Personal Finance for Beginners: A Lesson from Oseola McCarty

So many people are intimidated by the concept of managing their money. It almost seems as if the very idea that we can be in control of our money is just a made up fairytale that only a few get lucky enough to take advantage of. Many believe that wealth is out of their reach and only something the top money earners get to experience. The myth is that you have to earn a lot to build wealth.

I would like to introduce you to a woman who rejected that notion. Her name is Oseola McCarty, and she is a real inspiration! You see, Oseola didn’t earn her living as a doctor, a lawyer, or even a teacher, although her example can teach us much. She was just a hard working African-American woman with a sixth grade education, who happened to make a living washing and ironing other people’s clothes, a profession that she did for about 75 years until her arthritis forced her to retire. (at the age of 86 years old!!)

The advantage that Oseola had over society today, was that she was taught and believed greatly not only in herself, but also in the tremendous benefit in saving money. She started making only $1.50-$2.00 a bundle, but sometime after the war, because of inflation she charged $10 a bundle. The point is that she just started saving with no excuse in the world concerning how little she made. In her own words:

“I put it in savings. I never would take any of it out. I just put it in. It just accumulated.”

Here’s where the story gets better, and by better, I mean absolutely inspiring!! By the time her arthritis forced her to retire she started speaking with her bank about the importance of where she wanted her savings to go when she passed away. The trust officer of her bank brought over 10 dimes, to represent percentages, and asked her to divide up the dimes according to where she wanted her money to go.

Oseola McCarty, in July 1995, had saved $280,000, by saving what she earned washing and ironing clothes!

She gave her church 10%, divided 30% between relatives, and gave an astonishing 60% ($150,000) to Southern Mississippi!! This just goes to show that people who build wealth often have generous plans for what they will do with that wealth. Some people may be greedy, selfish, money hoarding losers, but most give very generously when the time comes to do so. Her sole intention was to help give deserving students in need, a way to get the education that she never received.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the kind of role model our children need. Not somebody with athletic ability and talent, not musicians, but a woman like Oseola McCarty, who proves that it’s not about how much you make, it’s about what you do with what you make that counts. Are you managing what you make as best you can, or are you constantly complaining about the fact that you don’t think you make enough to save?

Oseola had what most would consider a very poor income. It’s probably safe to say that she made much less than what’s considered to be poverty level. She made better decisions with her money than most people are making today, which would include those with great incomes and those with poor incomes. She died at the age of 91 from cancer, and was never a financial burden to anyone. If anything you could say she blessed those students that would benefit from her many years of hard work. I just hope that any of the students that were deemed deserving, realized what it took for a poor woman with no education to make that happen for them. She is proof that you don’t have to be a millionaire, or have a high paying salary to make an impact on others!

Here’s how Oseola McCarty managed to save an unbelievable amount of money, and to give so much of it away. It’s so simple a child can understand it!


  • She lived beneath her means!
  • She saved money until she could buy something outright!
  • She avoided paying interest!
  • She saved for the future!
  • She invested over time!
  • She worked hard at something she enjoyed!

Something Oseola NEVER did, was own a single credit card her entire life! No matter where you are in life right now, you would be wise to take note of this wonderful example. Not only in her financial success, but also in her humility and wisdom. Oseola was the kind of human being that I strive to be! What examples and role models are you holding up for your children? Are they anything like Oseola McCarty? Better yet, are you anything like Oseola McCarty?

Even if you’re not, and may have a long way to go, it’s not too late to turn your life and your habits around. Let this post, and the life of Oseola inspire you to push yourself a little harder at doing what you know you should be doing anyway! Personal finance is not something to be scared of, it’s something you should embrace as if your life depended on it, because guess what—IT DOES!!

Oseola McCarty, this post is dedicated to your loving life and memory!

Additional Resources:

Enjoy Your Money! How to make it, save it, invest it, and give it – J. Steve Miller

Simple Wisdom for Rich Living – Oseola McCarty

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About Brad Chaffee

21 Responses to “Personal Finance for Beginners: A Lesson from Oseola McCarty”

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  1. these are old fashioned austerity attitudes that are still very relivent and effective

  2. Money Funk says:

    I love inspiring real stories, such as this one. Just following simple principles and values set this lady apart from many people. And this can serve as an inspiration to many who feel that they don’t have enough to build. It starts with a penny…

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      You’re right Money Funk, it starts with a penny and adds up a penny at a time. The mistake most people make is in thinking that they have to throw a lot at a time into savings for it to matter. Even $10 a week would put someone in a better financial situation 10 and 20+ years from now.

  3. kt says:

    wow that is some inspiring stuff. Most people look to the super rich for inspiration but most of these rich people are just inhering old money and making more of it. A story like this makes think that anyone can be financially independent. i never met her but i think that anyone remotely interested in financial independence would have taken to her. How one finishes a race is more important than how one starts it

  4. Young Mogul says:

    Great, great post! I agree with Money Funk, people need to hear these types of real-life stories. If only we could use the financial principles of past generations. Unfortunately, many of the financial lessons people are learning from the “Great Recession” are only going to be forgotten once the crisis ends.

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      You are absolutely right Young Mogul! Unfortunately, people seem to forget REALLY fast, and go on about their lives not taking advantage of the lessons that should have been learned. Complacency is a horrible disease in the financial world! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Tina Portis says:

    Wow! She just saved and accumulated without anyone telling her to. Wow! This is a great post, one that everyone should read. NO EXCUSES!

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      Absolutely Tina! I am reading a book that talks about this wonderful woman and I was so moved by her story. This is the kind of example we should be following and she should be taught about in school. I intend to share her story and vision with others as I create lessons to help people with their money. She is a magnificent example of what one can do regardless of how much they make. It’s all about mindset, priorities, and the determination to not follow the crowd.

  6. Thanks Brad for sharing Oseola’s story. She could have taught Dave Ramsey how to do it!

  7. What a great inspiration for others to hear and learn from. The world needs a few more Oseola’s. Bless her heart! I hope she did get some enjoyment out of life using her money from time to time.

  8. Pedro Miguel says:

    while i agree with the idea of crazy savings and giving… i wish she knew how to enjoy her life and enrich it with experiences such as traveling and getting to know the world

    it is safe to say that after you are debt free, with an emergency fund and all necessary savings in place you can start a ‘traveling fund’ or something that is for personal benefit

    i wish some people did it more often too

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      I think she very much enjoyed her life. (even if only in her terms) I agree with you Pedro for the most part, but some people just have no interest in doing those things. From what I have read she died a very happy and content woman, and when it is all said and done that’s really what matters. Even people that take nice vacations can never seem to find contentment. If given the choice I would surely take contentment over being a cultured traveler.

      With that said, I get what you’re saying completely. There is something to be said for getting out and experiencing that around us. I think the idea of starting a traveling fund is perfect! We plan to do just that after we get our $15,000 in place. Great comment, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Evan says:

    This story sounds like it is straight from the book The Millionaire Next Door
    Playing financial “offense” is great, but playing good “defense” is even more important

  10. Denise says:

    Awesome read. Very interesting article. Can’t wait to read more. Inspriation is the the first step.

  11. James says:

    Oseola McCarty is a true inspiration to all of us. this is a great story about sacrifice, determination and knowledge. We can all learn a lot from Oseola McCarty and how she lived within her means and how she gave back to so many.

  12. great story. bottom line is she did the right thing, did not make excuses. We have to save and live below our means no matter how much money we make.

  13. Kimmy B. says:

    This is an absolutely wonderful post. I am currently paying off my last credit card. Many people believe you need credit to build a great life. I’ve found the opposite to be true for me and am currently cleaning up the mess I started. I am also focusing on increasing my income to make this happen. I want to be like Oseola one day. I also suggest the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. His book and podcast are what are saving my life financially and holistically. It’s not rocket science but it does take discipline.

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      Thank you Kimmy! Discipline and a new train of thought can take you a long way. ๐Ÿ™‚ Congrats on starting your Total Money Makeover! You won’t regret it!

  14. This kind of story is touching through its simplicity. A woman just struggles to live beyond her means, saving a penny at a time and never complaining about how hard life is. This is a kind of story our grandparents could live, before the television poisoning their minds about how much things you need in this life, in order to seem a respectable and successful persons in the eyes of others. Now, it’s harder and harder to believe in these kinds of money saving money stories. In fact, some think that it’s better for money to circulate, because they were meant to circulate, to invest in some business. not to save it forever, blocking the market. Isn’t that the American dream, after all?

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