I live next door to an old man named Walt. He lives by himself and is pretty quiet. He spends most afternoons riding around on his bicycle or playing his dobro (a variation on a guitar).

Every few days, I stop in and talk to Walt because he’s lonely and can be a good conversationalist. He’ll talk for hours about politics or religion or sports; I can sit at his kitchen table and before I know it forty minutes have vanished.

Walt’s wife passed away several years ago; she was the financial planner of the family and she would give him a small allowance to spend each week. Now, Walt doesn’t really plan anything at all; he knows he has “enough” in his checking account, so he has his pension direct deposited into it. The only things he really spends money on are food, housing, and maintenance on his old pickup truck, which he has had for more than thirty years.

In reality, Walt doesn’t have much money. He keeps the heat very low in the winter and never uses air conditioning in the summer. He also eats a lot of very inexpensive homemade stuff, often inspiring enough sympathy in us that we’ll give him a plate of our leftover dinner once a week or so.

He pays his bills by keeping them in various piles at one end of his kitchen table. It’s an organizational system that he’s figured out that works well for him. There’s just one thing that I didn’t understand, and that was why he doesn’t open up his bank statements. He just smiled and said, “I got everything I need right here and I never come close to spending my pension each month, so why worry about it?” When he passes away, he says he’s going to leave what he’s got to his church, because the pastor works hard for all the poor people and they could use it.

Walt has taught me one thing, though; the things you have don’t really matter as long as you can wake up in the morning with a smile on your face. Walt wakes up every morning and just plays his dobro for a while, looking out the window with a cup of coffee and a newspaper nearby. When I leave each morning, I often see him there, looking as content as can be.

I hope that in my retirement, I can be half as content with life as Walt. That’s why I’m worrying about my finances now, so that when I’m Walt’s age, my biggest worry is whether the mailman will deliver the new issue of The New Yorker today.

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  1. Margaret says:

    Nice story, but in this day and age of identity theft and fraud, I would tell Walt to look at those bank statements. Either someone could get into his account fraudulently, or the bank could be making some sort of error and taking cash out of his account instead of someone else’s, or it could be depositing his pension into the wrong account (I assume there is a nest egg in the account, and that it would be months or longer before he would find out such an error). If there is an error, it needs to be fixed right away. Banks charge very high fees ($30 per hour) if they have to research errors more than a couple months old.

  2. Jenna says:

    This is beautiful. I love this post and the idea behind it. Thank you for the post today that directs back to this one, I was not a reader in 2006 and I missed this one…very glad to have seen it :)

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