Why I Can’t Stop Thinking About This Barber and His $1.4 Million Fortune

frugal living
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Anthony J. Ralys and his wife Katherine lived a simple life.

He ran a barber shop in tiny Athol, Massachusetts, for 38 years, according to The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. She worked as the office manager for an insurance company.

They lived in a small house and were “extremely frugal.”

Which is why it was such a surprise when, upon his death two years ago, Ralys bequeathed $1,428,000 to the local library.

Because his wife was an avid reader, Ralys wanted “to honor her love of the library,” reports The Telegram.

Though this story is undoubtedly aww-worthy, it’s also much more than that.

Here are two reasons I can’t stop thinking about it…

1. Anyone Can Build Wealth

First, that’s a hell of a lot of money for a small-town barber and his wife to have amassed.

“That normal hard-working people like (Mr. and Mrs.) Ralys can save that much money and then bequest it to an institution that benefits the entire community is simply amazing,” former Athol Public Library Director Debra Blanchard told The Telegram.  


I’ve written before about the crazy tiny amount 21-year-olds have to invest each week if they want to end up rich — and this story just proves the point.

“Most of the money was invested in municipal bonds early on in their lives and it grew to a small fortune,” reports The Telegram. The majority of it was held in a Wells Fargo investment account — something you could open today.

So, stop making excuses and start investing now. Even small amounts can grow into fortunes with enough time.

2. Is it Always Worth It?

The second point is much less straightforward… was it worth it?

The donation is undoubtedly a beautiful memorial to his wife, and a selfless gesture to their community.


Living frugally, though admirable, is hard. So it makes me sad to think they dedicated their whole lives to frugality — without ever reaping the benefits.

It’s one thing to leave your family with a fortune, so they never have to worry about money again. The couple had no children, but did leave $79,000 each to their niece and nephew.

And it’s another to donate your fortune to charity when you’ve already got everything you need.

But living super frugally your whole life, just to give it away?

Call me selfish, but I don’t get it. I live frugally so I can spend money on things I love — mostly travel.

To be clear: I didn’t know the Ralyses, and I’m not judging them. It just got me thinking: Can you be too frugal? Is saving money always worth it?

At what point should you start enjoying the fruits of your hard work?

I strongly believe everyone should spend — or save — money according to their priorities.

Perhaps Ralys and his wife derived satisfaction from saving.

Some people do. The hopeless romantic in me hopes they had all they needed in each other.


“The couple often talked about taking a vacation, but always seemed to put it off at the last minute,” reports The Boston Globe.

And I can’t help but wish they hadn’t.

Your Turn: What do you think? Can you be too frugal?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.