The High Cost of Being Rent-free

Apparently I have friends who enjoy asking me questions about money, because lately I’ve been fielding another one: “Are you guys saving SO much now that you don’t have to pay rent?”

The answer, unfortunately, is not yet. It’s been a little over 3 months since we moved into the bus and while we haven’t dipped below the set emergency fund number that we decided on prior to this endeavor, we haven’t added to it either, which is disappointing.

Prior to this move we were like Super Savings Samurais and enjoyed the satisfaction of watching the balance in our account grow every month. You would think that with the kind of discipline that we had to develop to pay off over $20,000 worth of debt in 4 years we would be raking it in with our overhead so significantly decreased.

Several factors have contributed to sucking up our newly released budget category – some of which were unavoidable, some that could have probably been mitigated if we’d had more time to plan and some are just a result of plain old overspending. Thankfully, most of these have been either one-time costs or we have figured out a way to lessen in the future:

1. Set-up

A big chunk of our savings went into purchasing the Busosaurus ($1000) and fixing it up (about $2000). We had also purchased the RV previously ($2000). Once we got out here, we needed electricity and our solar set up (2 panels, 2 batteries, 2 inverters, 1 charge controller, wires and conduit) cost another $1000+. Additional set-up expenses include the raw materials for piping that needed to be done to get running water to both vehicles, wood for the porch and  desk that Noah built, the clothes line, parts to fix the gas grill that we were given and two hot water heaters.

2. Design Deposit

In order to get the design process underway for the engineering and blueprints for the house, we paid a deposit to our general contractor of several thousand dollars as well.

3. Utilities

Prior to the move water and trash were included in our rent, so we had to create a new budget category for these. Since we are also now taking care of an acre and a half of land with fruit trees we are working on a grey-water recycling set-up to help reduce the cost of water (and because it’s just good conservation when you’re in the middle of a drought).

We are also using propane now instead of natural gas, which is more expensive in general, but even more so because we don’t have a large propane tank to fill (purchasing in bulk is generally cheaper). When we first moved out here we actually filled up our five gallon tanks at a nearby gas-station, which is a million times more expensive than just about anywhere else. Thankfully, we’ve since found a much less expensive place to buy our propane.

Additiomal costs under utilities include, ahem, dumping, ($5 per week) as well as gasoline for the generator.

4. Gas

Speaking of gasoline, living farther away from everything means that it takes more of it to get anywhere. No more walking to the nearby grocery stores or the library or… pretty much anywhere outside the neighborhood. That’s been a significant bump in our budget line item.

5. Runaway grocery budget

A big part of why we haven’t saved as much as we had hoped has to do with our food budget expanding exponentially. Thankfully, this is also an area where we have a lot of control in order to bring it back down to normal.

The first few weeks this was because we had no fridge or stove and were eating out a LOT more than we typically ever do (you all had some fantastic suggestions for us on that front). Then our fridge continually stopped cooling our food, which resulted in a lot of frustration and waste. Of course, by that time I was starting to feel the full effects of my first trimester and didn’t have the stomach for cooking anyway. I’m so embarrassed by how much we spent on food in April and May that I’m not even going to share the number.

I have not been couponing (we don’t get the paper here and haven’t set up our printer yet) and don’t have the storage space for a lot of stock-up items. I’m still working on getting those two issues worked out, but I am proud to say that we’ve only gone out to eat once so far this month, for Father’s Day. That has made a HUGE difference!

6. An un-frugal mentality

All of these are pretty legitimate explanations, but they are really only a part of the picture. A main contributing factor to our lack of savings is simply that being released from our biggest expense has made us lazy about our spending. The first month we were out here, I didn’t even update our ledger or balance our checking account (and I actually enjoy doing that sort of thing). There was just the assumption that of COURSE we can afford [insert anything] – we don’t have to save up for rent!

That’s not to say that we went out on any serious shopping binges or made any huge, unnecessary purchases, it’s just that we were not as intentional with our finances as we usually are and we’ve been allowing the idea that we have all this “extra” money to permeate our minds and affect our choices. Honestly, I can’t even specifically pinpoint any one place that you can see this clearly in effect – it’s just a little bit added to everything that adds up to a LOT.

I’m glad that we have both woken up to this reality now rather than later so that the whole point of living in a bus isn’t completely wasted simply because we couldn’t get it together. It has really been an object lesson in the fact that if we don’t intentionally tell our money where to go, it will find places to disappear of its own accord.


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5 thoughts on “The High Cost of Being Rent-free

  1. I want you to know, that whenever I see that there is a new post from what I call “my Sarah family”, I get a little smile, and stop and read whatever you’ve commented on. You see, when I was 5 and six years old, (50+ yrs ago) my parents, my oldest sister, 2 older brothers and myself, stayed in an old pink trailer house, at a remote campground, in the mountains of Colorado. What incredible memories I have from that period of my life. Your stories bring back that wonderful feeling. Thank you for sharing, and making me remember

  2. “if we don’t intentionally tell our money where to go, it will find places to disappear of its own accord” … isn’t that the truth?! My hubby brought home his new contract for the year … we looked at the amount and said ‘what in the world is wrong with us?’ we must be intentional! Starting. Now.

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