Lessons from a Millionaire Tramp

Jan 30, 2019
Dhruv Girdhar of RichifyMeClub shares some interesting perspectives on how we should view money and wealth.

If you have not heard of Curt Degerman, probably the moniker Tin-Can-Curt would ring a bell. No? Well, then this story will fascinate you.

Curt spent his adult life sauntering through a small coastal town in Sweden rummaging through the trash. He ransacked recycling bins for cans and bottles, which he sold to a recycling plant. And attacked the bins of restaurants for leftover scraps of food.

He had no family of his own. No loans. No debt. His vehicle was an old bicycle. And, thanks to his “lifestyle”, his expenses were miniscule, if at all.

When he died of a heart attack at the age of 60, a cousin was the beneficiary of his estate. Which, to the surprise of the world at large, was estimated at around $1.4 million. This included a house, 124 gold bars, stocks, money in the bank and cash at home.

What did the world see?

A smelly tramp.

What did the world not see?

  • Wealth, which he never flashed.
  • Investing acumen, borne out of hard work and diligence. A daily trip to the public library to read the business papers and understand investments.
  • Conviction, to hold on to investments during downturns.
  • Lack of vanity, he truly had no desire to impress others.
  • Ability to save large portion of his earnings. He did not win any lottery or benefit from any inheritance. He saved and saved and saved.

They missed the millionaire tramp simply because they were looking at the conventional signs of wealth.

Just for perspective, let’s look at Hollywood’s enfant terrible, Johnny Depp.

In 2017, he sued The Management Company (TMG) for $25 million in 2017 alleging “gross misconduct” and “fraudulent” self-activity.

TMG counter-sued, stating their former client owed them money for a number of services and alleged that the actor “lived an ultra-extravagant lifestyle that often knowingly cost Depp in excess of $2 million per month to maintain, which he simply could not afford.” They mentioned 14 residences, including a 45-acre chateau in the South of France, a chain of islands in the Bahamas, multiple houses in Hollywood, several penthouse lofts in downtown Los Angeles, and a fully-functioning house farm in Kentucky. Then there was a luxury yacht, 45 luxury vehicles, 70 collectible guitars, and $30,000 on wine flown in from across the world.

Last year, the suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Which brings me to one point – How do we view wealth?

When I was in my early 20s, my neighbours exhibited a lavish lifestyle. High-end cars, branded attire and frequent holidays. The apparently outward stamps of wealth. In my naivety, I assumed that that was how rich people lived. Without recognising the value-eroding nature, I judged their wealth status based on the number of depreciating assets they own. But it was far from the truth.

If you get impressed by these symbols of wealth – designer labels, fancy motorbikes and the likes, knowingly or unknowingly, you have assumed that a life high on materialism has to be nothing but wealthy. What you have failed to realise is that such an ostentatious lifestyle is the result of countless consumed paychecks. And such individuals are victims of instant pleasurable moments, rather than delayed gratifications.

As I grew in age, I began to understand the genuine meaning of wealth. Wealth is the portion of paycheck that we put to work every month. Wealth is the financial or physical asset that we accumulate to achieve financial independence. Wealth is something that pays your own pocket, not your lender. And last, but certainly not the least, wealth is not a depreciating asset that we love to flaunt on social media.

Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money totally affirmed my perspective. He emphasises that investing is not only about the financial aspects. It’s about how people deal with their behaviour when it comes to money.

He makes this point:

Wealth is what you don’t see. It’s the cars not purchased. The diamonds not bought. The renovations postponed, the clothes forgone and the first-class upgrade declined. It’s assets in the bank that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff you see.

Further, he adds:

If you see someone driving a $200,000 car, the only data point you have about their wealth is that they have $200,000 less than they did before they bought the car. Or they’re leasing the car, which truly offers no indication of wealth.

This pretty sums up the essence of this post.

In conclusion 

I don’t endorse the idea of living like a stooge.

Far from it. We work hard and must enjoy life too. But not at the cost of compromising on future goals. Your child’s higher education cannot wait. Not even your retirement. But the instant gratifications really can. 

The moment we spend from our investment account to upgrade our Hatchback to a premium SUV or Crossover, we ensure that our wealth gets reduced by the same amount or even more when realised in terms of future returns.

Shun the idea of flaunting fancy stuff. Cars. Jewelry. Frequent night-outs included. Stop competing with the neighbours. Try to imagine what you can’t see. Build monetary wealth to buy real wealth – Time. Use it to explore other options beyond your workplace. Pursue something that you love doing the most. And if you can’t figure something out, figure out how to figure it out.

This post has been written by Dhruv Girdhar A version of this appeared on RichifyMeClub.

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