Inside Jimmy Carter's Modest Life: Paper-Plate Dinners, a Murphy Bed and a $167K Georgia Rancher

Former President Jimmy Carter says it was never his "ambition to be rich" — and it shows in every corner of the quiet, modest life he shares with wife Rosalynn, in a $167,000 two-bedroom rancher in Georgia

Jimmy Carter - Plains, GA
Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

Former President Jimmy Carter says it was never his “ambition to be rich” — and it shows in every corner of the quiet, modest life he shares with wife Rosalynn, in a $167,000 two-bedroom rancher in Georgia.

Carter, 93, is the only modern president to return full-time to the house he lived in before entering politics, and the only living president who actually saves taxpayers money. In the current fiscal year, Carter’s pensions, office, staff and other expenses cost the government $456,000 — less than half the $952,000 budgeted for George H.W. Bush and the $1 million for Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Carter’s simple way of life in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, is the subject of a new Washington Post profile titled “The un-celebrity president,” which kicks off with a description of a typical Saturday night dinner for Carter and his wife of 72 years, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, 90.

Jimmy Carter - Plains, GA
Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

After walking a half-mile to their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, the former first couple feasted on salmon and broccoli casserole on paper plates, plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of “bargain-brand chardonnay,” according to the Post.

Jimmy Carter - Plains, GA
Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn in 2018. Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

The low-key Saturday night dinners with their neighbor have become a weekly tradition for the couple. On these nights, the only indication that the Carters haven’t always lived this simple, small-town lifestyle is the trio of Secret Service agents waiting outside the back door to escort them home.

Jimmy Carter - Plains, GA
Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

The former president, who is now cancer-free three years after a melanoma diagnosis on his liver and brain, tells the Post that he also enjoys spending time in his study, swimming in the pool, and occasionally building furniture and painting in the garage. Meanwhile, his wife likes to practice tai chi and meditate in the mornings.

After making their own yogurt, the couple often watches Atlanta Braves games or Law and Order in the afternoons in their two-bedroom rancher, assessed at $167,000.

Unlike his successors, the Democratic former president, who served one term, purposefully chose not to join corporate boards or get paid as a public speaker because “he didn’t want to capitalize financially on being in the White House.”

These days, the Carters live off the income of his numerous books as well as the $210,700 annual pension all former presidents receive.

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Wherever they could be spendy, they are conservative.

While others choose to fly via private jet, the Carters fly commercial.

The federal government pays for an office for all ex-presidents. Carter’s, in the Carter Center in Atlanta, is the least expensive, at $115,000, according to the Post. And instead of opting to build a more costly office with living quarters, the Carters chose to sleep on a pullout couch for a week each month until recently — when they had a Murphy bed installed.

Asked if he thought any future ex-president will ever live the way he does, Carter replied, “I hope so. But I don’t know.”

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