25 Little-Known Presidential Money Facts

25 Fun Facts About Presidents, Money, and Presidents Who Were Bad with Money


Have you heard the one about the ex-president who was so broke upon leaving office that he had to move in with his mother-in-law? If you had to take a guess, which president do you think got a speeding ticket while in office? Did you know that Thomas Jefferson’s poor financial decisions are the reason we have the Library of Congress?
The president is the country’s CEO. So, historically, how have they been with their own businesses and personal finances? The answers are… mixed. We spoke to Financial Expert Harrine Freeman (@harrine) to get these little-known presidential money facts!

George Washington

  1. When George Washington was elected as the first president of the United States, he refused to accept the office’s $25,000 salary. He was later convinced to take the paychecks in order to set a good precedent for future office-holders. It is now against the law for a US president not to take a salary
  2. That $25,000 salary was two percent of the U.S. budget. If a modern president’s salary was two percent of the budget, it would be around $80 billion.
  3. When Washington married Martha, she was by far the wealthier of the pair. Her money came from her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, who was almost twenty years older than her and died after only seven years of marriage.
  4. It’s against the law for a living president’s likeness to be printed on U.S. currency. This dates back to George Washington’s refusal to have his portrait printed on the U.S. dollar. In 1866, this tradition was made law by an act of Congress.
  5. Even though George Washington was one of the wealthiest people in the whole country, the nature of farming meant that he had very little free cash on hand. That’s why Washington had to borrow $600 from a neighbor in order to attend his own inauguration.

Thomas Jefferson

  1. Thomas Jefferson was in debt for pretty much his entire life. In 1815, he was forced to sell his library to the government in order to pay his creditors. Those books formed the basis for the Library of Congress.

James Monroe

  1. President James Monroe was buried in New York City because there was no money to send his remains back to his home state of Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln

  1. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be featured on a U.S. coin. It was (you guessed it) the penny! Minted in 1909, “Lincoln Pennies” were only meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. However, the coins proved so popular that they just never stopped minting them!
  2. As a young man, Lincoln owned a grocery store with a business partner, William F. Berry. After Berry died, Lincoln was left with so much debt that the future president referred to it as “The National Debt.”

Ulysses S. Grant

  1. Early in his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant was pulled over by the police in Washington D.C. and given a $5 speeding ticket for driving his horse and buggy too fast.
  2. After he left the presidency, Ulysses S. Grant lost almost all his money when he invested it in a business that turned out to be a swindle. Grant was forced to sell his old Civil War mementos for money. However, in light of his situation, Grant also had a $150,000 debt forgiven by William H. Vanderbilt.
  3. Eventually, Grant wrote and sold his memoirs in order to pay off his outstanding debts.

William McKinley

  1. While he was governor of Ohio, McKinley co-signed a loan to support a friend’s business venture. The business failed, and McKinley was forced to declare bankruptcy. Three years later he was elected president.

William Howard Taft

  1. When adjusted for inflation. Taft was the highest paid president in history. His $75,000 salary in 1909 would be the equivalent of almost 1.9 million in today’s dollars.

Warren G. Harding

  1. President Warren G. Harding loved to play poker. He loved it so much, in fact, that he once lost an entire set of priceless White House china in a game.

Herbert Hoover

  1. President Herbert Hoover’s first job ever was picking bugs off of potato plants. He was paid one dollar per hundred bugs. Hoover would later study geology at Stanford University and go on to make a fortune in the mining business.
  2. Hoover was worth $75 million (over a billion dollars today) and donated his presidential salary to charity.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  1. Do you know why President Franklin D. Roosevelt is on the dime? Congress voted in 1945 to place his profile on the ten-cent coin to commemorate the March of Dimes, a charity that FDR founded to combat childhood polio.

Harry S Truman

  1. Harry Truman declared bankruptcy in 1922 when his hat shop failed. It took him 12 years to get out of debt.
  2. Truman was so poor when he left the White House that he was forced to move into his mother-in-law’s home. His only source of income was his Army pension which paid $112 per month. In 1958, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, which gave him a yearly pension.
  3. In 1968, Truman and his wife, Bess, received the first two Medicare cards.

George W. Bush

  1. In 1989, Bush paid $600,000 to become a co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. Just before being elected president, he sold his stake in the team for $14.9 million.

General Trivia

  1. Mount Rushmore cost $990,000 to build, which is around $15 million dollars in today’s dollars. Considering the fact that it took 14 years for 400 men to literally carve four giant faces into the side of a mountain, $15 million actually doesn’t seem like too much.
  2. Modern-day presidents receive an annual salary of $400,000, a $50,000 expense account, and a $100,000 nontaxable travel account. They also get $19,000 for entertainment. Ex-presidents usually earn $125,000 per speech.
  3. Did you know that Presidents William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, and James Madison all have their faces on US currency? It’s true! McKinley’s face is on the $500 bill, Cleveland’s is on the $1,000 bill, and Madison’s is on the $5,000 bill. Those bills are no longer being printed, but they are all still accepted as legal U.S. tender.
The next time you’re worried about your finances, just remember good ol’ Harry Truman needing a literal Act of Congress to get his financial ship afloat!
HarrineFreeman2

About The Contributor: 

Harrine Freeman is a financial expert, speaker, counselor, writer, CEO and owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a financial services company that provides personal finance consulting services such as credit repair, debt reduction, budgeting, saving, planning for retirement and financial literacy education. Harrine is also the best-selling author of “How to Get out of Debt: Get An “A” Credit Rating for Free.” She has made over 150 media appearances as a featured financial expert.

Good Money Habits for Single Parents with the creator of “Distilled Dollar”: Part I

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Matt is a licensed CPA and founder of Distilled Dollar where he shares how he and his fiancée went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to building wealth. With his fiancée’s help, he’s distilling down $$$ topics in pursuit of financial independence by the age of 35.

Thanks so much for your time, Matt! Can you start by telling us about your background in finance and your experiences with Distilled Dollar?

Thanks for having me!

My journey in finance began when I picked up a biography on Warren Buffett. I was in the middle of business school and trying to answer the question, “How can this material help me today?” I did what most younger brothers do and leaned on advice from my older brother; he was the one who recommended the book.

Fast forward a few years—and a hundred books later—I felt completely immersed in the principles of personal finance, but I still had no idea how to implement what I had learned. After all, as a millennial, I was graduating college with over 40k in student loan debt. I felt like that one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

I graduated college, became a licensed CPA, and found a good job. Happy ending, right? Well, despite all that, I was still living paycheck to paycheck. Bit by bit, I slowly built up positive habits surrounding my finances and made incremental, one percent changes nearly every month. I didn’t beat myself up when I slipped up, and I always realigned my actions to what I believed.

My main belief here is that money should be a source of good in this world. It shouldn’t be something we dread to think about. Distilled Dollar was the result of my fiancée and I struggling with managing and combining our assets. When it came to money, it felt like someone had pressed the reset button when we started dating. Money became a huge stress again, for both of us. It took a good nine months to basically figure it all out. Now we’re emboldened by the confidence we gain from having a grip on our finances.

What experiences do you have working with single parents and their finances?

As a CPA, and even as a college student, I’ve helped with two different programs: VITA and LadderUp. Each organization is designed to help low-income households receive the financial tools and advice they need.

The biggest role I played within each group was preparing federal income tax returns. This meant sitting down with single parents, foreign exchange students, widows, and those with disabilities. From a numbers perspective, I was always able to find a refund or, at the very least, guarantee they had optimized their final tax bill. The much more difficult aspect was answering questions such as, “What should I do with this refund?”

As a CPA, it is easy to find people who automatically assume I have a grasp on personal finance. While I can talk all day about accounting, that doesn’t mean I fully understand everyone’s budgets and goals. This is a common trap people fall into when they trust someone who is presumably great with money. My story is just one example of going from paycheck to paycheck to eliminating financial stress and worry.

What are some of the main challenges facing single parents, in terms of finances and budgeting?

With so many responsibilities to juggle for single parents, it’s difficult to gain a foothold on personal finance. Luckily, the subject isn’t very complex, and much of that complexity is often used as a marketing ploy from banks or individuals. The basics of it are simple. If you don’t budget, then you should sign up for a free service that will track your spending for you. Mint.com offers a completely free budgeting tool and doesn’t even require a credit card to start their service.

The overall goal is to gain honest clarity as to where your money is going. Once we gain perspective, then we can start to plug the holes in our leaky bucket. This process of pulling back the curtain has led to the biggest gains financially, and it mostly came from money I had already earned but never kept.

What are your top 3 tips for single parents who are new to budgeting?

My first tip is that you should budget. Many people dismiss it because of the extra bit of work, but the truth is that people who budget have money. As I mentioned above, budgeting shows us the holes in our bucket that need to be patched up immediately.

My second tip is to start small. I’m all about one percent improvement, because for me that sticks. I’m not able to make drastic changes in my lifestyle overnight. If I do, then I know I’ll always snap back like a rubber band. Instead, try saving one percent of your paycheck for one month. Put the money in the bank, or if you’re dealing with credit card debt, put an extra one percent towards your debt this month. Next month, add another one percent. Over time, you will not notice the change in your lifestyle, but you will start to see the money growing.

My third tip is, know your “why.” Money you’re saving needs to have an emotional connection, or else we’ll just grab it and spend it. If that money can be used towards a child’s education for example, then all of a sudden it becomes more meaningful. Making that decision to save an extra one percent becomes even easier with an end result in mind.

I’m adding a fourth tip here, which is to automate as much as possible. We often become stressed from paying bills, so we decided to automate all of them. We know we’re paying them, but we don’t feel that ping of stress each time we click “pay,” since that is now done for us.

Check out Part II of our conversation with The Distilled Dollar!