The richest man in America does not spend his money like most technology billionaires.
Unlike two of his former colleagues, Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, he has not purchased a professional sports franchise (the L.A. Clippers and Seattle Seahawks, respectively). He has also largely avoided owning other companies, starring in reality shows, or making guest appearances on Shark Tank.
But just because Bill Gates, who tops the Forbes 400 as the richest man in the United States, avoids most billionaire cliches, that doesn't mean he skips all of them. The man who made his money by creating Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) does have a weakness for sports cars.
And while he can be seen commuting in a Ford Focus, he was also influential in getting then President Clinton to sign the "Show and Display" rule, which made certain highly collectible cars exempt from government safety and crash regulations, DigitalTrends reported. That law allowed Gates to tool around in his $225,000 Porsche 959 when he's not being practical.
Compared with most billionaires, flashy cars aside, Gates is low-key and not an especially big spender for someone who has a fortune of around $80 billion, according to Forbes. He's also pledged to do something with his money that a surprising number of super-wealthy people have agreed to do -- give most of it away.
Gates and his wife, Melinda, have pledged to give the majority of their money away as part of something he helped create, The Giving Pledge. People who take the pledge, which is reserved for billionaires and those who would be billionaires if they didn't give their money away, asks the following of participants.
The Giving Pledge is an effort to help address society's most pressing problems by inviting the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will.
It's not a legal contract nor is it binding in any way, but an impressive number of billionaires have taken the pledge. Some are waiting until their death to contribute the majority of their fortunes, but Gates has been very proactive in not only giving away his money but also using it to contribute to the greater good.
Our purpose is to reduce inequity. (1/6) pic.twitter.com/Q8AhDFfy7M— Gates Foundation (@gatesfoundation) July 2, 2015
What is Gates doing?
To put their donation to good use, Bill and Melinda Gates formed a foundation in their names dedicated to improving public health around the globe. The two explained their actions in a letter.
Years ago, when we began to learn about global health, we were especially shocked to read that one highly preventable disease -- rotavirus -- was killing half a million children every year. Airplane crashes are always front-page news, yet here was a killer of half a million children every year, and most people couldn't put a name to it, much less put a stop to it
We have committed the vast majority of our assets to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help stop preventable deaths such as these, and to tear down other barriers to health and education that prevent people from making the very most of their lives. Our animating principle is that all lives have equal value. Put another way, it means that we believe every child deserves the chance to grow up, to dream and do big things.
It's a noble goal, and one that both of the Gateses have contributed not just their fortunes to but also their brain power. Though Bill has become a little more active at Microsoft since Satya Nadella became CEO, the majority of the couple's time goes to the foundation.
They are engaged in a battle that won't be won quickly, but they are producing tangible results, including creating a machine that turns human waste into drinkable water. That sounds like a joke, but it's a potential solution to the problem of people who get sick because they lack working sewers.
Gates is setting an example
While Bill Gates made his fortune through hard work, he also understands that it happened in part because of the opportunities afforded him because of where he grew up and who his parents were. In taking the Giving Pledge, he's trying to make sure more people get the opportunity to share their genius with the world.
It's a noble goal, and one that everyone should strive to follow.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.