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Tin can collector died a millionaire

Why do some people who have tons of money pursue extreme frugality?

By Karen Datko Apr 9, 2010 2:09PM

Everyone loves the “lived like a pauper but secretly a millionaire” stories. We wonder: What would possess people who have lots of money to live like that?


The latest story comes out of Skelleftea, Sweden, where Curt Degerman died in his sleep of a heart attack and left $1.4 million to a cousin. Degerman was a raggedy-looking guy who was a local fixture for decades, picking up bottles and cans and turning them in for cash. It turns out he was partial to mutual funds, Robert Frank said at The Wall Street Journal’s Wealth Report.


Degerman, known by the Swedish equivalent of “Tin Can Curt,” died at age 60 in 2008, but the story regained currency when another cousin disputed his will, saying his father was entitled to the money, and the two cousins recently reached a settlement. In addition to his investments, Degerman owned his house free and clear, had 124 gold bars in a safe-deposit box, money in a bank account and 3,000 kronor ($415) lying around the house.

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According to the Telegraph, Degerman didn’t like to spend money on newspapers, so instead he studied a Swedish business journal and the financial news at the local library. He reportedly ate leftovers out of fast-food trash bins.

Why did he end up this way, hauling recyclables on his bicycle and wearing the same filthy jacket every day? Here’s one hint from the Telegraph:

Relatives said Mr. Degerman had been a very clever child with a bright future but had dropped out of school in his late teens after a personal crisis and had chosen an alternative way of life.

"Silicon Valley Blogger," who wrote about secretly rich people who chose extreme frugality, said at The Digerati Life, “Keeping one’s riches secret has been looked upon as a control issue, although these extreme frugalists appear to have the common desire to surprise their heirs when they die.”

Other possible explanations can be found in a story by MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston when she was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times:


Psychologists say that these lowest-profile millionaires are probably motivated by fear, guilt or habit: fear of economic catastrophe or of others' reactions if their wealth were revealed; guilt over their good fortune when others have less; and the frugal habits of a lifetime.
"If one is used to living on a shoestring all of his or her life, these spartan habits may be so well-ingrained that to change them would be stressful," said Joseph Tecce, a psychology professor at Boston College.

Related reading:

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