How Meeting Warren Buffett Means Less TVs In My Household

 

“It’s dumb to let possessions rule you.” - Warren Buffett

 

Before I go into how I met Mr. Buffett, let me first tell you that this is not going to be a preachy I’m-holier-than-grail article and you are Miss-Consumption-who-needs-to-change-her-ways. I live in a decent-sized house, have two cars and enjoy buying my 5lb. bag of frozen green beans from Costco. Trust me – I’m no stranger to consumerism.

But the older I get and the more educated I become in the cycle of both living and non-living things, the more changes I’m making to how I shop, and more importantly, how I live. This is not a road with an end, but a long journey.

By and large, somehow the existential gene seemed to have skipped my generation. Now I’m not making excuses for my consumerism, but just pointing out the facts. I grew up in a generation that wants, wants, wants, and has to have it, like yesterday. It’s really hard to divorce that way of thinking once you get sucked into it. There are so many arrows leading us in that direction – from the TV commercials persuading us that our lives will never be the same without the Snuggie, to the newspapers we read filled with store flyers announcing “BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR!” to the conversations we have with friends boasting about their new car or iPad. Consumerism is everywhere. It’s pretty much glorified in our culture.

That’s why when you meet someone like Warren Buffett, it makes you stop and think. Mr. Buffett, a man worth $47B, has lived in the same house that he bought in 1958 for $31,500. That’s 52 years of living in the same house, what my generation would consider his “starter house,” his “middle home” and his “forever” home – all in one. Think about it – how many people do you know in their 30s or 40s who are still living in their first home?

In 2004, while I was in graduate school at the University of Chicago (Go Booth!), I flew to Omaha with a bunch of fellow Buffett Club members. Basically, the Buffett Club studied and discussed Mr. Buffett’s investment strategies. Well, the Club had arranged to meet Mr. Buffett at his offices at Berkshire Hathaways for a Q&A session, followed by lunch at his favorite Omaha steak restaurant, Gorat’s. After the Q&A (which was phenomenal, by the way), several of my girlfriends and I headed to the restroom. This might come as a huge shock, but we took our time gossiping in the bathroom. By the time we re-emerged, we realized that everyone else had already headed out to the trolley bus to go to the restaurant. As we exited the elevator, we happened to pass Mr. Buffett in the hallway, on his way to his car.

He stopped and asked “ladies, would you like a ride to the restaurant in my car?”

Um, no thanks Mr. Warren Buffett, we’d rather schlep it across town in the bright red Ollie-the-Trolley than catch a ride with the third wealthiest man in the world.

Ten minutes later I was sitting shotgun next to Mr. Buffett.

His car was decked out with “THRIFTY” license plates (see photo below), and we were on our way to his favorite eatery, Gorat’s. With three of my besties in the back seat, we talked about everything from dating (in grad school) to the jobs we’d landed after graduation. Just hangin’, the four of us, with Warren.

Warren and my besties (Maria, Warren, Me, Sue, Doreen). In case you're wondering, Warren is handing me his WALLET! :)

If facial expressions could kill, the four of us would have been dead many times over that day. Let’s just say that some of the guys on our trip had been worshipping Buffett since the day they were born.

Every time I think about that day with our “buddy” Warren, I can’t help but ponder what a humble man he truly is. He doesn’t drive the latest Mercedes, visit the coolest hair salons in town, or wear expensive suits. And one day in the future, most of his fortune will go to charity.

In case you’re wondering just how humble Mr. Buffett truly is, check out this letter he wrote to me. I sent him the 8×10 photo (copy above) with a self addressed & stamped envelope. He returned a signed version back to me, and happened to make a mistake while writing his autograph (calling Target Corporation “Dayton” which used to be the Dayton Hudson Corporation). I have blanked out my last name & mailing address and his phone numbers to protect the innocent.

Buffet Letter

So my question is why have we let ourselves become conditioned to always want more, a bigger house, “nicer” things?

Power, influence, prestige?

Your kids don’t care about any of that. And they (+your significant other) are the most important people in your life, right? So this holiday season, remember that stuff is really just that – stuff. Once the dust settles and the kids have thrown those toys and trinkets aside, they’ll eventually end up in a landfill. And if it’s an electronic device that you “recycle,” it will eventually end up getting melted down for parts, which will produce dangerous metal by-products (like cadmium and lead).

And those hazardous by-products? They’ll be used to make your child’s toys that you just “have to have” next holiday season.

We hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season, enjoy lots of snuggle time with your babies, and resist the urge to get sucked head over heels into consumerism!

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8 Responses to “How Meeting Warren Buffett Means Less TVs In My Household”


  • I agree with your bottom line: at the end of the day, it’s all just stuff…and you can’t take it with you.

    I’m a fan of recycling and reusing. Let’s just hope that those unloved, dusty toys and trinkets get freecycled or find new homes a la Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

  • My husband and I started in an apartment. We bought our first house about nine years ago, before our son turned one. We intend to stay there forever. I have no desire to move into a different house, even though I’d like this one to be a bit larger. But instead of buying or building a new house, we will just add on to this one, and make it work.

    One thing we do that I believe makes a huge difference for our son’s perspective on life is that we encourage him to donate his birthday party gifts to charity. When he has a friend party, we specify in the invitations that gifts are not needed, but if they want to bring items that can be used by the Humane Society, they would be appreciated. (He chose them as his charity) He still gets some “stuff” from family – but he also gets to help out, and influence his friends to think about doing the same thing.

    ~ Meagan

    • What a beautiful and rewarding idea, Meagan. And a great way to teach your son about giving back.

      We also started out in an apartment together (although I bought my first home, while single, when I was 22 yrs old) and then bought our first home, which we still love. :)

  • What an inspiring article! Quite a thrill to meet him so close in person (I only attended a seminar!), and the self addressed envelope idea is great, definitely will use it. I liked how you linked it to the necessities in life (e.g. a larger house) and the impact on children. I’m a huge fan of consumer behavior, and have seen, explored, written about, read about, and yes, even fallen prey to consumerism at times, since there are many challenges facing consumers (particularly around a holiday season). Ironically we still end up referring to ourselves as ‘consumers’. Taking the word ‘consume’ out would surely help. Great work as usual, looking forward to chatting more about it!

    • I think we’re all guilty of consumerism. In many ways, it’s what keeps the economy ticking. But, I wonder how much we’ve sacrificed (health-wise) for the depths of our consumeristic (is that a word?) ways. Definitely causes me to stop and think…

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Looking forward to our next chat! :)

  • What a great article, Heather! We learned a lot about consumerism when my husband and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (which I highly recommend to everyone). I’m glad that we are now equipped with the information to teach our children about giving to others, delayed gratification and wise spending.
    We are guilty of consumerism, of course, but using all cash has really curbed my (yes, I’m the problem LOL) spending habits. It’s painful to hand over that cash instead of just swiping a card ;)

    • Thanks, Tara! I hear you – I think we’re all guilty. ;) I would love to try the cash-only thing, but would miss our Amex rewards points, lol (I know, further demonstrating my consumerism). Mark keeps track of everything we spend in Excel…even down to what was spent on pet food. By doing that, we can see how our expenses have changed over the years (i.e. restaurant, food, gas, etc.).

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