Lifestyles of the Famously Frugal

  • Is cheapness an American virtue?

    In her new book, In Cheap We Trust, Lauren Weber extols the virtues of frugality. She argues that cheapness is, in fact, at times an American virtue — we can save when we have to, or when it is to our strategic advantage (as during wartime). We weren't always credit card crazies ordering stuff at 2 a.m. from QVC. Here are six people Weber highlights as famously cost-conscious Americans... Photo Credit: tyger_lyllie
    #1: Benjamin Franklin
  • #1: Benjamin Franklin

    Perhaps better known for signing the Declaration of Independence or inventing bifocals, the frugal Franklin ironically adorns our $100 bill. He authored Poor Richard’s Almanac, in which he advocated industry and thrift as means to achieving a comfortable life, and is credited for famous sayings such as, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Photo Credit: tetsumo
    #2: Hetty Green
  • #2: Hetty Green

    Green was the real-life “Scrooge” of American history. Green was a 19th-century millionaire from a wealthy whaling family. She lived like a pauper in freezing tenements on cold oatmeal out of sheer cheapness ... of course, she fascinated the public at the time. She even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s greatest miser.” It is said that when her young son broke his leg, she refused to pay for a doctor to treat the injury, opting instead to deal with it herself. The leg became gangrenous and eventually had to be amputated. Aside from her pathological penny-pinching, Green was a "steel-willed" investor who profited greatly from railroad, finance and real estate deals. She was nicknamed the "Witch of Wall Street." Photo Credit: epicharmus
    #3: Thomas Eddy
  • #3: Thomas Eddy

    Eddy was a wealthy Quaker insurance broker and the driving force behind opening the Bank for Savings in the City of New York in 1819, one of the nation's first savings banks. Eddy thought that if America’s lower working classes were taught to save, rather than blowing all of their money on lotteries and tavern tabs, the poverty rate would swiftly fall and people would find themselves with greater "self-respect." It is sort of fascinating that American savings banks started with such philanthropic motivations! I don't think Eddy would be a fan of "monthly maintenance fees." Photo Credit: walla2chick
    #4: Henry David Thoreau
  • #4: Henry David Thoreau

    Thoreau was a key part of the Transcendentalist movement in the 1830s and 1840s, a philosophy that Weber says advocated a "deeply spiritual and deeply personal version of thrift, a way of life built around the notion of material simplicity." Instead of seeking material wealth, Thoreau preferred to see people pursue spiritual truths. He wrote that "a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without." He is also famous for this line in Walden: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Photo Credit: villy
    #5: Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • #5: Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Emerson was one of Thoreau's close friends and also a Transcendentalist. He was born in 1803 and grew up poor after his father, a minister, died of tuberculosis. After his first wife died, he was left with a solid stream of yearly income, allowing him to further pursue his intellectual interests. He credited his extremely poor early years with instilling in him an enjoyment of learning and life's most basic pleasures. Photo Credit: Wikimedia
    #6: Simon William Straus
  • #6: Simon William Straus

    Straus was a Chicago banking heir and founder of the Franklin Trust and Savings Bank (of course named after fellow penny-pincher Ben Franklin). As a banker he benefited whenever a deposit was made at his institution, but he was also a true believer in the virtues of thrift ... He believed that time and money could be spent frugally. Additionally, in 1914 Straus founded the American Society for Thrift (sounds like an exciting place!) and regarded thrift as a form of patriotism. A bit zealous, maybe. But it's always good to save: just ask this guy. Photo Credit: kevindooley
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