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If 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 timeshare 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 way 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 completely 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.