The Millionaire Next Door

Economic Opportunities Next Door

Some millionaires have more than one job. You might recall an earlier blog about Jerry, the pharmacist, who was also a business broker. Murray also has two vocations: he is a high school teacher who also owns and operates a house painting company. His case study may provide much food for thought for those who are confronting economic difficulties today.

Murray taught for several years in a school district that did not have a true commitment to academic achievement. So when he was given the opportunity to teach in a district where students ranked in the top tier in regard to SAT scores, college bound graduates, etc., he jumped at the chance. By making this change, Murray also encountered a significant increase in salary. Taken away by the euphoria of teaching in such a prestigious school and the upswing of his cash flow, Murray made a bad mistake. He bought a house in the lovely village where his school was located, but it was a house in a neighborhood they could barely afford. Typically, educators are a frugal bunch. In many ways, Murray and his family were frugal. But when you live in an affluent village everything costs more. It did not matter that Murray ate peanut butter sandwiches out of a brown bag every day or that he did all of his own home maintenance and repairs. Great defense was not enough. And when Murray’s third child was born, his wife stopped working to be a full-time homemaker.

Given these circumstances, the family was not able to contribute to a college fund for their children or to save any type of meaningful amounts of money. With the current economic situation today, these are some of the same problems that millions of people are facing. 

One summer day while Murray was painting his house, his next door neighbor stopped by to chat. “I wish I could paint my own house like you are doing, but I just don’t have the time; I travel so much with my job. The estimates I just got from 3 house painters took my breath away.” When Murray heard how much these painters who operate within his “affluent village” were charging, he nearly fell off of his ladder. Murray thought to himself that he was indeed grateful to be able to do his own painting.

The next morning, however, Murray had a revelation. Genius is often defined as seeing opportunities that are so obvious they go unnoticed by 99% of others. Murray realized that he could paint his neighbor’s house for a fraction of what the professional house painters had proposed and still make a sizable profit. He already had the knowledge and the equipment to do the job. And he was a very good painter for an amatuer. But, he thought, should an educator in the “affluent village” be out painting houses during the summer recess? What will people say? In the end, Murray decided that the economic welfare of his family was more important than what the neighbors might think about his moonlighting venture. 

He went next door and proposed to paint his neighbor’s house for two-thirds of the lowest bid given by the professional house painters. The neighbor took a chance and hired Murray. At this time he never envisioned starting a house painting business; he was just trying to make some extra money. But while painting his next door neighbor’s house, another neighbor came by and asked him for an estimate. He painted that house and then another and then another. In short order, Murray became overwhelmed with business. The next summer he hired several of his colleagues to help paint. He also hired his best and most conscientious juniors and seniors to earn extra money. And they continued to work for him during their summer breaks from college.

Murray kept his “day job” with all of its benefits. He enjoys teaching, but today he makes a lot more money from his summer work. He is successful because he didn’t let his perceived middle class status prevent him from earning a living in what some people might consider a “blue collar” vocation.    

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