My wife just returned from a long weekend touring eastern Oregon with two of her co-workers. They drove from small town to small town, shopping for antiques and visiting museums.

On Saturday — with an early October snow falling outside — Kris and her friends stopped to eat lunch at La Laguna in the small town of Joseph (population 1054). As part of the worst job I ever had, I spent several weeks selling insurance door-to-door in Joseph, so I know the locals are friendly. Such was the case at La Laguna. Kris’s party struck up a conversation with their waiter.

He told them that he was raised in Joseph. When he was a young man, he moved to Portland; the big city seemed exciting. He had a good time, and is glad to have had the experience, but after a few years he moved back to small-town life in Joseph.

“Life is simpler here,” he said. “And it’s less expensive. When I lived in Portland, I couldn’t save anything; there was always something to spend my money on. There just aren’t as many temptations here.”

He also said he loves his restaurant job: He gets to talk to people, to sing and dance and smile. In fact, he was singing along to the mariachi tunes from the sound system while he served lunch to Kris and Celeste and Rhonda.

I love this story.

This waiter seems to be very in tune with his own needs and limits. He recognized that living in Portland was harmful to his financial health, so he did something to change it. This is a valuable skill to have. When I was struggling to get out of debt, I had to force myself to stop going into book stores and comic shops. I intentionally avoided temptation. This didn’t cut all of my spending, but it curbed a lot of it.

The waiter has also recognized that you don’t need a high-powered career to be happy. On Monday’s episode of The Personal Finance Hour, I mentioned that one of the best jobs I ever had was busing tables at a Holiday Inn. It may seem crazy, but I found that job fulfilling. I was good at it, had great co-workers, and never took my job home with me. Neal from Wealth Pilgrim called to share that the best job he ever had was moving irrigation pipe, and for essentially the same reasons.

In order to achieve financial success — or any kind of success, really — it’s vital that you know yourself. You need to look inside to learn who you really are and what you really want. I know this sounds new-agey and touchy-feely, but it’s true. You can never have enough money and you can never be happy until you know precisely what that means for you.

Bonus! Kris knows that I’m passionate about supporting locally-owned businesses. Every time a national chain knocks off another mom-and-pop operation, my blood gets closer to the boiling point. At an antique store in Baker City, she snapped this photo of a great “shop local” flyer:

Shop Baker

If you want to read all of the propaganda (propaganda I support, in this case), click the image to view a larger version.

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