What Personal Finance Lessons can one Learn from Newport, Rhode Island?

by Evan

This past weekend The Wife and I visited Newport Rhode Island for our One Year Anniversary, and I learned three very applicable personal finance lessons, and it came from our trip to the mansions.

The normal thing when visiting Rhode Island is to do Mansion Tours.  The Wife and I checked out two of these RIDICULOUS homes.  We first saw “Marble House-Marble_House,_Newport,_Rhode_Island

Marble House cost $11 million in 1892! It was built by one of the great grandsons of the amazing Cornelius Vanderbilt.  This house was in a word, nuts.

It has 500,000 cubic feet of marble, and would cost approximately $140 million in 2008 dollars!

Guess my shock when I went to the next home which was even bigger!  The second home’s name is The Breakers (mental note, I am naming my next home regardless of the size).

The Breakers was built by the older brother of the Vanderbilt who built Marble House.  If the other mansion was nuts…this house is *&$*@! Crazy.  I have literally never seen anything like this place.  The_Breakers_Newport

It has 70 rooms, yes that is 7-0, with over 65,000 square feet of living space.  In comparison, my condo has 1,800, and not all over it is even livable lol.

There is NO Limit to the Amount of Money You Can Make in America

Both of those houses come from the amazing amount of wealth created by the Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt.  When he died his estate is estimated at $100 million in 1877!  It is estimated that would be equal to $143 billion in 2007 dollars.  That is three times the net worth of Bill Gates.

When the Commodore died he left 95% to one of his sons (he had 13 kids!).  That son was the dad of the 2 guys who built the above mansions.  That Son turned $100 to $200 million in about 10 years.

Lesson:  Even in this communist like times of America there is untold wealth out there to be made – be an innovator.

Take Pride in your Job

I may be “un-cultured” but I saw something really cool on these tours that I had never seen before.  Each person got a headset while you walked around.  As you entered each room the voice on the headset would tell you a story about that particular room.

Well, one particular voice came through on the headset, it was an elderly gentleman who indicated that he was a worker there.  Specifically, he was a butler.  After talking about his daily routine, he then something which amazed me,

You should always have pride in your job, even if young people don’t get that today!

Lesson:  The butler said it best – I don’t care what your responsibilities are – ROCK IT OUT!

Always Treat Others with Respect

The family which owned the bigger, Breakers, were one of the first of the gilded age to refer to their workers, not as “servants” but rather as “staff.”

Lesson:  How you treat others will far outlive you!

If you ever get a chance to visit Rhode Island do it up!  And for us youngens there are a good amount of bars but they close at 1am.

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kitty June 23, 2009 - 1:55 am

"two of these RIDICULOUS homes"
It's funny, how the impression of these old mansions is different for someone who look at them from a practical standpoint of a contemporary and very practical American and from someone like me who grew up in Russia and visited great royal palaces – both in Russia and in Europe.Reminds me of some American woman who, after seeing a 19th century operetta Die Fledermaus from the Met on New Year's eve, wrote a letter to PBS about how irresponsible it was to show drinking on stage (during Champaign song sung at a high society ball) when drunk driving is such a big problem. She couldn't grasp that a) there weren't cars at the time b) the people at the ball had someone else like their servants to take them home… Historical context is important – both in appreciating 19th century art and 19th century mansions.

A few years ago I visited St Petersburg – where I was born – again. I brought back a booklet from the completely recreated fabled Amber Room in the Catherine's Palace near St Petersburg to a co-worker. He is a smart and educated guy, but he hasn't traveled much outside the US and doesn't care about architecture or history of art. He wasn't particularly impressed. For him it was "cornucopia of opulence". Sure, I'd imagine if someone decorated their own 21st century home in the way Russian tzars ( or 19th century millionaires) decorated theirs, it would be pretty tasteless – especially if everything hadn't been in the same style. But when one keeps in mind the specific style that was fashionable at the time, the impression is completely different.

I don't see these homes as "ridiculous" nor do I compare them to my home. Instead, I compare them to the old palaces in Europe. To me they look beautiful – probably among very few mansions in the US that can actually compare to the old palaces in Europe. Nope, I wouldn't decorate my home this way. But then I don't live in a palace.

The way to appreciate the beauty of these places is to look at them as museums that they are and not as homes you'd consider living in. To really imagine living in them, you've got to transport yourself mentally to the same society and the same time frame. Think about costumes, balls, all aspect of life of high society. For this type of life, these mansions are much more suitable than your home.

It's a bit off topic, though. Good points otherwise.

Evan June 23, 2009 - 2:35 am

Their beauty was so amazing that an emotional waste land (as the wife calls me) made comment and was moved. When I used the word ridiculous I really meant shocking. Not shocking in a bad way, but just plain shocking!

On your topic – When I visited Greece what I found amazing (and I am SURE it is the same in Russia) is their definition of "old" is 1000times different than US' definition of old.


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