The Millionaire Janitor

I was browsing recently and came across the following thread.

I saw some commercials saying if you contribute to your TFSA (Roth IRA) every year, in 30 years you will have over one million dollars assuming a ROR in the 4-5% range. One million dollars should churn out $40-50k in tax free income.

Now thinking about this further, does anyone know of someone who got rich this way? I mean start investing a few hundred a week at age 25 and come out with millions at age 60? I personally do not. People who made a fortune got it other ways, by owning a business, getting stock options, or by making a lucky stock or real estate purchase.” ~tygrus

There are many ways to retire wealthy. Owning a business or hitting a home run on a single stock can increase the probability of becoming a millionaire. But to address the question, yes, I do know of someone who became rich simply by investing small amounts of money over many humbling decades. Well, I don’t know him personally. But I know his story. 🙂


Ronald Read, from Brattleboro in Vermont, had $8 million to his name when he died last year at the age of 92. Most of his fortune was donated to a local hospital. After graduating from high school he worked at a gas station for many years. He also served in the military during WWII. Most recently he worked as a janitor for the department store chain JC Penny for 17 years. The secret to his financial success can be attributed to his thrift and his financial acumen.

Stocks he held in his portfolio

He was unbelievably frugal,” said Ronald’s attorney. The millionaire janitor often wore a flannel shirt and baseball cap, drove around in a used Toyota Yaris (Vitz,) and gave no hint of the size of his fortune. As for his equity portfolio Ronald had invested in large, well known companies such as AT&T, Bank of America, CVS, Deere, GE, and GM. He basically invested in stocks that he knew and understood. Ronald’s investment strategy was very similar to Benjamin Graham’s and Warren Buffett’s, which is to buy and hold profitable companies that have competitive advantages. 

“It’s a matter of living a certain way, keeping your lifestyle under control and being committed.” says financial adviser Chris Hogan.Investors would have to save approximately $300 a month to attain the same $8 million fortune as Read in 65 years, assuming an annual return of 8%,” Hogan told CNBC.

Well that doesn’t sound so hard. 🙂 I think we can all learn a thing or two from Ronald’s approach. My hat goes off to him for keeping his fortune a secret from the public and then donating it to a worthy cause that he believed in. He’s given a new generation of investors like myself the inspiration to pursue financial independence and has proven that it CAN be done. 😀

Random Useless Fact:

A cat’s eye can show its emotional state. A narrow pupil can indicate anger or irritation, while a wide open pupil is indicative of fear or excitement.


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
03/25/2015 9:40 am

The power of compound interest is very powerful if you utilize it. 🙂

03/25/2015 9:59 am

It takes ~25 years for the $18k per year contribution to make it 1 mil at 10% yield. It is hard for young people to gasp that. I was in the same situation. I didn’t max out my 401k back then either. I invested what I think was best for me at the time. When I started to have more money in the bank, then my mindset changed.

Fidelity reported only 5500 401k accounts have $1 mil or above. The average is around $100k. Considering the 401k went into effect since 1978, you would think people who take advantage if this would be multimillionaires.

The quickest way is still owning and running the business yourself.

No Nonsense Landlord
03/25/2015 6:20 pm

There are many ways to riches. Higher risk is higher reward. With my rentals, I have a solid income base and it allows me to save even more. Max out 401K, max out HSA, max out IRA. And save after tax money too.

it all helps…

03/26/2015 6:05 am

I’ve met a number of closet millionaires. Most people would never have realized how rich they were. It seems that the general millionaires in society aren’t the ones showing off or spending foolishly.

The way I have it figured is: The general population should try to retire with their owned residence, 100% debt-free, with maxed out TFSAs & RRSPs. This, in my opinion, would get them the most bang-for-the-buck. This would take advantage of most tax sheltered assets.

Of course, this advice isn’t for everyone. Especially if someone were to have rentals or some other cash-cows. It’s just basic advice for average individuals. A tangible target that people can shoot to over the long-term.

One thing I’ve never seen though is a Hearse with a luggage rack. 🙂


Paul N
Paul N
03/26/2015 6:14 am

But you only live once so why bother taking it to the grave?
Lease new cars every three years. Buy that latest smartphone every time the model updates. (And sleep outside a store to get it) Don’t plan out your food shopping, buy half your groceries (daily) from the gas station or variety store. Take your car to the “gold service car wash and pay $100.00 instead of doing yourself. Don’t forget to get that new higher resolution tv because the last one wasn’t quite high def enough (although just 6 mos. prior you were bragging to anyone who would listen how amazing the picture was). … Also don’t forget to spend a lot of time complaining to your friends that you never have enough money. I hear that helps. Sadly many people cant differentiate between what is and isn’t a necessity. Also what really makes them happy. (Experiences – rather than “stuff”)

03/26/2015 10:31 am

Sorry… back to the subject… I really like Ronald’s story. Inspiring! Guess I better get on my investing so I can be a secret millionaire!

Brian So
Brian So
03/26/2015 3:27 pm

Hey, if he can be extremely frugal and end up with $8 million, I wouldn’t mind being less thrifty and having half of that 🙂

03/27/2015 9:20 am

Excellent story. Being frugal and invest in good solid blue chip companies which will grow our net worth steadily and slowly… It sounds simple but hard to achieve for so many people.


03/27/2015 10:16 am

While very admirable, I wonder what kind of sacrifices he had to make in life to build this $8 million fortune. What’s the point of being so frugal and not being able to enjoy that $8 million fortune?

I’m a frugal person by nature like him. But sometimes, I wonder what’s the point saving and saving and not being able to enjoy the money I have saved up? I think there needs to be a balance between saving and spending.

Live your life to the fullest…. don’t forgo something you want to do because you want to “save” money. Money is a tool to better our lives in general. Life is short and you can’t spend the money you worked so hard to save up for when you’re dead.

03/27/2015 10:10 pm

I just love stories like this one!!


[…] and holding onto stable, large cap, dividend paying stocks may be boring, but the purpose of investing isn’t to minimize […]


[…] not letting the world know about it. This financial strategy is how most millionaires are able to blend into society. Keeping our wealth a secret allows us to enjoy work, travel, play, and financial security without […]

11/26/2015 9:04 am

[…] What I appreciate the most about investing is the option to be inconspicuous about it. ? If someone buys a detached house in an affluent neighborhood like Lawrence Park for $5 million, then people will know he’s rich. There is no way to hide his wealth from his close friends or his employer. If he drives to work in a comfortable Aston Martin One-77 then his coworkers will find out about his affluence. But when it comes to his financial holdings, nobody has to find out what, or how much he has. This usage of stealth wealth is how most millionaires are able to blend into society. […]