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This is quite tricky to figure out, and I am not looking for a specific number, but for a approximation.

As you know, Charlie (nearly) always had a lot of money to spend, but a few hints suggest that he actually did not have money at all (talking about absolute, not cash flow)

  • he went bancrupt after a few months without income
  • he told Alan that there is no money, and everything just a house of cards
  • he worries about Bertha giving away a few clothes
  • he has three mortgages on his house
  • when he died, there was no inheritage to Alan or anyone, and they had to sell the house
  • ...

However, considering the lifestyle and spendings, Charlie must have had a substantial amount available.

  • driving the latest foreign expensive cars
  • owning a malibu beachhouse
  • paying the property tax for said house
  • discussing retirement at 45
  • spending endless money on booze, betting and women
  • ...

So all things considered, did he have money, or was he just a scam?

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2  
I'd say the former points are caused by the latter points, i.e. he spent all his money into luxuries and thus didn't have much of it left, always living on the edge. –  Napoleon Wilson Mar 13 at 14:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Great question!

Somebody tried to calculate this over at Yahoo Voices. This was their awesome synopsis:

How does Charlie afford this luxurious lifestyle? A quick look at the MLS in Malibu reveals that even after the recent housing downturn, Malibu beach houses cost anywhere from $1 million to $6 million or more. A million dollar mortgage at 6% for 30 years equals a $6000 monthly payment, give or take. Charlie's sports cars set him back a pretty penny, too - $200,000 is a conservative estimate. Daily housekeeping services probably run $500 a week. As for the liquor and ladies, who knows? Though Charlie always has cash on hand, I bet credit cards (and credit card debt) come into play somewhere along the line.

Charlie has had quite a bit of success as a freelance jingle writer, and when he "ran out of money" in one episode, he began writing children's songs, which was supposedly a very lucrative venture. However, even successful jingle writers don't make that kind of money - for instance, JinglePeople (a freelance jingle company) is offering $45 an hour for jingle writers - not chump change, but not enough to buy a sports car and a Malibu beach home, either. Charlie must be racking up credit card debt in a big way!

Although Charlie hasn't worked a 40 hour week in his life, let's give him the benefit of the doubt: a 40 hour week at $45 an hour is about $93,000 a year, or $7800 a month. After taxes, that's about $5000 a month. That means that Charlie's home alone costs him more than he's bringing in. Add a $4000 monthly car payment, and Charlie is $5000 underwater every month. He better have an excellent rewards credit card with an extremely high limit!

Unfortunately, credit cards alone would never support Charlie's lifestyle. Here's hoping the children's songwriting business pays a LOT better than the jingle company!

Based on that information, I call scam!

Edit

Based on the (wonderful!) discussion below this answer about the types of money jingle writers earned, I've done some basic googling myself. This article details some of the factors involved in determining a jingle writer's pay. It finishes by stating:

If commercials aren’t using original jingles or scores, they’re licensing previously released material. On average, a songwriter can earn $5,000 to $10,000 for a low-budget commercial, $10,000 to $175,000 for a medium-budget commercial and $100,000 to $250,000 for a high-budget commercial. For well-known songs, the rates can exceed $1 million.

Charlie certainly didn't have a well-known song, just a very good set of jingles. Therefore it's plausible he could have earned up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars - but it's still a stretch considering his lifestyle and house.

I'm sticking with scam for now! (Especially since it explains why he faked his own death to appear, changed his identity and popped up again debt free on Anger Management :)

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1  
It's FICTION, people. Charlie doesn't exist in real life, neither do his mother, brother, or anyone else on the show. FICTION rules apply, not real-life economic rules. Suspension of disbelief is a given when reading or viewing FICTION. –  wbogacz Mar 13 at 14:34
5  
@wbogacz: It doesn't mean you can't have some fun with it though :) Have you never read the endless comic threads discussing who was richer - Batman or Iron Man?! –  Andrew Martin Mar 13 at 14:37
    
@wbogacz ... yes we can always, for anything on here, say, "It's in the script ...", but sometimes, just sometimes ... –  Paulster2 Mar 13 at 14:43
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@wbogacz Haha, you never were on Science Fiction & Fantasy, no? The problem here would rather be the question and not the answer that takes it serious. But I still appreciate your viewpoint, as well as a "we're not supposed to ask, since Charlie is just supposed to look wasteful with his finances"-answer if you would write one. –  Napoleon Wilson Mar 13 at 15:13
4  
Songwriting can be very profitable. If Charlie wrote the Club Med "Hands Up" song or the Coke "I'd Like to teach the world to sing" song, Both of which started out as jingles, he could have made a lot of money on royalties. It's plausible that he sold his interest for fast cash (a very Charlie thing to do) and burned through it. –  Chris Cudmore Mar 13 at 16:40

The series sort of implied he was past his glory days. During the show, he'd be writing jingles for health products, animes, and other medium to high budget ventures. In passing though it'd be mentioned he wrote jingles for Pepsi and big credit card companies. This would probably make him millions and for all we know he might have written jingles for other major brands.

Assuming that the beach house was his only mutlimillion dollar expense, the guy could have possibly be living off his millions to keep his debts in check and use the money from recent, less lucrative jingles (six figures instead of seven) to pay for the liquor, women, and frequent trips.

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