Worth A Thousand Words …

I just discovered a news segment regarding one of my early Surprise Millionaires, Elinor Sauerwein.  I enjoy writing about these wonderful people but as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  In that case, this video is worth ten thousand!  Enjoy.


Elinor Sauerwein







The Not-Rich Kid’s Guide to Graduating from College with Almost No Debt


What an inspiring story! Best of luck with your future plans.

Originally posted on Views From The Lake:

Provided by Vox

I was raised in a working-class neighborhood near Dallas by my mother, an immigrant from Vietnam. I attended the public schools nearby. We had metal detectors, drug searches using police dogs, a vice principal who was shot by a BB gun at a school assembly, and a teacher who was hospitalized after students put staples in her coffee — and that was just at my middle school.

I avoided the stress of dealing with drugs and gangs by routinely skipping classes. When I was 16, my high school principal told me that my spotty attendance was hurting the school’s funding, so she gave me an ultimatum: I could drop out, or I would be given a large truancy fine. Unable to afford the fine, later that week I became a high school dropout. (More accurately, I was a pushout).

I had to wait a few months until I turned…

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The Man Who Fought For The “Little Guy”

The so-called skid row of downtown Los Angeles is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the United States.  For those looking in from the outside, this would seem like the end of the line for most of the folks living there.  But for one man, it was nothing but a place of possibilities.

Delmar Clarence Kallberg was born in 1914 Minnesota to a family of Swedish immigrants.  Left fatherless during the Great Depression, Mr. Kallberg knew what it was like to struggle with abject poverty. Kallberg, Delmer

Misfortune followed when Delmar nearly lost his life, and did lose most of his hearing, during a mortar attack while stationed at sea during World War II.  Yes, Delmar had his share of struggles during his formative years.  But, as the old saying goes, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”.

I’m sure he drew upon these early experiences as he embarked on a career as an attorney for the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles representing veterans and their families who needed legal assistance.  Delmar spent his professional life looking out for the “little guy” who often had no means of looking out for themselves.

It may have been this fighting spirit that earned Mr. Kallberg his reputation as a reclusive and cantankerous old man.  After all, having to be tough and determined in your professional life could spill over in to your private persona as well.

In any case, Delmar lived out his retirement in the two bedroom bungalow style home he had purchased back in 1960.  Having never been updated, the house was a living testament to a bygone era.  However, it suited Delmar just fine thank you very much!  He saw no need to change his comfortable surroundings.  Nor did he see any reason to change is oft described, “cantankerous” personality.  It was just the way he was and he was comfortable with that.

If there is one other word to describe Delmar Clarence Kallberg, it would be frugal, extremely so.  Quite the investor, Delmar bought and held blue chip stocks sometimes for decades always reinvesting the dividends.  Delmar was both a frugal person and a savvy investor.

Mr. Kallberg had lived to the ripe old age of 98 upon his passing in 2013 making the settlement of his estate imminent.  After leaving sizable bequests to his family and to the Veterans Administration, Mr. Kallberg’s will simply stated that the residual should be used to help the skid row area of Los Angeles.  Well, that was all fine and good but the residual of Delmar’s estate amounted to a whopping $3.3 million!

Today, 30 different charities dedicated to helping the people and community of skid row will each receive $100,000 to assist them in their missions.  Once again, Mr. Kallberg was helping the “little guy”; that person who didn’t have the means to help himself.  It would appear that this “cantankerous old man” had a heart of gold.  It would also appear that this one time fatherless child of the depression never forgot what it was like to be the “little guy” himself.

Living Frugally While Investing Wisely

Nora Thomas Andersen was born August 25, 1923 during the heyday of the Roaring Twenties and grew up during the Great Depression in and around the hard scrabble working-class town of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.   However, young idealistic Nora always wanted something different from what America’s “steel town” had to offer.

Harboring a secret desire to be a nurse Nora worked in a department store during the day while studying practical nursing by night.  Upon receiving her nursing certificate in 1950, Nora made a niche for herself as a nurse/nanny working in some of the more well-to-do homes in the area.

This could have been the end of Nora’s story, but in 1955, long distance trucker Ove Andersen blew in to town.  The two somehow met and struck up a quick friendship.  This led to a two year long-distance pen pal relationship which cumulated in a marriage proposal!

Nora threw caution to the wind, accepted Ove’s marriage proposal and soon found herself on an Idaho farm in Ove’s home town of Hansen!  By all accounts, this city girl took to farm life very readily helping with chores while taking care of her new husband.

Always very industrious and hardworking, Nora went on to work for many years at a local frozen foods factory where she made many friends that she kept for the rest of her life.  She was also a well thought of employee at the factory.

Nora kept her hardworking industrious attitude through retirement and widowhood always looking for ways to help others.  She lived simply and frugally while always investing wisely.  She kept busy by tending to the beautiful flower gardens which surrounded her well-maintained mobile home.  She also enjoyed knitting and even grew her own vegetables.

She was a much loved member of her local church and also belonged to a women’s organization that help the less fortunate in the community.  All in all, Nora lived quite a contented and fulfilling life in her adopted home of Hansen Idaho.

Nora AndersenMy long-time readers will know what happens next!  Upon her passing in 2010, ten different Idaho non-profits learned that they would all share in Nora Andersen’s $2.3 million estate.  Organizations such as churches, homeless shelters and transitional living programs will all be able to extend their services thanks to Nora’s generosity.

A one-time nanny, farm hand and frozen food worker amasses $2.3 million just by living simply and frugally while investing wisely.  What a concept!

The Beginning Of The Surprise Millionaires Journey

I thought I would start my next 100 posts with a look back on the experience that started me on this journey.  Everyone needs that spark, that catalyst, that “aha” moment.   This was mine …

This story begins for me several years ago when I was asked to serve on my church’s finance committee. Even though I wasn’t much of a joiner, I found the idea of learning how the financial life of the church worked very intriguing.

As I arrived for my first committee meeting pen and paper in hand, I was shocked to learn that my first act as a committee member would be a very momentous one. We were to decide the best use for the “estate” left to the church by a deceased parishioner, Mrs. Williams (not her real name).  Church Pews

It seemed that her estate had been held up in legal proceedings over the past couple of years and was now ready to be released to the beneficiaries; our church being one of them. I thought it was quite nice that this saintly old lady had decided to gift the church with what was left of the blood, sweat and tears of her meager life. Boy was I ever wrong!

The committee was quickly informed that this would be a very important decision due to the size of the estate. It was felt amongst the pastoral staff that the money should be used to pay off the outstanding loan on the current church facility. I was shocked. Kindly old Mrs. Williams, the little lady who had always sat in the fourth pew from the back of the church each and every Sunday had the wherewithal to pay off a seven figure construction loan? Unbelievable!

But that was only part of the story. The church was actually one of several institutions that would benefit from Mrs. Williams’ multi-million dollar estate.  In reality, Mrs. Williams was both a very wealthy and very generous woman!

I left the meeting that day shaking my head. How could Gladys Williams and her late husband have accumulated all of that wealth? They certainly weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. Mr. Williams had been a postman during his working life and had also sold vacuum cleaners on the side.  Mrs. Williams had been a homemaker until her children were grown and had then taken a job at the local library.

I had never had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Williams but Mrs. Williams was, well, rather ordinary.   While always neat and tidy in appearance, she mostly wore the typical polyester “church lady” suits that could be purchased at any local discount store. Her car had been a mid-priced, American-made model of a completely ordinary nature.

There was no mansion for the multi-million dollar Williams’ either. They lived in a non-descript, but well maintained bungalow style home. There wasn’t even a garage to protect their car from the harsh mid-western winters. Nothing in their outward appearance would give any hint of the wealth that lay at their disposal.

I didn’t dwell on the matter for too long preferring to characterize the Williams’ as “outliers” in what we like to call the American experience. It just wasn’t natural to have all of that wealth yet not spend even a fraction of it on yourself, was it?

It wasn’t long before I discovered that the Williams’ were not alone in their pursuit of wealth accumulation.  They were part of a group of people who kept a low profile while at the same time accumulating vast amounts of wealth; they were the Surprise Millionaires.

My 100th Post: Why Millennials Will Never Be Surprise Millionaires

The Surprise Millionaires

To celebrate my 100th post, let’s discuss the millennials from their perspective.  This post features my first guest writer: my daughter, Kelsey McDowell.

Saddled with student loan debt and a perceived inability to invest, I am far from the profile of the frugal outlier chronicled on this blog. When my father initially asked me to write for The Surprise Millionaire, I was quite unsure what I could possibly contribute.

Lucky for you, I am not here to provide any lasting financial advice. Rather, as a self-proclaimed expert on my generation, I am here to support an argument made in his last post: the millennial will never be a surprise millionaire.

That’s awfully generalized and negative, isn’t it? “Never a surprise millionaire? I’m going to be showing all you boomers just how awesome and unique and successful and UNIQUELY SUCCESSFUL I am… or will be! Someday!” cries the millennial from his urban coffee shop. Yes, the millennial fervently believes in his potential. Is that not how he has been raised, though?

If you were to stop 100 millennials on the street, I can unscientifically guarantee most of them would claim that they possess the potential to be a millionaire. The millennial believes in himself, which is certainly half the battle. But will this confidence translate into consistent and gradual wealth accumulation? Probably not.

The millennial, with his inflated sense of self and conditioned need for instant gratification, is in for a life-long battle. Will his immediate perceived needs outweigh the wise advice to invest for the future?

While the millennial can certainly become a millionaire, he will likely take a path much different from our surprise millionaire. Where the surprise millionaire slowly accumulates his wealth through frugality and sometimes doing without, the millennial will harness his innovative, entrepreneurial spirit and follow a vastly different timeline.

The surprise millionaire will always be an outlier, but it appears that his breed will become even more rare.