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The Millionaire Who Was Frugal for a Greater Purpose

  • Blog Post by: A.J. Shepherd
  • February 16, 2012 - 10:36 PM

I came across this story last week in the Huffington Post. It was about a 96-year old woman who died in late 2010 and left $1.7 million to the Salvation Army. This happens all the time, right: rich folks leaving large amounts to charities? True - but Elinor Sauerwein wasn't known for her high lifestyle. She was a frugal millionaire.

According to the East Idaho News, Elinor lived in a very humble home in Modesto, California. A school-teacher who had graduated college in the early '30s, Elinor would travel by horseback to a one-room schoolhouse in rural Nebraska. She married in 1945 and then moved out to California to work on a ranch with her husband.

Here are some interesting tidbits about her frugal lifestyle:

  • She grew her own fruits and vegetables
  • Never purchased a dryer - instead opting to use a clothesline in the backyard
  • Refused to go to restaurants, movies or pay for cable (though the Huffington story indicated that in her late 90s she did finally get cable installed and loved the History channel)
  • Never went on vacations (her only one was a trip to Hawaii in her later years - which a friend had to convince her to do)

“Most people around her thought she was poor. Sauerwin’s friends knew she had money, but they just didn’t know how much,” said Elinor's financial adviser.

But in the end, Elinor had amassed about $2 million dollars from savings and investments.

“She said every dollar I save is another dollar that could go to the Salvation Army. Her goal for years and years was to amass as much as she could so it would go to the Salvation Army,” her financial adviser told ABC News.

There is something very pure and noble about a life lived like this. Living to "amass as much as she could" so it would go to charity? And, she didn't get to enjoy any of it?

This is hard for me to even fathom. Saving and saving - living like a cheapskate for your whole life - and then not enjoying any of its benefits later on. Odd huh?

What do you make of Elinor's story? Too much the cheapskate or is there something to the way she lived?

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