The Met Gala is an annual fundraiser for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute of New York City. If you want to attend, a ticket costs $35,000 and a table costs between $200,000 – $300,000. However, even if you have the money, you might not be able to go.
Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue and Gala chair since 1995, controls a tight guest list of around 600 people. These people often include celebrities, artists, politicians, and obviously very rich people.
Given tickets cost $35,000 and up, I thought it’d be fun to calculate the minimum amount of rich you need to be to attend.
How Rich Do You Need To Be To Attend The Met Gala
Before conducting any monetary exercise, it’s good to take a guess at what the X variable will be. This way, you have an anchor point that helps highlight your perception versus reality. If the numbers are too far apart, you may be too out of touch.
Personally, I think you need to make at least $1 million a year and have a net worth of at least $10 million to be able to comfortably shell out $35,000 for the Met Gala. $35,000, after all, is closer to $60,000 before taxes.
I would also think it would feel too awkward to attend an event that celebrates wealth, power, and the arts without also being a wealthy, powerful, artistic person yourself. Although, I’m sure some of us can fake the feeling of belonging.
If you make $1 million a year, you’re making $83,333 a month. After-tax, you’re probably pulling in about $50,000 a month if you’re making W2 income. Therefore, spending $35,000 on an exclusive Met Gala ticket where only 600 people get invited doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Think about all the publicity you may get and the connections you may make once you’re there. As a Met Gala alumni, it is highly likely that other exclusive functions will seek you out as well. Building your network is one of the key ways the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful.
As the Met Gala ticket can be considered a charitable deduction, I’m sure plenty of business owners also expense their $35,000 tickets as well.
If you have at least a $10 million net worth, the ideal minimum net worth in retirement, then spending 0.35% or less of your net worth on an exclusive event isn’t a big deal. If you have $10 million in investments, and these investments go up just 1%, you’ve just made yourself $100,000.
Using The Average American Expenditure To Calculate Met Gala Minimum Income
My opinion on how rich you have to be to attend the Met Gala is based on me being a hardcore personal finance enthusiast. After all, I’ve been writing about aggressively saving and investing our money since this site was born in 2009.
For example, I have a default assumption that nobody spends more than 20% of their annual gross income or 5% of their net worth on a car. In other words, anybody buying a new median-price car of $40,000 makes over $200,000 or has at least an $800,000 net worth in my mind.
The reality is, we know this is not true. Not everybody is as frugal or as aggressive an investor as we are. Therefore, it’s good to see what the average American spends on food and entertainment. Luckily, I’ve got this latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Check out the chart below. In 2019 (the latest year of data as of 2021), the average American income was $82,852 a year. The average American annual expenditure was $63,036. In other words, after taxes, the average American spent almost everything they made.
$8,169 or 9.8% of the average $82,852 gross income went to Food. Meanwhile, $3,050 or 3.7% of the average $82,852 gross income went to Entertainment. The Met Gala can be considered both Food and Entertainment.
Income Minimum To Attend The Met Gala
Using the average American’s spending habits as the model for consumption, we can assume the following minimum income levels to attend the Met Gala:
- $357,143 minimum income needed to attend the Met Gala if you spend your entire Food budget on the event ($35,000 / 9.8%)
- $949,946 minimum income needed to attend the Met Gala if you spend your entire Entertainment budget on the event ($35,000 / 3.7%)
- $259,259 minimum income needed to attend the Met Gala if you spend your entire Food and Entertainment budget on the event ($35,000 / 13.5%)
It’s impossible to spend your entire year’s Food budget on one event. You’d starve to death only eating for one evening a year. However, you could spend $35,000 on a ticket and eat frugally for the rest of the year. Let’s say your total annual food budget is $50,000. We can then divide $50,000 by 9.8% = $510,204.
You might spend your entire Entertainment budget on one event given its exclusivity. However, the chances of you spending no money for the rest of the year on shows, festivals, sporting events, and so forth are also low. Let’s say you spend just $10,000 on Entertainment for the rest of the year. We can then divide $45,000 by 3.7% = $1,216,216.
To save up money to attend the Met Gala, you could also cut expenditures in other categories like Transportation, which seems really high at $10,742 or 13% of total gross annual income.
Therefore, based on the average American expenditure for Food and Entertainment, having an income of at least $500,000 is necessary to attend the Met Gala.
My estimate of a $1 million minimum income is high if we use the average American as an example. But that is to be expected given I’m more frugal and a more aggressive saver and investor than the average American.
What If You Make Less And Still Want To Attend?
Only around 0.1% of the population makes over $1 million a year. Therefore, it’s clear that some who attend the Met Gala and make much less are stretching themselves thin.
For example, AOC made a splash by attending the Met Gala with a “Tax The Rich” dress. It was a brilliant marketing move that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. People wondered how did a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist get to attend one of the most glitzy events in the world where only 600 people can attend?
AOC only makes $174,000 as a member of Congress. $174,000 a year is a top 10% income for an individual. However, paying 20% of your annual gross income to attend an event is a pretty large percentage. Remember, the average American only spends 9.8% of their gross income on Food and 3.7% of their gross income on Entertainment.
Further, I’ve calculated AOC’s net worth as only around $100,000 after serving two years in Congress so far. $100,000 is not bad given she had a negative net worth in 2018 as a bartender. But spending 35% of your entire net worth on a Met Gala ticket would be an irresponsible amount. But maybe not.
Can’t Violate Ethics Rules
Some people believe AOC didn’t pay her own way into the Met Gala. Instead, she was gifted a ticket. A reasonable assumption, given her current financials. However, the U.S. Ethics Committee explicitly states no member of Congress can accept a gift worth more than $50 per year. For Senators, the limit is $100 a year in gifts.
AOC accepting a $35,000 Met Gala ticket would be 700 times over the House gift limit. As such, she couldn’t have accepted such a gift, unless she was OK with eventually getting removed from office.
If accepting a $35,000 was OK, that would mean any corporation or person with money could buy off our politicians. I understand there’s an entire lobbying industry that tries to sway opinion. However, gifting $35,000 ticket is too obvious.
When I worked in finance, money management clients had strict gift limits as well. Many had to pay their own meals and certainly couldn’t have received Warriors playoff tickets or NFL Super Bowl tickets worth thousands each. If they accepted such tickets, they would be viewed as corrupt.
If you are a private citizen, you are free to accept as many gifts as you want. But we presumably have a higher standard for our elected officials. That said, politicians often view themselves as above the law.
Shadow Net Worth Rising
Perhaps naively, I choose to believe AOC and other politicians who make less than the $500,000 recommended minimum income to attend the Met Gala paid their own way. If AOC didn’t pay her own way, that would be hypocritical and unethical. We can’t have that in politics.
Although young politicians don’t have a lot of money, they do have a lot of power. Their future wealth-creation potential is enormous.
You can view AOC’s $35,000 Met Gala ticket as an investment in herself. Her actual net worth might only be $100,000, but her “shadow net worth” is already in the multi-millions.
After a couple more terms in Congress, AOC will have enough experience to sign a $10+ million book deal after her career in politics is over, if she wants. For reference, the Obamas reportedly signed a $60+ million book deal. AOC is the second most popular American politician on social media. She was third after Obama and Trump, but Trump got kicked off Twitter.
If AOC wants to get on the speaking tour after her political career is over, she could probably charge over $100,000 per speech. Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign in 2016, according to a CNN analysis.
In other words, AOC and other young politicians like her have enormous untapped wealth if they market themselves properly. They are strategically spending their money today to build their network for greater fortune and fame once they leave office.
Note: According to the Congressional Institute, Representatives and Senators are limited to earning 15% in excess of their yearly Congressional salary. No income from fiduciary relationships is allowed while in office.
Be A Strategic Spender As Well
The most money I ever spent on an event were two tickets to Wimbledon for $1,200. It was the year 2016 and I thought Roger Federer might be playing his last match. Therefore, I decided to splurge on my bucket list by not only attending Wimbledon for the first time, but also watching Roger for the first time in person.
The thing is, spending lots of money on tickets did my wealth no good. There was no return on investment. Instead, all I got were wonderful memories that I will carry with me forever. This is the situation with most people.
If I was smarter, I would have done what politicians do and spend more money on exclusive events to hobnob with powerful people during my career. After all, your network can be a massive part of your net worth. Not only will your network help you get more money-making opportunities, but your network can also help your children get ahead.
The $35,000 a young politician spends on a Met Gala ticket could easily return 100X in the future. Alas, it takes a special type of person to be a politician. You’ve really got to love fame and attention given your primary goal is to sell yourself.
I don’t like fame, just fortune. Therefore, spending money on networking is an anathema in the Financial Samurai household. We would rather just live our lives in peace.
But for those of you still looking to climb society’s ladder, paying to play can really provide a lift. Once you get on the radar for a couple socialite events, you will keep getting invited to more of these soirees so long as you keep paying. And perhaps eventually, you will make enough good friends so that money will no longer be necessary to attend.
Readers, how rich does one have to be to pay $35,000 a ticket to attend the Met Gala? Do you think one of the best ways to get rich is to enter politics when you’re young? What do you think of politicians who attend expensive events when most of their constituents are middle class or poor? What is the legal workaround where politicians can attend such events without having to use their own money?
Note: AOC says she didn’t pay for her own ticket, which makes sense given her current finances. However, I’m wondering why it’s OK to accept a $35,000 gift when $50 is the annual limit? Is this similar to the public being OK with Congress members trading stocks ahead of key legal decisions?
In a Sept. 13 Instagram post showing her posing in her dress, Ocasio-Cortez, said in part: “BEFORE anybody starts wilding out — NYC elected officials are regularly invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public. I was one of several in attendance. Dress is borrowed via @brothervellies.”
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If you’re curious about my thoughts on the China Evergrande debacle, I’ll be sharing my thoughts in my next free newsletter. The short answer is: no contagion, buy the dip. I spent 13 years studying Chinese equities and visiting Chinese companies multiple times during days in finance.
Just want to add that AOC probably didn’t pay for anything herself, but her campaign probably cut the check. It could be different for Congress, but I worked for more than a decade in a state legislature and campaign finance laws here provide very wide latitude in what can be considered a campaign expense.
– East Asian countries: moderate taxes, world class infrastructure, insane work ethic and materialism lifestyle
– Northern Europe: high taxes, world class infrastructure, moderate work ethic, work/life balance ensured by the govt.
– Southern Europe: high taxes, so-so infrastructure, but compensates with culture & relaxed lifestyle
– 20th century USA: moderate taxes, so-so infrastructure, high work ethic, any lifestyle you can imagine, the sky’s the limit for the ambitious or creative
– 21st century USA: high taxes, crumbling infrastructure, highly regulatory, work ethic directed towards parasitic industries, life is increasingly two-tiered, corrupt, tribal, and feudal, much like other big countries in Latin America.
AOC represents 21st century USA. I’m not mad about her dress or wasting time calculating whether her personal branding strategy is clever. Rather, I’m sad that she’s an avatar for our times, as much as Trump was, a symptom of a zeitgeist.
Sorry to be downer, but that’s just how I see it.
Interesting and humourous article. AOC makes me sick and I don’t know how people can support the blatant hypocrisy of the Met Gala attendees.
This article has prompted me to ask your opinion on where you think things are going for the average middle class person/family trying to invest and accumulate a decent nest egg. My husband and I have a few retirement accounts including a Roth IRA, SEP IRA, and a 401k as well as a taxable Vanguard account. We save diligently while also enjoying ourselves as one cannot know what tomorrow will bring. I am a millennial and my husband is a Gen X (if you will). We are proud of our work and our savings which I think is right and proper.
I’m becoming very concerned with the way the political world is going for many reasons but I’m just here to discuss the financial aspect. I have been reading that the government is looking at raising taxes on the wealthy which is concerning (I’m never a fan of people saying that the wealthy should pay more in taxes because I’m not at all convinced they don’t pay a hefty amount. Also I have to respect the amount of risk it takes to start a business and grow it to the point of being able to hire multiple people who are risk averse, like myself). Much more concerning and honestly kind of terrifying, is the talk of the government limiting wealthy people’s ability to invest in Roth accounts. I view Roth accounts as untouchable by the government because that’s LITERALLY the point of their existence. But here we are with the government trying to stick their fingers in the pie. I believe this greed from the government will not stop at the wealthy IRAs but will continue down to the smaller income levels. Eventually the income limit for those who can have a Roth will edge lower and lower until the Roth ceases to even exist (so none for the average person like me!) And of course I fear that anyone with any decent amount of savings anywhere will be harshly penalized tax wise because they’re “privileged to even be able to save.” I’m really curious as to what your opinion is on this matter and what possible strategies could be used for the future, if any. Also I just wanted to say that the argument that “the Democrats would never ACTUALLY do that because they would lose voters” is losing steam quickly. The ideology of the young has changed. Hey, AOC was elected by the people and claims the rich are evil but boy, does she LOVE to hang out with them. Thanks, and I appreciate your blog!
Financial Samurai says
I am pretty sanguine about the middle class. Given AOC represents the poor and middle class, I think we can rationally assume her constituents are doing well, as well. Otherwise, they wouldn’t vote for her.
Also, I think people are doing better than the media like to make it appear. The media focuses on the negatives for traffic with its mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Not everybody will benefit from this bull market. But most are.
This is charity not an entertainment or food expenditure. So, we need to think about it that way. Most of it is tax deductible. Doing this once is something a lot of people who aren’t super-rich but just upper-middle class could afford to do. AOC was invited – maybe she even paid for her food and didn’t have to make the charity contribution.
These tables always confuse me, because they’re usually for families (or “consumer units” in this case). How can you find data about individual incomes and spending, which might be more germane to this talk of spending?
Financial Samurai says
A unit can be an individual or household. Therefore, you can be as conservative or as aggressive as you want when making calculations.
Here is a related post to consider:
Some people get rich without becoming famous. Some people become famous as the price of getting rich (then complain about the paparazzi).
I think, however, that one of the worst things possible would be to become famous without getting rich. All of the downside, none of the positive, and no good way to even protect yourself.
Frugal Bazooka says
Only in America can left wing celebrity socialists and communists buy multi-million dollar houses and the media announces it as a normal transaction without a hint of irony. Likewise socialist politicians attend high priced elitist charity events that highlights the glory of capitalism as well as the stinking elitism of the very same socialists reeking of 19th century European values. The mask/no mask breakdown based on social status at the “Gala” is a perfect example.
The GRIFT is strong among our political class and writing Tax the Rich on your backside and claiming it’s a statement against capitalism, while attending the capitalist event of the year, is either the dumbest move ever or the most cynical.
Too bad our media only speaks “truth to power” when the “power” is capitalist leaning.
It’s not uniquely American. Historically, left-wing authoritarianism (and right-wing as well) high politicals have always led irrepresentatively extravagant lifestyles. Usually regimes own the media or have it under strict control, so it WOULD BE painted as normal. When the left does it, it’s hypocrisy. When the right does it, it’s a facade.
Financial Samurai says
As a politician, one of your main goals is to market yourself to stay in power. And then you can get much wealthier once your term is over.
But to retain power, you need to get the most people to vote and like you.
The Alchemist says
“If AOC didn’t pay her own way, that would be hypocritical and unethical. We can’t have that in politics”
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Sam, you slay me! :D Best deadpan of the year!
I don’t follow politics much at all so I was quite surprised to learn about this. Definitely seems shady that she attended something worth that much “for free” and then wore that dress that says tax the rich. Got her a lot of attention but also PO’d a lot of people.
Zadu Zopracy says
Apparently AOC wasn’t gifted a ticket; she was an invited guest, so no ethics violations. My source is at https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/sep/16/viral-image/no-aoc-didnt-pay-her-met-gala-ticket-or-dress/
No need to post this comment if you don’t want to; I just thought a bit more background might be helpful.
Financial Samurai says
The question is, if the Ethics Committee says the yearly gift limit is $50, how do you accept a gift that is 700X over the limit without getting in trouble?
When I worked in finance, money management clients had strict gift limits as well. Many had to pay their own meals and certainly couldn’t have received Warriors playoff tickets worth thousands or NFL Super Bowl tickets. If they did, that would look like they were getting bought, and they would be reprimanded.
I figured AOC didn’t pay for her own ticket with her current net worth and income. However, I want to understand why it’s OK to accept a $35,000 gift in this circumstance?
The Alchemist says
^ What Sam said!
I think certain rules for certain politicians don’t apply. That is what gets people annoyed. Rules for thee and not for me.
Sam, when it comes to a charity event, the IRS distinguishes between the actual value received and the intangible value. The ticket price is considered a “donation.” A guest making such a donation, would be able to deduct the amount above and beyond the tangible value of the event (the dinner, valet parking, or other benefits like entertainment, etc.). In other words, the IRS sees the tangible value of an event like that to be $500 or $600 if you were to purchase what you actually received. I run charitable events, and one example is a golf tournament. The ticket price to play in the tournament might be $1,000, and when we have politicians participate, even if they are a guest, they always pay the actual cost to play that course, plus the cost of anything they receive like a meal. It’s fair game to question motivations, but I’m fairly certain that AOC hasn’t violated any obvious rules.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks for the information. Are you saying that AOC ended up paying for her meal, drinks, goodie bag etc to circumvent the $35,000 gift?
If so, from a strategic business point of you, I would think it would be wise for businesses and individuals to gift politicians sporting event tickets, show tickets, gala tickets, etc to befriend them and help affect favorable policy decisions.
Imagine a politician, who is already focused on himself or herself, really loves more fame and attention. Would it be strategically wise to always invite them to the most publicized Events?
I studied Chinese business for a long time, and Many of the wealthiest business men and women would pay for politicians tickets, meals, and other entertainment events to get ahead. And it worked.
Yes, based upon my experience, AOC was likely invited to attend as a guest and she separately paid the event team a fee, of her own funds, that they had worked out for the fair market value of what she received. Just spit balling but it could be like: meal ($100), valet parking ($25), performance by a famous musician ($150, like an average ticket price to see such artist at a concert), etc., etc. So she probably wrote them a check for $500 or something like that. The donor who bought the big ticket to the event would also have that deduction on the tax receipt he or she receives, like “thank you for buying a $35,000 ticket, $34,500 is a deductible contribution…”
Yes, I very much think that charities have distinct strategies in who they invite to their events, particularly with politicians.
Financial Samurai says
Fascinating insight! And good loophole to exploit to find ways to cozy up and influence politicians. Thanks! Will include in my upcoming post.
I attended the online version of the Sohn Hearts and Minds Conference here in Australia last year. It cost AUD500 for a ticket. AUD460 or so was tax deductible as a charitable contribution for medical research (47% marginal tax rate applies to that). So the investment advice/entertainment was only worth about AUD 40. I think I could claim that as an investment expense :)
Robert J says
Given this incredible insight by one of your readers, I wonder if it’s worth rewriting this entire post. You tear into AOC repeatedly for violating ethics rules when she most likely followed them exactly given their current state. And no where other than these comments do you go into how unethical those rules might be. It’s likely that most politicians follow the rule of paying for the event, but you paint it as though they are receiving some egregious gift. You’re doing your message a disservice by erroneously going after specific people. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Financial Samurai says
For sure! Not only should we not hate the players or the game, we should figure out how to learn from the players and take advantage of the game to our benefit!
Check out this post on how to do just that. Reader feedback is so great.
And if ever you don’t feel like you’re getting your moneys worth Here, I will happily refund what you paid.
I don’t think it qualifies as a gift. It’s more like if you got invited to someone’s very expensive wedding as a +1. The question is WHO was the person that invited her as a +1. Seems like they say they invite elected officials as guests to the MET GALA regularly. That definitely feels like bribery, but they have ways of shielding themselves from the rules of us Plebs.
After Donald Trump, I think no one expects any ethics from politicians. Feel free to not allow this comment, given your obvious leanings.
As a self identified “bleeding heart liberal”, I think Sam does a pretty good job calling it like he sees it.
Time to stop talking about the prior president – not worth the effort.
This is like saying if you b*ng a sidepiece while wearing a condom, technically you are not touching her.
Don’t ever cite politifact.com again, please.
King Mastodon says
On top of this, another reason she was invited was because her district is in NYC, the city where the Met Gala is hosted. It has to do with NYC’s politicians’ responsibility to support the city’s arts (ostensibly, for the public, of course). Remember, the Met Gala is actually a fundraiser for the country’s largest art museum.
Just another reason why Congress’ ethics rules may be murkier/inapplicable here.
Source: AOC’s Twitter account. Tweeted 09/14/2021.
King Mastodon says
Oops, just saw that Sam put what I was referring to in his notes at the bottom of the post. My mistake.
John B says
Enjoy the blog. If $10M is the ideal retirement number whats your thoughts/approach on estate planning? Given the incoming attack on the gift exemption it seems clear anyone with that portfolio would need a strategy to pass on.
Financial Samurai says
Spend more of your money and give more of it away while living. You can always set up GRATs and other things to pass on your wealth more tax-efficiently. However, I think we should spend/give more while living overall. No use after we are dead.