The Arbor Outlook: Oil Lamps, Apple Brandy and Sidney Poitier

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and haul water. After enlightenment, chop wood and haul water.”
— from Ancient Zen saying

It’s an 18 year-old, low budget film, but I love watching it. "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn" stars Sidney Poitier, Diane Wiest, Mary-Louise Parker and Bernie Casey.

Noah (played by Poitier) is a carpenter who lives without electricity on the 35-acre Georgia farm bequeathed him by his father. Noah, 91, looks just like he did in 1933. His passion for and single-minded dedication to his work keep him from aging.

Noah is generous, charitable and decent in ways that endear us to him. He repairs screen doors and furniture for neighbors and bestows gifts of food on those in need. “Ever since I’ve grown more than I could eat,” he tells an inquiring city psychologist.

Real estate developers identify his tract as a perfect spot for their shopping mall, and offer as much as $750,000 for it. Noah’s response is always the same: “Don’t mean any disrespect, but my land ain’t for sale.” The developers have Noah committed to an institution for evaluation in hopes of having him declared mentally incompetent and gaining access to his land.

Eventually the psychologist prevails on the developers to leave Noah in peace, and Noah even evolves as well. It’s an immensely gratifying film, and Noah’s character is a powerful one. An attorney who visits Noah and tastes his homemade apple brandy even gives up his law practice to buy a vineyard.

While we are all living longer, we differ from Noah in that we want and need to spend money in our later years. Few of us, for instance, enjoy Noah’s level of health, and medical expenses for Boomers are increasing at an alarming rate. We must pay our electric bills, as the oil lamps used by Noah can’t power our personal energy needs. In essence, most of us are not ageless farmer/carpenters, but instead are aging city and suburban dwellers with financial requirements.

For some, savings and investments are sufficient to produce income that will provide plentifully throughout retirement. But the majority of Boomers don’t have enough liquid assets to sustain them in perpetuity. Many have a large portion of their net worth tied up in their home and may need to consider accessing that home equity in the form of a reverse mortgage. This may represent a last resort for some Boomers and in some circumstances it will make sense; in others, it won’t. For better or worse, most folks haven’t been able to save enough. As the Boomer generation ages, these loans will likely represent a growing trend for years to come. Now, could I have a taste of that apple brandy?

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.