Are You Worth a Swimming Pool, Microwave or Beach Ball?

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 8, 2012

Apple is Swimming in Cash

Late last month, Apple announced it has a mind-boggling $110 billion in cash reserves. Over at The Atlantic, a blogger decided to make sense of this information by translating the abstract sum into a concrete visual.

Apple's cash reserves, it turns out, could fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools with $1 bills

I decided to take this logic a step further and look at how much space other sums of money would occupy. How much space would the average American household need to store its annual income? How many briefcases full of bills are needed to pay for a college education?

What About Bill Gates?

Let's start with the first person who pops into most of our minds when we talk about enormous wealth: Bill Gates. With a net worth of $59 billion, Gates was (again) at the top of the most recent Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. 

If Gates wanted to store this money in stacks of $1 bills, he would need 27 Olympic-sized pools to accommodate his riches. If he opted for $100 bills instead, he could stash his benjamins in a fleet of 88 Chevrolet Express vans.

Two Shoeboxes & a Microwave

But what about the rest of us? Well, according to the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of adults in the U.S. is $96,000, a sum that wouldn't even fill one two-foot wide beach ball floating in one of Gates' 27 pools. 

Then there's annual income. In 2011, the median household income in the United States was $51,914, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those bills would fit nicely into a large microwave oven. A person working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would earn $15,080 in a year, an income that could be stored in two shoeboxes (with space left over).

When Money is a Slam Dunk

Corporate executives, of course, generally earn far more than the average household.

The highest earning CEO in 2011 was John Hammergren, head of biotechnology company McKesson. His $131 million income last year (which came mostly from stock gains) would cover a professional basketball court to a depth of 13 inches.

College? Carry On...

Of course, one key to becoming a higher earner is to get a college degree, which is hardly an inexpensive proposition.

According to FinAid.org, a four-year degree at a private college is currently running about $166,000 (assuming a modest annual cost increase of 5 percent). To store that money in $1 bills, you would need four carry-on suitcases (one per year!). 

Attend a public university in-state and the total cost drops below $74,000, a sum that would fit snugly in just two carry-ons. 

The Grand Canyon??

For anyone who is disconcerted by the enormity of some of these numbers, there is good news. No one yet has enough concentrated wealth to fill even a tiny percentage of the Grand Canyon with currency. 

With a volume of 147 trillion cubic feet, the chasm could hold 3.66 quintillion dollar bills, an amount greater than the net worth of 62 million Bill Gates. 

Mother Nature always wins.

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