By Lou Carlozo
CHICAGO, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Ask Macy Gray about her net worth, and the Grammy-winning R&B singer and songwriter is not sure - though she is perfectly willing to help out with a little online research. She stops the interview to trawl celebritynetworth.com, where she plugs her name into a search engine and pulls up a number. A very large number.
"Wow!" exclaims Gray, 45, an Ohio native who calls Los Angeles home. "It says here I'm worth $38 million. But I don't know where they got that figure from, because I don't even know how to figure that out. But if it's right, I'd go cash that in right now and go shopping."
Gray debuted with the multiplatinum album "Oh How Life Is" in 1999, and musical stardom also translated into movie appearances in "Spider-Man" and "For Colored Girls." But her life as a star has not been perfect. Gray has weathered heartbreak (her husband, Tracy Hinds, left while she was pregnant with their third child, and substance abuse problems came to a head around the time she released 2003's "The Trouble With Being Myself.")
Gray says the partying years are behind her, though she loves gambling and played on the Bravo cable network's "Celebrity Poker Showdown" in 2006, capturing third place in her tournament.
While Gray takes to games of chance for fun, she is frank about her lack of prowess at picking stocks. Gray has learned what works for her financially, and sticks with it. She is a saver, and likes to put money aside so that it is not accessible to her.
With her new album, a reinterpretation of Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book," due Oct. 30, Gray took time out to discuss the fine points of her financial life.
Q: How do you invest your funds?
A: I was never good at the whole stock thing so I quit a long time ago - before the crash. The thing that I did, and worked out well for me, is that my money goes straight to an account that I can't get to, unless emergency situations come up.
Q: How about investments in other areas of your life, like real estate?
A: I own three properties in Canton, Ohio, because that's where I'm from: one commercial property and two homes. I also have some money in jewelry; I have a lot of jewelry.
Q: You have three kids. How do you set aside money for them?
A: Since the beginning, I've given a percentage into my kids' accounts - just like I pay my manager or my agent. It's not so much a trust fund as a money market account. They've been accumulating money for a long time, and it's set up so I can't get at it. They actually have a lot more money than I do! My daughter just went to college in the fall, and all that was paid for through that account. My kids get so much when they are 18, and so much when they are 21. My accountant set it up very nicely. My kids get more money if they stay in school, so that's good too.
Q: Where do you like to give back?
A: My biggest thing is that I like to help the troops. I'm very passionate about that, about helping wounded soldiers and their families. There's a huge military charity called Operation Homefront. I also do visits to hospitals and I donate money to families, who, if their sons are in the hospital, the parents have to leave work to care for them, and that just kills them financially. I do a lot of benefits, and say yes as much as I can.
Q: Which expenses pose the biggest challenge for you?
A: Hmmm. Everything. I have a personal assistant and housekeepers; I have a band, a manager, agents and a PR person. And my kids have tutors. It's crazy. My expenses are pretty big: We travel a lot, my daughter's in college, and I'm not that great with money. But I have a business manager and I've been working with him since 2008. He takes care of all the bills. He also takes care of the taxes.
Q: Being an entertainer has put a lot of money at your disposal. What are the most important lessons you've learned?
A: I know a lot of people are able to make really good investments, but I'm not the kind of "money person" who knows how to do that. I've had people help me out, but that really didn't work, either. Investing is definitely an art, like anything else. It's an art to make money, and an art to make it grow bigger and bigger. So I save. I've let my money build up, and it's accumulated into a lot over a period of time. And that's really cool.
Also on HuffPost:
10. Michael Bloomberg - $25 billion UP
Source: Bloomberg LP Age: 70 Residence: New York City New York City's mayor has been working to enact as much change as he can in his adopted hometown during his final term. A ban he proposed on super-sized sugary drinks will take effect in March, and he was vocal in his support of the state's Marriage Equality Act, passed in 2011. He's renewed his call for stricter gun control in the wake of July's movie theater shootings in Colorado. Over the years, he's given away $2.8 billion. In 2011, he donated $330 million to groups including the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Arts and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. At his financial data and media firm, Bloomberg LP, sales popped an estimated 20% in 2011 to $7.6 billion.
9. S. Robson Walton - $26.1 billion UP
Source: Wal-Mart Age: 68 Residence: Bentonville, AK Wal-Mart heir S. Robson Walton has served as chairman of the board for the massive retailer since 1992. Rob is the eldest son of visionary retailer Sam, a former clerk who opened his first store with help from his brother James in 1962 in Rogers, Ark. Today, Wal-Mart has sales of $444 billion and employs 2.2 million people worldwide. Since last year, Rob received more than $420 million in dividends after taxes, and the stock is up 36%--boosting his net worth by $5.6 billion. Before joining Wal-Mart, he was a partner with the law firm of Conner & Winters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rob and his siblings have donated about $2 billion to the Walton Family Foundation over the last five years.
8. Alice Walton - $26.3 Billion UP
Source: Wal-Mart Age: 62 Residence: Fort Worth, TX Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton opened her ambitious Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in November 2011. The museum, which seeks to bring a world-class art experience to Bentonville, Ark., includes works she has donated herself (with a personal collection valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.) Alice and her siblings have also donated about $2 billion to the Walton Family Foundation over the last five years. Daughter of retail visionary Sam, Alice graduated from Trinity College in San Antonio, Tex., and now runs a horse ranch in central Texas. Since last year, she received more than $420 million in dividends after taxes, and the stock is up 36%--boosting her net worth by $5.4 billion.
7. Jim Walton - $26.8 Billion UP
Source: Wal-Mart Age: 64 Residence: Bentonville, ARK Wal-Mart heir Jim Walton is the youngest son of retail visionary Sam (d. 1992), who founded the massive retailer with his brother James, opening a single store in Rogers, Ark. in 1962. Wal-Mart now has sales of $444 billion and employs 2.2 million people worldwide. Since last year, Jim received more than $430 million in dividends after taxes, and the stock is up 36%--boosting his net worth by $5.7 billion. He and his siblings have given about $2 billion to the Walton Family Foundation over the last five years. Jim is also the CEO of his family's Arvest Bank, which has branches in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. He gave $100,000 to the Super PAC for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
6. Christy Walton & Family - $27.9 Billion UP
Source: Wal-Mart Age: 57 Residence: Jackson, Wyoming Wal-Mart widow Christy Walton is the richest woman in the United States once again. She inherited her wealth when husband John Walton, a former Green Beret and Vietnam War medic, died in an airplane crash in 2005. John's investment in First Solar had boosted Christy's net worth well above the rest of her family, but the stock tanked in 2012, closing her lead to just $1.1 billion (down from $3.4 billion last year) over brother-in-law Jim. The rest of her holdings are in Wal-Mart, the massive retailer founded by her father-in-law Sam Walton and his brother James in 1962. Wal-Mart's shares are up more than a third since last year, pushing Christy's net worth up by $3.4 billion.
5. David Koch - $31 Billion UP
Source: Diversified Age: 72 Residence: New York City Manhattan's richest resident David Koch is full of surprises: The New York delegate at the Republican National Convention told Politico that week that he believes in gay marriage and in raising taxes to pay down the federal debt. Earlier in the year, he and his brother Charles had sued the conservative Cato Institute, which they helped found in 1977, over issues of control; the parties later settled. Despite any drama, Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the U.S. with interests in pipelines, refineries, fertilizer and consumer products like Brawny paper towel and Dixie cups, continues to generate rich cash flow and pay down debt. David, who is executive vice president, is worth $6 billion more this year thanks to an increase in the company's value. A prostate cancer survivor, he says his biggest philanthropic contributions so far go toward a "moon shot" campaign to finding a cure for cancer, to which he's donated more than $200 million.
4. Charles Koch - $31 Billion UP
Source: Diversified Age: 76 Residence: Wichita, Kansas The head of the nation's second biggest private company, $115 billion (sales) Koch Industries, Charles Koch continues to pay down debt and generate rich cash flow. By Forbes' estimates the Wichita, Kansas company, with interests in chemicals, refining and Georgia Pacific, which makes Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups, is now worth $75 billion, pushing up Koch's own net worth by $6 billion in the past year. A well-known libertarian, he gives $40 million plus a year to his foundation, which gives grants to colleges and universities to study "market-based tools that enable individuals, institutions and societies to prosper." He also helped found the Cato Institute, which he sued last year but the parties settled, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, both bastions of free-market and libertarian scholarship. And he's busy funding groups designed to raise a new generation of free-market entrepreneurs, including Youth Entrepreneurs Kansas, which teaches entrepreneurship to about 1,000 high school students each year; and the Bill of Rights Institute, which runs programs to educate teachers and students on the importance of the Constitution in "securing our liberty as Americans."
3. Larry Ellison - $41 Billion UP
Source: Oracle Age: 68 Residence: Woodside, Calif. Despite ongoing legal battles with such rivals as SAP, HP and Google, shares of Oracle, the software firm Ellison has run for 35 years, were up 20% in the past 12 months. He was the year's biggest dollar gainer, adding $8 billion to his net worth. He spent a reported $500 million to buy 98% of Hawaiian island of Lanai from David Murdock in June. His other passion, yachting, is making its mark on San Francisco as anticipation builds for the 2013 America's Cup. Ellison, who signed on to the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge in 2010, has thus far donated $445 million, mostly via Oracle stock, to his Ellison Medical Foundation, which supports research on aging and age-related diseases. His latest gift to the foundation was 1.6 million shares of Oracle--worth $45 million--in April.
2. Warren Buffett - $46 Billion UP
Source: Berkshire Hathaway Age: 82 Residence: Omaha Buffett recently completed radiation treatment for prostate cancer, five months after he notified Berkshire Hathaway shareholders of his condition, assuring them that it was "not remotely life-threatening." Still, he has gotten his house in order. In December, he chose his farmer son, Howard, as the future non- executive chairman and "guardian of the firm's values." In February, he said he'd picked his CEO replacement but has declined to give a name. He's also stepping up philanthropically. He gave $1.5 billion to the Gates Foundation in July, bringing his total giving to $17.25 billion. On his birthday in August, he pledged $3 billion of stock to his children's foundations. His fortune is up $7 billion as class A shares jumped more than 20% since last year. After studying under Benjamin Graham at Columbia Business School, Buffett offered to work for his former professor's investment partnership, Graham-Newman Corporation, for free. According to Buffett, "he turned me down as overvalued." It was only after several years of "pestering" that the father of value investing agreed to take on the younger man in 1954. When Graham retired two years later, Buffett returned to Nebraska to launch his own partnership. In 1962, Buffett began buying up shares of a struggling textile company called Berkshire Hathaway. Though Buffett has called Berkshire "the dumbest stock" he ever bought, the firm has long since shed its textile assets and today serves as Buffett's famed investment vehicle. In May, Berkshire snapped up dozens of local newspapers from Media General after announcing a deal for the Omaha World-Herald in November 2011.
1. Bill Gates - $66 Billion UP
Source: Microsoft Age: 56 Residence: Medina, Washington The planet's most generous person --he's given away $28 billion so far -- has a new obsession: building a better toilet for those without water or sewage systems. Every year 1.5 million children die from food and water tainted with fecal matter, more than the annual deaths from AIDS and malaria combined. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also spearheading a malaria vaccine that is showing promise in clinical trials. Gates' net worth climbed $7 billion since last year on the strength of Microsoft shares, which rose 20%, and on gains from investments in private equity, bonds and stocks such as hygiene tech firm Ecolab and Mexican TV broadcaster Televisa. He continues to sell shares of Microsoft--he shed 80 million in the past year, about 15% of his stake--so that now just one-fifth of his net worth stems from the software company he cofounded 37 years ago. Gates and his good friend Warren Buffett continue to recruit new members to their Giving Pledge--so far 91 people, including 10 new signatories, have taken the pledge to donate at least half of their fortune to charity, in life or death.