Tuesday, September 14, 2021

How Earl Crawley Built a $500,000 Dividend Portfolio on Minimum Wage

Today, I wanted to share the story of Earl Crawley, a parking lot attendant who accumulated a portfolio of dividend stocks worth $500,000, despite the fact that he never made more than $20,000/year.

This story is very inspirational, and teaches us a lot of lessons that are applicable to all of us, despite the cards we are dealt in life. It reminds me a lot of the story of Ronald Read, the Vermont Gas Station Attendant, who built a dividend portfolio worth $8 million.

Mr. Earl's Story

Earl Crawley was a 69 year old Baltimore parking lot attendant, when I first heard about him in 2008.

He had worked as a parking lot attendant for a bank for the previous 44 years. He had never made more than $20,000/year. Despite all of that, he had a dividend portfolio worth $500,000 and a fully paid off home.

Earl had a difficult childhood. When he was 4, he and his three sisters and brother were placed in St. Elizabeth's Orphanage on Argonne Drive after his mother contracted tuberculosis. It took nearly three years for his mother to get well and reunite the family. They rented an apartment on Saratoga Street near Lexington Market.

Earl had started working at the age of 13, but his mother took most of his income. He had dyslexia, which is why there were not many opportunities for him beyond some manual labor jobs such as mowing lawns, cleaning houses, being a parking lot attendant. He realized he had to save as much money as he can to overcome life's challenges.

After he got married, and had three children, he supported his family on $80/week in the 1960s. Money was tight, but he lived within his means by keeping costs low and working several jobs to make more income. Despite all obstacles, his frugal attitude helped him to save and invest. He had learned this resourcefulness from his mother, who was able to make ends meet with a limited income from low wage jobs.

How did this parking lot attendant manage to learn about bonds, dividend reinvestment plans and investing in the stock market?

One day, a well-meaning co-worker took Crawley aside and put a bug in his ear: You have a limited education. You better get some money because you won't go far here. That co-worker, became a friend and mentor, spurring the youthful handyman to learn more about the stock market.

His parking lot was close to a lot of financial institutions. Earl kept asking questions, and kept learning, picking the brain of anyone who engaged. Earl listened to bankers, lawyers, brokers, believed in the power of compounding & stocks for the long run.

Mr Earl's Investing Journey

His ultimate goal was to let the money work for him so he didn't have to.

Earl started with savings stamps, savings bonds and later graduated to investing regularly in a mutual fund. He started investing consistently $25/month in a mutual fund for 15 years.

By the late 1970s, his net worth reached $25,000.

By 1981 he started investing directly in blue chip, dividend paying stocks like IBM, Coca-Cola, Caterpillar. He bought a share or two, but kept buying consistently over time. He kept reinvesting his dividends, which increased his shares and dividend income.

By 2007 he had a portfolio worth $500,000, a fully paid off house and no debt

I would imagine that his portfolio generated between $15,000 and $20,000 in annual dividend income

At his income level that was probably tax-free or tax-deferred. That’s because his assets were split between a company 401 (k), an Individual Retirement Account and a taxable account. If you are under a certain income threshold, most of your assets would be non-taxable.

Mr Earl's Portfolio Holdings

Based on information I found about him, his portfolio seemed diversified in blue chip companies that paid a dividend. Examples include:

Coca-Cola (KO)

Caterpillar (CAT)

Bank of America (BAC)


Colgate-Palmolive (CL)

Lockheed Martin (LMT)

Verizon (VZ)

AT&T (T)

Exxon-Mobil (XOM)

He couldn't afford to lose money in the stock market. This is why he focused on stable blue chip companies, which paid a dividend.

He has stated that when he first started out, he had to be conservative and take his time because he couldn't afford to lose money. He looks for companies with stability that pay dividends. While he does use his broker, many times he'll go where my spirit leads him.

He also held mutual funds in his IRA and 401 (k). He did have a good amount of employer stock in his 401 (k) too, which was accumulated through regular payroll deductions.

Earl is also paying it forward, by donating shares to others, teaching them about dividend reinvestment and the power of compounding. He shares his lessons with other members of his church, and starting an investment club.

This knowledge would hopefully compound, make his community better educated and hopefully wealthier. This knowledge would pay dividends for generations to come, hopefully breaking the cycle of poverty for many of his friends.

Seven Wealth Building Lessons from Mr. Earl

After reviewing some interviews with Mr Earl, and reading some articles about him, I have come with a list of several lessons that helped him accumulate his nest egg.

1. Live within your means

2. Try to always save some money

3. Invest regularly on a consistent schedule

4. Invest in blue-chip dividend paying stocks

5. Reinvest those dividends

6. Let your money work hard for you

7. Keep learning

I find stories like that very inspirational. It shows me that anyone can acquire wealth if they live within their means, save and invest prudently, and take advantage of the power of compounding over long periods of time.

One of the largest misconceptions people have is that they need to earn a high income, in order to save. The important thing is to be able to live within your means, and manage your income and your expenses at the same time. The different between income and expenses is the savings rate, which should be then invested in assets such as equities.  While earning a high income can help, too often we see highly compensated employees succumb to lifestyle inflation and spend their raises, and then some, on an expensive lifestyle. While earning a low income may seem like an obstacle to building wealth, it may teach folks to be resourceful and live a simpler life withot many wants. This can lead to a cheap lifestyle, that can help accumulate wealth. This is a counter-intuitive idea to many folks today. Yet, people like Mr Earl and Ronald Read, the millionaire gas station attendant, are living proof that you do not need a high income to accumulate a sizeable nest egg.

I believe that if there is a will, there is a way.

Resources about Mr Earl Crawley

I enjoyed viewing the following video of Mr. Earl from Moneytrack:

You can also learn more from this book about him, titled: Nickel and Dime Your Way To Wealth: Wealth Building On Any Income

There are a few articles I read about him, which were very helpful in learning about Mr. Earl Crawley's journey:

Popular Posts