How Rockefeller Made His Billions
I’ll bet you don’t think you have much in common with John D. Rockefeller.
After all, he was America’s first self-made billionaire.¹ At the time of his death in 1937, he was worth over $340 billion in today’s money. How rich is that? If you combined the wealth of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, Rockefeller would still be richer. We’re talking hard-to-imagine rich. Think Scrooge McDuck doing the backstroke in his money vault—but even richer.
But Rockefeller wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Before he became a mega-wealthy oil tycoon, Rockefeller grew up in a humble country home in upstate New York. The only thing that set him apart from his friends and neighbors (and you) is that he learned a pivotal lesson about how money works when he was just a kid.
At 14 years old, Rockefeller had saved up $50 ($1,500 in today’s money) selling turkeys and doing chores for neighbors. Like many 14-year-old boys, young Rockefeller received some shrewd advice from his mother.
She encouraged him to lend his $50 to a local farmer. It was arranged that the money would be paid back in 12 months with 7% interest. A year later, the farmer made good on the deal, returning to Rockefeller the $50 plus $3.50 in interest.
It was around this same time that a neighbor hired Rockefeller to dig potatoes for three days. Rockefeller was paid $1.12. Rockefeller’s New York Times obituary said that “on entering the two transactions in his ledger he realized that his pay for this work was less than one-third the annual interest on his $50, and he resolved to make as much money work for him as he could.”1
What if you had learned that your money could make money when you were fourteen? I’ll bet you would have spent less on movie tickets and clothes and done everything you could to put your money to better use! But many parents aren’t as savvy as Mrs. Rockefeller. Which is why their kids become adults who end up “digging up potatoes” their entire lives so to speak, just like their parents did.
Many adults have never discovered the power of compound interest. So they can’t show their children how to put money to work to build a future they could never earn with just hard work. But they should.
It’s not too late to get your family to start thinking like the Rockefellers.
Here are two practical, very doable things that you can use to leverage the power of compound interest for you and your family, starting today!
Find a high-interest account and start saving.
You probably don’t know any farmers who need quick cash. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your money to work. Actually, the problem is usually that there are too many options! Fortunately, you, like a young Rockefeller, have wise counselors you can turn to. Contact a licensed and qualified financial professional to have a conversation about your vision for the future. They’ll have insights into which strategies and steps best align with your goals. There are many amazing ways to take advantage of the power of compound interest, even if you only have a small amount to put aside each month.
Teach your children about how money works.
Would Rockefeller have stopped digging potatoes and built an oil empire if he hadn’t discovered the capacity of his money to grow? We’ll never know. But the same is true for your kids. The sooner they learn that their money can earn money, the better chance they’ll have to stop wasting time and start seeking how to put their money to work.
Ask me for a copy of the HowMoneyWorks: Stop Being a Sucker book.
It explains concepts like the Power of Compound Interest and the Time Value of Money at a level that anyone high school age and above can understand. You might enjoy reading it yourself!
You have more in common with the wealthy than you’ve been led to believe. Their techniques can be yours. Don’t wait for financial wisdom to knock you on the head from out of the blue. Meet with a financial professional and start learning and teaching your loved ones about how money works.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll really be thinking like a Rockefeller!
¹ The New York Times Book of the Dead: Obituaries of Extraordinary People, edited by William McDonald, 2016.