The Millionaire Next Door

Stop Acting Rich: Good Advice from a Frugal Engineer

I recently received an e-mail from an engineer whom I’ll call Mr. SC.  I’d like to share his story with you.   

 My wife and I have achieved multi-millionaire status by the very means Dr. Stanley has found in his studies. I perform the vast majority of tasks that most Americans would think a millionaire would outsource: I take care of my own yard work (run a chain saw to remove dead trees, clean the gutters, paint the trim, caulk the windows, dig drainage ditches, spread mulch), I perform my own oil changes, and I give my pets baths. We rarely eat out, spend large sums on clothing and vacations are infrequent and usually for the purpose of visiting relatives (where we can stay for free). What’s the saying: you’re truly rich when you can get someone else to take care of your things? I guess I’m not there yet. We do have a nice house and vehicles, but we use our money only in those limited categories where we spend most of my time and where we derive pleasure (although even here we are now rethinking some of this, reducing capital investment in real estate and vehicles because we’ve read studies which indicate people tend to be happier when spending money on experiences and less on assets: maybe we should trade that third car in for more vacation time?). We probably have had more of an advantage than most people. We have no children. We both have graduate educations from good schools and have had very good professional incomes. We have lived in low cost areas in the country (the southwest and the southeast). I also took a significant risk, leaving a Fortune 500 career in my mid-30’s (1993) to start a successful engineering consulting company. I sold that in 2003 (we used the proceeds from that sale to pay off our mortgage and now carry no debt). Despite those advantages, we face many of the issues afflicting others. Our income has declined by about 40% in this economy, due to the loss of engineering revenue (I recently bought my engineering business back for pennies on the dollar after the purchaser had problems keeping it successful – I’m rebuilding it now with little personal income, relying on my spouse). Despite this, however, we continue to save for retirement aggressively – both in terms of dollars and percent of income. 

Some millionaires find it easy to save aggressively for retirement because they are handy around the house like Mr. SC . In fact, nine percent of America’s decamillionaires (those with a net worth of $10 million or more) mow their own lawns; 14% paint the exterior of their own homes; 23% frequently conduct do-it-yourself plumbing; 29% are involved with do-it-yourself carpentry, and 54% are involved with gardening.  Most of these people grow a lot of their own vegetables!   

5 thoughts on “Stop Acting Rich: Good Advice from a Frugal Engineer”

  1. Random Thoughts of a Jersey Mom

    Thanks for sharing Mr. SC’s story. It’s really nice to be constantly reminded what other millionaires are like. It keeps me on track doing what I’ve learned from your books.

  2. While working in the corporate world I would outsource many of these same tasks (lawn mowing, plumbing, painting, etc.). It just made sense – what was the money for? – and it freed me to spend time with my family.

    Now working as an independent consultant (or unemployed, depending upon who is asking) I find I have the time to do more things around the house. I’m getting better at plumbing (fixed the backup to the sump pump today) and plan to see if I can make the yard look a lot better this year.

    I do admire, and somewhat envy, those folks who are adept at handyman skills. Many of the successful folks I’ve known also had significant talents away from the technology and management field we were in. It was clear they would do well in whatever enterprise they undertook.

  3. Because of my ineptness at being a handyman, I am “forced” to hire out for plumbing repairs or painting. Being debt-free has allowed me to pay others to do what I can not. While we aggressivley save for retirement and college for our elementary school-aged kids, we also “have to” put money aside for home repairs. It’s just a part of life. And I don’t mind getting good service for good money.

  4. I make my own Christmas and Birthday cards. The heck with paying five bucks for some printed generic thing; I can sketch a little design (or trace) and personalize it with their name in pretty colors and neat writing. The materials rarely cost more than a dollar and a few minutes, are liked much better than the stuff from the store, and are more personal.

  5. This certainly rings true! One of my strongest role models growing up was my best friend’s father. He was CEO of the largest bank in the state – but you wouldn’t know it. He wore his wealth and power with quiet dignity.

    They lived in the same modest home they bought in the 60’s (still do!), he did his own yardwork every weekend, and vacation amounted to 2 weeks at the beach every summer.

    They were also the happiest and closest family – next to my own – I ever knew. Their way of life made a profound impression upon me. My husband and I are gratefully following the same path.

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