“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
So Fitzgerald was wrong. Not all “very rich” are very different — in fact, some are quite ordinary in their lifestyle and spending patterns. These ultra-billionaires live in modest homes, wear modest clothing and tend to save money rather than spend.
Perhaps that’s how they became billionaires.
Here we profile six of the ultra-rich who live well below their means. Their methods, their frugality, and their smart savings provide useful lessons to the non-billionaire masses who want to move up:
1. Warren Buffett
The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, described as The Sage of Omaha, is one of the world’s most famous humble people. He dines at the local Dairy Queen (not surprisingly, one of his investments). He lives in the same modest ranch-style house he bought a half-century ago for $31,500. He picks up his investment tips from financial newspapers he picks up at the drug store, or conversations he has at a local coffee shop.
He shuns fancy electronic gear and plays a ukulele, entertaining hundreds of fans who gather each year near his home in Nebraska to hear his financial predictions. He’s pretty good at those, having built a modest fortune into a personal worth of more than $60 billion. He has a policy of investing in things and people he knows well, things like soft drink makers, oil companies, automakers and food suppliers. He believes you should invest your money on things you use on a regular basis. Not a bad life credo. Oh, and he does use credit cards, one of which is a low-level American Express Green Card, not one of those luxury cards for the ultra rich.
2. Carlos Slim
A bit of billionaire trivia: Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim — the media mogul who bailed out a struggling New York Times — could spend a thousand dollars a minute for the next century and still not run to the bottom of his fortune.
Slim’s net worth is estimated at $60.8 billion, ranking him among the top 10 richest humans on earth. But he doesn’t show it. He doesn’t own a boat, much less a yacht. He flies commercial because he doesn’t wish to own a private plane. He drives himself to work each day from the modest home he has owned for more than three decades. He doesn’t need to flaunt. Better to save and hold tight to simple values of family and friendship, he believes.
3. Azim Premji
This Indian tycoon, investor, and philanthropist — often called the czar of Indian IT — lives like less like an aristocrat than a middle-class nonentity. Worth an estimated $16.2 billion, he drives a battered used Toyota, which is in itself is a step up from the battered used Ford Escort he one favored before.
The chairman of Wipro Limited is so careful with his spending, he monitors the number of toilet paper rolls used up by employees in his Wipro IT facilities. But that’s not to say he can’t be generous. He gives tens of millions to charities and has created a university and foundation to generate more high-paying jobs for Indians. If he must spend, he believes, the spending should have a larger purpose.
4. Jim Walton
This billionaire takes the down-home, low-price image of the organization that gave him his wealth, Walmart, to heart. The billionaire youngest son of the founder of the mass retailer drives a rusting Dodge Dakota pickup. He prefers to live in the one-horse town of Bentonville, Arkansas, even though his fortune estimated $36.9 billion entitles him to palatial abode in any of the grand cities of the world.
He runs the family’s personal wealth management company from the upstairs floor of a “plain old brick building”. His family made its fortune by investing in ways ordinary people could buy goods at a good price. He lives with that same Walmart ethic.
5. Ingvar Kamprad
The founder of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, worth an estimated $43.7 billion, doesn’t like to fly fancy. He travels by commercial aircraft, seated in economy style. He also prefers driving his trusty 10-year-old Volvo to being shuttled around in a chauffeured luxury car.
Like the furniture he sells, he touts the virtues of simplicity and common sense. Leadership, he believes, means leading by example. He instills a spirit of efficiency in living and humility among the managers of his global operations.
6. Manoj Bhargava
This billionaire, a bundle of energy and hard work, fittingly created the company that sells 5-Hour Energy drinks. Bhargava, born in India and now living in the U.S., has a net worth of around $1.3 billion. Bhargava has pledged to give away and donate a whopping 99% of his fortune, enough money to energize a lot of people.
Kale is a writer who specializes in money management and personal finance.