Royal in Recession: Prince Charles Embraces Frugality

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The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles

Charles, the Prince of Wales, doesn't exactly have to save for a rainy day: he collects Aston Martins, has three chauffeurs and holds overseas investments totaling at least $68 million. But as Britain copes with a bleak economic forecast and austerity measures meant to tackle its $230 billion deficit, the future King has embraced a royal version of frugality sure to make playboy princes around the world quiver: he's cutting back on canapés, and he's hosting drinks parties instead of lavish dinners.

"We are always keeping an eye on the economic climate," Charles' private secretary, Michael Peat, told reporters in London on June 29. "We do live in the real world — for the most part anyhow."

That's not just regal lip service. The Prince's annual budget, which was released on June 29, shows that during the past fiscal year, which ran from April 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010, he reduced his official spending by 4.4%, to $13.8 million. And he more than halved his work-related travel expenses (both air and rail) from roughly $2.6 million to $1 million, in part by accepting freebies. "Last year the main long-haul trip [Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall] did was to Canada, which was paid for by the Canadians," Peat said.

Over the same period, Charles also reduced his dutybound entertainment expenses from about $800,000 to $380,000, despite hosting 9,400 guests at Clarence House, his official residence, up from 9,000 guests the year before. Amid all the belt-tightening, the heir to the throne isn't serving boxed champagne just yet. Peat says the savings stem from efficiency measures like renegotiating contracts with caterers — not from compromising quality. But he admits that the type of functions Charles hosts has changed. In hard times, buffet is the new banquet.

Charles isn't tightening his purse strings because he needs to. The royal austerity measures are all about showing that the Prince is in touch with the people. Charles draws his income from the Duchy of Cornwall estate, which the eldest son of the monarch automatically inherits at birth. Today it controls roughly 134,000 acres (54,000 hectares) of land in 23 countries. Over the past year, its profits rose by 4.3%, to $26 million. Aware of that growth and sensitive to the nation's financial woes, the Prince drew on just $2.5 million from taxpayers — 45% less than the year before. He also spent $94,000 less on the maintenance of his London office and Clarence House — an expense paid by taxpayers. (His personal tax bill also went up by 12.6%, to $5.3 million.)

Charles is probably taking cues from his mother. Despite her penchant for pearls, Queen Elizabeth II has in recent months solidified her reputation as a recessionista. On April 23, the British tabloid the Sun — known for needling the royals at any opportunity — actually praised the Queen's frugality following her 83rd birthday. Rather than throwing an over-the-top bash at Buckingham Palace, Mum reportedly opted for a simple meal at her son Prince Edward's house. "The modest supper included chicken breast stuffed with red peppers, then a simple crème brûlée," the paper reported, adding that only 16 family members and friends attended the low-key celebration — and most of them passed on the wine.

The Queen's $12 million annual budget has not increased in two decades and is now worth just a quarter of the value it held in 1990. Even so, on June 22 she accepted yet another funding freeze as part of Britain's emergency budget to tackle its deficit. And in March 2009, the Queen reportedly shelved plans to acquire a $10 million luxury jet, choosing instead to fly on planes provided by the Royal Air Force.

Of course, spending less on caterers does little to improve the Prince's reputation among those who see the monarchy as a drain on public coffers. "When public spending is being slashed across the board, it's time to cut his bill to the taxpayer to zero," Graham Smith, campaign manager of Republic, an antimonarchist group, said after reading the Prince's budget report.

Smith isn't alone in his opposition. On one online message board, a user requested that the Prince "tell [his] fat-bottomed brother [Prince Andrew] to stop using my family's tax payment on helicopters." Another user pointed out that Charles could save the taxpayer even more money by moving house: "He could live with his mum." Presumably that's one budgetary concession that even recession-minded Charles isn't willing to consider.