You've surely heard of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and former Magellan Fund manager-turned-author Peter Lynch, who are both investing superstars. But there are other inspiring financial figures worth knowing about, too. Consider, for example, Oseola McCarty.

I've written about her before, but this is a landmark year in her story, so I thought it would be worth meeting her again. So let me back up now to the beginning of the story.

McCarty was born in Mississippi in 1908. She lived for three-quarters of a century in a small, simple house, washing clothes for a living. (Did you get that? She washed other people's clothes for nearly 75 years.) Over these years, she put aside whatever money she could, plunking her savings into local banks.

By the mid-1990s, she decided to give most of her life's savings to the University of Southern Mississippi. ("I just figured the money would do [scholarship recipients] a lot more good than it would me," she said.) The impressive sum of $150,000 bowled over school officials and was established as the Oseola McCarty Scholarship Fund in 1995. We're ending 2005 now, and McCarty's fund has been around for a full decade.

The 17th recipient
A press release this summer announced that "Hattiesburg [Miss.] High School 2005 graduate Krystal Virgil has been named the 17th recipient of the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship at The University of Southern Mississippi. In its 10th year of making dreams come true, the full-tuition four-year scholarship was an answer to the Virgil family's prayer. 'I felt like someone had dropped a million dollars in my lap. It was a big blessing,' said Cynthia Virgil of Hattiesburg, a disabled single mother of two."

It continued: "The first generation in her family to attend college, Krystal Virgil of Hattiesburg ... had been accepted to attend several universities, including Duke, but was faced with limited financial aid opportunities. 'Miss McCarty changed my life,' said Krystal, who finished fifth in her class. 'I had no idea how I would make it financially. Miss McCarty worked hard without an education, and the fact that she would give back is noble, to say the least.' Although Krystal has begun her freshman year at Southern Miss, she hopes to continue her medical studies in neurology, with an emphasis on research and development."

This makes me marvel. Imagine that someone of incredibly modest means could leave a legacy as meaningful as this one -- enabling 17 deserving people to follow their dreams. And that's just in a decade. There will be scores more. Think of what we, who have more than McCarty did, can do.

Life lessons
McCarty's life imparts valuable lessons to those who are paying attention. For starters, we learn how much can be accomplished by investing even small amounts. We also learn that in an effort to become our family's most beloved ancestor or a charitable cause's most beloved stranger, we should invest as effectively as possible.

Her own words are also inspiring: "A smart person plans for the future. You never know what kind of emergency will come up. ... You have to take responsibility for yourself. It wasn't hard. I didn't buy things I didn't need. ... The Lord helped me, and he'll help you, too. ... It's an honor to be blessed like that."

McCarty died in 1999. Since I'd written about her before, one of her bankers wrote to me then, saying: "I have often tried to explain to folks that Miss McCarty's most remarkable feat was living as long as she did. She also found a way to save a little bit of money every week. Time was able to turn even the modest returns of her early investments into hundreds of thousands of dollars. If we had been able to introduce her to equities earlier, she would have left millions instead of thousands."

That's so true. If she'd invested, for example, in the stock of ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) between 1979 and 1989, she'd have been able to turn $10,000 into more than $425,000. She'd have been able to do the same thing with the stock of PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP). An investment in Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) stock would have increased 40-fold in that period.

The point here is that with some good guidance, we can do even better than we're doing with our finances. If you're socking away money for retirement, you may not be doing so in the most effective manner. I invite you to take a test-drive of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, which is delivered monthly, full of inspiring stories and practical advice. Try it for free.

Just as an example, let's look at a single issue. If McCarty had been subscribing to Rule Your Retirement this past October, she'd have read about how powerful dividends can be in a retirement portfolio and would have gleaned a few recommended hefty-dividend-payer picks, too: Heinz (NYSE:HNZ), British banks Lloyds (NYSE:LYG), Barclays (NYSE:BCS), and small insurer Montpelier Re (NYSE:MRH). She'd also have read how she could make her IRA last a long, long time by naming the right beneficiaries, among other things, and transferring retirement-plan assets to an IRA. Turning the page again, she'd read an interview with CPA and acclaimed IRA expert Ed Slott, discussing the most common mistakes people make with their IRAs. Another feature she might have enjoyed is an inspiring profile of a couple who, by saving for retirement, were able to leave their rat-race jobs while still in their 30s and travel the world.

For more financial guidance, you might also want to consider trying our TMF Money Advisor financial planning service. It's inexpensive, offers personal, professional advice via phone, and you can also try it for free.

And for information on Oseola McCarty's scholarship fund, call (601) 266-5602.

Give while you get
And finally, if you're now thinking about what kind of legacy you can leave on this earth, know that we're in the midst of our ninth annual charity drive, Foolanthropy. As we've done for years now, we're raising money together to support five impressive organizations. Please take a few minutes to at least learn about this year's featured organizations. (They'll truly be delighted just to have more people familiar with them and their work.) And then consider joining us in contributing a little something to them. Together we've raised more than $2 million in our past campaigns -- thanks to the participation of many Fools. Learn more about Foolanthropy.

Heinz is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Lloyds is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Montpelier Re is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation.

Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and PepsiCo. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.