By in Investing, Money Management, Wealth | 20 comments


The Cell Phone Millionaire

Jenna was a 40 something, telecommuting (she worked from home) millionaire. She gained her wealth through smart investing of her family’s income

Cheap Phone and High Net Worth

including her salaried job and her husbands job as a University Professor. In spite of the fact that Jenna took some time off to raise her two kids, by her late 40’s her family amassed over 1 million dollars. You would never think Jenna was wealthy. Her car was a ten year old mid range SUV and her spouse had an eight year old compact. They lived in an upper middle class neighborhood surrounded by a much more exclusive neighborhood. They followed the real estate rule of buying a low priced home in a more expensive neighborhood.

A Visit to the Plumbing Supply Company

She enjoyed do-it-yourself projects and wasn’t afraid to take apart the plumbing and fix a leak. While trying to find the correct replacement hose for the one leaking under the sink, she sauntered in to the gritty plumbing supply shop. The witty parts guy said asked if Jenna knew the manufacturer of the faucet. When Jenna said she couldn’t find it, he cavalierly asked, “Why didn’t you take a picture of it with your fancy phone?” That was all Jenna needed to whip out her five year old LG flip phone with pride. She replied, “I have a flip phone” to sounds of outrageous laughter.

Instead of feeling embarrassed that she didn’t have a fancy smart phone, she regarded her phone as a sign of her smart money decisions. Jenna had so much self confidence and such high self esteem, she considered that phone a badge of pride. In fact, Jenna knew that part of the reason she was among the wealthiest percent of the population in her age range was exactly because she chose to spend on what mattered to her. She didn’t need to spend a lot on a phone, or be connected 24/7. And no one could tell her otherwise.

Jenna’s net worth was one million and two hundred thousand dollars.

I know Jenna’s net worth, because as a friend, I looked over her financial statements and provided a second opinion to that of her financial advisor. How did she become so wealthy with just average salaries? Did they live a life of deprivation and self sacrifice?

No way.

How Did Jenna Get Rich?

Jenna and her family spent on what mattered to them. They wanted their children to go to top schools, so they chose to live in a relatively “low cost of living” midwestern city. They bought a smaller home with no wasted space. When they vacationed, they found a resort which included food and entertainment in one of the less popular spots. They ate out infrequently and shopped smartly. Transportation, after housing is the largest expense for most families. They kept those bills very low by living near work, maintaining their vehicles, and avoiding unnecessary driving. She started investing the family’s savings as soon as they started working and put as much as possible into their workplace retirement accounts.

There was no magic windfall. Oh wait, she did inherit a bit of money from an aunt when she was 33. And she took every penny of her inheritance and invested it.

So, who do you think is wealthier, the parts guy at the plumbing supply company with a smart phone or Jenna?

image credit; news cnet google images


  1. Anyone who wants to dig into the idea of “hidden” millionaires should check out the book The Millionaire Next Door. I read it many years ago (I was still in my teens) but I found it really interesting and it laid some groundwork for my current thinking about money.

    They go into a lot of research about the spending habits of the rich and how they plan their financial future differently from those who financially under-achieve. It’s well worth checking out, IMO.


    September 6, 2012

  2. The most wisest Millionaires are those who keep it low key – unfortunately (like I wrote about it), money changes people and it becomes difficult for them not to show off their new status.

    I love success stories, like Jenna’s, who worked hard to get to where she is now, but didn’t allow money to change her or her family’s views in the long run.


    September 6, 2012

  3. @Garrett-Thank you for mentioning one of my all time favorite “money books.” All of Dr. Stanley’s “millionaire” books should be must reads for anyone who is serious about financial success.
    @Eddie-Jenna really is an inspiration. I’m proud to have her as my friend.

    Barbara Friedberg

    September 6, 2012

  4. I’m going to guess it’s Jenna who is richer 😉

    The thing about the smart phone vs flip phone is, I bet she actually *enjoys* her flip phone, and that she’d content with it. (As opposed to “suffering” with a flip phone in order to build wealth.) That’s how I feel about my 22 year old car, at any rate. I keep it because I *like* it, and as a bonus not spending a lot of money on my car has helped us pay off our house early.


    September 6, 2012

  5. @Jackie-Really great point. I think she probably does enjoy it. Actually, it’s helpful to embrace spending choices that build wealth.


    September 6, 2012

  6. Another Millionaire Next Door fan here too. The thing is if the plumbing supply guy is the owner of the shop, he might very well be another millionaire next door. Those kinds of businesses are all throughout Stanley’s books.

    Julie @ The Family CEO

    September 6, 2012

  7. There are lots of Jenna’s out there, but we don’t know about it. Most rich people are not the ones who show it off with fancy cars or frivolous spending.


    September 6, 2012

  8. After the recession, it amazed me how many people I assumed were quite well of because of their fancy thing were really just in deep debt and one paycheck away from losing it all. I know some who lost it all.


    September 7, 2012

  9. This story proves that if you decide to become rich, no one can stop you but your own self imposed limitations.

    Becoming rich is not hard if you can live wisely, and make smart financial decisions.

    Thanks for sharing Jenna’s story, Barabara!


    September 7, 2012

  10. @Julie-I think you’re absolutely correct about the owner. The guy jenna spoke with was a counter guy, but may also have an ownership-I don’t know for sure.
    @Krantc-So true.
    @Kim-I’m usually suspicious of people who have all the extravagant “toys”. You need to have a very large income to save, invest, and spend extravagantly.
    @Shilpan-So much of life’s decisions start with a personal commitment. Then comes the hard work!

    Barbara Friedberg

    September 7, 2012

  11. What a great example of choosing your priorities instead of mindlessly spending! Go Jenna!


    September 7, 2012

  12. Reminds me of that book, “The Millionaire Next Door.” People with modest incomes spending less than they make – it’s not a secret, just takes some planning to actually follow through on.

    Little House

    September 8, 2012

  13. @Femme-She’s just the type of reader that I want to profile; her habits are worth studying.
    @LittleHouse-Absolutely, Dr. Stanley’s books are all worth investigating.


    September 8, 2012

  14. This is a trick question, right? It’s got to be Jenna!! This is how my grandmother amassed her wealth, but being frugal but also by articulating her wants vs. needs. My father is the same way, and I strive to follow suit. Like Jenna, I still have my old flip phone – it still works, and it does what I need it to do… so why unnecessarily upgrade?

    Elizabeth @ Simple Finance

    September 9, 2012

    • @Elizabeth, You are quite fortunate to have such excellent role models. I’m convinced that smarter money models can give one a leg up on smart saving and spending habits. I really appreciate my parents and grandparents model for just that reason.


      September 10, 2012

  15. Our 97 Civic is still kicking…not a millionaire yet, but on track…or am I just trying to throw you off my secret? 🙂

    Brent Pittman

    September 11, 2012

  16. @Brent-I love keeping an old car until it rots. It’s a great way to save a big chunk of change!!!!

    Barbara Friedberg

    September 11, 2012

  17. Jenna is such an inspiration — by not chasing after all the latest shiny trinkets while utilizing her income streams wisely to modestly achieve full prosperity for herself and her family.

    Thank you for sharing this. Jenna is someone I aspire to be like.

    Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy

    September 14, 2012

  18. Jennifer, I completely agree with your assessment. Jenna is smart on so many levels, and one who makes her own decisions, unimpacted by societal pressures.

    Barbara Friedberg

    September 14, 2012

  19. I try to live below my means and not adhere to the latest fads, but smart phones are my downfall! I love my iPhone! I wish I were even more like Jenna. Hopefully I make up for my cell phone issues in other ways. 😉

    Lena @ WhatMommyDoes

    September 16, 2012


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