Ronald Read (1921–2014) of Brattleboro, Vermont, worked as a gas station assistant and a custodian at a J. C. Penney store. He was a thrifty man, and he even held his coat together using safety pins. Upon his death, he left $2 million to his stepchildren, caregivers, and friends, and another $6 million to the local library and a hospital. Read had built up a secret wealth by starting small, studying businesses that he understood, buying their stock, and holding them for the rest of his life.
Grace Groner (1909–2010) of Lake Forest, Illinois, lived a frugal life in a small one-bedroom cottage near Chicago. She got her clothes at hand-me-down sales, didn’t own a car, and worked most of her life as a clerk for Abbott Laboratories. Groner willed a $7 million scholarship endowment at Lake Forest College. The money came from three Abbott shares she had purchased in 1935 and let grow, reinvesting the dividends.
Agnes Plumb (1905–95) of Los Angeles left a $98 million estate to four hospitals. Plumb had amassed that fortune after liking cornflakes when they were first marketed and having her dad buy her Kellogg’s shares during the company’s early days. She allowed her investment to compound, and by the time she died, she had accumulated 1.3 million shares of the Kellogg Company. She was collecting some $437,000 just in dividends every three months.
Jack MacDonald (1915–2013) was a coupon-clipping, bargain-hunting Seattle lawyer. He even wore sweaters with holes in them, and people assumed that he was broke. When he died at age 98, he left a surprising fortune worth $187 million to various causes, including Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Kathleen and Robert Magowan (1925–2011, 1925–2010) of Simsbury, Connecticut, died within a year of each other. These twins lived as hermits throughout their lives and built up a fortune through wise stock market investments. They left $10 million worth to various civic institutions.
Curt Degerman (1948–2008) was a can-collecting street bum living in Skelleftea in northern Sweden. For three decades, “Burk-Curt” (‘Tin-Can Curt,’) as he was called, roamed the streets of his town in tattered clothes. In between collecting cans, Degerman spent much time in the town library studying business media and examining the stock market. He used his tin-can incomes to buy mutual funds and gold. When he died, he left more than $1.4 million to his cousin.
Time in the Market is a Great Compounder.
There’s one thing not apparent in these live-modestly-and-invest-prudently anecdotes. The fortunes of these seemingly ordinary, generous folks became so big due in no small part to their age.
With time, money has the chance for a heck of a lot of compounding. Money grows 10.83 times every 25 years if you consider a 10% historical mean return on equities. To take a prominent example, Warren Buffett, who’s now 90 years old, has made 99.7% of his fortune after 52.
Idea for Impact: Time in the stock market is infinitely more important than timing the market. Start investing early. Watch over your health. Live a long life. Grow your money. A long time horizon will enable your investments to grow through the “magic” of compounding.