12 Millionaires Who Improved the World

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Updated: January 12, 2021

Recently I wrote a post about your “why,” or your reason for pursuing financial independence. I think sometimes it can be difficult to picture what money can empower people to do, so I wanted to give some concrete examples.

A caveat before reading: I struggled with whether I should include celebrities at all in this list. Fame is not required to be wealthy, nor are celebrities always wealthy (many famous people have high incomes but little net worth due to poor money management).

However, you wouldn’t recognize or know about most millionaires because they typically live modest lives. Most millionaires generally become wealthy by saving a large portion of their income, not by becoming celebrities or winning the lottery. And many of those modest millionaires do great things for our society, like create jobs and donate to charity. I highly recommend reading The Millionaire Next Door for further reading on that subject.

All that said, publicly-known millionaires are much easier to look up on the internet so that’s why they are included in my examples. However, many “normal” people now blog about how they reached financial independence, so it is much easier to see countless examples of normal people who retired early purely through savings and investing that is accessible and achievable for anyone. I will share some of my favorite financial independence bloggers in the second half of the article.

Financially-Independent Celebrities

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest people in the world. Bill Gates created a company that now employs about 150,000 people worldwide. He and his wife founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose goal is to fight diseases around the world, provide financial services for poor, improve universal access to water, sanitation, & hygiene, and support US education (it may be easier to list what they don’t do).

Notable quote by Bill Gates: “If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake.”

Oprah

Oprah is a talk show host who eventually launched her own television network. Her net worth is about $2.5 billion. Oprah donated millions to numerous charities, created a scholarship program, and founded Oprah’s Angel Network which builds schools and raises millions for girl’s education in multiple countries.

Notable quote: “I hope the way you spend your money is in line with the truth of who you are and what you care about. I hope that your money brings joy to you and the ones you love. And I hope you use it as a powerful force for good to fulfill your best intentions.”

I absolutely love this quote and could not agree more. I believe that your spending should reflect your values, and I believe financial independence allows people to live their best lives and have a positive impact on society.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is probably the most well-known investor. He runs Berkshire Hathaway (which owns more than 60 well-known companies such as Dairy Queen & Geico) and has a net worth of $70 billion. He’s donated over $40 billion to charity and has promised to donate almost all of his wealth to charities (a large amount of which goes to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). He still lives in the house he bought in the 1950s for $30,000 (although now it’s worth closer to $600,000!).

Notable quotes (too many goodies to choose from):

“Rule #1: Never lose money. Rule #2: Never forget rule #1.”

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

“Our favorite holding period is forever.”

“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”

Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell is an actress with a net worth of $20 million. She cofounded a snack bar company which feeds malnourished children around the world. She regularly works with local nonprofits and donates to various charities which benefit Alzheimer’s research, animal rights, and young mothers in foster care.

Notable quote: “I don’t think there’s anything immature about fighting for the underdog and fighting for people who don’t have a voice. I have an intense desire to protect people who can’t protect themselves.” 

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur who started and sold multiple successful businesses. He owns the Dallas Mavericks and is one of the investors on the TV show Shark Tank. His net worth is about $4 billion. He donates to many charities including Autism Speaks and the Elton John AIDS foundation. He also founded the Fallen Patriot Fund for families of US military killed or injured during the Iraq War.

Notable quote: “‘Enough’ is what it takes to not worry about the bills. ‘A lot’ is enough that you never have to worry about working again. ‘F*** you’ money means you can rent a jet to go wherever you want, whenever you want and no party is out of reach. ‘F***everyone’ money means you can have your favorite band in your backyard, not care how much it costs and lend them your jet to get there.”

Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz is the former CEO of Starbucks with a net worth of about $3 billion. The Schultz Family Foundation provides young people, veterans, and military families with education and employment.

Notable quote: “My story is as much one of perseverance and drive as it is of talent and luck. I willed it to happen. I took my life in my hands, learned from anyone I could, grabbed what opportunity I could, and molded my success step by step. Fear of failure drove me at first, but as I tackled each challenge, my anxiety was replaced by a growing sense of optimism. Once you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, other hurdles become less daunting.”

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns was the CEO of Xerox. She obtained her degree in mechanical engineering and went to work full-time at Xerox after graduation. Her net worth is $1 billion. She is involved with numerous non-profit organizations and helped lead the White House program on STEM.

Notable quote: “Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to lean in.”

Financially-Independent Bloggers

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung

Kristy and Bryce worked as computer engineers in extremely stressful jobs. They were not excited about the prospect of working in these high-stress careers for the next 30 years. They focused on saving and investing as much money as possible. They retired at 31 and now travel the world full-time.

Make sure to check out their blog and read their book!

Brandon Turner

Because of my interest in real estate investing, I am a huge fan of Brandon Turner (the face of BiggerPockets and host of the BP podcast). He started out with low-paying jobs and large amounts of debt, but by discovering Dave Ramsey and then real estate investing, he was able to retire at 27 and now is easily a millionaire. He now spends his days living in Maui and helps millions learn how to invest in real estate via BiggerPockets and publishing books.

Read about him on the BiggerPockets website and listen to his story on the BP Money Podcast episode 100.

Pete Adeney (aka Mr. Money Mustache)

As one of the first bloggers on the subject, Mr. Money Mustache is often quoted as the godfather of the financial independence movement. He and his wife were able to retire at 30 by living a frugal lifestyle and investing in index funds and real estate.

Read more about Pete on the Mr. Money Mustache blog.

JD Roth

JD Roth is another one of the earliest writers in the financial independence subject area. At age 35 he had acquired $35k in consumer debt and had no savings. He decided he wanted to get out of debt and did so in 3 years. He reached financial independence ten years later, and writes about personal finance, debt elimination, and frugality.

Read more about JD on the Get Rich Slowly website.

The Frugalwoods

Liz and Nate Thames (aka the Frugalwoods) realized they didn’t feel passionate about their office jobs and decided to leave the cycle of consumerism and materialism. They moved in their thirties to 66 acres in rural Vermont with their two daughters and spend their time homesteading, hiking, traveling, and enjoying life as a family (while they are financially independent, they choose to continue working from home).

Read more about The Frugalwoods on their website and make sure to read their book.

Hopefully this has helped you think about your “why,” and shows what you can do for others when you have achieved financial freedom! Do you identify with any of the above? Do you have other examples you love? Share in the comments below!

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