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ELI5: Billions & Trillions

When we think wealthy people, we think millionaires. When we think big companies, we think billion dollar market caps. With powerhouse countries, we think trillions in GDP. Millions, billions and trillions. In our heads, we think of these numbers as neighbours. With a billion just a step away from a million, and a trillion an arms reach from a billion. In reality, these numbers are worlds apart. 

When numbers get this big, it's hard for our brains to fathom. Let's use a couple examples to get a better sense of scale. 

Example 1: Time Is Money

If you saved $100 a day: 

You become a millionaire in under 30 years. Pretty reasonable. Takes work but achievable over a lifetime.

To be a billionaire, you need to save for 27 thousand years. A huge jump. We go from achievable to needing to be a vampire.

A trillion is 27 million years. The length modern humans have been around...times 135.

Example 2: Stacking Paper

Stack a million $1 bills, it would be 358 feet tall. About the size of a 30-story building. Pretty tall but fairly common.

A billion bills would be 68 miles high. That's 200 CN towers stacked on top of each other. We're poking out of earth. 

A trillion bills and you're deep into space, more than a quarter of the way to the moon. 

Big numbers get thrown a lot around in finance. Whether we're talking about company valuations or government spending. It's helpful to grasp just how big these numbers really are and put them in their proper perspective. A letter or two makes a huge difference.


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