A life well-lived is not about the bling

I love real-life stories of people who get rich slowly. Paul Navone, a 78-year-old resident of Millville, New Jersey, is one of those. On December 21st, Navone donated $1 million to Cumberland County College. He still has millions left. How did he earn his money? The old-fashioned way: lots of hard work.

Navone never attended high school. He began working in local glass factories at the age of 16. In 50 years, he never made more than $11 per hour, often putting in 60 hour weeks. He never experienced a windfall; instead, he practiced thrift, put some money in savings accounts and he invested in the stock market.

“Paul never inherited money,” his broker told The Press of Atlantic City. “Paul started from zero. He just worked hard. He stayed the course even through the bad markets. Paul rarely ever took money out. He was the perfect client.” The newspaper's editors write:

Such a life seems almost impossible to live today, doesn't it? Get rich merely by working hard and saving and investing? Then not spending any of that investment income?

Simply accumulating wealth that way is impressive and praiseworthy. But then to start giving it way — to give $1 million to a small community college? All because of hard work, thrift and a spirit of generosity? Paul Navone is one rare, rare individual — and a lesson for us all in this age of conspicuous consumption.

Navone shops at flea markets, drives an older SUV, and rarely buys anything at full price. He doesn't own a phone or a television. Though he's something of a recluse, he leads a happy life — one of his hobbies is announcing a BINGO game at the local McDonald's every Wednesday morning.

His wealth came from frugal living, wise investing, and from owning several rental properties. Navone's story is a perfect example of the power of time. If you're patient, your money will grow, and wealth will come.

It's fun to watch Navone's story develop gradually in the pages of The Press of Atlantic City. Here are three relevant articles:

  • 21 Dec 2007: Retired factory worker gives $1 million to Cumberland County College
  • 31 Dec 2007: Milville philanthropist has no television or home phone, but millions to give away
  • 02 Jan 2008: Paul Navone: A life well-lived

As much as I admire John Bogle and Warren Buffett, it's folks like Paul Navone who are the real personal finance heroes.

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Blubba
Blubba
12 years ago

Navone’s story is definitely something special. So often the desire to be rich comes with the desire to consume (which makes the getting rich part so difficult). It’s great to be reminded that frugality can lead to wealth.

Dustin Coates
Dustin Coates
12 years ago

I sometimes wonder how many people I come across each day are ‘secret millionaires’–very rich but don’t flaunt it. And how many people act like they are rich, but are deep in debt.

Sadly I think there may be more of the latter than there are of Paul Navone.

RacerX
RacerX
12 years ago

This is a great lesson to all that each of us really has the ability to get to our goal as long as we have a plan and work it.

The Whole Millionaire Next Door phenom is a direct result of being in a country where this is possible.

Great story, and something fore all of us to ponder.

melsky
melsky
12 years ago

That’s really inspiring.

I’ve recently decided to get a job after being a housewife/artist for several years and I’m looking forward to seeing some money pile up.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

One advantage I see for developing good money skills is that you can slowly build towards this even if you’re not earning an awful lot.

And then if you amass a lot (or if you move to a much higher-earning job) you’ve got the skills to manage it and enjoy your life.

The problem with winning the lottery is that you haven’t moved through the stages of wealth that build up to it.

KC
KC
12 years ago

I used to work for the public library in my city and they have a wonderful Personal Finance Collection that was endowed with about $100,000 from a former customer. He was just a regular Joe who used to come in the library almost daily to use Morningstar and other research tools to track his investments. Some of the librarians got to know him well over the years and he was just a single guy who lived in a small apartment and drove a cheap car – everyone though he just enjoyed reading about stocks, no one had any idea he… Read more »

Dividends4Life
Dividends4Life
12 years ago

I love success stories like that. Thanks for sharing it!

Best Wishes,
D4L

Young Professional
Young Professional
12 years ago

Now think if he had put that determination in an education, a more lucrative career choice, and a diversified portfolio.

Life is not about the bling, agreed, but it is about making the most of yourself and expanding beyond your comfort zone. That means not waiting until you are 70+ before you experience financial comfort.

My 2 cents.

J. S.
J. S.
12 years ago

Thanks for sharing this. Thanks in part to Mr. Navone I’ll be hanging on to my reliable granny sedan for another year…

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

What a beautiful story – makes me believe a frugal lifestyle is really worth it in the end. People have to learn to say no to themselves and quit sacrificing their futures for today’s hottest purchase.

Whelkman
Whelkman
12 years ago

Even more impressive is that he can survive in South Jersey on $11/month. That was almost unfathomable even fifteen years ago.

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
12 years ago

Thats an awesome story

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

It is a great story. Unfortunately, people like Paul are few and far between. For most people, the goal of being wealthy is a means to an end, allowing them to consume more. I worry about our consumer culture.

kick_push
kick_push
12 years ago

inspiring!

Steve S
Steve S
12 years ago

I understand the message we’re supposed to take away from this, but I can’t help but play devil’s advocate:

How much of his fortune did he earn through these hastily-mentioned “rental properties” (notice the plural)? It’d be nice to think that frugal living on $11/hour can make you rich enough to be giving away 7-figure sums, but I’m guessing he derived significantly more income than this in the form of rent over the years, and he could have ended up selling them for monstrous gains (40-50 yrs of home appreciation).

My 2 cents…

BillinDetroit
BillinDetroit
12 years ago

@Young Professional: “I don’t know when I buckled down and got serious about making money,” Navone said. “It just grew into my lifestyle. With age, it got more serious. I never denied myself anything, but I certainly never spent on something outstandingly lavish.” His rental properties allowed him to invest the lions share of his wages. The guy has another donation for a similar amount scheduled for Jan 9. (Two separate tax years ). He had a financial adviser (the head of the college is a longtime friend and adviser), so he actually got the benefit of a college education… Read more »

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

I think that this is the result of a monklike austerity. I note that he was unmarried.

SingleGuyMoney
SingleGuyMoney
12 years ago

That’s a great story and really inspiring.

Frugal pursuit
Frugal pursuit
12 years ago

Thank you for sharing this story. It is quite inspiring and certainly makes me feel like saving and living frugal can come with quite the payoff at the end–especially if I want to share the bounty. Mr. Navone could have kept all his money to himself. Instead, he gave it away to a small community institute of higher education. This reflects what he thinks is important to the future.

Sam
Sam
12 years ago

I loved this story but didn’t find it all that surprising. This fellow lived through the depression and people who did so, like my grandparents, have a different view point on money. I felt like I was reading about my grandparents, little eduction (although my grandparents graduated high school), time in the military (my grandfather served in WW II and Korea) and hard, hard, hard work. My grandparents also owned real estate which funded a very nice retirement. I’ve talked a lot with my grandfather about our debt pay down project and while he is very supportive he has a… Read more »

MoneyChangesThings
MoneyChangesThings
12 years ago

I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories, too.
Here’s a great one about Harry Alford who owned Dexter Shoes, in Dexter, Maine. I don’t know if he was self-made, but he’s done a pretty amazing thing, willing each baby in Maine a $500 college account!
http://moneychangesthings.blogspot.com/2007/12/quirky-philanthropy-turning-shoes-into.html

plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

The thing that I like to take away from stories like this, is that if he can be rich on such a tiny income, then with all my education and opportunities, I can do it too.

And I’m sure he did really well out of the rental properties, but they don’t exactly buy themselves.

Aimee
Aimee
12 years ago

I do admire him for his dedication and generosity. It’s sad though, just think of how much he could have done if he had gotten an education and earned more money.

Andrea >> Find a consultant
Andrea >> Find a consultant
12 years ago

Did he retire at 65? That’s 13 years ago. That’s like earning around $18 an hour. If he got overtime for working more than 40 hours, it would be like earning $67k a year.

If he saved $1000 a year from age 20 to 65 at 8% and then let it sit till now, he’d have $1.1M. $1000 was probably a lot of money at 20, but maybe he lived at home till he was 25 or something.

trey
trey
12 years ago

Here’s a similar story from my alma mater:
http://www.usm.edu/pr/oola1.htm
It’s not quite a million dollars, but it’s no less touching. Stories like these show just how important smart personal finance can be…and not just in our own lives.

Rebecca
Rebecca
12 years ago

I like to read about smart frugality — and his partially was (driving an old car, etc.) And for those who stated what if he had used that money on an education…I think it’s pretty meaningful that he decided to leave that money to an educational institution.

The only part that bothers me is when they’re talking about how impressive his frugality is, they mention that he only left the region twice in his life. I think that’s pretty sad, not something to be impressed by, and certainly not something people should aim for in an attempt to be frugal.

Daria
Daria
12 years ago

Can I say that I sort of agree with a devil’s advocate position. It’s a good story and we hear so much about opulence that it’s good to hear a story of austerity. But, it wouldn’t have been the life for me. One of the articles says he only travelled out of state twice. Travel and exeriencing the world is important to me And I will spend money on it 🙂

Balance is important and it’s good to hear from both sides so we can all find balance for ourselves.

Rob Madrid
Rob Madrid
12 years ago

It goes to show that living frugal and being carefull with your money can pay dividends. But as others pointed out I’d like to enjoy life as well.

MossySF
MossySF
12 years ago

People are saying “it’s sad he only left the state twice.” Remember, not everybody shares your tastes. For some people, travel holds no allure. They go somewhere, take some photos and think “I could have gotten the same experience googling these photos on the internet”.

bryan
bryan
12 years ago

haha i live like 20 minutes from this guy. i give this guy his credit for being generous with his giving. i am starting to realize though that most people around me who are older have quite a bit of money saved up ($1M+) and live average-joe lifestyles. a lifetime of earnings and half a brain will likely put you in a pretty good financial position when you are in your 70s. i think the real success stories are from people who amount this kind of wealth by the time they are in their 30s. thats just my opinion, not… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

I think there’s a good reason we don’t hear stories like this very often. If you’re content with an austere lifestyle, to the point where you would choose to live that way even if you had millions, then large sums of money are generally not going to be something you chase after. Unless you intend to give the money to someone else, it just doesn’t matter.

justin
justin
12 years ago

His money came from his rental properties, since they allowed to save the bulk of his wages. He lived like a monk.

How is that supposed to be inspiring? Sure, you too could buy some rental properties and have no life except calling Bingo. Whoopie!

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Several of you have made interesting points: Navone made a lot of his income from rental properties. One of the articles I linked to mentions that he was able to live off the rent from these three properties, and then invest the rest of his earnings. But all the same — he still had to purchase those properties. It’s all part of the same Big Picture. In my mind, anyhow. 🙂 Saving millions of dollars is no good if you don’t live life. I agree that Navone’s life seems rather Spartan. But from what I can tell, he’s been happy.… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

Navone got rich the smart, sure-fire way. He worked, invested his earnings wisely, and lived sensibly. Our society believes in get-rich-quick schemes which hardly ever work in real life. People seem more interested in living a false, bling-bling lifestyle supported by large amounts of debt than building true wealth. This is partially why so many Americans are defaulting on their mortgages. They borrowed money to buy houses they couldn’t afford using lending schemes that were too good to be true. I don’t think Navone lived like a Monk, but I do think he put savings first and then lived conservatively.… Read more »

Jen
Jen
12 years ago

Yeah, I love some of the “if only he’d…” comments.

First of all, he didn’t just amass *a* million, it says he has millions more left.
Secondly, as JD points out, he had to buy and maintain those rental properties, with money he’d earned and saved.

If he’d wanted to travel or spend, he could surely have done so and still had, say, one fewer million to spread around now.

I hope that all the people suggesting he should have done things far differently already have at least their first million saved up.
;-/

The_Overdog
The_Overdog
12 years ago

There are only 2 million people in the entire US with more than $1 millon in investable assets (not including primary home), and 7 million with a net worth of at least $1 million in total assets (including primary residence). of those 2 million, the median is $4 million, so there are 1 million people in the US with more than $4 million in investible assets. There are 300 million people in the US, so $1 million is surprisingly rare, no matter how many stories you’ve heard. And this guy’s frugality is pretty amazing, but taking it that far is… Read more »

db
db
12 years ago

Who cares how many times he left the region? He’s lived his life exactly the way he wanted to and for that alone he’s an inspiration.

And I think we ought to look at the lesson here — that happiness (not just wealth) isn’t a by-product of expensive trips and expensive toys. He seems happy and I bet he’s a joy to be around. It’s how you live each day.

Roger
Roger
12 years ago

I don’t get the education comments. A lot of people who “take education seriously” don’t get out of school until their mid-20’s or even later, all years they could have been earning–and the more you set aside early the better off you will be. On the travel, I could care less about travel myself, and there are others like me. Everyone has things that are important to him or her. My great uncle did a similar thing, left an estate of $2M having never earned more than a modest salary. But investing was his hobby. Heck, he even traveled and… Read more »

justin
justin
12 years ago

Part of the problem is we don’t know what this guy’s actual income was. If he was living off his rental income and investing most of that $11 an hour, then his income WASN’T only $11 an hour. It’s a very misleading story.

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

Paul Navone’s story reminds me of Anne Scheiber’s story. She died a recluse in 1995 at 101. After having spent years as an auditor for the IRS, and never getting a promotion even though she was one the department’s most diligent employees, she retired in 1943 and spent the rest of her life investing in the stock market. There has been alot written about Anne Scheiber. She lived in a 450.00 per month rent controlled apartment in NYC. She never earned more than $3200.00 per year. She didn’t let the money she lost during the depression stop her from investing… Read more »

MossySF
MossySF
12 years ago

Did someone give him those rental properties? If not, then he had to buy those rental properties using his less than $11/hr income. Hence, whether he’s living off rental income NOW is irrelevant.

DeeDee
DeeDee
12 years ago

Great story! But, the first thing that came to mind was – this guy must not be married or have any children. It seems that most people(not all) who achieve these rare feats are usually childless and unmarried. I wonder what the stats are on this idea?

However, it’s still a great achievement.

John
John
12 years ago

Am I the only one who finds this only half-inspiring? I mean, bingo at McDonalds? I understand living well below your means, and earning through hard work, but sometimes you need to expand your horizons and experience the world beyond Bingo dobbers and a crummy fast food chain.

Juan
Juan
4 years ago
Reply to  John

John, that is your perspective. When you retire you should do what pleasures you. He does what he likes. That is why he worked hard all his life. He has earned the right to live his life in which ever way he wants. When you live your life then it should not matter what other people think as long as what you do is legal.

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Wow, I can’t believe all the people here telling him how he should have lived his life. If he followed your advice, he wouldn’t have been as successful as he had been.

The successful man is one who defines success for himself and achieves it. It doesn’t matter to him what you think of him.

Davidson
Davidson
12 years ago

I know Paul Navone, and do not feel sorry for him. He is a happy individual with incredible wit and common sense. He enjoys helping others and is finding this experience the best in his life. The experience of donating is opening up a whole new world to him and he is loving it. He is proud to have saved so much to make such a difference in the lives of so many others.

junger
junger
12 years ago

Two stories hit the front page of Digg in one day — congrats JD!

Not your mamma
Not your mamma
12 years ago

My Father did the same thing, but he never made close to $11/hr – he always made $7/hr or even minimum wage…didn’t have a tv for 14 years – does now though (but doesn’t have a phone)…eats at free meal sites…never drives…never goes to McDonalds…just invested everything he had in the stock market since he was young. Everything he has he got from someone discarding it (for free).
He’s a genious, happy, and one of the nicest men on the planet, and my hero.

Sceptic
Sceptic
12 years ago

I call BS. Just the stock market 11 bucks an hour

Sandra
Sandra
9 years ago
Reply to  Sceptic

Of course it can happen on eleven bucks an hour.

There was the fact that he had no family, had real estate, and worked overtime. Also, some people just don’t spend a whole lot of money.

Frugality can go a long way.

local g
local g
12 years ago

I was raised as an episcopalian and we always valued thrift, beige food and economy above all else. my church was tiny and austere but had one of the richest congregations in the state. ignore bling and flashy things, people who have real wealthy don’t care about those things.

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

I think this guy is a great example of how to wisely invest your money – and that anything worth doing is worth doing right… and that means exercising patience. HOWEVER… c’mon. His life has been half-lived, and he’s just sitting on money for the sake of it. If he’s not going to go out there and explore the world in his twilight time… then what has all his work, and investing earned him? Absolutely nothing. The point isn’t just to become wealthy, but to use that wealth as a resource to do more than donate. How about investing in… Read more »

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