When Sylvia Bloom retired at age 96 in New York, she was worth about $9 million. But it wasn’t because she was a dealmaker on Wall Street or a real estate tycoon in Manhattan. Quite the opposite in fact – Mrs. Bloom was a secretary at a law firm for 67 years.
When Mrs. Bloom passed away in 2016, friends and relatives were in shock to discover how much she was actually worth. But maybe they shouldn’t have been – Mrs. Bloom rarely missed a day of work in 67 years, she and her husband lived their whole lives in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, and she always insisted on walking or taking the subway. There was even an instance when a colleague saw Mrs. Bloom, at 96 years old, walking out of the subway during a snowstorm to go to work. When he asked her what she was doing there, she responded, “Why? What else should I be doing?”
A fierce work ethic and a modest approach to living helped Mrs. Bloom become a disciplined saver, but her fortune was also tied to smart investment decisions. In the old days, secretaries were also de facto traders for their bosses, placing orders to buy and sell stocks on their bosses’ behalf. Mrs. Bloom’s formula for success was simple: any time her bosses bought a stock, she would buy some too (though a smaller amount, given her modest salary). This practice went on for years, with Mrs. Bloom investing incrementally – and consistently – over time.
The final step in Mrs. Bloom’s path to wealth was something she had a lot of: time. Given that she worked for 67 years and lived to be 96, she had the benefit of time and compounding returns. Little by little, year by year, she amassed a fortune.
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that in her will, Mrs. Bloom left almost all of her money to go toward scholarships for students in need. She directed the money to a charitable foundation known as the Henry Street Settlement, which serves more than 60,000 people and provides an array of social services such as education support, health care programs, and transitional housing. Mrs. Bloom’s money in particular is set to endow the Expanded Horizons College Success Program, which helps disadvantaged students prepare for and complete college.
Mrs. Bloom’s story is an admirable one. A story of hard work, modesty, humility, and care for the community. But it’s also a story of how a person with even a modest income can become a multimillionaire, if he or she establishes a saving and investment discipline that lasts a lifetime.