An implicit question for anyone who believes in the American Dream is “What would I do if you had a billion dollars?”
But some real-life billionaires don’t have any fun. There are Scrooges who will do anything to save a penny. And some like Saint Francis who would rather give it all away.
Buffett is worth an estimated $47 billion, but he holds to his solid values. He gives an incredible amount to charitable causes and still lives in the Omaha, Nebraska, home he bought for $31,500 more than 50 years ago. He doesn't own a yacht because, as he puts it, 'Most toys are just a pain in the neck.' When he married his second wife, rather than a lavish affair, it was a brief afternoon wedding at his daughter's house in Omaha.
It's not a surprise that despite his $5 billion net worth, the frugal tycoon still stays in budget motels when he's on the road. Raised during the depression era by a barber father, Fred has been a penny-pincher all his life. In 1934, along with his father, he launched Meijer Thrifty Acres, one of the first to offer 'one-stop shopping.' After that, the money never stopped rolling in but Meijer stayed true to his values, choosing cars with high gas mileage and wearing inexpensive suits from the racks of his stores.
This guy is a far departure from the likes of Fenney and Buffett. 'Premji makes Uncle Scrooge look like Santa Claus,' remarks a Bangalore tech executive. As the owner of the technology-service giant, Wipro, Premji is worth more than $5 billion. Regardless, he is said to monitor the number of toilet-paper rolls used in Wipro facilities and demands that employees switch off the lights when leaving their offices. While he flies economy, drove an old Ford for years until it fell apart and gave his wife a Fiat and no chauffeur, Bangaloreans complain that he has a very limited interest in charity. After years of pressure, in 2000, he finally gave shares valued at $45 million to a education-oriented foundation in India.
The world's oldest billionaire (99 years old) lives in the same six-bedroom house he bought in 1948. Although he owns a private yacht and plane, he bought these luxury items to 'reward and encourage car salesmen who were doing well,' his attorney told Forbes in 2000. Likewise he owns a famous horse farm, but runs it as a profit-making venture. 'It has not always been exactly a modest life, but Walter is not a big spender compared to other billionaires,' the attorney said.
David Tepper, the hedge fund manager worth around $1.2 billion, lives in the same New Jersey two-story house be purchased with his wife in 1990. He doesn't own a vacation home and his three kids attend public school. In 2004, he donated $55 million to Carnegie Mellon's business school.
David Cheriton, the Stanford professor who has an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion from Google shares, hates the idea of living like a billionaire. 'I'm actually quite offended by that sort of thing,' he says, 'these people who build houses with 13 bathrooms and so on, there's something wrong with them.' Instead, Cheriton cuts his own hair, has lived in the same house since 1981, and drives a 1986 Volkswagen. In 2005 he donated $25 million to the computer science school at the University of Waterloo.
Aldi is to Europe is like Wal-Mart to the US. The brother duo behind the company,Theo and Karl Albrecht, together are worth an estimated $50 billion. Raised in a modest way by a shopkeeper mum and a miner father, they remained true to the vision of frugality that drives both their stores and their lives. When Theo was kidnapped for 17 days in 1971, his brother negotiated a bargain ransom of $4 million -- which he then wrote off as a business expense.
Though they live in intense seclusion, Karl's house has been identified as 'one of the least ostentatious in the neighbourhood, a modest A-frame house on four levels with a small terrace and a satellite dish on the roof,' according to The Irish Times. And he drives a 1980s Volkswagon.
Huang Guangyu, who was China's richest man before getting busted for insider trading, lived with his wife and two daughters in a small Beijing apartment. He was compared in a LA Times feature to a frugal accountant, and said to shun the 'golfing craze sweeping China' and have no hobbies. He learned the pauper mindset while growing up as a poor rice farmer. But he shuns ostentation for another reason: many in the communist nation are suspicious of the wealthy and see them as tax evaders and crooks. Which in the end, is just what Guangyu was.
Like some kind of bizarro prenup, Terry Gou pledged to donate 90% of his wealth to charity before marrying his second wife. It was a beautiful gesture, which the wife signed 'without hesitation. But some in Taipei were disappointed when the tycoon spent only NT$20 million on the wedding -- especially when a former girlfriend of Lau got married in the same weekend at a cost of NT$220 million. 'Unfortunately, Gou simply comes across as being a tad cheap,' complained an editorial in the Taipei Times.
The founder of IKEA has cultivated a frugal persona, which basically serves as the company mascot. He was celebrated in Forbes for driving a 1993 Volvo and dining at 'lower-tier restaurants.' But as most people know in Sweden, Ingvar splits his time between an 18th century Swedish mansion, an upscale Swiss villa, and a vineyard in Provence, and he also drives a Porche.
Forbes called this man a frugal billionaire, praising the fact that he biked 14 miles to work and cut his own hair. But we're not convinced.
Caudwell admitted as much in a recent interview: 'I became a billionaire in 2006 and I'm surrounded by the trappings. I have a yacht, a Bentley and a helicopter, but I prefer to enjoy myself physically. Cycling is my great pleasure. All my friends cycle now. Every Sunday we ride 40 miles to a local pub.' Indeed, he lives in a 16-bedroom Jacobean mansion and pays top dollar for a sexy nanny who was a Playboy model. Caudwell's girlfriend is a true billionaire's trophy, the former beauty queen Claire Johnson (pictured).
Caudwell is very active in charity. But not a pauper.
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