By Betty Fitterman
Note: This is part 1 a 6 part series. To see the other articles in the series please return to Tips and Picks.
While millions of baby boomers are starting to check out active adult communities, college towns, and cities as their retirement destination, a sub-set of young-at-heart retirees has a much more adventurous approach. These folks have adopted a mobile lifestyle, and for them, the entire continent is their community.
We’re talking about the permanent and semi-permanent RVers, many of whom have sold everything – homes, condos, cars, furniture and all – to live as turtles, as one friend described it, carrying their homes on their backs for as long as they enjoy it.
It’s not an easy decision, especially when it comes to friends and family left behind, but the rewards are many. It’s exciting, educational, and freeing, and if you do it right, a great way to conserve your finances for the long haul.
This writer made the decision to liquidate everything and move into a luxury mobile home only after a couple of years of vacationing in, first, a rental RV, then a mid-size Class C Mobile home, the kind that looks like it’s been built around a truck cab. Although I enjoyed these vacations immensely, I could not for the life of me imagine moving into one full-time, and it took my husband three years to convince me to abandon my successful advertising business, say goodbye to friends and family for the time being, and sell everything we owned.
I’m a nester. I loved my beautiful home, but the cost of running a six-bedroom home on two acres was killing us. I knew we’d have to do something soon, or we’d be living in a double-wide in some backwater town, working at the local WalMart and scraping by to stay alive. We wanted to travel. We wanted some semblance of the luxury we’d worked so hard for. We wanted to retire without money worries. So with the housing market dropping into the basement, we put our dream house and our investment condo up for sale, sold three of our four cars, and went shopping for a mobile coach.
We were lucky. We shopped around and found a like-new Class A Mobile home, the kind that looks like a rock-star bus and has a spacious, comfortable interior. Ours had been owned by a poor soul who purchased it then became ill and couldn’t drive. We profited from the collapse of his dream, I’m both happy and sad to say. It was an incredible bargain, a 2004 with only 4000 miles on it.
On the plus side, a mortgage of $100,000 was immensely preferable to our current million-dollar noose, and while gas prices were soaring, they still didn’t compare to the taxes and running costs of owning a home with a yearly tax bill of $47,000. I kept looking at that number and imagining how many vacations we could take with that money. Moving to a landed retirement community would also be a smart move financially, but we’d have to figure the cost of vacations and home upkeep into our plan.
With our home on our backs, on the other hand, we could be on permanent vacation, and while there is some upkeep to be factored in, it still would be less than owning a home. Besides, once we’d found the place that “makes our hearts sing,” as my husband kept saying, we’d still have plenty of savings to purchase a pretty house and keep the RV as well. It seemed like a win-win situation, and while I was less interested in this peripatetic retirement for all the emotional reasons a nester can come up with, my husband was so gung-ho about it, I simply couldn’t say no. I wish you could have seen the look on his face when I finally said okay, let’s do this thing.
Just a few months into this adventure, I am finding extra benefits I never even imagined. We had a gardener and a cleaning lady, but now I’m doing the housework. It takes all of one hour every week. I don’t mind; it’s exercise.
While most decorating is done by the RV manufacturer, I still managed to exercise my decorating muscle by ripping out some of the more mundane furnishings and adding my own personal touch by way of new coverlets, curtains, a coffee table scaled to our living space and some sexy-looking pillows for the couch. I’ve scoured antique shops for things like a vase that won’t break (an old bean pot is just heavy enough and looks wonderful) and a dish drain in bright red. A born shopper, I’m learning the wisdom of thinking twice about a purchase because there is a finite amount of space to both display and store things. As a result, I’ve saved money, but had just as much fun.
My husband is so happy he’s doing all the hard work that I would never want to do, and almost half of the indoor chores. He walks the dog, sets up the camper at each stop, shampoos the rug, dries the dishes, does the barbecuing, and washes the laundry. He’s more of a partner than I’ve ever had, and that feels wonderful. But I haven’t become Mrs. Homebody by any stretch of the imagination. There are wonderful restaurants in every town, so we go out whenever we want to. I miss going to the movies, but we have satellite TV, so I can rent a movie and watch in my pajamas. And I still treat myself to jewelry (small and packs well).
But the best part is the travel, of course. Our enormous windows offer us a huge, unobstructed view of this continent’s most glorious sights. We can stop just about anywhere. On the side of a waterfall, near a babbling brook, at a honky-tonk amusement park, or simply on the side of a country road to take pictures of a dilapidated barn. Two weeks ago, we drove all the way from New York to Nashville just to see the Eagles in concert.
Can you do all of this in a car? Sure, but will you? RV living has given us the chance to slow down and enjoy the world. We have met some lovely people along the way and exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to stay in touch. In March, we will head to Florida to an RV Event in a community devoted to astrology. We’ll lie on our backs in a farmer’s field and enjoy the show above our heads. We’ll meet people who love this hobby and then we’ll move on, visiting friends who have retired and moved to pretty little houses in pretty little towns all over the country. This is our retirement community. Everywhere and anywhere you can drive a 32,000 lb. vehicle.
Much to my surprise, I’m already loving this lifestyle. And if a curmudgeonly old nester with a successful business she enjoys going to every day, a love of the big city, and a penchant for the finer things in life can say this, then maybe there’s something to mobile living after all.
In coming articles, I’ll write in more detail about the cost of RVing vs. landed living, the learning curve that’s involved in living together full time – believe me, no small feat – life on the road, and I’ll share some tips about where to go and how to travel without angst into new and unfamiliar places. Tune in. This is just the beginning.
Bio Information: Betty Fitterman was in advertising for over 30 years before her retirement in July of this year. An award-winning writer, she was EVP/Creative Director and a member of the Board of Directors of Lintas Advertising until 1997, when she and her partner Frank DeVito formed DeVito Fitterman Advertising, which today is a successful agency serving blue chip clients like Johnson & Johnson, Ricola, ASCAP. Fujifilm and Arch Insurance, among others. To read her humorous observances on mobile living, visit her blog at http://adventuresinthebettybus.blogspot.com.
This is a 6 part series. To see the other articles in the series please return to Tips and Picks.
See also this list of the Best RV communities in the USA