My first cousin's a billionaire -- can't he spare a million or two?

We've got the same grandparents ... so where's my check?

By Cary Tennis
Published October 16, 2008 10:28AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

With the implosion of the financial markets, everyone losing their life savings and businesses going under, I am in a deepening funk. What makes it worse as I watch my mutual funds melt down is the fact that I have a relatively close relative who is on the Forbes list of billionaires!

This relative, a first cousin, has been on this list for many years; he gives away tens of millions to various institutions, and I'm sure is very generous to his immediate family. But every time that damn list comes out I become obsessed, depressed and angry. Why can't he share the wealth?

After all, we have the same grandparents, we share a family history, he's got more than anyone could ever use. It is a real problem for me especially when I struggle to buy a pair of glasses or pay my bills. I'm not broke, but something extra would sure help. I calculate how much he could give every first cousin in the family (let's say a cool million) and how it wouldn't even make a dent! I go over how most of us in the family could use some financial largess. But alas, the check has not come in the mail. I sometimes fantasize that before he dies, he has made a list of family members who will get a "gift," and while I don't want him to die any time soon, I hope that list exists. I fantasize about writing him a letter -- just outright asking him for some of his fortune, but that would be unseemly, and I'm sure it's been done many times. Or would it? Maybe he would be impressed by the outright gall of such a letter and slip that seven-figure check in the mail (after taxes, please). Or maybe he would cross my name off that imaginary list with a big fat Sharpie.

How do I get over the fact that this person has so much that could be spread around? How do I stop fantasizing that maybe, just maybe, he will remember me and "share the love"?

Fantasizing Fool

Dear Fantasizing Fool,

Much can often be accomplished by the writing of a simple letter:

"Dear first cousin,

I am writing to ask a favor. I should say upfront I'm not asking for money. I'm very interested in your money, it's true. But I don't want you to give me any. Rather, I want to ask if you would spend some time with me just talking about how you made your money, what principles you followed, and how you manage it.

I figure there are many, many people just like me who don't really understand what money is or how to get it. But very few of them have a first cousin who is a billionaire. I'm not too proud to admit I could learn a thing or two. I don't want a handout, as they say, but a hand up. So I wonder if you could find time in your schedule to spend an hour or two with an eager student.

Now, maybe you'll tell me I should just go to business school. If you think that's the best course, I will seriously consider it. But I still would like the opportunity to just spend some time with you. Maybe you would even enjoy talking about it. Most people are probably more interested in separating you from your money than learning how you made it. I, however, would enjoy listening.

Yours truly,

Your curious first cousin

There is more to say about this matter, and no shortage of people to say it. But this in a nutshell is what I suggest: Try to get to know your cousin. Have some humility. Learn what you can. Create a relationship.

And here is the other thing.

Before you meet with him, sit down and think about what you want to contribute to the world and how you might go about doing that. What big dreams do you have? If you were to have access to a sufficient amount of money, what would you do with it? What could you bring into the world?

I do not think anyone gives money without gaining something. It is always a transaction. It is always an exchange. You must always look at what is gained. It might be abstract. That is fine. There is always an exchange and there is always choice.

People who have made a lot of money are probably very good at making choices. They are probably better at making choices than the rest of us. So if he were ever to propose using some of his money it would have to be for a purpose that made sense to him. You might ask him, in this discussion, what kinds of uses he likes to make of his money. What does he contribute to, and why?

So be open about your interest in money. Seek to learn. But make it true. Don't lie. If you say you have an interest in money, then back it up. Look at some books about money and seek to understand as much about it as you can, on your own, before you get together with him.

And do think about what positive things you might do if you had access to a sufficient amount of money. Ask yourself, what would a sufficient amount of money be? How much money does a man need?

Think about it. Maybe he'll ask you.

The Best of Cary Tennis

"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
Or go to Amazon and get it cheaper! (But not signed.) Or ask for it at your local bookstore. Tell them it's distributed by IPG.
And be sure to sign up for the Cary Tennis Newsletter.

What? You want more advice?

Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Business Family Since You Asked U.s. Economy