Skip to main content
  • rainbow over text: 'thank you NHS'
  • Register
  • Help
  • Contact us
  • Log out of your HL account

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.

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.

Learn more

There isn't a magic formula to becoming a good investor.

Learn what we think you need to know about investing, from its rules of thumb, to understanding how to manage behaviours to make the right decisions. We also look at what not to do when investing.

It should give you the confidence to turn your financial goals into a plan.

Learn more about investing

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.



What did you think of this article?


Editor's choice: our weekly email

Sign up to receive the week’s top investment stories from Hargreaves Lansdown

Please correct the following errors before you continue:

    Existing client? Please log in to your account to automatically fill in the details below.

    Loading

    Your postcode ends:

    Not your postcode? Enter your full address.

    Loading

    Hargreaves Lansdown PLC group companies will usually send you further information by post and/or email about our products and services. If you would prefer not to receive this, please do let us know. We will not sell or trade your personal data.

    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.

    Editor's choice – our weekly email

    Sign up to receive the week's top investment stories from Hargreaves Lansdown. Including:

    • Latest comment on economies and markets
    • Expert investment research
    • Financial planning tips
    Sign up

    Related articles

    Category: Essentials

    How a balanced portfolio can help you weather the storm

    We take a look at the importance of rebalancing and how it can help you steer through the market storms.

    Nadeem Umar

    26 May 2020 min read

    Category: Investing and saving

    Invest like the best – how Peter Lynch beat the city

    Peter Lynch was a legendary fund manager. We look at his key principles, and how you can apply them to picking investments.

    Nadeem Umar

    26 May 2020 4 min read

    Category: Investing and saving

    Invest like the best – Benjamin Graham and the Intelligent Investor

    Benjamin Graham is considered by many to be the father of value investing. We look at some of the lessons you could learn and how you could follow in his footsteps to help grow your own wealth.

    Nicholas Hyett

    22 May 2020 4 min read

    Category: Essentials

    Savings – how to make your emergency fund stretch further during lockdown

    With over a third of people under the age of 70 dipping into savings, Hannah Duncan looks at ways to make your emergency fund go further.

    Hannah Duncan

    15 May 2020 4 min read