Money to Burn: Celebrity Mega-Spenders Live Large

Troubled pop star Britney Spears spends an average of $16,000 a month on clothes. She spends about $4,758 on eating out, $10,250 on utility bills and $17,000 on automotive and other transportation costs. The clincher: She spends an average of $102,000 a month on "entertainment, gifts and vacation," according to court filings in her child custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline.

But hey, it's par for the course if you're a fabulously wealthy entertainer. And that's especially so as we move into the holidays. Don't count on spotting Britney or her pop-star brethren camping out in front of Wal-Mart for a Black Friday sale after Thanksgiving. Think auction houses and Rodeo Drive emporiums.

What are they buying? How much are they spending? To find out, we turned to wealth-research firm Prince & Associates of Redding, Conn., which recently polled 92 business managers representing 288 actors and musicians to quiz them about their clients' shopping plans for the holiday season.

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The celebrities were at least 25 years old and had a minimum net worth of $10 million. The survey asked how much they were planning to spend from Thanksgiving through the second week of January in a select number of categories. The responses didn't specify whether the celebrities were spending money on gifts or themselves.

Once someone has a net worth of more than $10 million, "that's the point over which people feel free to spend," says private-wealth specialist and Prince managing partner Hannah Grove. "There's very little, barring major catastrophe, that would cause them to curtail their spending."

Spears fits the bill. She spends an average of $241,020 a month, nearly five times the $48,398 that the average U.S. household spent in all of 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average household in the European Union, where per-capita consumption was about 45% lower, spent even less.

U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $816.69 on holiday-related shopping this year and another $106.67 on purchases for themselves, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch on behalf of the National Retail Federation.

The celebrities covered by the Prince survey? They plan to spend an average of $47,700 on wine and booze alone.

Before you call the health department, keep in mind that they probably aren't knocking back the reasonably priced spirits you can get at your neighborhood liquor store. They usually stick with pricier stuff, like, say, Chateau La Fleur Petrus, a red wine from the Bordeaux region of France, which was mentioned by a survey respondent and can go for upwards of $17,000 a bottle, depending on the vintage. (And that's downright modest compared to what hardcore wine enthusiasts could pay).

What about entertaining guests? The average projected bill in the survey came out to $52,300. That sounds absurd if you consider the cost of a Butterball turkey with all the fixins. But it becomes (sort of) easier to understand if you consider the cost to throw a New Year's Eve party at a ski resort and pay the resort to make snow, as one celebrity plans to do.

And what would the holidays be without a trip somewhere? Nearly 48% of the celebrities plan to stay at a hotel or resort, at an average projected bill of around $89,300. That would barely get them a week in the $12,000-a-night hotel suite where one celebrity was planning to stay in Cabo San Lucas. Another 17.4% plan to spend an average of $78,000 on villa or house rentals.

The survey's celebrities also plan to spend an average of $74,400 on apparel and accessories, $86,300 on watches and $114,500 on jewelry.

With a jewelry bill that high, they must be preparing for red-carpet appearances, right? Nope, jewelry for black-tie events is almost always a free loaner, says Martin Katz, owner and designer of Martin Katz Ltd., a high-end jewelry store in Beverly Hills, with a satellite location in New York.

Instead, when celebrities visit--or, more typically, have their assistants phone--Katz's store, they're looking for rings, necklaces and earrings that are both beautiful and practical so they can be worn on a regular basis.

A few other extravagances also cropped up in the Prince survey. More than 80% of the celebrities plan to spend an average of $64,100 on spa services and trainers, while 13% expect to pony up an average of $1.3 million for fine art purchases.

Katz argues income level is a better indication of how much a celebrity will spend than net worth, a rule of thumb that he believes applies to all purchases. Why? Because long-established celebrities may have much of their wealth tied up in less liquid assets, like real estate, which can constrain their ability to throw around cash.

"Spending is a little bit more a function of income or cash flow,'' he says. It's an idea familiar to anyone bemoaning the size of his or her Christmas club account. Here's betting Britney doesn't have one of those.