How Did Ronald Reagan Accumulate His Wealth?

Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States and served between 1981 and 1989. By the time he took over the office at the White House, Reagan had already been involved in politics for a while, having served as the Republican governor of California, and was a well-known actor. Both these careers contributed significantly to his net worth even before he received the salary of a president.

Born in Illinois in 1911, Reagan came from a humble family. His father was a shoe salesman and his family lacked many basic amenities when he was growing up including indoor plumbing and running water. By 1937, however, he managed to find success as a radio news reporter and then started an acting career. He would go on to become a prolific actor appearing in more than 50 movies, as reported via History.

Despite the varied opinions on him, Reagan had a significant impact on the economy of the country after he was elected president by cutting income taxes, helping reduce inflation and unemployment, and increasing prosperity (per Investopedia). While opinions about Reaganomics (the term used to describe a number of economic policies Reagan implement during his two terms in office) differ, his ideas of how to manage and grow the wealth of the country could have possibly impacted how he ran his personal finances and how he managed to rise from his humble beginnings to acquiring wealth.

Before he was president

Ronald Reagan had a very successful career as an actor. For over 30 years, he acted in movies, narrated documentaries, and hosted shows. His first role was in 1937's Love is on the Air and he continued to land lead roles for many years. By the 1960s and 1970s, he was also working a lot for TV, appearing in episodes of General Electric Theater and Death Valley Days (via the Reagan Library).  

According to Too Much Online, Reagan was earning up to $400,000 per movie at the peak of his career. He would eventually join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Board of Directors and, in the 1960s, he helped introduce residual payments. Up until then, actors were only receiving one-time payments for appearing in a film, but introducing residual payments meant that actors would receive money forever for reruns (and in today's world, things like streaming, pay-per-view, and cable). This decision meant that Reagan himself would also continue to receive these payments for the rest of his life, adding to his ever growing net worth (via The Atlantic).

By the time Reagan became president, his net worth was already $10.6 million, according to Town and Country. Sources estimate that over his lifetime, he also accumulated about $22 million in investments and an additional $25 million in other assets. Additionally, he earned an annual $200,000 while he was president, helping grow his net worth significantly (per CA Knowledge). 

Net worth growth after leaving the White House

Ex-presidents continue to receive money after they leave office in the form of an annual pension that lasts for the rest of their lives. According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), the amount of the pension matches the current salary paid to a cabinet secretary. In 2021, that amount was $221,400. Ex-presidents also receive allowances for staffing, office space, up to $1 million for travel expenses, as well as coverage for other costs incurred by a former president. While many of these extras are not given in the form of actual cash, covering costs means that these expenses don't come out of the ex-presidents' pockets. This might explain why Reagan's spent the years after his time in the White House using his own money to invest and grow his net worth.

The Washington Post reported that in the 1990s, Reagan received a $7 million advance for a two-book publishing deal that included his memoir and a collection of all of his public speeches. This significantly bumped his net worth. Reagan also owned several properties, including his beloved Rancho del Cielo, a 688-acre ranch near Santa Barbara that the family used as a vacation home and would later be sold in 2002. He and his wife also owned a 7,000-square-foot Bel-Air estate where Reagan lived until his death in 2004. The estate remained in the family until it was sold in 2016 for approximately $15 million (per The Reagan Library). 

How much was Reagan worth when he died?

Reagan was married twice and had five children. He had two children with his first wife Jane Wyman: Daughter Maureen, adopted son Michael, and daughter Christine (who died hours after being born). With his second wife, Nancy, he had daughter Patricia and son Ronald (via The Reagan Library). 

By the time Reagan died in 2004 from complications caused by Alzheimer's disease and a severe case of pneumonia, only three of his children were still alive, as Maureen died in 2001 from cancer, according to The Reagan Library.  At the time of his death, Reagan's net worth was around $13 million (the equivalent to about $20.5 million in today's money, per U.S. Inflation Calculator), as reported via Go Banking Rates. Although there's no specific public information on Reagan's will and how his money was allocated, everything indicates that the money stayed in the family and went to his wife and children (per CA Knowledge). When First Lady Nancy Reagan died in 2016, she had a net worth of $25 million — some as a result of her own work as an actress before her marriage and some, presumably, from wealth accumulated in the family (per Go Banking Rates).