One billion dollars in U.S. currency equals 1,000 million dollars. This large numerical value holds significant importance when discussing vast quantities. For example:
- The U.S. Census Bureau currently estimates the world population is almost 8 billion people — 7,868,872,451 to be exact.
- A recent McKinsey report notes that the world has never been wealthier than it is right now. Global net worth has more than tripled between 2000 and 2020, growing from $160 trillion in 2000 to $510 trillion in 2020.
- There are currently 2,668 billionaires around the world worth over $12.7 trillion. They include Elon Musk ($219 billion), Jeff Bezos ($171 billion), Mark Zuckerberg ($67.3 billion) and Rihanna ($1.7 billion), to name just a few.
Picturing values of a billion or trillion in the mind’s eye is challenging for most people because there is little visual reference to connect to each amount. To begin, it’s important to understand the difference between each number.
The Difference Between Million, Billion and Trillion
One billion is the equivalent of 1 million multiplied by 1,000 and is written as a one followed by nine zeroes:
1,000,000 x 1,000 = 1,000,000,000
1 million x 1,000 = 1 billion
Following that pattern, 1 trillion is equal to 1 billion multiplied by 1,000, which is represented by a one followed by twelve zeroes:
1,000,000,000 x 1,000 = 1,000,000,000,000
1 billion x 1,000 = 1 trillion
When dealing with such large numbers, many scientists, researchers, astronomers and others use a shorthand called scientific notation. Instead of writing out all of the zeroes each time, they will instead shorten 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) to 109. And 1 trillion would be shortened from 1,000,000,000,000 to 10 to the 12th power.
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Visualizing a Billion Dollars
To best comprehend the amount that $1 billion and other large numbers truly represent, it helps to break down the amount into smaller and more relatable amounts.
For example, if $1 billion was divided amongst the current total American population of 3.32 million, each individual would receive about $3.01. In contrast, if we split $1 trillion between the same population, each person would get approximately $3,008.
Here are several other relatable examples:
Another helpful method of understanding the value of a billion is to measure it in terms of time, specifically seconds. People experience their one billionth second at 31.71 years of age. In comparison, 1 million seconds of life occurs at 11.57 days. And a person would need to reach 31,710 years old to have lived for 1 trillion seconds.
In 2020, one TikTok star used grains of rice to illustrate the differences in large dollar amounts, with one grain representing $100,000. His piles of rice grew from a single grain to 10 grains for a million and then 10,000 grains to show $1 billion. He took it a step further by purchasing enough rice to represent Jeff Bezos’ estimated net worth at the time, $122 billion (now estimated at $171 billion). That massive sum amounted to 58 pounds of rice.
As a Very Long Walk
Approximating the average person’s footstep at a 2-foot stride, then a 1 billion-step journey around the planet would be the equivalent of 2 billion feet walked. Because 1 mile equals 5,280 feet, when 2 billion feet is divided by 5,280 feet per mile, the result reveals 378,787.88 total miles traveled. Dividing that result of 378,787.88 miles by 24,792.5 miles, the distance around the equator, illustrates the 15.28 trips around the earth’s equator necessary to complete a 1 billion-step walk. The equations would look like this:
2,000,000,000 ft. / 5,280 ft. per mile = 378,787.88 total miles
378,787.88 miles / 24,792.5 miles = 15.28 times around the equator
Why Picturing $1B is Challenging
Mathematician Spencer Greenberg provides some insight into why human brains struggle to comprehend large quantities such as a billion. He explained to Gizmodo:
“We can easily visualize five things. We can even roughly visualize approximately 100 things — by, say, picturing a large crowd gathered. But when we’re talking about millions of things our ability to visualize completely fails.”
He goes on to note that, based on visual experience, people develop an intuition across their lifetime to “feel” that 10 is much bigger than one and that 100 is a drastic increase over 10. But, because people do not receive visual references to connect to large values, they never develop the same “feeling” about a billion versus a trillion.
Greenberg recommends converting large numbers to alternate units of measurement to reduce the numbers to more comprehensible amounts, such as the examples above.
1 Billion in the U.S. vs. the U.K.
Historically, there has been some confusion about the definition of “billion” used in the United States and the United Kingdom. Until 1974, the U.K. followed the original definition of the word developed in the 16th century, identifying the term 1 billion equal to 1 million million, or 1,000,000,000,000. This is known as long scale.
During the following centuries, French mathematicians changed the usage of the term to represent 1,000 million, or 1,000,000,000. This is known as short scale. The United States adopted this usage in the 19th century.
Although the U.K. and most English-speaking countries now use the short scale version of a billion, France actually reverted back to the original long scale usage in 1948. Many European countries continue to use this format to this day.
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How Long Would It Take To Save $1B for Retirement?
Retirement statistics show that the median total household retirement savings among the American workforce is approximately $93,000. And 44% of retirees admit they regret not investing sooner in their retirement, according to our Annuity.org Money Mistakes survey. Mapping out timely strategies for saving is an important step in planning for retirement, and an absolute requirement if a person hopes to achieve a billion-dollar retirement.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current median family income in the United States is $67,521. Assuming that every penny of their salary was deposited directly into savings and remained untouched, these families would still have a long wait. By dividing $1 billion by the average U.S. annual income, the results show that it would take most Americans about 14,810.21 years to earn $1 billion.
If a person plans to follow a simple savings plan to accumulate $1 billion, they will also need to be very patient. Theoretically, if they put $100 per day into savings (without interest factored in) for 10 million days, they would achieve their goal. But when 10,000,000 days is translated into years, it reveals that it would take them 27,397.26 years to reach a billion dollars. Or, if they were able to save $100,000 per year, it would still take 10,000 years to reach their targeted amount.
For those who achieve a million dollars in retirement savings, compound interest can be an important asset in increasing the upward trajectory of your bank balance toward the billion-dollar mark. Compound interest is the interest earned on interest, meaning that people make money the longer their money sits in their account. And the longer it stays there, the faster the account total will increase because the rate of return is applied to both the original investment and to the interest the investment has earned to date. Thus, the earlier someone begins investing in savings, the greater the opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of compounding interest.
When interest earned is compounded on accounts with a balance in the millions or billions, the return on investment exponentially rises when the account holder’s annual expenses grow at a slower rate. So if a billionaire has a 10% interest rate, they would need to have annual expenses of $100 million in order to not make a profit from the interest. Dollar amounts of this level can be hard to consistently spend, thus people with extreme levels of wealth see their assets consistently increase in value.
Via Real Estate Investments
McKinsey’s report on global wealth notes that real estate accounts for two-thirds of the net worth of the world’s wealthiest people, largely thanks to these investments offering decent economic returns and lasting value to investors.
Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is the second wealthiest woman in the world, with current estimated assets totaling $65.3 billion. She believes that investments such as real estate should grow her assets, not simply protect them.
If a billionaire is looking to purchase a single property to invest in, the first-ever billion-dollar private residence known as Antilia should be considered. Completed in 2010 and located in Mumbai, India, it is the home to business magnate Mukesh Ambani and is now valued at almost $2 billion. The 400,000-square-foot building has 27 floors, six of which are dedicated only to car parking.
Via Lottery Winnings
A 2019 survey revealed that nearly 25% of the millennials surveyed said they are basing their retirement plans on winning the lottery. This strategy is risky because the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338. Those odds decline even further when the goal is to become a lottery billionaire, considering lottery prizes over the $1 billion mark have only been awarded three times in the United States.
Three lucky winners split a $1.58 billion jackpot in 2016. They were spread across the country, residing in California, Florida and Tennessee. Each ticket was worth $528.8 million. All winners have the option of taking their lottery prize payouts in either an annuity that doles out funds over many years or in one lump-sum payment.
By taking the time to properly plan for savings, investments and retirement, growing your personal wealth is achievable. It may not reach the billion-dollar mark, but it should allow opportunities for creating a comfortable life and fulfilling some bucket list ideas. A qualified financial advisor can help strategize and answer any questions.