How to amass millions? Don’t spend your money

If Robert Morin didn’t want part of his millions — he left a $4 million estate — to go to the University of New Hampshire’s football stadium, he probably wouldn’t have left behind a will that had no restrictions on how his alma mater used the money, other than the $100,000 to the school library, where he worked for 50 years.

The university is using $1 million of Morin’s money for a new video scoreboard at UNH’s football stadium and that’s got people upset, NPR reports.

In response to that allocation, New Hampshire graduate Claire Cortese wrote a critical blog post that was highlighted by Inside Higher Ed. In it, Cortese writes, “I doubt any student will look back in ten years and say ‘man, that video scoreboard – that really impacted my experience at UNH in a meaningful and beneficial way.’ ”

Cortese also notes that the school’s football stadium recently reopened after a $25 million renovation.

School officials say the money for the library was the only “dedicated gift” in Morin’s bequest, meaning that the rest of the estate was unrestricted; Deborah Dutton, vice president for advancement and president of the UNH Foundation, says, “Unrestricted gifts give the university the ability to use the funds for our highest priorities and emerging opportunities.”

Let’s not miss the big story here, people. A man amassed a $4 million estate by living frugally! And — maybe — missing out on a few things.

If you want to leave a legacy that will educate the next generation, that’s it.

The Manchester Union Leader’s story on Morin, who cataloged items at the school library, makes us want to do more than complain about how his millions were spent. It’s makes us want to consider how we spend our lives, and what defines a life well lived.

Morin’s financial adviser, Edward Mullen, said the library worker was able to accumulate so much wealth because he never spent any money. Mullen started working with Morin in the early 1970s, and said by the 2000s he had saved quite a bit of cash in his checking and savings accounts. There was almost $1 million in his retirement account alone.

Mullen said Morin had an older vehicle and, despite being a millionaire, he ate frozen dinners.

“He never went out,” Mullen said.

How did he spend his life other than cataloging DVDs and books?

He watched some football. He read, in chronological order, every book published in the United States from 1930 to 1940, the Union Leader said, noting he excluded children’s books, textbooks and books about cooking and technology. He reached 1938 when he died. That was also the year he was born.

He also watched videos — 22,000 of them by the time he died, his friend said. That suggests he cataloged all of those, too. He started his book-reading project after his TV broke.

We can only assume he lived the life he wanted to live. Nonetheless, when he died, no public service marking his life was held.

His obituary, which was only five paragraphs long, revealed that he had two relatives. There are only four entries on the guestbook of his obituary.

He apparently didn’t want to leave anything to his relatives. Why not?

We suspect — and we’re only guessing here — that the answer is much sadder than the fact part of his life will go into a nice scoreboard at a football stadium.

Related: The Mysterious Gifts of Robert Morin

  • Gary F

    Make you coffee at home, don’t buy bottled water, make the majority of your meals at home, consolidate your driving trips, dress professionally without having to have the newest fashion. That’s a start, it may not give you 4 million, but you will be way ahead of the others that don’t live within their means.

    • I think the question — for me — is what is the point? You get one shot at life and “currency” comes in many forms.

      This story makes me very sad. It seems like people, in their focusing on Robert Morin’s money, are ignoring Robert Morin.

      The only person who apparently knew him in the Union Leader story is his financial adviser. He worked at a place for 50 year s– 50 years — and there’s nobody there who could be quoted to tell us about who he was?

      The guestbook attached to his obituary has only four entries.

      • Gary F

        I didn’t say it was any fun.

      • >>This story makes me very sad. It seems like people, in their focusing on Robert Morin’s money, are ignoring Robert Morin.<<

        Agreed…but then, maybe he WAS happy…

        • Maybe

        • tboom

          I’m guessing he was happy. Clearly nobody was forcing him to live the life he lived, that was all him.

          Sort of reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode; Time Enough At Last.

          If he were from Minnesota, he’d have been a bachelor farmer.

          • Imagine reading every book published, though, and not thinking, “gee, I’d kind of like to see that place someday.” I also have a hard time believing there wasn’t at least a little bit of regret that he was estranged from his siblings.

      • Watson

        He was a quirky guy, but sociable — he smoked a pipe so was often outside the library chatting with students. He also seems to have had a number of friends who remember him affectionately: https://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/2016/08/mysterious-gifts-robert-morin

        • What a great article!

          We can only dream about writing this beautifully:

          In Morin’s final days Stinson found it hard to see him so weak and vulnerable. She asked him how he felt, as she often had in the past, and only then did he give her an answer: “You can get used to anything, kid.”

          Despite his brilliant mind, Morin chose to live a spartan and solitary life, detached from his family and his past. Yet he loved his job and the library environment he worked in and enjoyed his rituals of daily banter with his colleagues.

          • Watson

            He loved his job, devoted his spare time to his passions and connected with people who adored him. We should all be so lucky, eh?

        • Kassie

          From the article, ” he launched another epic project, setting out to read, in chronological order, every book published in the U.S. from 1930 to 1940, excluding children’s books, textbooks and books about cooking and technology. It was a project that required hundreds, if not thousands, of interlibrary loans and continued until his death, at which point he had reached 1938, the year of his birth.”

          HOLY CRAP! That’s astounding.

          • rallysocks

            Also, something I find really amazing and cool. Dang, I wish I could have known this man!

        • rallysocks

          What a lovely read. Thanks for the link.

      • rallysocks

        >>The guestbook attached to his obituary has only four entries.<<

        This makes me very sad. Mr. Morin sounds to me like a pretty cool dude and his eyes seem very kind. But then again, I love quirky…and libraries…and pipe smoke.

  • Mike

    I don’t necessarily find anything sad about his life. He sounds like a true introvert who marched to the beat of his own drummer. He may have been at the far end of that introvert spectrum, but so what? Emily Dickinson was another New England recluse who barely saw anyone for years. She lived a vibrant inner life and was incredibly brilliant. A life lived on one’s own terms is always preferable to the alternative.

    As for family, that’s a complicated subject. Maybe they rejected him for some reason, or they were very dysfunctional and he didn’t want anything to do with them. I could easily see him being the butt of jokes as the eccentric old uncle. Well, he had the last laugh, didn’t he?

    His mistake, as is often the case, was one of good faith: trusting the university to use his money for some worthwhile purpose. Lesson: don’t leave any dollars without strings to your alma mater. I don’t know how those people live with themselves.

    • // As for family, that’s a complicated subject. Maybe they rejected him for some reason, or they were very dysfunctional and he didn’t want anything to do with them. I could easily see him being the butt of jokes as the eccentric old uncle.

      I would consider that sad.

      I don’t really understand why people automatically assume the university did anything with his money that he would not have approved of. People are applying *their* values to Mr. Morin’s. But there’s no indication at all in his life that how UNH is spending the money would anger him.

      Like I said, people seem more fixated on Mr. Morin’s money than on Mr. Morin.

      • Mike

        “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

        -Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”

        I propose that, without unhappy families, we wouldn’t have literature.

      • KTFoley

        From the article, “ ‘Bob was adamant that he did not want to designate where the money would be spent,’ Mullen says …”

        Also: “During his 15 months at Spruce Woods, Morin was visited by his library colleagues and found time for one more epic project. He started watching football games on TV and mastered the rules and names of the players and teams. As was his way, Morin made a study of it and didn’t root for any particular team.”

        I’d say you’re right that people are causing an uproar because the athletics expenditure is counter to not his values & wishes, but theirs.

        • I wonder how many of the upset alumni ever bothered to speak with him at the library.

    • Jeff C.

      //His mistake, as is often the case, was one of good faith: trusting the
      university to use his money for some worthwhile purpose. Lesson: don’t
      leave any dollars without strings to your alma mater. I don’t know how
      those people live with themselves.

      Nobody wants to give money for the non-glamorous stuff, like toilet bowl cleaners, but colleges and universities need to spend money on that stuff, too. The best gift someone can give is an unrestricted gift, trusting that the school will spend it wisely to implement the mission of the school. (In this case the scoreboard is part of the over-all student experience. Fancy scoreboards lead to fun football games which lead to fond memories after you graduate which lead to donations to the school.)

      • Mike

        I’d prefer to leave my money to toilet bowl cleaning than to a football scoreboard.

  • Jeff

    With most things in life it seems like there has to be balance. If I wanted to save money then I wouldn’t have had children, never traveled, or taken any risks. Maybe he was happy and fulfilled but outside looking in, it looks to me like he missed out.

    • I wonder if he had any dreams and, if so, what they were?

  • rosswilliams

    1) He was an eccentric. I suppose that is “sad” to anyone who measures their life in conventional ways. But one media story reports him as “beloved” on campus.

    2) $4 million is not really that much money from 50 years of work. It means saving about $13,000 each year with an 8% return. That may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t if you aren’t spending any money. And I assume the $4 million estate included any home or other valuables he acquired, so house payments would be included in that figure.

    3) The finance industry probably got more in fees while he was saving money than the University did when he died.

    • True. I find being estranged from family a bit sad. I acknowledge my conventional ways.

      I’m glad, thanks to the UNH article more so than the NPR article, that Mr. Morin’s legacy is Mr. Morin’s life.

    • KTFoley

      From the UNH article, “Ed Mullen ’62 was an insurance agent for MassMutual Financial Group when he first met Morin in 1971. At the time Morin owned a small life insurance policy with MassMutual for the benefit of his mother. Morin was then earning $9,000 a year.”

      That theoretical $13K savings/year would have been 1.44 times his salary.

      His money then was in checking, savings & low-interest CDs as opposed to instruments that would approach 8%.

      • I love the part about who his beneficiary was for the life insurance after mom died.

      • rosswilliams

        “Mullen advised him to put his money in more diversified investments and in other insurance and annuity products to improve his rate of return.”

        “Over his career, Morin invested much of his salary and purchased a generous life insurance policy for the benefit of the university. ”

        You might wonder whether Mullen was an “advisor” or an insurance salesman. Its hard to imagine that an insurance policy was the best investment here. Of course, we are talking about someone who was extremely eccentric, so it may have matched his values to insure the University against the event of his death.

        And yes, its obvious he did not accumulate his wealth by investing the same amount year after year. Its also obvious that some of his estate was that insurance policy that benefited the University, so he didn’t actually have $4 million invested when he died.

        • $4 million is his estate.

          • rosswilliams

            Bob –

            Exactly, but I used an example that had him building that estate totally out of investments. Are you saying that the University received an insurance settlement in addition to the $4 million?

          • no

        • KTFoley

          “Ed Mullen ’62 was an insurance agent for MassMutual Financial Group when he first met Morin in 1971.”

  • John

    “You can get used to anything, kid.”

    Must be dusty in here.

  • Will

    Imagine that, making a fortune working for the government for so long at the same job…that just doesn’t happen in the private sector. Another thing to keep in mind is that most boomers should be sitting on a few million dollars by just investing in the stock market (S&P 500) just $3,000/year over 45 years assuming a 12.2% rate of return (as it was from 1982-2000) you’d have well over $4 million. Meanwhile, for millennials and even gen x it’s a bit tougher to get anywhere near that rate of return…from March 2000 July 2016 the return is less than 3%.

    http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042415/what-average-annual-return-sp-500.asp

    • My first adult job paid $110 a week in 1976. “Just $3000” wasn’t “just $3000” back then. Also, check what double digit inflation did to people in the ’70s.

      There were also two recessions in your time frame. People lose jobs in recessions.

      Most boomers aren’tt sitting on millions although their offspring are the beneficiaries of the largest transfer of wealth in history.

  • lindblomeagles

    He strikes me as the kind of guy who knew what he wanted to do, work at a library and retire. To do both, he figured out fairly early sacrifices had to be made. No, he wasn’t going to purchase a GMC Yukon. He wasn’t going to spend a fortune on Jos. A Banks clothing, or every day at Super America. And, he probably wasn’t going to watch every feature film that hit the movie screen, at least, not first run. He probably lived a freer life, being unencumbered by market forces driving home to the rest of us just how worthless we are without all these things. I guess the only regret is I didn’t get a chance to be his protégé.