Elon Musk just lost $50 billion in 2 days, but he’s still the world’s richest person. Here’s how the Tesla and SpaceX CEO makes and spends his $288 billion fortune.

Elon Musk waves on stage at the Tesla Gigafactory in Berlin as a crowd of people takes photos
  • Elon Musk just lost $US50 ($AU68) billion in just two days, but he’s still the richest person in the world.
  • A notorious workaholic, Musk doesn’t spend his money on lavish vacations or expensive hobbies.
  • Here’s how Musk makes and spends his $US288 ($AU390) billion fortune.

Decades before becoming a father of six and amassing an $US288 ($AU390) billion fortune, Musk taught himself to code as a child growing up in South Africa. By the time he was 12, he sold the source code for his first video game for $US500 ($AU677).
Elon musk
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk works at his desk in 2008. OnInnovation/Flickr
Source: MONEY
Just before his 18th birthday, Musk moved to Canada and worked a series of hard labor jobs, including shoveling grain, cutting logs, and eventually cleaning out the boiler room in a lumber mill for $US18 ($AU24) an hour – an impressive wage in 1989.
Elon Musk
Musk got a pay cut to $US14 ($AU19) an hour when he started a summer internship alongside his brother, Kimbal, at the Bank of Nova Scotia after cold-calling – and impressing – a top executive there.
Elon musk
Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, speaks at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
After he arrived for his freshman year at Queens University in 1990, Musk quickly picked up a side hustle selling computer parts and full PCs to other students. “I could build something to suit their needs like a tricked-out gaming machine or a simple word processor that cost less than what they could get in a store,” Musk said.
Elon Musk
Elon Musk. Larry Busacca/Getty Images for The New York Times
Within two years, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania on a partial scholarship.
University of pennsylvania
To cover the rest of his tuition, Musk and a buddy would turn their house into a speakeasy on the weekends, charging $US5 ($AU7) at the door. “I was paying my own way through college and could make an entire month’s rent in one night,” Musk said.
Elon musk shrug tesla IPO new york
Tesla Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, reacts to a reporter’s question following the electric automaker’s initial public offering on Nasdaq, Tuesday, June, 29, 2010 in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Musk graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics and an economics degree from the Wharton School and moved on to Stanford to pursue his PhD.
Elon musk commencement speech
Source: MONEY
He left the program within days to build an internet startup with his brother. They started Zip2, a city guide software for newspapers, with $US28,000 ($AU37,908) in seed money from their father.
Kimbal musk elon musk brother
Kimbal Musk, Elon’s brother. Fred Prouser/Reuters
Source: MONEY
Four years later, in 1999, they sold Zip2 for $US307 ($AU416) million, earning Musk $US22 ($AU30) million. He invested more than half of his earnings to cofound X.com, an online banking service.
Elon musk
Elon Musk at SpaceX Hyperloop Pod II competition in Hawthorne, California Reuters/Mike Blake
Source: MONEY
The company quickly merged with its rival and became PayPal, with Musk as the majority shareholder. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal and Musk walked away with $US180 ($AU244) million.
PayPal IPO
Paypal CEO Dan Schulman (C) celebrates with employees during the company’s relisting on the Nasdaq in New York. Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Source: MONEY
Musk turned his attention to his new space exploration company, SpaceX, after leaving PayPal. A few years later he cofounded electric-car maker, Tesla, and then SolarCity, a solar power systems provider. The success of these companies eventually launched him into the billion-dollar club – but not before he went broke.
Elon-Musk-Risk
Source: VentureBeat
In late 2008, Musk divorced his first wife and it took a toll on his finances. A year later, Musk said he “ran out of cash” and had been living off loans from friends while trying to keep his companies afloat.
Elon Musk Nasdaq Tesla
But when Tesla debuted on the stock market in 2010, Musk’s fortune skyrocketed. By 2012, he appeared on Forbes’ richest list for the first time with a net worth of $US2 ($AU3) billion.
Tesla Elon Musk
Source: Forbes
Nearly a decade later, Musk has amassed an $US288 ($AU390) billion fortune – but it’s not very liquid. Remarkably, Musk made his billions without ever taking a paycheck from Tesla, because the CEO refuses his minimum salary every year. By 2020, Tesla cut his paycheck down to zero.
Elon Musk
Musk’s complicated salary structure means that he’s awarded stock options when Tesla hits challenging performance metrics. When Tesla does well, Musk’s wealth soars.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Source: Insider
But Musk has said himself that he’s cash-poor. “Some people think I have a lot of cash,” Musk told investor Cathie Wood on a podcast last year. “I actually don’t.” Like a lot of other high-powered executives, Musk relies on mortgages and credit day-to-day.
Elon Musk
Elon Musk Pool
Source: Insider
Over the years, the CEO has purchased more than $US100 ($AU135) million in residential property in California. He has since offloaded much of his real estate after vowing to sell it all and “own no house” last year.
Elon Musk Bel Air house
As the leader of one of the preeminent auto-makers, it’s no surprise Musk has an affinity for cars. Back in 2013, he paid $US920,000 ($AU1,245,543) at an auction for the Lotus Esprit submarine car used in a James Bond movie.
James Bond Lotus Esprit
Source: MONEY, CNBC
In addition to driving Teslas, Musk has owned a few gas-powered cars including a Ford Model T, a Jaguar E-Type Series 1 Roadster, a McLaren F1 (which he later totaled), an Audi Q7, a Hamann BMW M5, and a Porsche 911.
Jaguar E Type Series 1 roadster
Not Elon Musk’s Jaguar. DeFacto/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Insider
Despite having funds to spare, Musk isn’t a fan of lavish vacations – or any vacations for that matter. In 2015, he said he’d only taken two weeks off since founding SpaceX about 12 years earlier.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Sources: Inc, Quartz
Musk has five children with his first wife, Justine Musk. In a 2014 tweet, Musk said he takes the kids on an annual camping trip. “I’m a pretty good dad,” he said. “I have the kids for slightly more than half the week and spend a fair bit of time with them. I also take them with me when I go out of town.”
Elon Musk kids
Elon Musk with two of his sons and now ex-wife Talulah Riley. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Musk and Canadian musician Grimes welcomed a baby boy in May 2020 named X Æ A-Xii Musk – they appear to call the baby “X” for short. (Musk and Grimes have since broken up.)
Grimes Elon Musk
Musk and Grimes. Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Source: Insider, Insider
At the end of the day, the multibillionaire says he enjoys inexpensive hobbies like listening to music, playing video games, and reading books. “Hang out with kids, see friends, normal stuff,” he said. “Sometimes go crazy on Twitter. But usually it’s work more.”
Elon Musk
Source: Quartz
In August 2018, Musk told The New York Times that he had taken to working 120 hours a week. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days – days when I didn’t go outside,” he told The Times. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
Elon musk
Engineer and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk of The Boring Company listens as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about constructing a high speed transit tunnel at Block 37 during a news conference on June 14, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Getty Images/Joshua Lott
Musk said on an earnings call in 2017 that he doesn’t have a desk at the Tesla factory: “I always move my desk to wherever – I don’t really have a desk actually – I move myself to wherever the biggest problem is in Tesla. I really believe that one should lead from the front lines, and that’s why I’m here.”
Tesla factory
Sources: Insider, Fortune
Musk admitted to spending “many late nights” at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory re-writing software during a production sprint for the Model 3.
Elon musk gigafactory tour
Elon Musk showing YouTuber Marques Browne around the Gigafactory 1 Marques Browne/YouTube
Source: Fortune
For a story published in August 2018, Insider reporters spoke with 42 Tesla employees who said Musk is a visionary, but also unpredictably demanding.
Tesla employees
Source: Insider
Musk said in June 2019 that he even planned to spend his 48th birthday on June 28 at work, improving the company’s “global logistics.”
Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks onto the stage to introduce the Model Y at the company’s design studio Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Hawthorne, Calif. AP
Source: Insider
Musk told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he is, in fact, “somewhat impulsive” and doesn’t “really want to try to adhere to some CEO template.”
Elon Musk
Source: Insider
Not only does Musk spend a ton of time at Tesla, he also spends a lot of his money on the company. In the first six months of 2018, he bought more than $US35 ($AU47) million worth of shares in Tesla.
Elon Musk Tesla Spacex
Source: CNN
Musk also invests a lot of time, energy, and resources into SpaceX.
Elon musk spacex
Source: Insider
SpaceX has raised billions to develop, build, and launch Starlink – an effort to cover Earth in ultra-fast broadband internet – and build the prototype of Starship, a gargantuan reusable space vehicle designed to bring people to Mars. The company was valued at $US100 ($AU135) billion as of October 2021.
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The Es’hail-2 mission launches toward space aboard one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets on November 15, 2018. SpaceX/Flickr (public domain)
Source: Insider, CNBC
Musk also helms The Boring Company, which he founded in 2016 to develop and construct underground tunnels in an effort to mitigate traffic.
Boring Company Hawthorne tunnel
The Boring Company’s Hawthorne, California, Tunnel. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS
Source: Insider
According to The New York Times, The Boring Company raised over $US112 ($AU152) million in 2018 – and more than 90% of it came from Musk. In 2019, the company raised outside funding for the first time to the tune of around $US120 ($AU162) million.
Elon musk boring company
In 2012, Musk signed The Giving Pledge, vowing to donate the majority of his wealth during his lifetime. Though he’s already in the business of improving our environment and the future during his day job, Musk has made sizable donations to causes he cares about, including a $US10 ($AU14) million gift to the Future of Life Institute to regulate artificial intelligence.
Elon musk robots
Sources: Twitter, Insider
Musk found himself in legal trouble with the SEC in 2018 after he tweeted that he had obtained the funding to take Tesla private, which moved the company’s stock price. Musk reached a settlement with the SEC in April 2019 in which he and Tesla both agreed to pay a $US20 ($AU27) million penalty.
Elon musk court
Source: Insider
Musk moved Tesla share price again in May 2020, sending it down 13% after tweeting “Tesla stock price is too high imo.”
FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks at an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks at an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai Reuters
Source: Markets Insider
Musk’s Twitter habits once again got him into legal trouble in 2019 after he called the British cave diver who helped rescue a Thai soccer team a “pedo guy”; the diver sued Musk, claiming defamation, but a jury ruled in Musk’s favor.
Vernon unsworth
A courtroom sketch of British cave diver Vernon Unsworth during his defamation suit against Elon Musk. REUTERS/Mona Shafer Edwards
Source: Insider
Musk’s net worth soared in 2020 amid the pandemic, increasing by 197% between March and August, according to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies. By December 2020, Musk had become the world’s second-richest person behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Jeff Bezos Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos, left, and Elon Musk. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Source: Insider
Only a few months later, Musk became the world’s richest person and his net worth has only grown since: Just last month, Musk’s wealth increased by $US36 ($AU49) billion in a single day, the largest gain ever recorded by Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.
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Elon Musk. Steve Nesius/Reuters
Source: Insider
But after shares of Tesla plunged by 16%, Musk lost $US50 ($AU68) billion in just two days. Tesla’s share price dipped after a string of headlines, including a tweet from Musk asking if he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock. Still, Musk remains $US82 ($AU111) billion richer than Bezos.
Photo by BRITTA PEDERSEN:POOL:AFP via Getty Images
Tesla CEO Elon Musk Britta Pedersen / POOL / AFP via Getty Images
Source: Insider

Tanza Loudenback and Taylor Nicole Rogers contributed to an earlier version of this story.