Anthony Bourdain Didn’t Have A Savings Account Until Age 44 And Here’s His Advice

We could all learn a few financial lessons from the celebrity chef.

2005 TCA Tour Day 5 - NCTA
Getty Images | Frederick M. Brown

If you only know Anthony Bourdain as a top chef who jets to exotic destinations to eat with locals, think again. He’s also a great example of a guy who started saving money really late in life. He was 44 years old, in fact, before he had a savings account.

He was in debt for decades as he jumped from kitchen job to kitchen job to become the celebrity chef he is now. He went to cooking school rather than college and spent tons of money, by his own admission, on marijuana.

After his book “Kitchen Confidential” came out, Bourdain decided to leave the restaurant business to focus on his professional writing and television career. He says that is when he really started thinking about saving money:

In very short order, I contacted the IRS and I paid what I owed. I paid American Express. Since that time, I am fanatical about not owing anybody any money. I hate it. I don’t want to carry a balance, ever. I have a mortgage, but I despise the idea. That was my biggest objection to buying property, though I wasn’t in the position to pay cash.

Now, Bourdain has become wealthy beyond most folks’ wildest dreams. Maybe the rest of us can learn from his financial journey. The advice Bourdain began to follow in midlife can be followed by anyone (even if we don’t end up as super successful celebrities!). 

ANTHONY BOURDAIN photo
Getty Images | Jason Kempin

Pay Off Your Debt

Bourdain racked up thousands of dollars in debt living a carefree and drug-fueled lifestyle. Think his finances took off once he had TV shows and books to match? No. When “Kitchen Confidential” was published, he was “seriously behind” on rent. Getting debt under control helps to build wealthjust as much as bringing in more money.

File Your Taxes On Time

When Bourdain became more financially conscious, he hadn’t paid the government any taxes in a decade. Needless to say, back taxes (plus penalties and interest) will add up to a hefty sum. And, Bourdain points out that paying taxes is a citizen’s duty.

“Nobody likes paying high taxes, but I don’t mind,” Bourdain told Wealthsimple. “Maybe that’s a luxury, but I don’t need to hire some hotshot to spend 12 hours a day figuring out how to chisel the government out of an extra few thousand dollars.”

Get Health Insurance

Bourdain is middle-aged, but has only had health insurance for the past 16 years. Before that, he relied on a clinic often used by restaurant workers, which was not really sufficient. If he’d had a serious illness, he could have plunged into debt. Having health insurance could allow you to save money you’d otherwise funnel into hefty hospital bills.

It of these changes add up to Bourdain feeling much safer and more secure with a better financial plan in place. In part, he fueled this by leaving restaurant work for TV and books. But, he’s also proof positive that anyone can change their money habits at any time and turn their financial life around.

“Money doesn’t particularly excite or thrill me; the making of money gives me no particular satisfaction,” Bourdain said to Wealthsimple. “To me, money is freedom from insecurity, freedom to move, time if you choose to make use of time.”

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