Hidden Millionaires

The Old School Frugalists

The last generation of frugal millionaires saw the careful preservation of cash and conservative personal finance as essential to survival. These rich individuals gained their wealth slowly through careful planning and extreme saving. By living below their means, these individuals created freedom in their lives, and a buffer from the economic problems over the last decades. Precursors to the newest generation of frugal, yet generous millionaires, the following individuals broke many myths regarding the way that wealth can be generated and spent.
Joseph Leek—Insurance Salesman

Final Savings: $1,613,000 [ad]


Who: Born in 1912, Joseph Leek made his career as an insurance salesman. Joseph Leek’s family never knew of the 1,080,040 British Pounds he had amassed during his lifetime. His entire estate was left to the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind. His donation will provide the funds for raising and training 19 guide dogs, significantly improving the lives of the visually impaired.

How He Did It: Joseph Leek was not a millionaire because of extraordinary business success. Leek worked as an insurance salesman for the majority of his life. After retirement, he gained the majority of his wealth by being careful with his money, and investing wisely in the stock market. He lived in a home worth an estimated 40,000 British Pounds. He traveled by bicycle when he could, and used a 20-year-old car for other transportation. Leek shopped for clothing at charity shops, and even saved electricity by watching television at a neighbor’s home. He lived a life of simplicity and structure. His daughters say his favorite quote was: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

What We Can Learn: An appreciation for simplicity, conservation and a resistance to waste can result in significant savings over the long term. Certainly the life of Joseph Leek was out of the ordinary, but the ideals he lived by make a good model for those looking for financial stability. Live within or below your means, take saving seriously, and stay committed over the long term.

Mary Guthrie Essame—Nurse

Final Savings: $10,457,000

Who: Mary Guthrie Essame of East Sussex England, worked as a nurse for most of her adult life. Her neighbors and others who knew her described her as a very charming woman, who lived alone but was always very friendly and generous. She left all of her more than 7,000,000 British Pounds to various charities when she passed away, including the Save the Children Fund, Church Army, Christian Aid, Help the Aged, War on Want and the RSPCA.

How She Did It: Mary Guthrie Essame only made a modest nurse’s living for most of her life, but Ms. Essame was very much a frugalist. She wore used clothes, old shoes, and took pleasure in activities that did not cost much money, like knitting and gardening. Despite her thrifty nature, she was always described as very generous. Neighbors who would occasionally ask for charitable donations for causes they were associated with would often receive large sums of money from her.

What We Can Learn: Ms. Essame had an extraordinary ability to save her money and eliminate waste. The interesting thing about Ms. Essame is that even when she was alive, she never hesitated with her generosity when asked for it. Being thrifty does not exclude the ability to be generous while one is still alive. One can still become wealthy by practicing sound spending and saving habits without being branded cheap, stingy or miserly. Like her modern day counterparts, Ms. Essame saw money not only as something that could ensure her own thrifty way of life, but as a way to give back to those less fortunate.

Roberta Langtry—School Teacher

Final Savings: $3,800,000

Who: Roberta Langtry spent her life as an elementary school teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. When she died in 2005, she left her entire estate, totaling more than 3.8 million dollars, to the Nature Conservatory of Canada, an organization that buys land and converts it into nature reserves. During her lifetime she also made numerous large monetary gifts to individuals she knew who were in need. These gifts, which often times amounted to tens of thousands of dollars, were donated anonymously—only to be made known after her death.

How She Did It: Although Roberta only earned a modest salary as a teacher, she was able to accumulate a large fortune through a couple of smart decisions. First, she supplemented her income with entrepreneurial side-projects, making recurring income by selling puzzle-based educational games. Second, she lived a modest lifestyle in a small bungalow. She was known for her frugality, but was likewise known for her generosity. Third, she invested early and often in the stock market. She bought long-term safe stocks that she held for very long lengths of time. Her best investment was likely the shares of IBM stock that she bought in the 1940s or ’50s, which she held on to until she died.

What We Can Learn: Ms. Langtry left this world a wealthy woman because of her hard work, dedication to cheap living, and sound investment strategy. Ultimately, there was no one single source of her wealth. It came from several different sources, including her primary job as a teacher, supplemental incomes from pet projects, and long-term sound investment decisions. Ms. Langtry understood that financial security came not from a single lucrative windfall, but from a lifestyle that lent itself to prosperity in the long term.

Taking important lessons learned from their earlier counterparts, a new generation of wealthy, young, and frugal millionaires is emerging. In response to the ubiquitous Yuppie, this new generation makes and spends its millions in accordance with their commitment to simple living, and their perception that wealth should not buy opulence, but should be used instead for making the world a better place.

Sean Blagsvedt—Microsoft Employee

Who: As an employee of Microsoft working in India, Sean was privy to much of the poverty and difficulties facing the Indian youth population. Making an impressive salary, Blagsvedt quit his job and left his paycheck behind to begin an entrepreneurial venture focused on improving the lives of others. With poverty and desperation an overwhelming part of Indian life for many individuals, Sean wanted to find a way to grow a business that enriched and enhanced a community in a nation faced with overwhelming financial and social difficulties.

How He Did It: In a move that is becoming more and more common among the next generation of frugal young men and women, Sean created a job Web site to aid in the difficulty many Indian employers face in connecting with possible job seekers. Sean is what would be considered by Evelyn Nieves of the Associated Press, a YAWN (Young and Wealthy But Normal), an acronym now being used to describe a new generation of socially-conscious individuals who earn their wealth by living within their means, and grow their businesses by giving back to their communities.

What We Can Learn: Today’s youth are taking a page from yesterday’s frugal millionaires. By living well below their means, becoming entrepreneurial, and focusing on giving back to the community, YAWNS are paving the way for a new type of wealth—and a new paradigm for how money is saved and spent.

Rik Wehbring—Dot-Com Millionaire

The older generation of savers, and the newer generation of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, with their penchant for giving back, share a common thread: Each has not made wealth the end goal. Instead, these wise planners saw money as a means to something much more important. Whether that meant freedom for themselves or their family, or meant the betterment of their communities and less fortunate individuals, these extraordinary individuals make it clear that the accumulation of wealth is possible with the right outlook.

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