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Affluent Ascetic

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Zero Moustafa had purchased and famously inhabited some of the most lavish castles and palazzos on the continent. Yet here, in his own nearly-empty hotel, he occupied a servant's quarters?
The Author, The Grand Budapest Hotel

An Affluent Ascetic is a character who is financially well off but chooses to live modestly or even spartanly. It can include misers who have an almost pathological fear of spending even one cent on anything but can also be people who simply have little or no interest in surrounding themselves with the usual trappings of luxury. Sometimes, this is because the characters used to be poor and still retain the money-saving habits they had before they got lots of money. However, it can also be these people are engaged in businesses of questionable legality and adopt a frugal lifestyle in order to keep their criminal activities from coming to the law's attention.

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Sister Trope to Non-Idle Rich and Super-Trope to Modest Royalty. Compare with Secretly Wealthy. Not to be confused with a wealthy person who goes for a Simple, yet Opulent Ascetic Aesthetic, which is just a subtler form of Conspicuous Consumption.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: While the Kazamaki clan have a Big Fancy House and lots of saved-up money, Matsuri and his grandfather Seigen don't own anything more extravagant than some personal electronics and sleep on futon instead of mattresses. Matsuri is completely shocked at Lu's palatial estate and excited to ride in a limo for the first time. Their dwelling has gone so long without renovation, it doesn't even have air-conditioning, and Matsuri's mother calls it a dump.
  • Silver Plan To Redo From JK: Sayuri does everything she can to save money, including making her own meals, being willing to eat slightly expired food, and taking the train to school rather than being driven by a chauffeur. She also forces her family to do the same. This is because she's aware of what it's like to be poor from her past life.
  • UzaMaid: Our Maid Is Way Too Annoying!: Ukai Midori pathologically hates nice conditions. Though her family is very wealthy, she joined the JSDF and initially is hired by Misha as a way to get rid of Tsubame. When asked about the job, she simply states that she doesn't need money, and mostly working just for fun. Even when Misha and Tsubame spend a night at her family's hotel, she seemed more comfortable sleeping on the cold tile floor than on her bed.

    Comic Books 
  • A characteristic trait of every incarnation of quadrillionaire Scrooge McDuck, from comics to animation, by any author. While his fellow millionaires waste money on useless status symbols, pointless luxuries, and foolish habits like gambling, he resists spending a single cent if he possibly can. Sure, he'll occasionally force himself to spring for things like employees, airplanes, and submarines, but only because they're necessary to fuel his adventure addiction, not to flaunt his wealth. To Scrooge, money is something to be saved and savored, never spent if at all possible.
  • In The Metabarons, the Metabarons have planetary-scale wealth but because of their ascetic Bushitaka belief system, they rarely spend much of it barring materials for new weapon systems and luxury items for spouses who aren't Bushitaka. Even when it comes to rebuilding a destroyed Metabunker and its arsenal, those things can come free as the Metabarons' robots simply jack an uninhabited planet and convert its resources.
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    Fan Fic 
  • Chloé's Lament: After Chloé made her wish to try and steal Marinette's near-100% Adoration Rating, the universe grants this in the form of a Role Swap AU, in which Chloé is a middle-class baker's daughter and Marinette's family is wealthy and holds both the Grand Paris hotel and the mayoral position (both of which were held by Chloé's father in canon). However, because Tom, Sabine, and Marinette still retain their baseline personalities from the original timeline, they pointedly avert Conspicuous Consumption (a major vice of Original!Chloé) - which, according to the author, has made the Dupain-Chengs even wealthier than the Bourgeois family was the first time around.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The mercenary/assassin Gelt from Battle Beyond the Stars has amassed a large fortune as payment for his reputation as The Kingslayer. Trick is, there's nowhere among the civilized worlds where Gelt can abide in safety, which means he spends his days hiding in an abandoned arcade on a Ghost Planet. Gelt actually spells this out to The Hero, stating "Your offer of a warm bed and a hot meal sounds very appealing to me right now."
  • The Godfather Part II features Hyman Roth who, despite being one of the captains of a criminal empire that he says is "bigger than U.S. Steel," chooses to live unostentatiously in a modest house in a Miami suburb and is first introduced eating a rather plain-looking sandwich.
  • Zero Moustafa of The Grand Budapest Hotel is renowned as one of the richest men in Zubrowska and the owner of the eponymous hotel... and yet he dresses unassumingly, travels alone, and when he stays at his hotel, he takes a room "smaller than the service elevator." As it turns out, Zero used to work as a lobby boy at the hotel and prefers the servants' quarters. It's eventually revealed that he's willingly destroying his fortune to keep the hotel safe from demolition, as a tribute to his dead wife.
  • The CEO in the 1988 movie Big hangs around his own store and plays a pretty hands-on role.
  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch: Colin Ritman is a legendary games designer who, in the words of his boss, "made enough this year to buy a Lamborghini and he still smokes roll-ups". His apartment is even shown to be in Trellick Tower, which at the time was one of London's most infamously crime-ridden social housing complexes.

    Literature 
  • Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol lives in a large house, but it's mostly unlit and unheated, with scant furnishings. Scrooge also collects his hoard of coins only to count them, rarely to spend them.
  • In The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins, Andrew Treverton is quite well-off, but he doesn't have any interest in comfort or luxury, so he lives an extremely frugal life.
  • Played with in David Drake's RCN series. Adele Mundy's blue blooded family styled themselves as populists standing up for the common man and deliberately furnished their estates in an austere style in the hopes of appealing to them. One of the things Adele learned during her exile from Cinnabar is that the lower classes don't actually decorate their houses that way.
  • Plyushkin in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls is another miserly example. He owns several hundred souls (that's Russian noble lingo for serfs) but lives as cheap as a beggar.
  • Jumper: David steals a small fortune from a bank, and, knowing he'll immediately become a fugitive for doing so, builds himself a cozy little one-room loft in the side of a cliff only accessible by him. He also does not start dressing flamboyantly. He just uses his ill-gotten gains to give himself power, plumbing, and creature comforts in his little hideaway.
  • In Les Misérables, Bishop Myriel's position comes with a large salary and a palatial official residence. He allows the local hospital to occupy the palace while he lives in a small adjoining building and donates nearly all his salary to charity.
  • One of Aesop's Fables concerns a miser who lives simply and keeps all his wealth buried in his back garden, occasionally digging it up to gloat over it. One day he goes out and finds that thieves have discovered and stolen the hidden treasure; he calls on the gods for vengeance, but they take the view that, since he was never going to use the treasure, he hasn't really lost anything of value.
  • In The Millennium Trilogy, Lizbeth Salander earns a fortune from the Vanger case, then increases her money through careful investments, but she barely spends any of it.
  • Shadows of the Empire: As the head of the largest criminal enterprise in the galaxy, Xizor is one of the wealthiest people alive yet dislikes Conspicuous Consumption. He even throws away a valuable jewel that one of his clients sends him as a gift since he has no use for it. He notes that Darth Vader is the same way since he has access to all the resources the Empire can offer but doesn't care for money at all.
  • In Cooking With Wild Game, Asuta admires the Noble Savages who saved him from death and tries to emulate their self-reliance as much as possible. (Also, he lives in a medieval world where there just aren't many amenities available to people, regardless of how much money they have.) The only luxury he indulges in is buying exotic ingredients to fuel his love of culinary experimentation.
  • The higher-ups in 1984 barely live any better than the squalor they inflict upon the rest of the country, as the wealth isn't the point of their society — the power alone is what they want, and view Conspicuous Consumption as a reason that previous dictatorships fell.
  • In Guards! Guards!, Sybil Ramkin, despite being one of the wealthiest women in the city, lives a simple lifestyle, focusing on her dragons. She and the rest of the Fancy (her dragon breeder club, full of extremely wealthy women) are noted to look scruffy and dirty from working in the dragon pens (though, of course, all their clothes are prime quality); Sybil and Rosie Devant-Molei have Brawn Hilda physiques from a lot of hard work. Vimes, examining the worn-out, grubby card of the Dowager Duchess of Quirm, notes that there's a kind of poverty only the super-rich can afford.
  • Ramona Quimby has Howie's uncle Hobart, who works in the oil industry and is said to be very rich (Ramona's father calls him "Old Moneybags" because of this). When Ramona meets him, however, he acts and dresses very casually, and doesn't appear rich at all — he arrives in a regular van and is garbed in plain shirt and jeans. The only indication of his wealth is his flippant way of spending his money when he takes Ramona, Beezus, Howie, and Willa-Jean shopping for his wedding necessities.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Graceland, Briggs is taken to see the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in Mexico. He is surprised to discover that the guy lives on a small farm where he cooks his own meals and slaughters his own livestock for meat. This is contrasted with the guy's main rival who lives on a large opulent estate.
  • In The Wire, drug dealers, out of necessity, tend to hide their wealth from the public. Marlo is a particularly sober example, but Proposition Joe (who runs his empire out of a dingy repair shop and seems to live in an ordinary, if well-maintained, house in East Baltimore) also qualifies. Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale are interesting borderline examples; they start quite understated, but start showing a little more flash—most particularly acquiring nice cars and large and well-appointed apartments in the Inner Harbor—once Stringer's legitimate business empire starts making them enough money to explain how they can afford such luxuries.
  • Breaking Bad
    • Cartel drug kingpin Gus Fring hides in plain sight as a frugal small business owner who drives an ordinary car and lives in a suburban home. He uses all of his wealth to build his empire and get revenge.
    • Walter White must hide all of the money he makes as a drug manufacturer, to the point that at various points in the series, he's hiding millions of dollars in his otherwise mundane home. This becomes deconstructed in the end when it's asked why he's accumulating all of this wealth that he can't spend.
  • In Fargo Season Three, V.M. Varga has made a considerable fortune from his criminal enterprises, but deliberately plays down his wealth to avoid drawing attention to himself, in part because he's a paranoiac who thinks the poor are a threat to the rich. As he explains:
    "Look at me. Look at me. This a $200 suit. I'm wearing a second-hand tie. I fly coach. Not because I can't afford first. Because I'm smart. So look at you, look at me, and tell me who's the richer? ... You think you're rich? You've no idea what rich means. Rich is a fleet of private planes filled with decoys to mask your scent. It's a bunker in Wyoming and another in Gstaad. So that's action item one: the accumulation of wealth. And I mean wealth, not money."
  • Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation secretly has a huge amount of moneynote  obtained through unspecified means, but doesn't spend any more on himself than the average person. While he is a bit miserly (most of his fortune is in the form of buried gold), this is mostly because Ron is a man of simple pleasures who greatly values self-dependence, to the point he prefers to build things instead of buying them whenever possible.
  • House of Cards (US): Raymond Tusk is basically an evil Warren Buffet: a billionaire investor who lives in a modest home in the Midwest and uses his wealth solely to make more money. He's more interested in the power that his wealth brings him than the luxury, which makes him a foil for Underwood, who specifically went into the public sector because he's more interested in power than wealth.
  • On Everybody Hates Chris, the local crazy hobo Kill Moves is actually rich but chooses to live on the streets in a notoriously dangerous neighborhood because he just likes it that way.
  • After a lifetime of illegal operations and shady associations, Frank Reynolds of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia retires with virtually unlimited funds to a tiny, filthy apartment he shares with Charlie. Since he's made it his life's goal to see how low he can sink into hedonism and vice, he lords his cash over the Gang, pushing them to ever-sleazier and dumber schemes in pursuit of his money.
  • Jimmy James in Newsradio hangs out his own station and tries to act as part of the crew, though he's certainly very enigmatic.
  • The Dresden Files: Unlike his book counterpart, TV!Harry was the sole heir of his Evil Mentor Justin Morningway, and as such the owner of a large mansion and significant amounts of cash. However, Harry's hatred of, and need to distance himself from, Justin mean that the mansion stays in mothballs and the money untouched, and Harry continues to work in a run-down office. The one thing he seems to have splurged on is outright buying a home, instead of attempting to make rent on a cellar apartment in the last sleazy flophouse in Chicago.
  • Halt and Catch Fire: Cameron is never interested in worldly possessions or luxury. Even after getting a job at Cardiff at a good wage, she lives in her office until she has to be told to get her own place. At Mutiny, she lives at the dilapidated hacker den out of which the company is run and wears clothes that are literally falling apart. After returning from Japan as a famous game designer, she decides to buy an empty field and live out of a trailer that her boyfriend barely fits inside.
  • Devs:
    • Forest is the CEO of the most powerful tech company in the world, but he lives in a simple, middle-class house and drives an old, mid-level family sedan. Even considering the ridiculous property values in Silicon Valley, he could afford far more, but he doesn't care about money. He's only interested in spearheading his Devs project.
    • Stewart is a prominent coder in Devs and so obviously receives a grand salary in addition to the expectation of a $10 million bonus at the project's completion. However, one late episode reveals that he lives in a tiny trailer parked on the side of the street in the slums. Given that he seems to spend almost all of his waking hours in the office, he likely doesn't feel the need for something more luxurious.

    Music 
  • Lucious Clay, who's featured in the Charlie Daniels Band's song The Legend Of Wooley Swamp, falls into the miser sub-category of this trope. He's an asocial recluse who lives alone in a swamp where he amuses himself by unearthing mason jars full of money and running his fingers through it. Lucius is robbed and murdered by thieves after digging up thirteen such jars. The thieves, however, receive a Karmic Death for their villainy.
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    Myths & Religion 
  • One interpretation of An-Nisaa 4:37 actually forbids this trope. The idea is that all bounty is a reward sent deliberately by God, so if someone conceals their wealth or doesn't live in accordance with it, they're basically misrepresenting God's generosity and being ungrateful. This verse is also one of many that encourages charity.
  • In Hindu Mythology, Shiva (the god of sages and truth, among other things) is said to wear only a tiger pelt and live in a cave, although he is one of the divine trinity and has near-unlimited power over creation. This is because having a lot of servants or desire-inducing ornaments around would corrode his will and distract him from meditation. (Although he does like fulfilling his wife's requests for nice things.)

    Radio 
  • John Avery "Whit" Whittaker of Adventures in Odyssey is as wealthy as you'd expect the owner of publishing monolith Universal Press and proprietor of the popular Whit's End to be. While the young juvenile characters frequently wonder how "rich" Mr. Whittaker is, one episode centers around Connie asking him why he lives like the average joe. Whit gives her a book of 3 short stories called Tales of Moderation that he says gives the reasons he chooses to forego "the better things in life": 1) it's smart to save money for the future rather than waste it on luxuries in the present since you never know how long your wealth will last; 2) owning a lot of gadgets and possessions can make life more stressful and complicated; and 3) the Christian reason — "Lay up your treasures in Heaven, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

    Theater 
  • Avenue Q: You'd hardly call him an ascetic, but Trekkie Monster has a million dollars lying around despite living in a one-bedroom apartment in a poor neighborhood. Turns out he'd made very smart investments in porn.
  • In Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, Timon is a very wealthy man who lives lavishly and holds lavish banquets. Then he becomes embittered and misanthropic, and moves to a cave where he stays and lives on roots. When he discovers a hoard of gold hidden in the cave, he doesn't change his lifestyle at all.

    Video Games 
  • Agent 47 from the Hitman series. Despite being the world's top assassin and paid accordingly, he is shown to live an extremely modest lifestyle. While a lot of this is justified due to his profession (he can't be tied down to expensive assets like cars or houses and 47 even eschews fancy meals due to the possibility of them being poisoned), he doesn't seem to have any sort of indulgences apart from his expensive suits. 47 is also known to spend a lot of his money making donations to churches and orphanages, especially considering that he once lived in a church in the second game.
  • In Do Not Feed The Monkeys one of the double-unlock cameras you can find is of an old lady who claims to be a philanthropist who takes donations and gives them to the poor while living in a very run-down looking apartment. If you unlock the second camera you can see another room where she has a number of expensive items hidden away and on top of that a hidden vault where she actually hordes all the money that she collects.
  • In Killer Instinct, Cinder's backstory in the 2013 game reveals that as relatively mundane spy and merc Ben Ferris, he made a ton of money and is considered a bona fide 1-percenter. Yet he lives in a modest apartment and leases a car. As Cinder himself exposits, the money he's made is, to him, nothing more than a symbol of how good he is at what he does. Ego aside, the money makes it clear he's very good. As in good enough to be selected for the project that turns him into an even more arrogant superpowered being of fire.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nine Series: Miyako Kujo is an upper-class girl from the wealthiest family in town, but you would never know it from her frugal lifestyle. She gets nervous at the thought of spending more than 1,000 yennote  on anything, for any reason.
  • Tsukihime: Arcueid is apparently well off according to All There in the Manual because a Mage Association bounty shop owner is a fan of hers and donates some of their gold to her. Additionally, Merem Solomon is also a loyal fan of hers and pays for her ventures around the world. In spite of this, Arcueid is humble with her use of money (partly because she doesn't understand it and doesn't view it as a huge thing), as shown with her modest taste in fashion and her lack of materialism.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe's father Greg has spent most of his adult life living in his van and working at (later owning) a carwash. Early in the third season, he gets a 10 million dollar royalty check for a song he wrote during his brief musical career... and continues to live in his van, run his carwash, and wear the same clothes. He did take his son and Pearl for a night on the town after getting the check, but the sticker shock put him off making a habit of it. After that, Greg buys a (reasonably priced) car he always wanted, but his major purchases are infrequent and usually for Steven or his friends (renting a boat for Lapis to ride on, giving Peridot a tablet he decided he didn't want) or as manager for Sadie's band.
  • Adventure Time: Finn and Jake live a pretty meager, spartan lifestyle and reside in a makeshift home built out of an ancient tree even though they're fabulously wealthy thanks to all the loot they've gotten from adventuring and dungeon-delving. They're such Ditzes that it never occurred to them to spend all that wealth, and the one time they do, it's only because they had built up so much treasure that they were running out of room in their house. Going on a wild money-spending trip in Wildberry Kingdom is their equivalent of spring cleaning.
  • In Spongebob Squarepants, Mr. Krabs is the owner of the Krusty Krab and has earned over a million dollars, but he's extremely cheap — mostly because the idea of spending any money is borderline blasphemous to him.
  • While Amy of Futurama regularly wastes her Old Money, her standard outfit is basically a tracksuit. In "Put Your Head On My Shoulders", she explains it's a form of rebellion.
    Fry: Hey, tell me something. You've got all this money, how come you always dress like you're doing your laundry
    Amy: I guess 'cause my parents keep telling me to be more "ladylike". As though!
    Fry: I've been there. My folks were always on me to groom myself and wear underpants. What am I, the Pope?
    Amy: Yeah, and if you were the Pope they'd be all, "Straighten your Pope hat," and, "Put on your good vestments."

    Real Life 
  • Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay from 2010-2015, lived on his own rundown farm rather than the presidential palace, drove an old VW Beetle, and donated 90% of his salary to charitable causes during his tenure.
  • Taken further by Jonn Elwes "the Miser", an 18th-Century English Member of Parliament. Despite being very wealthy and famously generous to other people, he had such an aversion to spending money on himself that he forbade repairs on his multiple country estates, wore clothes until they fell apart on him, and went to bed at dusk rather than spend money on lighting. While his barrister was preparing his will — roughly £50 million of assets in modern currency — the dying Elwes forbade him from wasting a candle to see better.
  • Warren Buffett, who is always vying for the top of the list of richest people in the world, lives with almost ostentatious modesty. Despite being worth almost $90 billion, he's lived in the same five-bedroom house in Omaha for over 50 years, which he purchased for the 2020 equivalent of $287,000. He drives a mid-range sedan and considers having a fast-food biscuit sandwich for breakfast to be a splurge. In fact, he views investing and money-making as cerebral exercises and isn't interested in accumulating wealth for himself, taking a relatively modest salary of $100,000 per year and his total compensation not exceeding $200,000 even with bonuses and incentives. He's even said he'll be giving his fortune mostly to charity upon his death instead of giving it to his family as an inheritance.
  • American Mafia boss Carlo Gambino went out of his way to live modestly despite his wealth and power, residing in a two-story brick house and driving a gray Oldsmobile station wagon.
  • Adam Sandler has an estimated net worth of $400 Million, yet frequently wears simple athletic wear like t-shirts and basketball shorts to interviews.

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