When you think about the richest people in the world, you may envision them surrounded by all the trappings of wealth: race cars, yachts, mansions and other toys that most of the rest of us can only dream about. The term "frugal billionaire" may seem like an oxymoron, but a small subset of the richest of the rich are well-known for their penny-pinching ways. While most people will never have that kind of money to throw around, everyone can take a page from the fiscally-responsible habits of these billionaires.
Probably the most famous cheapskate since Scrooge, Buffett lives a modest lifestyle despite his net worth of around $44 billion. He purchased a five-bedroom house in Omaha in 1958 for $31,500 and has lived there ever since. Buffett doesn't spend his money on electronics and reportedly doesn't carry a cell phone or have a computer at his desk. Although he could afford a whole fleet of limousines to be at his beck and call, he prefers to drive himself and owns a Cadillac DTS, which comes in at a modest $50,000 or so. When it comes to entertainment, the investment mogul shuns splashy parties and trips and spends his time playing bridge.
Zuckerberg makes the list as the world's youngest billionaire. Though he's still in his 20s, this Facebook creator has an estimated net worth of $17.5 billion. Almost all of his money is tied up in the social media company's equity. It can be argued that Zuckerberg simply hasn't had enough time to splash his wealth around or that it really doesn't exist until he takes the company public later this year. By all accounts, Zuckerberg keeps his life low-key and spends up to 16 hours a day at the office. He doesn't own his home, but prefers to rent a house down the road from Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters. Zuckerberg chooses t-shirts and jeans over expensive tailored suits and sneakers and sandals over Italian leather loafers.
Carlos Slim Helu
In 2010, Helu passed Bill Gates on the billionaire list to become the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $69 billion. He built his fortune in Mexico, where he owns over 200 companies including Telmex, the country's largest telephone service provider. He shares many frugal traits with Warren Buffett, including living in a modest home and eschewing computers. Helu, widowed since 1999, spends most of his downtime at home with his six children and his grandchildren. In a country where security is often sketchy, he still chooses to drive himself wherever he goes. Although much more dandily dressed than Mark Zuckerberg, Helu purchases most of his clothing off the rack from one of the many retail franchises he owns.
You might argue that Caudwell, now retired from the British cellphone empire he built from scratch, doesn't belong on this list at all. He owns many rich toys including a helicopter, yacht and a car worth more than most people's homes. When it comes to wasting money, Caudwell is a skinflint at heart. He cuts his own hair because he thinks barbershops are a waste of time and money. He buys his clothing off the rack at the British retailer Marks and Spencer. Before retirement, he would bike 14 miles to work each day rather than have someone drive him in his Bentley. Now, he bikes 40 miles every week to and from his favorite pub.
The Bottom Line
The uber-wealthy don't always live the high life, which helps them stay rich. The frugal billionaires listed above all came from modest means and frugality was learned and practiced by their families. They carried these lessons with them in business and, one hopes, they will pass them on to their children.