This is Chuck.
Born during the Great Depression to Irish-American parents in the small working class town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Chuck learned early on the value of money and hard work. He earned his college degree on a GI bill after serving in the Air Force in Korea and started his own small business where he worked his entire life. He passed on these life lessons to his five children, each of whom paid their way through college working as waiters, maids and cashiers.
Now 82 years of age, Chuck readily admits that he’s always been a “shabby dresser” as the $15 rubber Casio watch on his wrist will quietly attest. And it was only after his 75th birthday that he ever flew in first, something he’s quite embarrassed to admit as he’s always flown coach. “They decided as part of my 75th-birthday celebrations that I would be entitled to fly first class…I’ll be honest, I’m not good at flying anymore. To my credit, I can stretch out on two coach seats.”
Chuck’s lifelong dream has always been to die broke, or as he so bluntly puts it, “I want the last check I write to bounce.” He’s determined to spend his remaining golden years living richly, though perhaps not how you might expect.
As a small boy he remembers how his mother, a nurse, would “conveniently” drive by their disabled neighbor as he headed to the bus stop so she could give him a ride instead. It was this spirit of giving that prompted Chuck to decide a little over 30 years ago that he wanted to give away practically all of his money. And if everything works out as planned, he hopes to spend his last few dollars sometime in the next three years. “I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people… I don’t dislike money, but there’s only so much money you can use.”
Because he doesn’t own a home, a car, or even a nice watch, Chuck’s been able to give to a whole range of causes. Among the many that he supports are charities that build peace in his native Ireland, provide medical care in Vietnam, prevent AIDS in South Africa, and promote higher education in the US. For 15 years Chuck made these donations anonymously, taking great pains to avoid any recognition. He never expected his name to be memorialized on a university building or plastered onto a hospital wing. Nor did he ever want it to be.
So you can imagine his dismay when people began writing about his extremely modest lifestyle, years of exceptional generosity and determination to die broke. Soon he found himself being called “a spiritual leader” and an inspiration for the philanthropy of both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. While Chuck firmly believes that “people who have money have an obligation” he meekly adds, “I wouldn’t say I’m entitled to tell them what to do with it but to use it wisely.”
Humble words from a man who will have given away over seven and a half billion dollars by the end of 2016.
You see Chuck Francis Feeney is the co-founder of DFS, better known as the Duty Free Shoppers Group. And if you’ve ever bought tax free liquor, perfume or tobacco while passing through the airport mall on your way home from abroad, then in a way you’ve met Chuck.
“I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up…I set out to work hard, not get rich.”
How will you live rich, while spending wisely like Chuck? Share your thoughts and you could win $5,000 + a money makeover by David Bach.
Learn more about Chuck and his inspiring life story in “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t”.
Written by Mohamed Khalil of Moven. Follow him at @mikhalil.