A real millionaire next door

Kris and I love our neighborhood. People are friendly and helpful, yet mostly mind their own business. It's a perfect combination. One of our favorite neighbors is the old guy next door. Let's call him John.

John is a 71-year-old retired shop teacher who lives in a modest ranch house on half an acre, the same house he's had for over forty years. He has an old barn filled with salvaged lumber, outdated appliances, and who knows what else. When he's around, he drives a junkie 25-year-old station wagon. But most of the time, he's not around.

He spends his winters in New Zealand helping friends on a dairy farm. His summers are spent fishing in Alaska. For a couple of months each year, he's home, puttering in the yard. Year-round, he rents his house to boarders. He leads a very active retirement.

John is full of advice, all of it laden with colorful euphemisms. When I erected my berry patch, he was the one who told me how to build the trellises and gave me the material to do so. He's eager to help us prune our shrubberies. “I can get my chainsaw and cut the damn things out,” he says with a big grin.

A few months ago, John asked if I had a roll of plastic. “Actually, I do,” I said. “It's greenhouse plastic. Will that work?”

“Sure,” he said. “I'm just going to use it to make storm windows. I build a wooden frame and then stretch the plastic around it, and that lets me save money on my heating bill.”

John was working in the yard recently when I returned from a trip to the book store. “What do you have there?” he asked by way of conversation.

“Nothing much,” I said. “Just a few books on personal finance.” I showed him the titles. His face broke out in a grin, and a twinkle appeared in his eye.

“That's great,” he said. “That's really great. I'm glad to see somebody as young as you are interested in investing.”

“I'm not that young,” I muttered.

“Sure you are,” he said. “You have a long time ahead of you. And if you get started now, you can save a hell of a lot of money.” We'd never talked about money before (and he had no idea I keep a web site about personal finance).

“Let me tell you something,” he said. “I was a school teacher. I didn't have a big salary. But I saved what I could, and I invested it. I got a little lucky, but mostly I just kept putting the money away. Do you know much I have now?” I shook my head. “Over a million dollars,” he said. “And all because I kept at it. And because I did stuff like this.” He waved his hand to indicate his yard.

I looked at his apple tree and his grape vines and his raspberry canes. I looked at the house with the make-shift storm windows. I looked at his 25-year-old station wagon. I looked at his beat-up charcoal grill. I looked at his shabby clothes.

“I don't buy anything unless I need it,” he said. “And even then I try to find something used. Let other people buy the new stuff. I try to scrounge for everything I need. It may not seem like much, but it makes a real difference. By pinching my pennies right along, I've been able to set aside money to invest. And now I can do whatever the hell I want.”

This exchange made me smile, of course. Here's a man who has lived the philosophy I've adopted for myself, who has lived the philosophy I espouse on this web site. He has lived this life and has been successful. Here's a man who is happy and fulfilled. Here's a man who is a real-life millionaire next door.

Best of all, here's a man who brings me fresh-caught Alaskan salmon every fall.

Sometimes people write to tell me that nobody can get rich slowly. “That's no way to live,” they say. I don't believe them. I've seen enough examples of people in my own life who have become rich the slow and steady way. John is one of them. It's true I've known a couple of people who inherited wealth, and a couple more who achieved wealth via small business. But I've never known anyone personally who got rich quickly.

More about...Frugality, Retirement

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

136
Leave a Reply

avatar
newest oldest most voted
JerichoHill
JerichoHill

JD,

I got the same kind of reaction from one guy on my blog, in that, you can’t get rich slowly, or what kind of lifestyle is that? He actually thought that actively eating out would save money in the long term.

Weird.

plonkee
plonkee

I wonder if the secret is to not care. It sounds like he really doesn’t care about having new things, whereas I *so* do. I’m probably never going to be one of your real life stories of amazing financial success. I just care about having nice things too much.

On the other hand, it’s a reminder that I can get what I want for less, and if I do so, maybe I won’t get a million pounds by the time I’m 55, but I might still get rich, even slower.

NoWin
NoWin

…I’ll grant the guy credit for his drive and focus over the years, but I caught that it is also sometimes at the expense of others. Note he bums the roll of plastic off his neighbors (and a roll of plastic where I am ain’t that cheap). Now, as long as he freely reciprocates (fresh fish!), I’m all for it, but I know too many people with amassed wealth that got there by simply nickle and dime-ing their friends and neighbors to “their exclusive benefit” without any form of help or offering in return. Having a mil is one thing,… Read more »

Angell
Angell

This is what I love about your site (and also the reason you make a great writer).

You tell stories very well. Compulsive, easy reading with a powerful message.

JB
JB

I just hope he didn’t suffer his whole life so he could do whatever he wanted at 71 years old.

What’s the point of having the million dollars if you’re still going to wear shabby clothes and drive a 25 year old station wagon? Why not have $0 in the bank and wear shabby clothes and drive a 25 year old station wagon?

Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders

The point of having a million dollars, driving a shabby car, etc., is not trading in the shabby car and life as a shop teacher for a nice car and a pressure-cooker job among status-obsessed people.

Million Dollar Journey
Million Dollar Journey

I love hearing stories like that, thanks for sharing J.D. And for what it’s worth, you CAN get rich slowly, proof is in the pudding.. or neighbor in your case!

Jill
Jill

He is my kind of people. Bad grammar intended.

Like poster #4 I say your storytelling is fantastic.

J.D.
J.D.

First, I want to make it clear that I respect and admire my neighbor. He’s a great guy.

Second, it’s true that he relies on the help of others, but he also freely gives his own help.

Third, I don’t know much about his past at all, but my impression is that he hasn’t suffered his whole life to get where he is. He has a real zest for life, and I suspect that’s always been there.

I hope to learn more from John this fall when he returns from Alaska. With fish.

Diatryma
Diatryma

“Now I can do whatever the hell I want.” Yeah, that’s a thing to strive for. JB, I think that Plonkee is right. If you don’t care about a new car, there is no difference between a shiny brand-new one and a beaten-up old one. If you don’t care about $computerthing, there is no difference between a quad-core crammed-with-RAM casemodded gaming box and an old Pentium that still works for writing the Christmas letter each year. If there is no difference to you, why not go for the cheaper one? It’s brain tricks, again. “What do I need the car… Read more »

Annie Jones
Annie Jones

I want to be John when I grow up!

TosaJen
TosaJen

Why the focus on clothes? Let’s see — he’s retired. He’s working around his house and his yard, or fishes in Alaska or farms in New Zealand. He was a SHOP teacher. Why on earth should he be wearing nice, new clothes for any of that?

What I find interesting is that he seems to be single. Does he have an SO or kids? I hear a lot more stories about the eccentric single person saving their way to millions than I do about a couple with children doing the same.

Daniel
Daniel

JD–

This is a great story – thanks for sharing it!

I have friends who think I’m nuts for canceling cable, who say they want to live life to the fullest. Well, yeah, I do too, and as long as I’m in debt I can’t live life to the fullest. They don’t understand that I’m sacrificing to win, and that my goal is long-term, like your neighbor’s.

I hope to be able to some day talk like your neighbor… and if I keep at it, I will be able to.

J.D.
J.D.

TosaJen, he does have children. I’ve never asked about his marital status. (He has no partner who lives with him now.)

Michael
Michael

I understand Plonkee’s sentiment. I don’t know how old Plonkee is, but I really think you have to just say F___ It to the rampant consumerism that is being shoved down our throats by all forms of media. Real enjoyment of life doesn’t come from posession of physical items, and someone is always going to make more money or have more stuff than you do. A lot of this becomes easier to understand as you get older, especially if you have children and are forced to start making some more sensible money decisions. I have an Uncle who died 7… Read more »

olderwiser
olderwiser

Seems like John is truly doing the Dave Ramsey thing…”Live like nobody else so you can live like nobody else.” Yea for John! He does what he wants, when he wants without a worry in the world. Life is full of “if onlys” and that is one of mine. If only I had heard that advice and made myself do it when I was in my twenties… If only I hadn’t thought I needed new/nice things all the time… If only I could have seen the future and what my spending habits cost me, my family, my relationships. And I… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

I also think it’s an attitude thing. I feel I have more than enough though I make less than half what some of my friends make. I think it comes down to your priorities and outlook on life whether you are happy (and financially successful) or not… unless of course you get lucky. :^)

Char
Char

Love this story and like Annie Jones “I, too, want to be John when I grow up”. The joy that this man obviously exudes is proof that he has lived a rich full life. My husband and I plan to retire in 8 years when our youngest goes off to college and we are chucking it all for the simple life so that we don’t spend our lives just making money. We both drive very old, well maintained vehicles, I hang our laundry and practice many simple lifestyles so that one day we can truly live life the way we… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel

@Nicole (15) – Attitude certainly has a lot to do with it. What I run into, though, is that some of my friends keep telling me that they want more for me than I want for myself. Um, no, not really. They don’t get that I’m sacrificing for now to win long term. So yeah, my attitude about it is fine – I don’t mine doing without some things (although, let’s be honest, I would LOVE to have an iPhone, a big flat-screen TV, a Hi-Def DVD player, a “this,” a “that,” and a “the other”). For example, I enjoy… Read more »

Andy
Andy

J.D.,

it would be interesting to know more about his way.

I guess this guy understands that happiness isn’t always money. You may find entertainment without spending a lot of money. You may find good clothes even it’s not Gucci or Prada. You may find doing something at the yard more enjoyable than wasting your money and time for things that won’t make you happier.

It depends on every single person’s view to life

Chris
Chris

I worked with a teacher who retired a few years back – as a multi-millionaire. He was extremely conservative, just like your neighbor. He drove the junkiest car in the parking lot, wore the same older clothes all the time and never invested in anything risky. He only put his money in cd’s and regular savings accounts, topping off a $100,000.00 at each bank – yes, he did deal with MANY different banks. This man inherited a large portion of his money, however he preserved it all and added to it regularly. What did I learn from him? Keep on… Read more »

DollarDream$
DollarDream$

JD

Good and inspiring post.

Check this out…

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/StockInvestingTrading/ToGetRichYouNeedGoodTiming.aspx

Is MSN copying your slogan? 🙂

Thanks

B Smith @ Wealth and Wisdom
B Smith @ Wealth and Wisdom

J.D.-Thanks for the great (true) story. I noticed several people commented on his standard of living. Shabby cloths. 25 year old station wagon.

It sounds like he doesn’t care what others think. Folks, this is one of the keys. Until you stop getting your self worth from the opinion of others, you will be constantly pulled down by materialism. He leads an exciting full life and should be proud!

LC
LC

Daniel – funny how people equate cable TV with living life to the fullest. In fact, it is the exact opposite – more time in front of the TV means less time LIVING.

TosaJen
TosaJen

I didn’t mean to imply that couples with kids don’t become MNDs, but I know we’d be FI by a substantial margin already if we hadn’t produced our two. DH has been a SAHD, and I’ve been in the same position during their early years; I am finally getting enough sleep to feel ambitious again. Those were our choices — it’ll just take longer, is all. I was going to say that maybe it’s easier for single people to be frugal, but I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve been more disciplined as a married person, because I have another person… Read more »

Lance
Lance

Great story, and a great real-life example of what saving can do. Really fits the “get rich slowly” theme too. Just keep at it, and before you know it, you’re in great financial shape.
Thanks for sharing this!

Healthy Amelia
Healthy Amelia

I think the key to John’s happiness is that his spending and lifestyle are 100% lined up with his values. He seems to value the ability to travel and live in different places based on the season — that’s where his money goes. He doesn’t value cars or clothes so it’s not really a huge sacrifice for him to not have new ones. It sounds like he lived his life in the most meaningful way for him and that’s how you wind up happy. While I agree with some of the comments in that I believe that happiness does not… Read more »

Penelope
Penelope

I second the getting rid of cable thing. Haven’t had it for three years, don’t see what the big deal is – wonder where the hell I got the time to watch it before cuz I sure don’t have spare minutes for it now!

Anne Keckler
Anne Keckler

My mother grew up very, very poor. Then she watched her older siblings all quit school as soon as they were legally allowed, and either join the military (the boys) or get married and have babies (the girls). She fought to get her diploma, against her parents’ wishes! She got rich slowly. She saved money, even when she was a woman working in the ’50’s, when women made so little money. She was never afraid to ask for a raise or to leave a job if she felt she wasn’t paid what she was worth. She bought her first home… Read more »

Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife
Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife

Enjoyed the story…too bad a million is not really enough anymore these days! But your neighbor does have a point…we are such a consumer “I want it now” mentality society…it can only be our downfall. I read an article recently..can’t remember where… that discussed what is it with us Americans and how we came from the thrifty, saving mentality of our grandparents….to this…it was very interesting reading, and if I remember correctly, a lot of it had to do with our media/advertising and how we are 24/7 being bombarded with these consumer crazy messages…everywhere we go! I just try to… Read more »

Anne Keckler
Anne Keckler

@Veteran Military Wife:

A million can certainly be enough, especially for a single person! A million dollars can be invested at 5% interest, and the person could live off that $50,000 per year pretty well. This is especially true if you don’t have a mortgage.

Rhonda
Rhonda

What’s the point of saving if you end up in shabby clothes and an old car? I have those things right now!

Seems that some people are so into saving that they save for saving’s sake, and not for future enjoyment. If I’m going to sacrifice now, I’ve got to know that there is something good down the road and not make shift storm windows!

Becky@FamilyandFinances

Awesome story!

The people that think you have to spend a ton of money in order to be living life to the fullest just don’t get it. Owning stuff doesn’t make you happy, not in the long run.

I’ve found that as I pay less attention to the things I’m “supposed” to own and what society thinks my life should look like, the happier I’ve become. I’ve also become more excited about the future. 🙂

Daniel@youngandfrugal

JD,

Once again, a fantastic post.

J.D.
J.D.

Rhonda wrote: What’s the point of saving if you end up in shabby clothes and an old car? I have those things right now! Well, I think each of us is different. My neighbor has saved so that he can spend on the things he values: travel and friends. For all I know, he dresses in expensive finery when he’s in New Zealand. For all I know, he has a yacht to fish from in Ketchikan. But around here, he keeps his expenses at a minimum, and I think he does it so that he can spend the money elsewhere,… Read more »

Jarick
Jarick

I suppose that’s the difference between having things you love and doing things you love. Although with the savings, it would be doing things you love later in life.

There’s a balance with everything. I don’t think most people would be happy driving old beater cars and wearing worn clothes but having a large savings account. Likewise living paycheck to paycheck in piles of debt isn’t much fun either, regardless of how many toys you have. It’s all about the middle. That’s where the creamy nougat usually is.

Phil A.
Phil A.

Very cool. I’m curious to know what his investments were during his million dollar journey.

KC
KC

This guy can probably point to 3 main things for his success – the willingness and persistance to save; a modest, affordable home; and an old car. Those are huge factors when it comes to building wealth. They are 3 I devoutly practice and they’ve been good to me allowing me to grow money faster. I don’t scrimp too much in other areas, instead choosing to live a little (not buying stuff, but rather enjoying dinner out, baseball games, modest vacations), but I make up for it in car and house savings. Having no car payment for years at a… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP

If John were 20 years older, he could be my grandfather. My grandpa was a WWII vet who worked as a govt employee in a blue-collar position, and he’s amassed a very comfortable fortune by carefully managing his finances. He and grandma raised 6 kids, and my grandmother worked after their youngest child finished school. They sent several kids to college, and no one ever did without anything they needed. He owns a large, comfortable home. He has a 20 year old truck. It isn’t a beater, he just drives so infrequently that it hasn’t needed to be replaced. When… Read more »

Mister E
Mister E

This story reminds me very much of my Grandparents. My Grandfather was a bus mechanic for his whole life, never earning more then a modest income. My Grandmother worked on and off (mostly on) and to call her income modest would be an understatement. But they saved as much as they possibly could and are now financially set. They’ve both been retired for 15 years and have travelled a fair bit, entertained and just generally enjoyed life. They didn’t live as paupers during their working lives either, they just didn’t spend excessively. No cable, books and video’s from the library,… Read more »

Rick Francis
Rick Francis

>plonkee says: >I just care about having nice things too much. Being frugal DOESN’T mean you can’t have nice things! Often you can get very nice things at bargain prices. The trick is that it will take a little bit of creativity and more patience. You can find great bargains at thrift stores, estate or moving sales too. Even if you pay full retail, if you buy quality items and take good care of them your things will last long time and the cost/time will be very small. I think the real question is, can you find satisfaction and reach… Read more »

rstlne
rstlne

Why save a million dollars if he’s only going to wear shabby clothes and drive a junky car? That’s not the only reason to have a million dollars. Financial security is the name of the game. What happens if he falls ill or needs to move to an elder care facility? No problem! He can afford it. Whereas someone who has saved up $0 would be very worried.

Erin
Erin

My uncle was just like your neighbor. He passed about 2 years ago, but was 101 when he did. He had a very comfortable life, traveled everywhere and any where, and was always there for my sister and me. To look at him, people always thought “oh, that poor old man.” He drove a minivan from the early 80s, wore patched up clothes, grew his own veggies and fruits in the back yard. When we sat down to split up his estate, we knew he had quite a bit of money stashed away, but no idea how much. Till all… Read more »

PW
PW

This is definately one of my favorite posts! I love hearing that he lives simply as well as the shabby clothes. I’m striving hard to let go of my consumerism. I have an old beat up car that gets me from A to B, but having a hard time giving up nice clothes, and I KNOW where to get nice used clothes but don’t often enough. He is an inspiration to me to keep trying a little bit at a time, to let go of the crap and get more focused on my values of getting out of debt and… Read more »

Douglas
Douglas

I love people that love new/nice things!!! People that want to change their cars often, are the ones that make available good running, lower priced used cars. Those are the people that by pushing to buy the latest computer, make last year’s model to be put on sale for half price. They are the ones that not finding more space for their closing, give them to charity/second hand stores. They are the ones that push companies to produce more efficiently and sell at lower prices, trying to sell more to those people. They are the ones that by wanting an… Read more »

handworn
handworn

This guy is the salt of the earth. Tell him from me that I want to be him when I get old. (Seriously, tell him; I wouldn’t mind it a bit.)

Grant
Grant

Amen! to Douglas’ comment – sometimes that rampant consumerism is exactly what makes it possible for me to get the used things I want still in good shape. So, thank you to those that do want new things. I don’t think that your choice to have new things now is bad – I just hope you made that choice informed. Most of the people I know who constantly have to have new things don’t even understand than there is another way to live. I know many of them would indeed be happier living a different lifestyle. But, if you’re not… Read more »

Mike
Mike

@Anne Keckler Says: @Veteran Military Wife: A million can certainly be enough, especially for a single person! A million dollars can be invested at 5% interest, and the person could live off that $50,000 per year pretty well. This is especially true if you don’t have a mortgage. I agree with Anne 100%. Even though I’m not single, but now recently engaged. I live in a small town, and for a few years living off of $10/hr ($20,800/year) co-own a house worth over $60,000. Comfortably make the mortgage payments and live well with lots to save at the end of… Read more »

Matt
Matt

Saving and living frugally can definitely get you to the state of being ‘rich’ though it probably won’t get you to being extremely wealthy – smart investing and a little risk are likely to get you there.

Your neighbor is a great example for getting rich slowly and he should be commended for his achievement.

Joe @ SimpleDebtFreeFinance
Joe @ SimpleDebtFreeFinance

“I’ve never known anyone personally who got rich quickly.”

Working in the technology field, and having worked in the .com era I have known many people who got rich quickly. The problem of course is that they got poor again just as quickly 😉

Money is not a cure all, and can cause many problems without the knowledge to handle it wisely. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

stuporglue
stuporglue

My dream life is to be retired and have a shed full of stuff to work on, and to get to wear beat up work clothes all day long.

I grew up in town, and was always envious of my friends on their farms with sheds of broken machines and machine shops and wood shops to work in.

I’ll get there slowly…

shares