Leafing through last night’s Wall Street Journal, I found a book review about Chuck Feeney (here’s a similar article I found online), my first response was, Chuck Who?

If you’re like me who didn’t know, Chuck was actually ranked 23th on Forbes Richest List in 1988. Except now, he isn’t. He has already given out most of his wealth to charity. He belongs to a class of wealthy people whom I greatly admired. Among that class, the list includes people like:

  • Andrew Carnegie (Industrialist Magnate)
  • Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway)
  • John D. Rockafeller (Standard Oil)
  • Sam Walton (Walmart)
  • Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea)

What distinguishes these men, are not just about their immense wealth, but that they lived a more modest lifestyle than most ordinary people despite being rich. This list is further segregated down to a few of my favourites, at the top being Warren Buffet, followed by Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockafella.

There is a common theme among these 3 I’ve mentioned, that they have contributed much to philantrophy. Buffet had given out his wealth under the auspices of the ‘Bill and Merlinda Gates Foundation’, not under his name. Carnegie and Rockafeller had also given their immense fortunes away, but they left behind a legacy that carried past them, in terms of their foundations, as well as with famous landmarks like Carnegie Hall and Rockafeller Centre.

I love people who are great contributors to philantrophy, but I believe that the motivations behind the contributions are equally important too. To quote John Train, from one of my favourite books, “Money Masters of Our Time”:

“Philantrophy, while meritorious, on a large scale, becomes a political act. The tycoon who extracts a fortune from the public to build a museum in one place rather than another has not created new beauty, only imposed his priorities on society.”

That is what really impressed me about Chuck. As rich as he is, he has given his wealth anonymously, not seeking to have his name etched into a monument for posterity.

It’s just me, but I really enjoy people who are truly altruistic, because I believe that’s what humanity is all about. I know it probably doesn’t amount to much Chuck, but I’d like you to know that you have topped my list as the new No. 1 of the people that I have aspirations to be.

Personal Experiences

Over the course of my career, I had the opportunity to know a very well-off executive who holds a number of major positions in a number of Australia’s biggest companies. He is however, a frugal man, who does not spend his money on excessive luxury items or fund himself for a flamboyant lifestyle. Not just that, he is an amazingly affable person, someone who has never carried himself as being snobbish or showoff-ish at all.

Between the occasional Subway lunch treats, and the dollar notes he dishes out of his wallet into the hands of the homeless people on the streets, I really don’t see how different the rich are from the poor. The only differences that I know of, are those of jerks who install gold plated taps and those who are not.

Lesson Learnt

I see a lot of commonalities between these rich people, that they have inculcated the value of frugality in their lives. Perhaps it was the combination of an impoverished background and upbringing in their earlier years that defines this virtue, something I can relate from the experiences of my own personal life.

If rich men can live with such frugality, I certainly can’t see why common people like us should have an excuse to participate in frivolous1 consumerism. The credit card and the debt driven culture many have grown addicted to should be something that should be curtailed. If there is a lesson that everyone can take away from it will be that we should only spend what we can afford, but not in excess of it.

  1. The keyword here is frivolous. I don’t think that consumerism is bad, per se. In the words of Henry Ford, “More production could lead to better wages, which in turn would lead to more spending by the public, yet more production and eventually even higher wages.” ↩︎