Want to live like an old millionaire? That'll be £85.6m

Once upon a time you could buy a castle, live it up, and still have change from £1m. Not any more
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The Independent Online

Being a millionaire is not what it used to be, according to research which shows the spending power of this sum has been eroded by inflation to a fraction of what it was 100 years ago.

A millionaire living in 1907 Britain would need nearly £86m today to enjoy the same standard of living. Edward Warren, a rich art patron of the early 1900s who was known as the mad millionaire, commissioned Rodin's masterpiece The Kiss for £1,000 before storing the sculpture in a barn in his Lewes mansion for 30 years.

But £1,000 is just a few minutes' shopping in Prada for Victoria Beckham who, with her husband David, is the equivalent of a 1907 millionaire with a personal fortune of £87m.

At Christmas in 2005, Mrs Beckham gave her husband a £200,000 Rolls Royce Phantom, while he gave her a diamond and ruby necklace worth £1.2m.

A net worth of £11,700 in pre-First World War Britain would have been enough to fund a modern-day millionaire's lifestyle. But in today's money, a buyer would be lucky to get change from a new Ford Fiesta hatchback with this sum.

Looking back over the past 50 years, an individual sitting on a fortune of £17.2m today would have the same spending power as a millionaire in 1957. Joseph Littman, the millionaire clothing retailer of the 1950s who was the Sir Philip Green of his day, would have had little reason to envy the opulent lifestyle of Michael Ballack, a Chelsea midfielder with a fortune of £18m.

The financial services company Clerical Medical, which based its research on inflation figures from the Office of National Statistics, said that even the relatively low inflation of the past 10 years has had a marked effect on the value of money.

It said £1.3m today would give someone the same purchasing power as £1m in 1997, when Tony Blair swept to office.

The research predicted that the value of £1m would drop by two-thirds in real terms over the next 50 years even if inflation rose in line with the Government's target of 2 per cent a year. "There is no doubt that £1m is still a lot of money, although inflation has substantially eroded its purchasing power over the past 100 years," said Rob Devey, managing director of Clerical Medical.

"The value of £1m will be reduced significantly further over the next 50 years, even if inflation is kept firmly under control. While £1m is no longer enough to fund a lavish lifestyle, it can still go a long way with careful financial planning."

And like Edward Warren, lottery winner Mikey Carroll is proof that money cannot buy wisdom. Despite winning £9.7m on the lottery, the former binman devoted his new wealth to buying a fleet of high-spec cars, sleeping with, he claims, 1,000 women, and, allegedly, spending £1m on drugs.

He even managed to get himself sentenced to nine months in prison for running riot with a baseball bat at a Christian rock concert.

Additional reporting by Ciaran Prendevill