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  • The story of a secret millionaire

    Hannah Duncan looks at the wonderful story of the eccentric Doris Schwartz and how she was able grow her estate to more than $4 million.

    Important notes

    This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

    This article is more than 6 months old

    It was correct at the time of publishing. Our views and any references to tax, investment and pension rules may have changed since then.

    An eccentric and frugal lifestyle

    Described by some as an eccentric “bag lady”, Doris Schwartz was determined to live life on her own terms without spending much money.

    Despite surviving on a diet consisting mostly of ice cream and peanut butter straight from the jar, she lived to the remarkable age of 93. Fixated on saving and always finding reasons not to spend, many presumed that she must have been stone-broke. She always had her hair cut at home and even her Christmas tree was decorated with small teacups and ornaments she’d picked up over the years. Doris Schwartz was a real character, never buying anything unless it was at a discount.

    But like so many of the great artists, Schwartz’s genius only came to light after her death. Little did her friends and neighbours know that she was secretly affluent. When hearing the news of her passing, neighbours were left gobsmacked to find that she had an estate worth more than $4 million.

    An unexpected turn

    What nobody had known about the extraordinary Doris Schwartz was that she was a keen investor. In fact, when looking into the details of her will, her baffled lawyer described her as a “knowledgeable and astute investor”. While she refused to waste money on a notepad, she followed market movements closely, jotting them down on the backs of envelopes and investing where she saw potential. With accounts in Singapore, Europe and Japan as well as a safe filled with gold in Switzerland, Doris had a sophisticated and formidable knack for investing.

    What can we learn from Doris Schwartz?

    While her diet might not be for everyone, we can certainly take our hats off to her independent thinking and savvy investment style. Where had she learned about this? Nobody knew, it seemed she had simply taught herself from books and newspaper snippets.

    Her strategy was simple but what made her remarkable was that she stuck to it. She invested as much as she could, lived within her means and diversified her assets well.

    The most important thing she did, however, was leave her investments to grow over time. Over the years her investments would have suffered through recessions, but crucially she didn’t panic and sell them. This patience was what helped make her rich.

    Although there are sometimes market dips, diversified investments are more likely to come through the other side and bounce back. As time goes on, stocks can grow. It means that almost anyone, by using discipline and patience, has a chance to become wealthier over time.

    So, what happened to these secret millions?

    True to her teaching roots, Doris Schwartz left $3.4 million to education projects within the York County Community Fund. Nowadays, the Doris E. Schwartz Education Fund helps to pay for more eager learners to fulfil their dreams.

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    This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure if an investment is right for you please ask for advice. All investments rise and fall in value, so you could get back less than you invest.

    Hannah Duncan is an investment writer, and founder of Hannah Duncan Investment Content, with years of experience producing content for global leaders in finance and retail.

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      Important notes

      This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

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