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13 Surprisingly Frugal Habits of Past Presidents—and Their Families

From fake pearls to mooching off friends, these former presidents had some interesting money habits.

President Abraham LincolnShutterstock

Lincoln avoided hiring help

If there was a job that Abraham Lincoln could do himself, he did it. He made a point of milking his own cows and even sawing his own wood, although his wife’s father offered him enough money per year to hire help.

VARIOUS U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Seated next to Table Holding Spectacles and Pencil, Washington DC, USA, by Alexander Gardner, February 1865Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock

Lincoln saved his whole salary

Abraham Lincoln came from humble beginnings. He was born in a log cabin with dirt floors to impoverished parents. His early life influenced his frugal spending or saving habits, even after he became president. He saved almost all of his annual presidential salary, TIME reports. Here are 8 perks U.S. presidents get to keep after leaving office.

Art (Portraits) - variousThe Art Archive/Shutterstock

Mary Todd Lincoln shopped for bargains

Lincoln’s wife, Mary, forcibly adopted her husband’s frugal spending ways. She grew up in a wealthy family, however, she was reportedly known for bargaining with shopkeepers and looking for the best deals once she married. On the other hand, some reports say that she had a hard time controlling her fashion spending habits.

Various Barack Obama family imagesIns News/Shutterstock

Barack Obama rented an apartment in a less-expensive area

Although former President Obama has a net worth estimated to be about $40 million, he was also once a young, frugal college student. During his time at Harvard Law School, Obama chose to live in a more affordable area where he could get more for his money, reports. Obama’s former landlord during his college years also told that the former president always paid his rent on time.

Dharapak WHNPA Photographer of the Year 2012, Alexandria, USACharles Dharapak/AP/Shutterstock

Michelle Obama buys and recycles affordable clothes

The government doesn’t have designated funds for clothing for the first lady. As a result, former first lady Michelle Obama was known to shop at stores like Target, H&M, and JCrew as well as other non-designer stores and brands during her time at the White House. Obama isn’t afraid to rotate clothes and switch around separate articles or accessories to freshen up her wardrobe without overspending.

Carter Signs Relief Declaration, WASHINGTON, USAJohn Duricka/AP/Shutterstock

Jimmy Carter limits his energy use

Jimmy Carter dealt with lots of energy issues during his time in the white house. To conserve his energy usage, Carter turned down the thermostat in the White House and famously wore a cardigan during a televised fireside chat. These are the 20 rules every first family is supposed to follow.

President Jimmy Cartes wife Rosalynn, Plains, USADc/AP/Shutterstock

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter live in their old home

The couple moved back to their ranch in Georgia after Carter’s term was up. He is the only president to return to the same house from before his time in the White House, the Washington Post reports. The duo also cooks together, make their own yogurt, grow their own blueberries, and don’t outsource much, according to the Post.

Various 1976 - Jimmy Carter working aboard 'Peanut One'Nara Archives/Shutterstock

Jimmy Carter flies commercial

Carter flies commercial instead of private jets. In 2018, he went viral for taking selfies with passengers on his flight to Los Angeles, California. These are the 10 everyday things no U.S. president is allowed to do while in office.


Gerald Ford was a lousy tipper

President Ford indulged in his hobbies but wasn’t big on tipping. If he felt generous, he would give golf caddies a dollar. He also undertipped bellboys and asking Secret Service agents to pay for his newspaper, according to Newsweek.

President-elect John F. Kennedy, Washington, USACharles Gorry/AP/Shutterstock

John F. Kennedy mooched off his friends

John F. Kennedy may have had a lot of cash via a trust fund set up by his father, but he didn’t carry any and rarely spent any while in the presence of others, TIME reports. Instead, everyone from friends and fans to Secret Service agents and dates often footed the bill. These are the 10 everyday things no U.S. president is allowed to do while in office.


Franklin D. Roosevelt had money management help

If you have a hard time managing your money, it could be a frugal and smart move to have someone else do it instead. That’s what President Franklin D. Roosevelt did. His mom, Sara, held the purse strings on his $60 million fortune, according to

Barbara Bush, Washington, USABob Daugherty/AP/Shutterstock

Barbara Bush wore fake pearls

This former first lady didn’t have much of an interest in fashion, instead focusing on other parts of the job. She was rarely without the three-strand faux pearl necklace that she wore strategically, according to the New York Times. They weren’t just an affordable way to accessorize, but they embodied her take on the role of the first lady—one without much fuss. The necklace designer renamed it as, “Barbara Bush pearls.” This is the funniest joke told by 23 U.S. presidents.

ARIOUS Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Third President of the United States, American Founding Father and Author of the Declaration of Independence, PortraitGlasshouse Images/Shutterstock

Thomas Jefferson tracked his spending

Thomas Jefferson is a bit of an ironic case. He gave good advice on not overspending or living beyond your means—but he didn’t take his own advice and actually ended up in debt at the end of his life. He famously wrote a letter to his granddaughter with various rules to live by. One was never to spend money before you have it. Jefferson also kept track of every single thing he purchased for more than 60 years, but he didn’t utilize that information to keep his spending on in check. Next, check out these 45 astonishing facts about U.S. presidents you never knew.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.