14 Ways to Spend $1 Trillion

The latest estimate says the government will spend $1.5 trillion more than it takes in this year. Imagine what that means in terms we can all understand.

Think last year produced a tsunami of red ink for the federal government? Well, a $1.3 trillion deficit is nothing to sneeze at. But the Congressional Budget Office has just come up with an estimate of how much we’ll add to the national debt in Fiscal 2011: $1.5 trillion. That means an extra $1.5 trillion will be piled atop a mountain of national debt that already exceeds $14 trillion. It’s tough for most of us to get our heads around such a colossal number.

But, seriously, how much is $1 trillion? To help you wrap your head around that mind-boggling number, and to try to put deficit spending into perspective, we did some mental shopping:


$1 Trillion Would Buy:41,999,160 NEW CARS

The 2011 Toyota Prius II wins Kiplinger’s Best in Class honors for cars in the $20,000-to-$25,000 price range. At a sticker price of $23,810 each, $1 trillion would let you buy a Prius for about 40% of all American families.

$1 Trillion Would Buy:5.6 TYPICAL AMERICAN HOMES

According to the latest figures from the National Association of Realtors, the national median price for existing single-family homes in the third quarter of 2010 was $177,900. There are about 80 million detached, single-family homes in the U.S., according to the NAR and the Census Bureau.

$1 Trillion Would Buy:140 BILLION HOURS OF LABOR

That’s calculated at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Still hard to get your mind around? How about this: One trillion dollars is enough to hire all 2.8 million residents of the state of Kansas -- men, women and children -- in full-time, minimum-wage jobs for the next 23 years.


According to the National Education Association, the average elementary school teacher salary in the U.S. is about $55,300. NEA estimates that there are about 2 million elementary school teachers, so $1 trillion would cover their salaries for about 9 years.

$1 Trillion Would Pay:CONGRESS FOR THE NEXT 10,742 YEARS

The current salary for rank-and-file members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate is $174,000. That's 535 lawmakers -- not counting their staffs or the extras paid to congressional leaders..


A lot of numbers are being thrown around about just how much the basketball superstar will be paid for playing for the Miami Heat. But let’s say it’s just $20 million a year. At that rate, $1 trillion would cover the tab for King James for the next 50 millennia. Heck, King Tut was born less than four millennia ago.

$1 Trillion Would Buy:1.33 TRILLION CHOCOLATE BARS

Got a hankering for something sweet? A sweet $1 trillion will buy you that many 1.55-ounce Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars at 75 cents apiece. That’s 64 million tons of chocolate, equivalent to the weight of more than 150,000 Boeing 747-400s.


It’s been widely reported that Tiger Woods paid anywhere from $100 million to $750 million to settle the divorce from his wife, Elin Nordegren. Let’s assume it cost Tiger $250 million. At that rate, a trillion dollars would cover plenty more tabloid breakups.

$1 Trillion Would Generate:$6.2 BILLION A MONTH GUARANTEED FOR LIFE

With the demise of the company pension plan -- and its wonderful promise of regular checks in retirement -- immediate-payout annuities are garnering more attention. These investments let you trade a lump sum for a guaranteed stream of income for the rest of your life. For example, a 65-year-old man with a sweet quarter of a million nest egg to invest could buy an annuity that will pay him $1,549 a month.Even at today’s record-low interest rates (the lower the interest rate, the more expensive it is to buy future income), $1 trillion earns its way -- and then some. The $6.2 billion monthly income figure is for men; because women live longer, on average, $1 trillion would buy a 65-year-old woman a little less. But having $5.8 billion a month to fall back on should help cover some bills.

$1 Trillion Would Earn:$12.9 BILLION OF INTERESTON A ONE-YEAR CD

Everyone knows that interest rates on bank accounts, money-market funds and certificates of deposit are ludicrously low. But even at just 1.29% -- the best rate we could find recently -- $1 trillion socked away in a one-year CD would still yield a handsome return.

$1 Trillion Would PAY:56.8 MILLION U.S. ARMY PRIVATES

Annual basic pay for an active-duty U.S. Army private with less than two years of experience is $17,611 a year. So $1 trillion goes a mighty long way, even by military spending standards. To put that in perspective, 56.8 million is more than 100 times the total number of active-duty soldiers in the Army today.

$1 Trillion Would Cover:19.2 MILLION AMERICAN FAMILIES

Median household income in the U.S. (half the families earn more, half earn less) was $52,029 in 2008, according to the Bureau of the Census. There are about 100 million families in the country, so $1 trillion is enough to cover the income of about one-in-five families.


Congress has reinstated the federal estate tax – at least for the next couple of years – with a 35% flat rate after a $5 million exemption. Still, $1 trillion would cover the taxes due on 2,871 taxable estates of $1 billion each.


Thanks to the visitor who pointed this out in a comment on an earlier version of this story. What’s $1 trillion mean to you? Let us and your fellow Kiplinger.com visitors know by commenting below.

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