Trump Is President, and It’s a Much More Expensive Job Than You’d Think

Donald Trump
Being president can be surprisingly expensive. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Hillary Clinton once said she and Bill were “dead broke” upon leaving the White House.
  • The president and family are actually on the hook for a number of expenses while in office.
  • Though the job can be financially draining, there are ways to make up for it.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House, they were broke. At least that’s what Hillary Clinton had to say about the couples’ financial situation. That obviously didn’t sit well with a lot of people. The Clintons, now worth tens of millions, are insanely wealthy. So how could Hillary Clinton pretend she and her husband were “broke” after leaving the White House in 2000? It just doesn’t add up.
But Hillary Clinton has stuck by her claim. Though she said she regrets saying it, she does say it was accurate. How can that be? Presidents are paid a hefty salary, after all. Where can all of that money go? As it turns out, being the president and living in the White House can actually be a huge expense.
Donald Trump is coming at the presidency from an entirely different angle. He was already wealthy, having made gobs of money as a businessman in New York. We don’t know how much, though, because we don’t have his tax returns. But in a rather stunning about-face from previous presidents, Trump seems to actually be profiting from the post, rather than losing money.
Still, Trump is incurring some expenses, even if his profits and revenue streams are outpacing those expenses. He still has to pay for certain things as president, just like all of his predecessors. What costs does a sitting president incur? And how could someone like the Clintons leave the White House without any money? It all starts with the biggest (and often overlooked) expense: what you give up to take the job.

1. Opportunity costs

Kushner and Trump
He gave up control of his company. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • One of the least understood economic terms, opportunity costs are what you give up in order to pursue another option.¬†

In this case, Trump is giving up his salary at his own company to serve in the White House. For Barack Obama, it meant giving up the salary at whatever pursuit he would have chosen instead — perhaps as a college professor or lawyer. For Bill Clinton, going into politics likely meant giving up an attorney’s salary, which can add up. In Trump’s case, again, we aren’t really sure how much he’s giving up. But considering what he claims he’s worth, his presidential salary is probably less than what he was making before taking office.
Next: Now, for the itemized expenses — including stocking the White House’s pantry

2. Food

Trump eating a porkchop
Presidents have to pay for food. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Grocery bills can add up at the White House.

Presidents have to pay for their own food at the White House. Yes, even the leader of the free world can’t escape a grocery bill, as surprising as that may be. But as former first lady Laura Bush wrote in her book Spoken from the Heart, “It is more than fair that they pay for personal items like every American household,” in reference to first families. An itemized bill is delivered to the family every month by the White House’s usher’s office and is then paid by the president to the U.S. government.
Next: Food is one expense. Entertainment is another.

3. White House entertainment

U.S. first lady Melania Trump listens to a toast by her husband President Donald Trump
A lot of the White House parties come out of their own pockets. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Is Netflix on the House?

One way to make your food budget swell? Have a party, especially a party in which everyone in attendance is a celebrity, politician, or foreign dignitary — all of whom will expect you to spare no expense on food and drinks. Yes, the president has to foot the bill for parties at the White House, too. According to a report from The Guardian, Barack Obama received $19,000 from Congress to pay for official receptions. But anything above and beyond that? It was on his dime. And as you can imagine, a party at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. makes that $19,000 look puny.
Next: Keeping up with the latest fashion trends can also break the bank.

4. Style expenses

Trump family
Designer clothes cost a pretty penny. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
  • “I was amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy, like the women before me, to meet the fashion expectations for a first lady,” Laura Bush said in Spoken from the Heart.

Anyone who has had to go out and buy a suit knows it can be surprisingly expensive. Most women can also tell you that keeping up with the latest trends and styles can eat up your budget. And when you’re living in the White House, it’s something that’s expected of you. Just three of Michelle Obama’s gowns, according to the New York Daily News, cost more than $15,000. Now, assume you need new gowns every week.
It can be an insane and unanticipated expense. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who wore a $12,500 jacket during a 2016 campaign stop (no, nobody forced her to) and Sarah Palin, who during the 2008 campaign spent $165,000 over three months on clothes and stylists.
Next: If you get into legal trouble while serving as president, God help you.

5. Legal fees

President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference
Donald Trump has his own share of attorney bills. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • It took the Clintons four years to pay off their legal fees after leaving the White House.

Not every president is going to incur legal fees while in office. But some — such as the Trumps and Clintons — did or will come out with some serious attorney bills. According to CBS News, the Clintons’ total legal bills came up to around $3.5 million for the defense involving the Monica Lewinsky scandal, though the government did chip in a little bit. As for Trump? His expenses are just starting to add up, though he has reportedly been using Republican National Committee and campaign funds to pay for his attorneys.
Next: How first families recoup those costs and go on to lead rich lives

Recouping the costs: Presidential pensions

Barack Obama and George W. Bush
The pensions vary among presidents. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Pensions vary, with Barack Obama set to earn a little more than $200,000 in 2017.

When it comes to earning some of that money back, where does a first family start? It usually kicks off with a presidential pension and some transition funds from the government. These pensions and funds vary from president to president, with Barack Obama being allotted a bit more than $200,000 for his first year out of office. This is the same amount other presidents at the Executive Level I pay strata receive — and that includes Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter.
Next: Where the real money comes from after leaving the White House

Post-presidency earnings

Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama will be making a lot more than his typical presidential pension. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
  • Barack Obama signed a book deal worth more than $65 million soon after handing the reins to Donald Trump.

The real money comes from divulging all the juicy secrets from a president’s time in office. That usually comes in the form of book deals and speaking fees, which can net tens of millions of dollars. In the case of Barack Obama, a $65 million book deal was one of the first orders of business for him and Michelle Obama. He also has been raking in very big speaking fees — typically around $400,000 per appearance. But even that pales in comparison to what the Clintons have brought in over the years, which tallies up to $153 million in 15 years.
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