Retiring Wealthy On An Average Salary: The Story Of The Thrifty Engineer

A couple of times on this site I have profiled millionaires who became rich through hard work and determination, and  I talked about how and why they were able to rise to such success.

While those stories can be inspiring, sometimes they can leave us average folk thinking that dreams of becoming balance sheet affluent are beyond our reach because we aren’t able to create a six figure income or become wealthy within a few years.

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This week I decided to start a series of posts looking at the stories of more average folks who, despite making an average salary during their working years, retired wealthy and were able to help out a lot of people when they died.  I’ll call this series “Retiring Wealthy On An Average Salary”.

Today I want to look at the story of Jimmie Dean, the thrifty engineer.  (not Jimmy Dean the sausage magnate, who also has a great story and who we profile here.)

The Thrifty Engineer

Jimmie Dean was an engineer, who was raised in a family of modest means – in Washington County Oklahoma.    He believed in hard work, individual responsibility and education, and that through those things a person could achieve their goals and dreams.  After serving honorably in the Navy, he worked as an engineer at Phillips Petroleum for 33 years.  While he worked hard and with distinction, he never made a six figure salary.    The most he ever made was around $50,000 a year.   Even with such modest means, Jimmie was able to leave a substantial amount of land and money to his family, and still have enough to create a 2 million dollar scholarship fund for Oklahoma college students.   How did he do it?  Through being “frugal with his money” and investing in mutual funds.

A thrifty engineer from Oklahoma who died with $2 million and has set up a scholarship foundation.

Jimmie Dean (not to be confused with the sausage magnate) worked for 33 years as a technician at Phillips Petroleum. The most he ever earned was around $50,000 a year.

But he scrimped and saved and invested in mutual funds. When he died in 2008, he had more than $2 million in the bank. His bequest was to set up a scholarship fund.

He did it through being frugal with his money,” said Mr. Dean’s nephew, Bob Boyd, who now runs the Jimmie Dean Foundation.

The foundation is handing out scholarships of as much as $10,000 to students who show hard work and a commitment to remain in Oklahoma.

Granted, $50,000 a year in Oklahoma is decent pay. Mr. Dean was married only briefly and had one son. Still, getting to $2 million on a $50,000 a year salary is worth noting.

And at a time when giant philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett get so much attention for their largesse, it also is worth celebrating the little-knowns who saved all their pennies over a lifetime only to give it all away when it was over.

It just goes to show that even if you aren’t making a six figure income, you can still retire with a nice nest egg if you’re willing to do the hard work, be frugal, save and invest.

Does this story of living on an average salary and retiring wealthy help you realize that you could retire comfortably as well?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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I’m a thirty-something Christian Midwestern father of one son, and have been happily married for 9 years to my beautiful wife. I love playing tennis, shooting hoops, or taking part in the occasional flag football game. Of course, I love writing and financial topics as well, and that's how this site came into being! Check me out on Google +!

Last Edited: 12th October 2010


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  1. says

    Many people retire poor out of stupidity or carelessness. They spend a whole heap of money on things they don’t need. It’s not like the information isn’t out there, but so are theTV commercials that are just a bit more seductive than any message they will read on blogs like this.

  2. says

    I think what this shows is that many of our excuses are just garbage! We can take responsibility for our lives and have some discipline. There are a lot of things that we can control in life, and we need to make sure we are taking advantage of them all!

  3. says

    These stories are inspiring. I remember being younger and making comments about our neighbor who always looked like a mess…. then my dad informed me that he could buy and sell our entire neighborhood. Love these types of stories.

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