Live now, or plan for the future?
June 5, 2017 6:37 AM   Subscribe

For a few years now, I've wanted to own a particular high-ticket item (ok fine -- it's an RV / "Touring Coach"). But to be honest, what I'm buying doesn't really matter - the question is about how does once balance living now vs planning for the unknown future?

I've never really had the urge to travel until these last few years, and I HATE flying. To me, an RV is the perfect way to see North America, take epic road trips, see all the things and places I want to see, and maybe actually live life instead of working 50-60+ hours a week with no end in sight. But good RVs that wont be more problems than they're worth ain't cheap.

With the exception of my mortgage, I have no debt. I'm extremely fortunate to have the cash accessible to buy this outright and still have a comfortable safety net. But yet, I cannot pull the trigger. My "responsible" brain is screaming at me to pay off more of my mortgage, add the money to my (currently ok) retirement fund, invest the money in something with a better rate, or basically do anything else but throw it at a hugely depreciating asset. But the "YOLO" part of my brain realizes life is short and there's no guarantees, so what am I waiting for? I've had some health scares, and although I'm totally fine now, for all I know I could get hit by a bus tomorrow or a bazillion other bad things could happen. I also know that I've obsessed about this purchase for so long now that I'll regret if I don't do it. But I also realized I've also most likely romanticised the whole idea way out of proportion. So many nagging worries - what if it's a complete disaster? Maybe I'll hate RVing! Maybe I'll never get the time off to enjoy my purchase and it'll just sit there unused. Maybe I will make it to 90 and the money should have been invested so my senior years don't completely suck!

It's currently just me and my cats, no SO or kids, so no one to worry about other than myself really, which I'm 100% fine with. Some of the people closest to me think this is a horrible idea though, which kinda sucks. I'm months away from 40, so maybe this is just a early-ish mid-life crisis? Maybe I'm just burnt-out and a different job/career is what I need? (I'm a software dev turned manager-type who has learned I often strongly dislike the management part...)

Every day I go back and forth between calling up my nice RV sales guy who knows me by sight (I've been RV shopping, at lot) and putting down the deposit already, then getting cold feet and start reading more investment blogs. Then I read my RVing Facebook groups & instagram and get some serious FOMO.

So, rambling aside - how does one make the decision to throw significant yet available money at something desired now, vs planning for the unknowns of the future? And how do I get over the fact that either way I'm probably going to question the decision, and regret some part of it?
posted by cgg to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend YNAB (You Need a Budget). It doesn't sound like you need a budget for your day-to-day life, but that you would really benefit from a budget long-term to feel at ease with your money.

Also, why not rent an RV for a single trip to see if you love it as much as you think? Or rent one every summer and forget about owning and maintaining one?
posted by Kriesa at 6:44 AM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

A few questions to ask yourself before you go from zero to sixty in a monster RV.

1. Are you a handy person? Very detail-oriented? RVs are a lot of work. They are a lifestyle and they cost a lot to maintain. Every little thing that you do with your house - replacing light bulbs, troubleshooting the AC, etc. - you have to do to the RV, and every single part is a $pecialty part.

2. Do you like cleaning things? Because an RV has to be cleaned *thoroughly* top to bottom every time you use it. A bit of sand from a lakeside campground can keep your awning from retracting properly. The public water at every campsite is different, some more iodine-y and others more soapy and others more mineral-y. Every inch of flexible tubing between your shower/toilet/sink needs to be cleaned every single time you disconnect.

3. Do you camp? Do you not mind bugs and sweat and campfire smells (the next day)? Do you like kids? The RV lifestyle at places like KOA campgrounds is super family oriented. You are not getting away from it all in any way shape or form.

If any of these questions make you hesitate, then consider some of your other options. Start with a season of tent camping and get familiar with gear and learn what you like and don't like about road trips. We borrowed a friend's popup to see if we liked it; do that to get comfortable driving something bigger. Then we rented a campervan for a week's vacation and got a feel for all the hose connections and water/propane/fuel/power monitoring and maintenance. Then we started looking around. If it is just you and a pet or two, consider the campervan route. They have plenty of room and all the amenities, plus you can park in a normal parking spot. We ended up with a hard-sided A-frame popup and we love it.
posted by headnsouth at 7:02 AM on June 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

You might want to consider a truck/trailer kind of set up. And start small! People spend a ton of money on RVs and trailers that they end up using once or twice a year, they have to deal with storage issues, etc. (You do have a place to store it, right?) You're fixated too much on the RV part right now instead of the "what gets me out there" part. A trailer costs a lot less, and having the tow vehicle gives you flexibility. You can park the trailer and then drive into town or to the nearby scenic spot or whatever. And you might want to think about buying used. You know those RVs and trailers that get used once or twice a year? Eventually people figure out that they're not using them and they decide to sell them. So you can get a gently used vehicle for MUCH less than new. Trailers depreciate faster and that's a good thing for the next buyer.
posted by azpenguin at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are you planning on getting rid of your home and living on the road? Do you have a regular job? If so, how much vacation time do you get a year?

RVs can be a bitch to drive. They limit you to camping in RV campgrounds. They deteriorate if you let them sit for weeks and months on end. A friend of mine bought one when she retired a few years ago and it developed mold from sitting around so much.

You'd be better off getting a small van ( I use a minivan with the back seats removed) that you could use as your everyday wheels. When you feel the urge to roam, throw some camping gear in the back and take off. No, you won't have those cute little RV bathrooms and kitchens, but you'll be able to camp in more places. And national, state, and county campgrounds most often have showers and toilets and even washers/dryers. Buy a decent cooler and a camping stove and you'll be fine.

I have done this a lot as a woman traveling alone. Feel free to get in touch if you want to ask me anything.
posted by mareli at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been there. With cats, even.

I'm worried that working 50-60+ hours a week you won't get enough time to enjoy your purchase vs. cost of ownership. (I'm not saying quit your job!!!)

I'd definitely try a weekend rental from El Monte or CruiseAmerica first. Reserve a spot in a state park, go check it out. Bring a bike. Leave the cats at home the first time (or vacuum well before returning).

And how's your current road trip regimen? If you are itchy to travel, you should load up the cats every weekend and go somewhere. La Quinta and Drury have no-questions-asked pet policies last time I looked, and you should be able to find others.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2017

Sounds like you have taken care of the needs of future-you, & that it is time to indulge present-you.

Really all you are risking is the depreciation on the RV, not the ticket price. It's only money, you have shown you can generate more of that.

I'd be surprised if you end up regretting it at 90.
posted by paulash at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with paulash. If you were barely scraping by and it was this vs. your retirement, I'd say don't do it, but hell, you've got money put aside and you're doing all right, so why not treat yourself? (But do take account of the concerns people have raised about RVs.)
posted by languagehat at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2017

Best answer: My formula for big decisions:
How amazing is the upside of this decision? (Life experience to grab, or meh?)
How likely is that upside to be realized? (Certain or only barely possible?)
How dire is the downside of this decision? (Terrible-horrible, or a nuisance?)
How likely is that downside? (Very likely or not at all?)
How permanent is this decision? (Easily changeable or irrevocable?)
What is the impact of doing nothing? (Sometimes not deciding something is a decision. Does not making a decision put you or a loved one in an untenable position, or is it business as usual if you do nothing?)

I use this for medical decisions about myself and my kids.
For deciding which jobs to take.
For relationships.
For major purchases.
For life experiences.

Here's a handy decision matrix I made to illustrate.

Now, by all means be open to making a decision with your gut as well. I've reached an experience level where I'm comfortable ignoring the logical coordinates of a decision but at least I know that I'm doing it.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2017 [24 favorites]

My parents did something like this at your age. One day my parents announced that they'd purchased a boat. Not a speedboat or a canoe. A boat with two bedrooms, two heads, a kitchen with microwave, a dining room, etc. etc. Where we live, you can only enjoy your boat for three months out of the year. And my parents made big sacrifices to make this happen. The boat had the facilities to qualify for a tax break for having a second home (it was the 80s), but my mom was still driving a car with no AC and just a radio. Neither was saving for retirement. No other vacations or splurges could happen, because we had The Boat.

But we loved that thing. For the five or so years we had it, it was the best time our family ever had. We all loved the water and the wind, learning how to navigate, dock, lock, deal with choppy seas and scary storms. We swam, ate, read, sunbathed, docked and saw the local sights all over NYS. There was no TV or phone and radio reception could be choppy. So it was a glorious escape from the shitty world for three amazing months every summer.

Until it wasn't. Then my parents had to trade in their boat for increasingly smaller models until they could get out of the racket entirely. It was fun but it was still impractical, expensive, and my parents' priorities were changing with respect to retirement and the education of their children. But if you asked them today if they regretted spending money or time on the boat they would say no.
posted by xyzzy at 10:25 AM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

> what I'm buying doesn't really matter - the question is about how does once balance living now vs planning for the unknown future?

Humans are terrible at forecasting. My approach is to progressively commit to bigger and bigger investments if it makes sense. Someone in this thread already mentioned it, why not rent an RV for a week or two and see how it works out for you? If RV lifestyle is just wishful thinking you're just out the RV rental cost, instead of the actual purchase cost + taxes + storage.

This approach has worked well for me in the past. It is more cost upfront but if you want to bail it's ultimately chaper.
posted by aeighty at 11:53 AM on June 5, 2017

Reading your question, I thought "I swear I've heard this question before!" And sure enough it was from you, almost a year ago.

You've been grappling with this for a year, so it's time to act. Rent an RV as suggested above and take a cross-country road trip. See if it's everything you've been dreaming of! Either way, you'll be in a better position to decide your next steps.
posted by ejs at 4:16 PM on June 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

The part that worries me about your current plan is that it seems like an escape from real life with no real plan for how to sustain it. When making plans, it's a completely different thing to plan for a vacation (2 weeks? 3 months?) vs. a 2-year sabbatical (where you are planning to return afterward) vs. a complete change in lifestyle. But all those things seem equally likely in your question.

If this were me, I would take the rental for 2-12 weeks and see how you like the life. If so, then figure out your work from anywhere situation so you can continue to have an income. Then figure out a bit more financially like what it will cost to drive and maintain the RV, whether to rent out your house or sell it, make sure you have a good emergency fund, make sure your retirement calculations look pretty good, etc. Then just go for it. Commit for a year, and reassess after that to decide whether to continue.
posted by CathyG at 11:26 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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