How the Real Housewives really make their money

Throughout the '90's, the Bravo network mostly aired classic films, art programming, and the ultimate Will Ferrell muse, Inside the Actors Studio, according to Wired. Then, in 2002, NBC bought the little-known cable outlet and plunged its programming straight into the ravenous maw of the reality TV genre with the smash hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The Real Housewives franchise soon followed, and now you can't even click past the channel without stumbling over a five-part reunion show.

Surely a moneymaker for both the network and its stars, the Real Housewives brand has now spawned countless incarnations, including obscure international versions — Hungary and Auckland, really? — as well as spin-offs galore. As of 2017, there have been more than 100 housewives just from the U.S. casts (Did someone get them wet?), but are they all cashing in like their parent company?

Salary reports about the stars range from high to low, but it's clear these women actually earn their cash via multiple side hustles — not to mention, part of the whole shtick is that they're already rich when they're cast. From mega business deals to restaurants, brands, sexy toys, and even marrying into Polish royalty, here's how the Real Housewives really make their money.

Who knew booze paid big bucks? Oh right, everyone.

Bethenny Frankel is a fire-starter on The Real Housewives of New York, but while cameras capture her sometimes turbulent personal life, this Big Apple native earns beaucoup bucks from her businesses off screen. Forbes reported that Frankel stacked $100 million for selling her Skinnygirl liquor to Beam Global in 2011. To sweeten the deal, Frankel negotiated not only an ongoing royalty payment from Beam, but also retained the rights to the brand name. So, what does that mean, exactly?

"It would be great for Beam to sell Skinnygirl shot glasses as a complement to the cocktail," Frankel told Forbes. "But they can't. Only I can." And thus far, Frankel has slapped that label on a bevy of products, like "granola bars, lunch meats, candies, shapewear, and more." Has she considered changing the name to Smartygirl, yet? But wait, there's more!  

On top of this, Frankel is also an accomplished author with seven books to her name, a nearly constant presence on television all over the dial, and the owner of a real estate portfolio that Donald Trump would not call "Sad!" Oh yeah, and Forbes also suggested Frankel could be earning anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 a pop for her sponsored social media posts. NBD. With businesses and side hustles like these, why even bother with television anymore? Naturally, Frankel said it best: "What's the point of being on TV if you don't have something to sell?"

Vanderpump rules the profit sheet

Before Lisa Vanderpump came to America and landed on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, she and her husband, Ken Todd, owned and operated a slew of restaurants. How many? She's not exactly sure, according to AdWeek (via Bustle), who reported that Vanderpump could only peg the number at around 32. Their eatery empire includes Villa Blanca — a glamorous Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, the trendy nightspot Pump Lounge and, of course, Sur, which is the focus of her spin-off reality show Vanderpump Rules.

Glamour caught up with Vanderpump in January 2018, and reported that although her restaurant empire had shrunk to a meager 26 establishments, she's branched out to many other endeavors, including "a canine rescue center; a documentary about the Chinese dog meat trade; and a gig as editor-in-chief of Beverly Hills magazine." Asked by The Daily Dish about the latter, Vanderpump said she was "thrilled" to to helm her "favorite publication," in part, because it "has always been the epitome of luxury."

And speaking of luxury, Vanderpump also launched a line of barware, which includes this $165 pearl-and-crystal-encrusted bottle cooler, because nothing says class like an ice bucket that looks like it was pulled out of a shipwreck. Anyway, this all adds up to a jaw-dropping $75 million dollar net worth for the British import who took Beverly Hills by storm.

There are no Leakes in Nene's bank account

NeNe Leakes is the fire that kept The Real Housewives of Atlanta hot for years, but when she's wasn't on the small screen causing drama and fighting with her fellow Georgia peaches, she was busy building a mini empire. Leakes is a self-proclaimed "rich b***h," but where did her money come from?

Well, for starters, Leakes parlayed her reality fame into a starring role on the scripted NBC sitcom The New Normal. That show only lasted one season, but it led to a recurring role on Glee, where she played coach Roz Washington, appearing in 13 episodes over three years.

In addition to those Hollywood bonafides, Leakes also became a successful fashionista with her Home Shopping Network (HSN) clothing line that she launched in 2014 to "sell-out success," according to BET. In her desire to cater to "women of all ages, all shapes, all sizes," Leakes told Madame Noire, "My motto was, for every woman to walk into her closet, walk out of her closet and own it. I just want them to own it."

Rounding out her side hustle line up with the obligatory book deal, production company, and plethora of other TV appearances, Leakes clocks in, as of this writing, with a weave-spinning $14 million net worth.

A booming business empire that's as sweet as Kandi

Kandi Burruss is a true Renaissance woman. Although she's most known for her role on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Burruss was once part of the all-girl '90s R&B group Xscape. She's also an accomplished songwriter who has written tunes for Mariah Carey, TLC, Destiny's Child, and Ed Sheeran. In fact, she penned Sheeran's 2017 smash hit, "Shape of You," which broke a record for its 33-week reign atop Billboard's Hot 100 chart and earned the ginger crooner a Grammy. Any guesses on what those song royalties pay?

Burruss stays busy outside of the booth as well. In 2009, she launched a clothing store called TAGS Boutique, which has grown to multiple locations. She also runs Bedroom Kandi, the in-home demo company that specializes in adult toys. (Think: Your mom's Tupperware parties from the '80s, but with the blinds drawn much tighter.) And because that surely made you hungry — Burruss also owns an Atlanta restaurant called Old Lady Gang, which she claims is so successful that the "line stays down the street." As of April 2018, she was already working on opening a second location, according to The Daily Dish.

"Anybody can build a business, but to keep it going is the real success," Burruss told Forbes in 2017. "I've established a really solid team, and we've built a real foundation that is continuing to grow and expand in more ways than we could have imagined."

Is Ramona Singer's self-made empire a house of cards?

Ramona Singer has been on The Real Housewives of New York since day one, and she basically hasn't stopped talking about her supposedly self-made business empire ever since. To her credit, she does have a diverse — if not predictable for these ladies — string of endeavors, including a fashion line, jewelry, her own brand of pinot grigio, and skin care products. She also wrote a book called Life on the Ramona Coaster, which if we're being honest, is possibly one of the best book titles ever created.

But in true RHONY fashion, there's drama involved, and the Ramona Coaster was thrown for a serious loop when Bethenny Frankel insinuated on social media (via Radar Online) that one of Singer's entrepreneurial efforts was a fraud. "I am done allowing people to pretend business is easy or have pretend parties to launch products that are fairytales," Frankel tweeted in reply to someone asking her about Singer's skincare line.

The whole thing came to a head, of course, at the Season 10 reunion (via People), when Frankel doubled-down on her accusation by listing of a string of supposedly defunct or non-existent Singer businesses. For the record, Celebrity Net Worth claims that Singer's got $18 million in the bank. No word on how Frankel thinks she got it, though.

Marrying a European prince has its perks

Carole Radziwill has long been a calming presence amid the booze hurricane that is The Real Housewives of New York — and there's a good reason for it. Before she officially received her RHONY apple, she had a 15-year career in journalism at ABC that sent her around the world and into war zones in Israel and Afghanistan, according to The Daily Mail. While on the job in 1990, she met her late husband, Anthony Radziwill, who was an HBO producer at the time, according to Refinery 29. He also happened to be "the son of a Polish prince" as well as Jackie Kennedy's nephew, according to The Telegraph, which meant that for the next nine years of Carole's life with him (he died of cancer in 1999), she basically lived a real-life Julia Roberts movie.  

After Anthony's passing, Carole entered a period she calls her "lost years," during which she walked away from her career, dove into the world of high fashion, and wrote two books, one of which became a New York Times Best Seller. She joined RHONY on a whim in 2011, and in 2018, she announced she was walking away from reality TV and back into her old life in broadcast journalism. With $50 million reportedly in the bank, Carole doesn't have to do anything, but it's inspiring to see her returning to her passion.

Donkey Booty — Need we say more?

Phaedra Parks may have had the most scandalous exit of the entire franchise when she was booted from The Real Housewives of Atlanta after allegedly spreading some seriously disturbing rumors about castmate Kandi Burruss and Burruss' husband, Todd Tucker. Although she'll no longer get paid to dish out her signature side eye while quietly saying "fix it, Jesus," Parks still has plenty of income rolling in.

Aside from her RHOA gig, Parks continues to be a successful entertainment attorney in Atlanta. In December 2016, she was named Atlanta's most popular lawyer by the Fulton County District Attorney, according to The Daily Dish. As if one highly-skilled profession wasn't enough, Park also moonlights as an undertaker — yep, you read that right. "I practice law five days a week, and if I'm embalming a body, it's usually overnight," she told Page Six of her creepy side job.  

But none of that compares to her most hilarious side hustle: her workout DVD, starring herself and ex-husband Apollo Nida. It's called Phine Body by Phaedra & Apollo Donkey Booty Volume 1. We'll be honest here: We have no idea how well this DVD sold — it was a pretty big source of contention on the show — but if she made even one legitimate dollar off of something called "Donkey Booty," we consider that something of a financial miracle.

Where there's a will there's a fortune, apparently

Teresa Giudice became a reality TV legend with her table-flipping "prostitution w***e" moment on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, but in 2013, she became real-life scandalous when she was charged, along with husband Joe Giudice, with multiple counts of fraud, stemming from what prosecutors alleged were bogus bankruptcy filings. Joe and Teresa eventually pleaded guilty; Teresa served 11 months in jail, and Joe began his 41-month sentence upon her release. So, it's clear how the couple made (and/or concealed) some of their money, but where did Teresa's loot come from in the first place?

She bet heavily on the food industry, penning several cookbooks that eventually spawned a line of edible products marketed under her Skinny Italian and Fabulicious! brand names. She even had a youth-targeted hair care line and her own brand of Prosecco before it all "went to s**t" during her prison stint, as she so eloquently phrased it on Watch What Happens Live.

However, Teresa found a new passion in the clink: yoga, which she said was going to become her new business focus, according to People. She also told the tab of another, more curious wealth-building strategy. "I read a lot of inspirational books in prison, like whatever you want, you can put it out there," she said. "I want to make $40 million this year. I hope that happens — for real, I made a vision board." Good luck with that!

Lisa Rinna's income is nothing to pout about

Lisa Rinna was already a star before landing on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She's basically a living soap opera legend with 300 episodes of Days of Our Lives under her belt, not to mention she also logged 66 episodes on Melrose Place before the show ended in 1998, per IMDb.

But when she's not busy on-set, Rinna peddles — you guessed it! — clothing on QVC. Entitled the Lisa Rinna Collection, the line consists of "chic, comfortable West Coast styles in bold colors and patterns" at a relatively affordable price point. Most of the items she sells retail for less than $100.

As of this writing, Rinna's latest project has been a family affair. According to People, she went into "full-on momager mode" à la Kris Jenner with hopes of making her teenage daughters into models. The plan apparently worked. Both Delilah Belle Hamlin and Amelia Gray Hamlin landed professional modeling contracts, and it's a good thing they're on their way to their own high-earning careers, because Rinna's estimated net worth sits at a relatively low (compared to some of her franchise co-stars) $8 million. 

Eileen Davidson is awash in soap opera cash

Eileen Davidson of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is a serious soap opera veteran. According to IMDb, she began a lengthy on-and-off role on The Young and the Restless in 1984, and after completing nearly 1,500 episodes, she announced in September 2018 that she would be leaving the show to have "a little more control over [her] day to day." In addition to her staggering Y&R run, Davidson also appeared in 346 episodes of Days of Our Lives, 137 episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful, and 139 episodes of Santa Barbara. Seriously, this woman has been a part of our mothers' daily lives for more than a quarter of a century.  

Davidson also earns checks from the publishing world, with three works for mystery fiction to her name, and you'll never guess what they're about. Okay, you totally will because — surprise! — they're about soap operas. Since she's also no longer on RHOBH as of 2017, it's unclear how Davidson will now spend her time, but if we had to guess, we'd say painting portraits of Susan Lucci over and over again. With a reported net worth of $3 million, she's not at the top of the Housewife earners' heap, but she certainly never has to get artificially inseminated with stolen sperm — Yep, actual soap storyline — between Tide commercials ever again if she doesn't want to.

Taking one for the corporate team

Heather Thompson only spent three years on the battlefield of The Real Housewives of New York before she waved the white flag, telling Us Weekly she'd had enough of "the forced drama" and "hurtfulness over someone else and at someone's expense." But her stint in reality TV was time well spent.

According to an interview with Forbes, Thompson wasn't much of a RHONY fan before she joined the cast because she was busy working as "design director for the Sean 'Diddy' Combs fashion line" and founding her own curiously-named shapewear line, Yummie, which sounds like edible spanx — Ew. Fan or no fan, Thompson clearly recognized the value of getting her brand in front of millions of eyeballs, so she took the plunge.  

"I was thinking, 'I've got a barely three-year-old business ... I've got trouble looking at my profit and loss statement sheet and I'm worried if I'm going to make payroll and be able to pay the lawyers,'" she said of the status of a pre-RHONY Yummie. After? According to business analytics tracker Owler, the apparel line pulls in $7.5 million per year. Not a bad trade-off for a few years of public catfighting, huh?

As a businesswoman, Vicki Gunvalson really whoops it up

Vicki Gunvalson is the last remaining original member of The Real Housewives of Orange County. While the show certainly takes up time, she's also busy with her own corporation, Coto Insurance and Financial Services, which she constantly references, because there's no publicity like free publicity, right?

When she's not selling insurance, she's sells diamonds on Amazon, writes books, teaches and mentors aspiring insurance agents, and gets nicely paid as a motivational speaker. According to Speakerpedia, the latter gig brings in $10,000 to $20,000 per chat.

Though Gunvalson certainly fires on many business cylinders, when it came to the liquor biz, she was barely in it long enough to catch a buzz. In July 2013, Gunvalson announced that Vicki's Vodka would be "on the shelves within the next few months," but by September of that year, she and business partner Robert Williamson III had already decided to call it quits amid a bitter financial dispute. They battled it out for the next six years in court before finally reaching a settlement in March 2018, according to Radar Online. The most amazing part of this whole mess? Williamson claims Gunvalson's initial investment in the brand was just $12,500. Now that's a woman who's serious about holding onto her cash.

It pays to grow up in Hollywood

Kyle Richards is most known for her role in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but she's also a bonafide actress with credits to name. According to IMDb, Richards had roles on Little House on the Prairie, Down to Earth, Days of Our Lives, and a 21-episode arc on ER. Richards grew up in Hollywood, and her life was even adapted into a TV Land scripted series called American Woman, starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari. Richards served as executive producer on the project that was cancelled after one season. Fortunately, that wasn't her only iron in the fire.

Fox News reported that Richards also had producer credits on two other scripted shows as of April 2018. On top of that — and stop us if this is starting to sound familiar — she's also written a book and launched her own line of women's wear with designer Alene Too. While most of her Housewives cohorts sell much cheaper clothing, Richards is in the high-end luxury game. ($1,095 suede fringe jacket, anyone?)

When it's all totaled, and presumably combined with her real estate mogul husband's considerable wealth, Richards' net worth reportedly sits at $50 million. Sheesh — anyone want to cancel a show about our lives? Because if it pays that well, we're definitely down.

Is a gym a good investment? You be the Judge.

With an estimated net worth of just $800,000, The Real Housewives of Orange County star Tamra Judge holds the anchor position on this list, but that seems like a temporary thing, because Judge, who's competes as a bodybuilder when not spreading gossip like the plague, has yet to unleash her full "brand" potential.

Speaking with Locale in June 2017, Judge said she was working on a fitness app, book (of course), and apparel line (naturally). None of those endeavors seem to have materialized as of this writing. Although, Judge did once auction off her clothes on eBay, so she at least has some experience in that retail space. Anyway, Judge seemingly makes the majority of her cash from CUT Fitness, the gym and personal training service she owns with her husband, which means for the low price of just $140 to $175 per session (depending on which package you buy), you too could get ripped like a reality star!

Clearly, Judge has some brand-building to do, which she admitted to Locale is a challenge combined with her mom duties and trying to keep some semblance of a normal home life. However, we're confident a scrapper like Judge can pull it off, and if not, at least her foray into the fitness world won't be forever tied to a phrase that literally translates to "ass ass." (Yep, we're still blown away by Donkey Booty.)