Lessons in Retirement from the Movie “About Schmidt”

When you think about “personal finance” movies, you probably would think about intense, cut-throat investing like in the movie “Wall Street”. But what about other personal finance topics like saving money or retirement?

On that note, one of my favorite movies dealing with the subject of retirement is a dark comedy from 2002 called About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised – it was somewhat under the radar. It’s a movie about a man who reaches the age of retirement only to discover that he is still trying to figure out his life and its meaning. It is definitely worth watching, and I’ll tell you why …


About Schmidt’s Storyline:

The movie starts off with old Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) sitting a dark and dull office watching the clock. It hits five and he quietly leaves without saying goodbye to anyone. It was his last day at work, and he is now retired.

The days go by and Warren is finding himself with nothing to do and no enthusiasm. He comes across a commercial to adopt a child from Africa, and so he does. He begins to write a pleasant letter to a young boy named Ndugu, but the letter quickly spirals out of control into a rant about how displeased Warren is with his life and career. He blames his wife for holding him back and confesses that his daughter’s fiancée is a complete loser. There will be several more very personal letters throughout the movie to Ndugu. It is clear that Warren has no one to talk to.

Shortly thereafter, Warren’s wife dies. He later learns of an ancient affair between his wife and his best friend. Alone and enraged, Warren begins to fall apart.

In a moment of clarity, Warren decides he will try to stop his daughter’s wedding. He gets in the Winnebago he and his wife were supposed to go traveling in and heads across country to see her. Along the way Warren has a few adventures and starts to come to grips with his loss.

The finance’s family is a total nightmare (mother played by Kathy Bates). At the wedding, Warren is unable to prevent it from happening and reluctantly stands by as everyone is happy for the new couple.

Defeated, Warren returns home a failure. His career has failed. His marriage is gone. He laments how his life hasn’t made any difference to anyone.

But then he receives a much needed surprise ….. (I can’t spoil the ending for you!)


Lessons Learned:

As depressing as that storyline is, I have to remind you that this movie is actually very funny and entertaining. And for all the gentlemen out there, there is even a nude scene with Kathy Bates (yummy!)

But seriously, there is a lot to take away from this movie.  Here a few of the simple lessons I take away from About Schmidt:

Don’t retire without a plan. Warren unfortunately found himself without purpose in the days after he left work. When you finally retire, have a game-plan. Find a hobby, volunteer, join a group, do something!

Don’t look back in regret. Don’t spend your life waiting for your career to be over only to quietly exit having never made a difference to anyone. Stand out and matter to those around.  And don’t blame others for your own mistakes!

Don’t take for granted those you love. Warren later regretted how much he took his wife for granted, but unfortunately it was too late. Similarly, his relationship with his daughter had become too distant to make an impact on her decision for marriage. Don’t let the ones you love slip away. Love your spouse and family now while you can.

Readers – Has anyone besides me seen this movie? What are some of your favorite “personal finance” topic movies? And what have you learned from them?


Related Posts:

1) Life Lessons I Learned from Super Mario

2) Happy 10-Year Anniversary

3) Why Do You Want to Retire?

Photo Credits: Amazon, IMDB


    • MMD says

      Thanks Alik! Netflix disappoints yet again! :) I got my copy from Walmart in the $5 DVD section. Amazon was also selling it for pretty cheap!

  1. says

    I’ve seen it and had kind of a hard time with it. It was just a bit too depressing for me, except the part where he was voice-overing his letters to Ndugu. “Dear Ndugu…” I just remember that being really funny. But I loved the financial lessons you took away from the movie. It’s so true…and you can probably minimize sadness at that time in life with a plan. And staying healthy now and maintaining good relationships now will help you in the future.
    Budget & the Beach recently posted..Week in Review-7/15/12My Profile

    • MMD says

      I loved his letters to Ndugu. The idiot finance was also pretty funny. I liked his whole thing about pyramid schemes.

    • MMD says

      Jack Nicholson does pretty good. This was kind of a different role for him because he seemed so much older than he appears in other movies.

  2. says

    I have seen this movie too, and the “quest for meaning” does hit home a bit. Like most who will watch this, I don’t want to be like Schmidt when I reach that age, and am trying to live a life with meaning now, while I am still young.

    I enjoyed the movie.. Except for the Kathy Bates nude scene. Roughage.
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    • MMD says

      Ha – It was not easy on the eyes. She was such a good sport to do that scene and know that it was only to make the situation seem more ridiculous (for Warren).

    • MMD says

      I actually first saw the movie on Comedy Central if that tells you anything. It’s sad, but it has many good parts. It does remind me to have a plan someday when I retire.

  3. says

    It makes me so sad just reading about it, but oddly that makes me want to see it. Weird?

    I think not taking those you love for granted is so important. You just never know when your/their last moment is, so living a life full of love is paramount to everything we do, whether it relates to money (as parts of this film did!) or not.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Pirate’s Kids ClubMy Profile

    • MMD says

      That’s not weird. The director was also apart of “The Descendants” which was arguably one of the best movies last year but about 10x more depressing than this movie. Schmidt really does remind us that when its gone, it’s gone and you need to influence others now while you still can. Although the ending does give it a little bit of hope …

    • MMD says

      Awesome! My dynamite synopsis did its job! Seriously, it is worth renting – both for a few laughs and for the deeper meaning.

  4. says

    Well I was going to say I wanted to watch this, and then you had to go and mention the Kathy Bates nude scene. I’ll wait until I’m closer to retirement in 20+ years so I can appreciate it more lol. It does sound like a good movie though, especially the letters to his adopted child in Africa.
    Modest Money recently posted..How Airline Credit Cards Cost You MoreMy Profile

    • MMD says

      You’re going to miss out on that scene? : At the time I first saw the movie (10 years ago), I was actually more using the character of Schmidt to picture what my parents or grandparents must have felt as they got older and retired. It helped to frame things from their persepective.

    • MMD says

      Is that the one about the kid who gets $1M and blows it all? Those kinds of movies are fun. Kind of like Brusters’ Millions with Richard Pryor.

  5. says

    I loved this movie. While many of friends just didn’t get it and said it was slow. I especially like how he gets an orphan Endugu and he grows up to be apart of his life.

    • MMD says

      I’ve seen it on TV about two times since I posted about it. I forgot how many funny parts there were to this movie. It’s not for everyone, but it was touching and funny at the same time.


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