This post is part of a continuing series called “Retiring Wealthy On An Average Salary” that looks at the inspiring stories of men and women who earned average salaries during their working years, but in the end retired wealthy, with plenty of money to spend and give. In fact, I've found that as I read more of these stories, these frugal investors also tend to be very generous people, giving away a huge chunk of their fortunes after they pass.
Today we have another story of someone who lived a frugal lifestyle, and was able to retire quite well off. Her name was Jane M. Buri, a St. Louis social worker.
The Story Of The Sensible Social Worker
When I read the story of Miss Buri – the social worker, one thing that struck me is that it sounds like she lead a pretty full life, despite the fact that she was so frugal. She frequently socialized with friends, and was very involved with her church. It also talks about how she allowed herself to have small indulgences like a trip to Europe, and a visit to the Rose Parade. She didn't live without, but she was frugal.
Jane M Buri, a school social worker, spent nearly four decades fighting to keep kids in class.
She tracked students to their homes, found them shoes, meals, jackets, and returned the truants to their teachers. She never married, never had children, never missed a day of work.
All the while, she was quietly building a small fortune. Buri died at 84 with $1.4m to her name.
Then in death, as befit her life, she gave it all away.
The last checks from her savings – willed to more than 50 friends, cousins and charities – should be arriving soon in mailboxes.
She gave to African missionaries, Legionaries of Christ and Catholic schools for the Sioux and Cheyenne. She donated to her high school, college and graduate school, to the south St Louis parish she visited thrice weekly, the Alexian Brothers nursing home where she volunteered, and the disabled friend she took to the discount grocery store every Friday.
How did she amass such an estate?
“It beats me,” said old friend and co-worker Genevieve O'Hara Brueggemann. “And it beats everybody who knew her.”
In retrospect, friends say Buri's savings made sense. They say she drove a 30-year-old car, watched an ancient TV, lived four decades in a house bought with cash in 1969 and just kept stacking charity donation envelopes in her sun room, until, once a year, she sent them all in.
They say she gave of herself and asked little in return.
Nobody's disputing that generosity. But it's not the whole story.
Because this isn't about someone who selflessly saved so others could have.
It's about someone who saved because spending more just didn't occur to her.
It seems as if so many of these closet millionaires are able to amass a fortune because living a frugal lifestyle comes as second nature. They're able to live with less, even still while enjoying some of the finer things, while allowing a lot of other things they don't need, that others might have bought, to pass them by.
Buri was a child of the depression, which may help to explain her frugal lifestyle. She did it out of necessity first, but then by habit.
Buri grew up in the packed city neighbourhoods of the Great Depression.
Her father ran a cigar shop in downtown St Louis. Her mother was a prim, fancy-dressing woman.
Buri was their lone child. They protected her, family members said.
“Nobody had too much money,” said Jack Goettelmann, Buri's cousin and her last relative in the area. “And all they did was try to improve.” Buri clipped coupons, her cousin said, because that was how she was raised.
As mentioned, she didn't deny herself when she wanted something.
Nor did she deny herself small indulgences. Some weeks, she ate out three meals a day, friends said. She traveled to Europe, and to the Rose Parade in California. She bought a baby grand piano.
There was nothing she wanted and didn't buy, said Brueggemann, the co-worker.
“She was frugal because she didn't need anything else,” she said. “She wanted that old car. She dressed the way she wanted to dress.”
When she passed away Miss Buri left an inheritance to many around her including missionaries, school associations, friends and family. In life she had realized that happiness doesn't come from money, and in her death she was able to continue giving to those around her and leave a legacy of caring. I can only hope I do as well to follow her example.