How to marry a billionaire? Start with Forbes list

To even make the magazine's annual survey of richest Americans this year, you had to have at least $1 billion.

Who wants to be a millionaire? Not the wealthiest folks in the U.S., that's for sure.

Nowadays, it takes a minimum of $1 billion to make Forbes 400 Richest Americans list, according to the magazine's yearly survey, published this week.

Everyone on the list now is a billionaire compared with 374 in 2005, 313 in 2004 and 262 in 2003 . Forbes estimates their collective net worth at $1.25 trillion, a $120 billion increase from 2005.

The titans of tech are all still there. Bill Gates (No. 1, $53 billion) remains the wealthiest American for the 13th year in a row. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (No. 5, $16 billion), Oracle's Larry Ellison (No. 4, $19.5 billion), and Michael Dell (No. 9, $15.5 billion) are still in the top 10. Google team Sergey Brin (No. 12, $14.1 billion) and Larry Page (No. 13, at 14.0 billion), both 33, are the youngest American billionaires, according to Forbes. Others making a showing are Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (No. 15, $13.6 billion), eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (No. 32, $7.7 billion), Apple Computer's Steve Jobs (No. 49, $4.9 billion), Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos (No. 70, $3.6 billion), Mark Cuban (No. 133, $2.3 billion), and Yahoo's Jerry Yang (No. 140, $2.2 billion) and David Filo (No. 117, $2.5 billion).

The rate at which some people are making their money has also grown.

Sheldon Adelson (No. 3), who makes his money off casinos, jumped $9 billion in net worth to $20.5 billion. The gain is partly attributed to him taking his Las Vegas Sands public. According to Forbes' calculations, should Sheldon continue at this pace, he will surpass Gates by 2012. id="6087682">Warren Buffett (No. 2, $46 billion), while his close second ranking to philanthropy partner Gates stayed the same, also had a $6 billion jump in fortune.

In an amazing concentration of the country's wealth, not one but seven Waltons of Wal-Mart fame made it onto the list this year, five of them in the top 11. Collectively, those Waltons are worth $82.5 billion.

Nevertheless, it's not all binary code and chips, or even energy and finance. People have to eat something while driving or staring at those computer screens all day. There is a lot of money in American favorites like coffee, salsa, pizza, cheese, candy and chewing gum.

Food billionaires include: William Wrigley Jr. (No. 215, $1.6 billion); James Leprino (No. 242, $1.5 billion), who sells mozzarella to several chain restaurants; three Mars family members, who tied for No. 21 at $10.5 billion each; and Christopher Goldsbury (No. 278, $1.4 billion), who recently sold Pace Salsa to Campbell's Soup. Returning to the list is Little Caesar's pizza founder Michael Ilitch (tied at No. 242, $1.5 billion), and debuting this year at No. 354 is Starbucks tycoon Howard Schultz ($1.1 billion).

One notable team no longer on the 400 are married bankers Marion and Herbert Sandler, who were gracefully booted as a result of giving away more than $1 billion to charity, according to Forbes.

So what do all these fancy billionaires drive?

Alas, there is not a Bugatti Veyron or Koenigsegg CCX in sight, according to Forbes' list of some cars driven by the 400. In the Microsoft parking lot, you might see Gates' 1988 Porsche 959 Coupe or Porsche 911, Ballmer's 1998 Lincoln Continental (a showing of his proud Detroit roots), or Allen's 1988 Mazda pickup. (Allen keeps his 1988 Porsche 959 in Europe.) If you bought your kid a desktop in the last couple of years, you may have helped pay for Dell's 2004 Porsche Boxster and an H2 Hummer (notably not the H1). Ellison drives a Bentley.

But many of the wealthiest Americans don't use their cars to flaunt their status or fulfill a need for speed. Also on Forbes' list were a BMW, an SUV, a station wagon and several Mercedes sedans.

One interesting bit of humor is the fact that some of the purchases by these billionaires followed conventional cliches of car ownership for their generation to the letter.

Sneaker billionaires Sergey Brin and Larry Page each own an environmentally responsible Toyota Prius and have jointly invested in id="6096355">the electronic Tesla Roadster. A Mercedes-Benz E320 station wagon is owned by middle-aged mother of two Abigail Johnson (No. 16, $13 billion), the Fidelity Investments heiress. The grandfatherly Warren Buffett owns--what else?--a Cadillac. He bought it after auctioning off his Lincoln Town Car on eBay in August.

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About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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