Setting An Example

9 03 2008

Everyone has a different meaning of wealth.  Some people would cite having friends and a loving family in their definition, and while most people do want this side of wealth, everyone would still love to have tons of money.  Some people publicly acknowledge it and others secretly dream about what they would do if money weren’t an issue.

Imagine this: you own a multi-billion dollar international corporation.  There really are no limits to what you can do. 

You don’t need to worry about retirement like the average person, you’ve set up a trust for college educations for your whole family, many generations down the line.  You’ve bought your beach house in California, your ski lodge in Aspen, your loft in New York City, your mansion in the Hamptons, all with matching cars of your choice, and the necessary Gulfstream to fly you to all of your residences.  Now what?  Jewelry?…eh, you’re over it.  More cars?…you can really only drive one at a time.

When does having tons of money become a burden?  When does it become a disease? You’ve done all the cool stuff that everyone dreams about, although I would really love to swim in a pile of gold like Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tails (a whoo-ooo!).

At this point you can really only do two things with your money.  1. Make more of it or 2. Be generous.  Most people (I hope) would turn to charitable causes.  I know I would probably start a foundation a la the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Yes, it’s shameless and self-promoting to name a foundation after yourself, but you’ve done well, I don’t think anyone would mind if you tooted your own horn a little bit, especially if you’ll be giving away billions of dollars.

Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that no one knows who you are?

But I have billions, I own an international company! How can no one know who I am?  I’m getting ready to start a foundation, how am I supposed to name a foundation after myself if no one knows who I am?

Because you’re smart.  You are Chuck Feeney.  You founded Duty Free Shoppers and you placed all bank accounts in your foreign wife’s name so you would avoid paying taxes.  As a result, no one knows who you are.

Fortunately for Mr. Feeney, his wife didn’t take him to the cleaners when they got divorced.  She only got $100 Million…and a few houses…and a plane.

What did he decide to do with the rest?  He gave it away, anonymously.  He founded Atlantic Philanthropies in Bermuda so he could avoid U.S. disclosure laws.  His foundation has donated to many schools and to many causes.  Upon the sale of his company, he had all of the proceeds ($8 Billion) put into Atlantic Philanthropies with orders that it all be spent by 2016.

He is now worth (personally) about a million dollars.  He takes public transportation, wears a watch with a rubber band, and lives a frugal working class lifestyle.  According to his friends he never really let the wealth get to him.

So, if he’s so anonymous, how do I know about Mr. Feeney?  Because he is allowing a friend to publish a book on him, and there is a great article on him in the Los Angeles Times.  Read it, it’s a great read.

I wanted to post this because I think many people think the goal of frugality is “live like no one now, and you can live like no one later.” While this is true to an extent you have to remember to stay grounded when you get wealthy. There is a point where money can’t buy you more happiness. Chuck Feeney has found this, Bill and Melinda Gates have found it out and Warren Buffet is the best example of this (more on him in a later post). Maybe being frugal is not just a phase in life but a way of looking at life.