By Amy Calistri
The story was picked up by the major news sources as a "cute" human interest feature. You might have seen the headlines like "How a Secretary Made and Gave Away $7 Million."
But for me, this wasn't some light news piece. This was a story that resonated deeply with me.
I didn't know Grace Groner, from Lake Forest, Illinois. From the stories, she was a woman who lived frugally. Her passing was of interest because her three shares of Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) grew into thousands of shares through decades of stock splits and dividend reinvestment. In total, her estate came in at roughly $7 million when she passed.
And while I didn't know Grace Groner, I did know Lillian Calistri.
The last time I saw Aunt Lillian was in 1990. I remember that a nephew had the misfortune of addressing her as "Lillian." She promptly looked us all in the eye and said, "You will continue to call me Aunt Lillian." We were all over 25 years old at the time, but in Aunt Lillian's world, adulthood was no excuse for bad manners.
Aunt Lillian taught home economics at Charleroi High School in Pennsylvania. After she retired in the 1950s, she moved to Tucson, Ariz. I remember thinking it was nice that she had been able to live comfortably in her golden years -- aided by a teacher's retirement and a nest egg from the 1952 sale of the family's ice cream business.
Here's the kicker. When Lillian died in 1993, her estate was worth north of $5 million.
Her broker was the only one who wasn't shocked. "They should have that kind of discipline on Wall Street," he said. Dividend reinvestment? You bet.
But there's something else to this story, and it's something that can help you earn larger dividends soon -- helpful if you don't have a lifetime to invest as Aunt Lillian and Grace Groner did.
They may not have realized it at the time, but both the women in this story chose their investments wisely.
Abbott Laboratories, the company Grace Groner invested in, has paid more than 350 consecutive dividends since 1924. In 1990, the company paid $0.203 per share in dividends. Today, that amount has grown 826% to $1.88 per share.
One of Aunt Lillian's investments was International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM). IBM dished out its first dividend in 1913. Since then, it has gone on to pay nearly 400 more. In the past decade, IBM's dividend has increased 436%.
Neither ABT nor IBM had a particularly juicy yield at the time these women bought their shares. But they had something equally powerful: a corporate culture dedicated to rewarding shareholders -- especially with growing dividends.
And those growing dividends add up a lot quicker than you'd think.
If you had put $5,000 into AT&T five years ago, you'd have earned a 3.8% yield at the time. That amounted to $188 per year. But today, that $5,000 investment would be paying $305 a year if you simply reinvested your dividends. That's a 6.1% yield on your original investment.
Kinder Morgan is an even better story. Right now the shares pay a solid 5.4%. It's nothing to sneeze at, but thanks to the company's commitment to dividend growth, $5,000 invested just five years ago -- plus reinvested dividends -- is now earning 12.9% on your original investment, or about $650 every year.
It's doubtful most of us will have decades and decades to invest like Grace Groner or Aunt Lillian. But this doesn't mean we can't see our dividends grow enormously in a span of just a few short years.
Disclosure: Amy Calistri does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article. StreetAuthority LLC owns shares of T, KMP in one or more if its “real money” portfolios.