With a salary of $400,000 per year plus additional money for expenses, U.S. presidents make a pretty good living. Of course, that salary comes with a lot of responsibility, often involving a high level of stress and many sleepless nights. No matter what, when it comes to money, how our country’s presidents have handled their personal finances varies widely. Some were notorious spendthrifts, like George Washington, who lived an aristocratic lifestyle and ended up in debt. Others have been more frugal, possibly carrying over habits from their younger days. And even others have come across as plain miserly. Here, we’ll take a look at eight U.S. presidents who were careful with their money, sometimes to the point of being downright stingy.
1. Barack Obama
- It took him 17 years to pay 17 parking tickets.
When Barack Obama was attending Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the future president chose to live in a more affordable area because “you got more apartment for your money,” his former landlord told Boston.com. While at Harvard, Obama also racked up 17 parking tickets, mostly for parking in a bus stop or failing to pay the meter. It took him 17 years to pay the tickets.
Like her husband, Michelle Obama has a frugal side. While serving as first lady, she was known for shopping at Target, J. Crew, and H&M – in contrast to many other first ladies who chose more high-end fashion.
Next: His frugal ways didn’t carry over to the White House.
2. Ronald Reagan
- Unlike in his younger days, he developed free-spending ways at the White House.
One president who seemed to change his frugal ways upon entering the White House was Ronald Reagan. Having been raised in poverty in Illinois with no indoor plumbing or running water, Reagan tried for a career in acting. When those jobs were hard to come by, he tried other means of putting food on the table like standup comedy. Notably, once Reagan made it to the White House, he and First Lady Nancy Reagan became known for their free-spending ways. White-tie formality became the norm at diplomatic receptions attended by guests arriving in limousines and enjoying elaborate dinner menus.
Next: A president who turned down the White House thermostat
3. Jimmy Carter
- He turned down the heat and did a now-famous TV broadcast wearing a cardigan.
It’s hard to say how much of Jimmy Carter’s frugality stemmed from the energy crisis during his presidency, or how much of it was just regular habit. Carter tried to maintain a relatable image by keeping the White House thermostat turned down. He famously wore a cardigan to keep warm during a televised fireside chat. Likewise, First Lady Rosalynn Carter was known for inexpensive White House dinners and off-the-rack clothing. Fundraisers for Carter served peanuts, and traveling staffers were asked to stay with friends rather than book hotel rooms.
Next: He spent money golfing but didn’t bother tipping caddies.
4. Gerald Ford
- He spent money golfing but often only tipped caddies $1, or nothing.
Another president known for his miserly ways was Gerald Ford. He would undertip bellboys and ask agents for cash to buy newspapers, according to Newsweek. The tiny tips didn’t stop with bellboys; Ford also was known for undertipping golf caddies – giving them a dollar, if at all. Could his thrifty ways have been why as president he vetoed 66 bills that violated his sense of fiscal conservatism?
Next: A cheapskate who surprisingly donated his presidential salary to charity
5. John F. Kennedy
- He relied on friends to pay, wherever he went.
Although he had plenty of money from a $170 million trust fund, John F. Kennedy was a serious cheapskate. He rarely carried cash, choosing instead to rely on friends, Secret Service agents, and even dates to buy him things wherever he went. After he became president, he and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy reportedly fought over money issues including how much she spent on clothing and groceries.
In one anomaly, however, Kennedy reportedly donated his entire presidential salary to charity.
Next: A slathering of petroleum jelly was his luxury.
6. Calvin Coolidge
- In a cheap ritual he believed was healthy, he had others rub petroleum jelly on his head.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, applied his serious personality to how he ran the country. “We must keep our budget balanced for each year,” he would say. “Any surplus can be applied to debt reduction.” In his personal life, he followed a cheap ritual he believed was healthy: He had others rub petroleum jelly on his head while he ate breakfast in bed.
Next: His miserly ways with money rubbed off on his wife.
7. Abraham Lincoln
- His and his wife’s frugality made life difficult for hired help.
Having lived a life of frugality, Abraham Lincoln carried his simple manners and inexpensive habits with him to the White House. In fact, the president’s ways with money inadvertently tipped his wife Mary over into miserliness in dealing with shopkeepers, it was reported; these ways also made her an intolerable mistress to the Irish immigrant girls hired to do the Lincolns’ kitchen chores.
Next: Caviar served with a plastic spoon?
8. Donald Trump
- He came under fire for his resort serving caviar with plastic spoons.
Donald Trump has been called cheap, and he admittedly believes in penny-pinching. In his book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, he explained he inherited frugality from his parents. “Penny pinching? You bet. I’m all for it … I still don’t like to overspend for anything.”
In what Spy magazine called “the easiest 13 cents [Trump] has ever made,” the magazine reported Trump cashed several checks it sent to him for tiny amounts in 1990. This was part of a test called “Who is the Cheapest Millionaire?” The magazine reported Trump cashed checks for $.50 and $.13. Some other millionaires didn’t bother cashing them.
On a more recent note regarding Trump’s ways with money, his Mar-a-Lago resort was blasted on social media in January 2018 for serving caviar with plastic spoons. Both Trump and the original poster of the photo and rant received flack from others over the matter.
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