kids to have careers. The line that went something like, “Now the kids will have to go to college and get jobs….” was shocking.

    Most of all, I thought it was very insightful about their marriage and lack of communication too. I found it to be a fascinating movie and I really do highly recommend it, even if you find their lifestyle gross (as we do), it is still worth the 90 minutes.

    • Totally agree that it was entertaining! I actually watched it twice.

      I thought it was crazy that they hadn’t saved a dime for their kid’s college, yet were building a $100 million dollar home. It just goes to show how bad their priorities were messed up.

  10. Sad. And exasperating. I imagine that if they saw where I lived, they’d have nightmares for years. It’s not even $1,000 square feet. And my clothes are pretty modest–I picked up one or two new things with a gift card I got for Christmas, but otherwise, everything I wear is in good shape and looks good on me, so why would I buy more?

    I would hope that if I got to be that wealthy, I’d appreciate what I had and find other things to obsess over than getting more stuff.

  11. Wow, talk about out of touch. I just wrote an article last week about how people say they have a magic number that would be ‘enough’ but I don’t think it really would hold. Obviously that would be the case for these clowns. I’m sure the only people who felt sorry for them were people who act and think like they do.

  12. Now I kind of want to know what ostrich feather pants feel like… I mean I would never spend that kind of money on a pair of pants, but now I am just curious.

    Also I have enough trouble trying to decide on lighting and bathroom fixtures in my house, how in the hell would I do it in one that is about 50 times bigger than where I live now?

    • Yeah, exactly…..or the other thing I thought was- How could they even keep track of anything? Their new house was supposed to have ten kitchens. Where do you keep your favorite cutting board? Do you travel from kitchen to kitchen to find it? Or do you just buy ten of them? What an incredibly complicated life!

  13. I thought it was an interesting documentary, in that it showed that the Siegel’s lifestyle mirrored exactly most middle-class american families: highly in debt, buying things they don’t need, complete lack of planning, tendency to accumulate tons of clutter, lack of communication leading to a dysfunctional family. Except for the fact that they had more $$$, this is exactly how a LOT of people live.

    • You’re totally right. And since they had so much money all of their crazy spending decisions were just on a crazier level. That is a good point.

  14. Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget says:

    Adding it to our queue right now for one of our many “baby-won’t-stop-crying-at-3am” movie sessions. :)

    You bring up a good point about what happens after “reaching” financial freedom. I think the key is having the right mindset from the get go. If I stumbled upon $10 million tomorrow, I would still be at Walmart the next day comparing cost per ounce. And I’d do that because from the very beginning we made up our minds about the things that we value and what we hope our frugality will allow us to do later in life.

    This is also a huge reason we started a blog. It keeps us grounded and honest in our progress, failures, and what we want to accomplish.

  15. I stop and enjoy life every day, even though we’re still working on paying off debt and sometimes (okay oftentimes) we’re pinching pennies until our next pay day. I hope I never get to the point where I become obsessed with my finances that I can’t remember what life is supposed to be about.
    This was a well-written post! I love your guys’ writing style!

  16. Nobody needs a 90,000 sq ft house. When I think about the house I’m building right now it’s only going to be 2150 sq ft. That means that you could fit nearly 42 of my houses in to just one of the Siegels houses. What a waste.

    • They do have a big family, BUT not big enough for 90,000 s.f. That is just crazy. It wouldn’t make sense for us because we like to hang out in one room together.

  17. The Siegels made a lot of bad choices! It was those possessions that made him happy. It wasn’t the trophy wife or the kids. Very sad! Funny how people think money is the answer when it isn’t!

  18. A 90,000 square foot house because 30,000 is not big enough?? I can’t even…what the…Ugh, I have no words, none at all.

  19. Wow! I had never of these people until your post. It amazes me how money can so easily ruin people. A big chunk of lottery winners freely admit that winning ruined their lives. Money changes people in a very fundamental way. The Siegels are the ultimate example.

    • I saw a documentary about lottery winners called “The Curse of the Lottery.” Apparently, a very high percentage of winners are poor again within a few years and have had all kinds of bad things happen to them.

  20. I started this documentary, but then stopped it. It made me sick to hear their constant wining. They make money by selling crappy timeshares to under-qualified people. This just shows about our excessive spending that many Americans have. While most don’t have 30,000 sq ft houses, many do overspend on things that they can easily do without.

    • They did complain a lot but it might have just been the editing. Who knows? Either way, they would have been better off if they just wouldn’t have spent so lavishly to begin with.

  21. Yup, just turned it on to watch this amazing downfall and to reaffirm my beliefs and practices.

  22. Sounds like an awful movie! And several terrible lives. Wow. I’m going to go do something nice for someone today in honor of those people!

  23. I’ve heard about this movie but haven’t found the time to check it out. I’ve always believed that how “rich” you are in life has little to do with your actual wealth. They are the proof. It makes me sad that they keep chasing materials things rather than appreciating all they have and helping others.

  24. They were guests on Anderson Cooper’s talk show last year. That is the only time I saw them.

  25. I doubt that I would be able to stomach this movie. I saw a preview for it on another PF blog last year and couldn’t stand what I was seeing.
    These people are obviously out of touch with reality and are proof that you can’t buy class.

  26. K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks! says:

    They sound pretty self-absorbed and shallow. There is nothing wrong with wanting material wealth but at what cost? They prove the theory that money can’t buy lasting happiness.

  27. That’s one of those stories where I’m not sure whether to laugh or to cry. But it drive home the point that there isn’t that much of a connection between being rich and being wealthy. The Siegels were clearly rich, but not at all wealthy.

  28. I’m glad that neither of us are spenders. I usually don’t even like getting new things. It stresses me out just thinking about where we will put them!

  29. I’ve seen this quite a bit in Telluride, (resort town, work there sometimes) on a smaller scale. The realtors were making bank before the crash in 2008. I know one guy who was almost in tears because he lost so much in the stock market and wasn’t selling anything, but he was on his way to his second home in Mexico the next day. Made me feel real sorry for him!

  30. $17,000 boots and $10,000 pants!!!! That is insane, I’m not sure I really want to watch it after reading that.

  31. Hi Holly,
    Jackie Siegle was originally from Binghamton, NY (my hometown). She was brought up in a very modest home, went to college and graduated with an engineering degree. This is not a dumb blonde. However, what makes this so sad is that she is dumped by her first husband (who showed her no affection) and later marries David Seigel because he made her feel loved. She actually said she knows nothing about the finances, which really was a big mistake on her part. The one thing I was disgusted with was the whole ploy of getting people to buy timeshares. Taking advantage of people who could not afford it seems criminal.

    In any event, this was just a sad story. Apparently, Siegle is doing better now as this article shows. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/uk-usa-orlando-siegel-idUSLNE86T02B20120730\
    Go figure.

    • I don’t know. If she’s smart enough to have an engineering degree, you would think she would be smart enough to understand basic financial principles like spending less than you earn,etc. I thought she seemed to be in denial about the whole thing…but it’s possible that she just let her husband take care of the finances while she worried about everything else.

      I (guess) I’m glad that they are working on that megamansion again. It just goes to show that they really didn’t learn anything. The next time the economy tanks (and it will) they will end up in a similar situation if they’re not careful.

      But you’re right, the whole thing is sad.

  32. I am totally watching this documentary over the weekend, it just seems too snark-worthy and completely over-the-top to pass up! Interesting how even vapid twits, like this family appears to be, can help us all rehash some valuable life lessons. And actually, I pity them based off of what I’ve read here. To have money and stuff consume your entire life is a pretty miserable perspective.

  33. 90,000!!!?!?! That is disgusting!! Some great learnings though.. and I am with you on the fact that there is such a thing as ‘enough money’.
    I have a dream to start up my own scuba dive center one day with my wife… we will work our butts off to get there and there will come a point where we do have enough money. No matter what your dream is… there is always a point where you have enough to do it. Greed easily gets in the way though…

  34. Absolutely fascinating! This documentary sounds like a train wreck in the best and worst sense of the term. I think by now we’ve all read that Princeton study that said you only needed $75,000 to reach optimal happiness; any earnings beyond that didn’t enhance your happiness quotient. I think the Siegels just proved that!

  35. I actually have seen this. It mostly made me sick. There were two things that stuck with me though that you pretty much covered….the adopted niece said she used to wish she had this much money…then she could be happy. But now that she was living in it she was just so used to it that she just wanted more and was just as miserable as before.

    The other thing was that at the end the wife said she wished her husband talked to her about money more. That she had been poor and knew how to live like it. But that she had no idea how bad their financial situation was until too late. Not entirely sure I buy that from her. But I do agree that both parties should have communication lines WAY open.

  36. Wow, how sad not only that they’ve blown so much cash, but likely messed up their kids big time in the process. Society often tries to teach us that we mess up our kids by not providing enough “stuff” for them, but this show proves that all of the stuff in the world doesn’t buy contentment and happiness. Thanks for a great post, Holly!

  37. I came across this programme on the BBC in their Storyville Series last week. I watched it until about the last 5 minutes. I too was impressed that she had an engineering degree and that she had taken over resposibility for her neice.

    However, it struck me that it was very pertinent that they were building a new Versailles – we all know what happened to the excess in France after the Revolution!

    It also seemed that she/they had a lot of deep seated problems. The excess seemed IMHO as a result of having had not a great deal as a child and the home was verging on being like those where the person/family has a problem with hoarding.

    Well I am happy in my little corner.

  38. nice article….it was kinda sad at the end when he just wanted more. the family is an ungrateful walmart class rich group. amazes me to see people with money that are so classless.

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  1. Sunday High Fives! | Living Debt Free Rocks! says:

    […] The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned From the Siegels – Club Thrifty […]

  2. […] Club Thrifty: The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned From the Siegels […]

  3. […] Holly at Club Thrifty wrote a piece about consumerism gone crazy in, The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned From the Siegels. […]

  4. […] The Queen of Versailles: What I Learned from the Siegels […]

  5. […] less), but how they feel on my feet after wearing them for a few hours. I don’t go all “Queen of Versailles” and spend $17,000 on a pair of boots, but I do spend a little extra money to buy a quality […]

  6. […] Siegel, the timeshare millionaire in The Queen of Versailles seems to be making a comeback, resuming construction on his dream palace, […]

  7. […] become a minimalist by any means.  I have my creature comforts, but I don’t need to be like these people by any means (That’s a really good read by the way and you should go over there right this […]

  8. […] on the Siegels and their ridiculous plans for the ugliest house in America.  If you watched the Queen of Versailles, you learned that the Siegels had to halt construction on the project.  Fortunately, […]

  9. […] to watching the Queen of Versailles earlier this week. I put it in my Netflix queue after reading Holly’s post. She really summarizes this documentary better than I could, but to recap, Queen of Versailles […]

  10. […] 2.   I don’t know how to be wealthy.  This one plagues many, especially those who come from a long line of broke people, and for many years, it scared us too.  What would life be like if we didn’t have money worries?  Would we become a__holes?  Would our broke family members shun us?  Would all of the surplus money we have available turn us into meth addicts or shopaholics? […]

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