Todd Schweisinger still lives in the house he bought for $60,000 when he was a Ph.D. student and drives the same 1988 minivan he’s had since he was a teen.
It’s not that Schweisinger can’t afford a bigger house or a newer car. He makes a comfortable salary at Clemson University as a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering and undergraduate lab coordinator.
Schweisinger shuns luxuries because they aren’t in line with his life goals. He has bigger plans, and donating $2 million to Clemson is at the top of his list.
Donors across the country will be deciding how to direct their charitable dollars this year, but few will be able to top Schweisinger in ambition and sacrifice.
Schweisinger, 42, has pledged 95 percent of his estate to the University to establish an endowment that will fund scholarships for students. He doesn’t have the full $2 million yet, but he’s working on it by saving and investing in real estate.
“I feel like I’m living the dream,” Schweisinger said. “I have my health. I have my happiness, and I have financial independence. I worried about money for a long time, and I don’t worry about money anymore. That’s really liberating.”
Schweisinger moved to Clemson for graduate school in 1997 after graduating from the University of California-Irvine with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He now has a master’s degree and a Ph.D., both in mechanical engineering from Clemson.
In those early days at Clemson, Schweisinger had to take out student loans to pay tuition and other expenses. He later secured some assistantships and was able to wean himself off the loans.
But just as he did, Schweisinger was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Insurance premiums alone cost him $500 a month, which was about half his earnings at the time, he said.
Schweisinger had to go back to the student loans.
“I ended up borrowing about $80,000 by the time I graduated, which is all paid off now,” he said. “It was easy for me to do because once I graduated, rather than getting these things everyone else was buying, I said, ‘I’m going to live like a graduate student.’”
The van isn’t Schweisinger’s only vehicle. As a backup, he keeps a 1982 pickup that he originally bought to haul his kayak to the mountains.
A new car, he said, just doesn’t line up with his life goals.
“Let’s say I go out and buy a new luxury car,” Schweisinger said. “That car is just going to devalue over time, and insurance payments are going to go up. Maintenance costs are going to go up. I don’t know much about working on all the electronics.”
Schweisinger stuck around at Clemson after getting his Ph.D. in 2007 because Imtiaz Haque, who was then department chair in mechanical engineering, offered him a job as undergraduate lab coordinator.
“I was like, ‘I totally need to eat — this is great,’” he recalled.
A semester later, a job opened up when a lecturer left the University. The lecturer job and the coordinator job were merged, and that’s what Schweisinger has been doing ever since.
Schweisinger, who is unmarried and has no children, has maintained his frugal lifestyle, always asking himself whether purchases are in line with his long-term life goals.