Here's How Anthony Bourdain Dug Himself Out of Decades of Debt

Published On 03/15/2017 Published On 03/15/2017
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Considering the continued popularity and success of Anthony Bourdain's CNN show, Parts Unknown, alone, it's safe to say the globetrotting food media icon lives a pretty comfortable life -- at least, when he's not stuck in an aisle seat. But as he has said on many occasions over the years, he lived for decades with little to no money before his big break. Now, Bourdain explains the big decisions he made to dig himself out of debt.

In a new interview with Wealthsimple, Bourdain talks about the many years he spent living not just paycheck to paycheck, but as he puts it, "a paycheck behind, at least," as a line cook in New York, during which he spent most of the little cash he had on drugs, neglected to do his taxes, and skipped out on his mounting credit card bills. He didn't even have a savings account or health insurance until he was 44, around 2000 or 2001, according to the story.

"I was constantly in debt," he said. "I published a few books before Kitchen Confidential, but they were not financial successes... When Kitchen Confidential was published, I hadn’t filed taxes in about 10 years. I was seriously behind on rent. It had been about a decade since I’d communicated with American Express in a timely manner." 

After Kitchen Confidential, he finally decided to be more careful with his finances and get his shit together: 

"I think living like that made me very cautious. I held onto my job after Kitchen Confidential came out; I was hesitant about whether I should leave the kitchen, and I waited as long as I could. I was old enough to realize I’d been handed this incredible, lucky break and I was very unlikely to get another one. There was this weird moment where I noticed that everyone in the dining room were journalists waiting to talk to me, and I realized I’d become the sort of chef I used to despise, constantly having to leave the kitchen to deal with journalists. I didn’t want to be that guy. So I left. Once I did that risky thing, leaving the only profession I knew to become a professional writer and TV guy, I was, and continue to be, very careful about the decisions I make every day."

From that point, he was able to start saving money, pay off his credit cards, and settle up with IRS. Reports estimate his current net worth in the millions, although he claims those figures are "about ten times overstated." But despite his undeniably improved financial situation, he still hates owing people even a single dollar.

"I am fanatical about not owing anybody any money," Bourdain told Wealthsimple. "I hate it. I don’t want to carry a balance, ever. I have a mortgage, but I despise the idea. That was my biggest objection to buying property, though I wasn’t in the position to pay cash."

If you've ever struggled financially or just hate getting yourself into debt or, uh, further into debt, you can probably relate. Well, except for maybe the dramatic financial turnaround by becoming a celebrity food personality part.

As with any Bourdain interview, this one is loaded with additional interesting tidbits, so be sure to check out the full story over at Wealthsimple. 

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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and is also pretty fanatical about owing people money. Send news tips to and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.



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