12 American Presidents Who Were Way Poorer Than You’d Ever Imagine

Ephraim Obare
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Have you ever thought your wallet felt a bit light? Well, get ready to feel a tad better about your financial situation. Contrary to popular belief, not all US Presidents had stacks of greenbacks to their name. Some were just regular Joes like you and me, wrestling with debt and facing financial struggles you’d never expect from people residing in the mighty White House.

So sit back, relax, and prepare to be surprised by the tales of 12 American Presidents who were way poorer than you’d ever imagine.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
IceKoldKube/Wikimedia Commons

Abe, our trusty 16th president, is known for more than just his mammoth monument in D.C. This man went from a log cabin to the White House with humble roots in rural Kentucky.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Wikimedia Commons

The hero of the Civil War had a less-than-stellar run with personal finances. He died virtually penniless, and his posthumous memoirs restored his family’s fortunes.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson - Sourced via Whitehousehistory.
Thomas Jefferson – Sourced via Whitehouse History.

Despite inheriting a sizeable estate, Jefferson managed to squander it all and found himself in a sea of debt, proving that not all founding fathers were money-savvy!

According to B. L. Rayner, one of his biographers, “No question that Jefferson’s lifestyle was over the top. And often enough throughout his lifetime, he was quite a bit over the top.”

James Madison

Portrait of James Madison
John Vanderlyn /Wikimedia Commons

Known as the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison’s presidency couldn’t safeguard him from the financial ruin caused by his stepson’s gambling problem and other financial burdens.

James Monroe

James Monroe
William James Hubbard/Wikimedia Commons

Our fifth president also suffered financial ruin due to uncontrollable spending on his plantation and aristocratic lifestyle.

William McKinley

William McKinley
Neale, Walter (1899) Autobiographies and portraits of the President, Cabinet, Supreme Court, and Fifty-fifth Congress, 1, Washington, D.C. via Wikimedia Commons

Before becoming president, McKinley went bankrupt due to a bad investment in the 1893 economic panic.

According to the Miller Center, in the face of the economic woes of the mid-1890s, McKinley showed himself to be a skilled and able politician. He even gained widespread public sympathy when his financial fortunes suffered during the economic depression 1893.

Harry S. Truman

Portrait of President Harry S. Truman
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

This straight-talking president was near financial collapse when he left the White House. His only income was $1,350 yearly (roughly $13,800, adjusted for inflation) Army pension.

According to Investopedia (The 5 Poorest U.S. Presidents), he famously turned down high-paying corporate jobs, believing that cashing in on his name was below the office of the presidency.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson
Pach Brothers, New York/Wikimedia Commons

Wilson left office as a broken man, both in health and wealth. He was dependent on friends and supporters for financial survival.

Calvin Coolidge

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Notman Studio, Boston. Restoration by User: Adam Cuerden via Wikimedia Commons

Silent Cal wasn’t quite a financial whiz. His fortune was close to non-existent when he left the presidency in 1929.

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur
Portrait of U.S. President Chester Alan Arthur via Wikimedia Commons

Known for his extravagant lifestyle, Arthur was virtually insolvent when he left office, living off the kindness of his friends.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison
An oil painting of the 9th President of the United States from 1840 via Wikimedia Commons

Despite hailing from a distinguished family, Harrison spent his life struggling with debt, and his presidency was no exception.

One thing to note, too, according to VOA News, is that one month after he was sworn in, Harrison died. It was the first time in the country’s history that a president had died in office.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes via Wikimedia Commons

Hayes was a not particularly affluent president, having spent much of his wealth on public causes. He was also known for his frugality, famously cutting back on White House expenses and entertaining at home rather than going out.

While the presidency often comes with an image of grandeur, these men prove that it’s not all champagne and caviar. So, next time you think about the American presidency, remember these guys who led with more than just a hefty bank account!

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  • Ephraim Obare

    Ephraim Obare is a versatile member of the Frenz Hub writing team, bringing a rich background in economics to his work. An avid swimmer, reader, and cyclist, Ephraim blends analytical insights with his diverse interests.

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