On a recent trip to Omaha, Nebraska I visited my old friends Frank and Jan. I don’t think Jan will like that description so let me rephrase that. I visited my long time friends Frank and Jan. One of their claims to fame is that they live on the same street as Warren Buffett. Now it happens to be a very long street and they live on the other end so they don’t exactly toss a football across their backyard fences. Nevertheless, it’s still the same street so that was close enough in my book.
Of course I wanted to see the palace that one of the richest men in the world inhabited. I imagined a colossal pile of turrets and garrets and details from mismatched architectural eras. Exactly the type of house that the nouveau riche build on either coast.
What a surprise to pull up to Mr. Buffett’s address and see a modest midwestern home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice house that I could gladly live in, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the size of the McMansions that popped up coast-to-coast during the latest real estate boom.
There is certainly a lesson in this. Here’s a man who could afford anything he wants but his wants are few. Meanwhile those who had to resort to liar loans and arcane mortgages to buy their gaudy palaces are now facing foreclosure proceedings.
Buffett reflects the values of his Omaha birthplace, a town that is weathering the current recession better than most. The Brookings Institute ranks Omaha as one of the Top 10 recession proof cities. This is partly due to a diversified employment base, well-educated workforce and responsible corporate leadership.
During my visit I toured a massive construction project in the midtown area. Mutual of Omaha is developing the neighborhood around its corporate headquarters with a large mixed-use project that will bring more residents into the city. During my entire month long cross-country trip this was the only place where I saw active construction cranes.
When we get through this recession, and we will, we would do well to remember the lessons of Warren Buffett. Live within our means, don’t put all our eggs in one basket and save for a rainy day. Things our parents and grandparents knew but the current generation somehow forgot.
Click the link for more stories from my American road trip.