Reader Case Study: Should We Buy A Campground And Laundromat?
We’re off to Nebraska in this month’s Reader Case Study to help Payton and Riley out with their deliberations over whether or not to buy a laundromat and a campground!
Case Studies are financial and life dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.
I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all have requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):
- Reader Case Study: Earn More, Spend Less, Or Both? (Julie’s story, published October 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Stay Home With Baby or Return To Work? (Kelly’s story, published November 2016)
- Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws! (Grace’s story, published December 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Renovations and Vacations (Audrey’s story, published January 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Help Me Decide How To Pay Off $185K In Student Loans (Bridget’s story, published February 2017)
- Reader Case Study: The Grad School Dilemma (Emily’s story, published March 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Can We Buy Our Dream Home? (Jack & Elizabeth’s story, published April 2017)
- Reader Case Study: We Have A Van, Now We Need A Plan! (Florence & Anna’s story, published May 2017)
- Reader Case Study: To Buy Or Not To Buy In Sydney, Australia? (Jemma & Greg’s story, published June 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Starting From Scratch In Canada; Where Do I Go From Here? (Alison’s story, published July 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Moving To Europe From South Africa, Trying To Make Ends Meet (Clara’s story, published August 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Should We Stay (In San Francisco) Or Should We Go Now? (Melanie & Kurt’s story, published September 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Having A Quarter-Life Crisis in Nashville, TN! (Steph & Zach’s story, published October 2017)
- Reader Case Study: National Park Rangers Figuring Out Finances (The Ranger’s story, published November 2017)
- Reader Case Study: At Age 57, It’s Not Over Yet! (Lucy’s story, published January 2018)
I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.
With that I’ll let Payton, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
Hi, Frugalwoods folks! I’m Payton, I’m 30 years old and I live with my husband Riley (age 33) in a small town in Nebraska with our 3 children, 4 chickens, 2 dogs, and 1 barn cat. We reside on 3.5 acres that we purchased as a foreclosure 4 years ago, but we’ve been in our current town for 10 years. Riley just celebrated his 10th year working for the company that moved us to this area. Our children are ages 5, 3, and 6 months and they keep us on our toes! They love story time at the library and meeting their friends for weekly play dates around town and at rotating houses.
Payton and Riley’s Careers and Hobbies
I completed my master’s degree in counseling and was a traveling therapist before deciding it was in the best interest of the family to put my career on hold. I now stay at home full-time raising our three children. Riley uses his associate degree in electrical technology and works 7am-3pm Monday through Friday for a medical device manufacturer. As a family, we enjoy spending time outdoors, gardening, caring for our animals, baking and playing board games. We are trying to help our kids learn all the various sports so you’re likely to see us playing baseball, soccer, volleyball, or football in our front yard.
Riley loves DIY projects and has made something in almost every room of our house and some items outside as well. His skills keep improving and we love to come up with new ideas and see them come to life. Some of his most recent projects include a dining room table, bench and chairs. For Mother’s Day, he helped the kids make and paint a bird hotel. He’s also made benches, coat racks, side tables, end tables, our chicken coop (from scrap lumber), and a fire truck mailbox for my parents.
Our acreage has created several opportunities for us to learn new skills. When we moved to our land we discovered 3 apple trees (unknown at the time of purchase) and spend a lot of time each year harvesting these apples. We make apple pie filling and freeze apples (after coring) for applesauce throughout the year.
We also discovered a cherry tree and pear tree, which we harvest from as well. Over the years, we’ve planted strawberry plants, raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes, a peach tree, more apple and cherry trees, and an evergreen tree line! Each year we plant a garden, typically with potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. We’re hoping we can harvest more and more on our property to sustain ourselves throughout the year. We also get eggs from our chickens!
Ethos and Lifestyle
When you look at our finances, you’ll see that we’re very frugal. We’ve worked really hard to cultivate this lifestyle and focus on simple living. One of my favorite things is line drying clothes and I’ve always felt that this epitomizes our lifestyle choices. We like the laidback, kick your shoes off, feel the dirt on your feet type of approach to life. I’m sure when our kids are in school it will be harder to hold onto this attitude, but we’re definitely enjoying this season of life.
Once we eliminate our mortgage, we’ll see a huge decrease in our expenses. In light of that, paying down our mortgage is a primary goal for us. We own two rental properties outright and we consider selling one or both of them each time there’s a tenant turnover in order to meet our goal of paying off our mortgage. So far, however, we always end up finding a renter quickly and it seems to keep working for us to rent out these two properties.
The Laundromat And Campground Question
We currently live 3+ hours away from family and in the last few years, we’ve considered making a huge lifestyle change, switching careers, and moving to live near my family in the town where Riley and I are both from. This would put us about an hour closer to Riley’s family as well. My entire family resides in this town and they’re extremely close. They see each other throughout the week and meet regularly for meals. It was always in our plans to move back there, but limited job opportunities there haven’t made it possible.
Since jobs in Riley’s field don’t exist there (unless he wants to do residential electrical and, for now, he doesn’t), we’re considering becoming entrepreneurs and taking over the local laundromat and the local camper campground. This town is a very popular summer travel destination and most locals make their money from people spending their summer vacations there. We personally know the owners of both the laundromat and the campground and think we could make these places work, especially since our cost of living is so low.
Here’s the basic info on the laundromat:
According to tax statements, it looks like the gross earnings from the laundromat are $21,912 and the net is $9,586. This is an all-cash business and the current owners (brothers) are an attorney and a CPA. This laundromat has been in operation for almost three decades and, while we believe it likely makes more than that, we’re referring to these numbers for our calculations. The time we’d need to spend at the laundromat as the owners averages out to about 1 hour a day (7 hours/week) for cleaning and maintenance. The sellers are asking $150,000 (which includes the land), but we’re hoping we’d be able to purchase it for less.
Future plans: This town lacks a dry-cleaner and we’re considering adding a service for drop-off laundry. There’s a locked area in back that could be converted for this plan. There’s also excess land behind the laundromat that’s zoned commercial and we could build storage or rent it out for uncovered parking.
Basics on the campground:
This is another business that currently operates as cash-only and has been in business for over three decades. The gross profits range from $27,000-$38,000 annually (based on past tax forms) and the net income is estimated at $24,000-$30,000. The campground is listed at $190,000 (which includes the land), but the couple who currently own it have been trying to sell for awhile and are willing to negotiate.
Future plans: This is also the current owners’ primary residence and we would try to rent that out. Estimates from talking with a real estate agent and community members are that this could generate $600/month ($7,200/year) in rent. There’s also a meeting room that’s open to guests of the campground. Where we live now, there are annual father/daughter dances, tea parties, princess days, and mother/son date nights that are quite popular. These are not events currently offered in that town, so we believe we could host these events annually for additional side income.
Lastly, we’d like to add a Tropical Sno (frozen snow cone) stand on the campground sales floor, or have a trailer in front of the campground in the parking lot. We’ve researched start-up costs for this and are looking at $250-$8,000 depending on what route we choose. This is another venture that’s currently nonexistent in this small town and we believe would go over well with tourists and locals during the summer.
Potential Move Summary
As is, these two ventures yield low incomes; but, if we keep our current rentals, those net $13,200 annually. However, if we moved to this area and stayed debt-free, we don’t really need much money to live on. That being said, we would be giving up our health insurance and retirement accounts (currently offered through Riley’s work), so we’d need to find a way to fund both of these things.
This plan might be hard to swing during this season of life; however, once our kids are in school, I plan to return to counseling. If we moved to this small town, I could either secure a traveling position or open a private practice (something that’s desperately needed in that area). This would likely greatly increase our income.
Pros and cons of this potential move:
The Pros Of NOT Moving:
- I’d be able to continue staying at home with our kids
- We’d continue working our acreage in a place we love
- We’d remain within 30 minutes of shopping
- Riley would keep a job he loves
The Cons Of NOT Moving:
- We continue to live 3+ hours away from our family support system
The Pros Of Moving:
- We will have a family support system
- We’re both from this town and know most of the people living there
- We would be back in the town we grew up in and we feel this offers a lot to our children
The Cons Of Moving:
- We’re unsure if we can make the income ranges work for us
- I might have to return to the workforce before all three of our kids are in school
- Retirement and health insurance would not be covered as they are now
- We would most likely live in town and give up our country life in order to have a cheaper cost of living. The current housing market there is high. We estimate spending about $100k-120k for a home there. In time, we hope to move back out to the country when we are more comfortable with the change in our careers and finances.
A note on our two rental properties: these are located in the town where we currently live. We manage them ourselves and plan to continue managing them on our own. There’s only one property manager in town and their rates are high. We personally know them and, at this time, wouldn’t trust them to manage our properties at the level of service we expect. If we move and managing the properties long distance became too much for us (and we still didn’t want to hire a property manager), we’d look into selling the properties at the time of a tenant turnover.
If we move, we’re pretty sure we would sell our current home. We’ve considered renting it out but we aren’t sure if our emotional attachment will play well in our favor as there are so many different kinds of tenants and their level of care varies greatly. Maintaining this size of home and 3 acres as a tenant is the biggest concern. However, we have discussed renting it out for 1-2 years so that we could have the option to return to if the move doesn’t work out. Rental rates for our property would most likely be about $1,000/month for the house and $300/month for the shop.
All that being said, it’s true that we’re really, really happy living where we are now. Our home is our happy place and we have some great friends in the area. We’ve always wanted to be closer to family and we feel that raising our children near family will give them strong relationships with their extended family. But, it’s hard to consider leaving a place that’s been so good for a place that we aren’t entirely sure we can make work financially.
Where Payton and Riley Want To Be In 10 years:
- Finances: Debt-free! Yes, we are consumer debt-free but we want to have that mortgage gone, just so it isn’t mentally weighing us down. We would also like to grow our rental business while staying debt-free.
- Lifestyle: Continue to live the simple, quiet life. When our youngest is 5, we hope to resume traveling with about 1-2 big trips per year.
- Career: Continue building our careers. I would like to own a private counseling practice. Riley wants to still have a career as he has no plans to retire for another decade or two at this point.
Payton and Riley’s Finances
|Riley’s Income||$3,800||This is after taxes, 401k contributions, and HSA contributions|
|Rental Properties||$1,100||We rent out two single-family homes, both of which are paid off. This income is minus $300/month for insurance and maintenance.|
|Mortgage||$1,500||Our actual mortgage is $1,000 but we pay extra each month. This is for our house on 3.5 acres just outside of a small town in Nebraska.|
|Groceries||$475||We get our meats (beef, chicken, pork) straight from local farmers and from Zaycon (wholesale prices). We get fruits and veggies from Bountiful baskets. The rest comes from grocery store trips (we make about 1/month). We have an annual garden, raspberry bushes, apple trees, and a cherry tree that we preserve for the winter and eat while in season.|
|Utilities: Electricity and Trash||$300||This is our average|
|Gifts, Personal Care, Home, Pet Care, Craft Supplies, Charity, Misc.||$250||Gifts are typically homemade. Personal care and crafts are minimal. Pet care is included in this category.|
|Car & Transportation||$181||Includes gas, car insurance ($544/yr), maintanence, and taxes|
|Internet||$135||TV and internet are combined. Where we live this is the only provider we can use and get semi-decent service|
|Vacation||$75||We don’t do major vacations right now. For us, with 3 children under the age of 5, vacations sound like a lot of work. We camp during the summer on free weekends and travel for overnight trips about 2x/year. We budget this amount but aren’t spending it most of the time and are letting this account build up for when we do travel again.|
|Restaurants||$60||We choose to eat out as a family about 2x/ month but go several months a year where we don’t eat out at all.|
|Cell Phones||$60||Two Viaero cell phones|
|Entertainment||$25||We mostly do free entertainment and with 3 kids under 5, we aren’t out in the evenings often anymore and stuff for the family to do is normally free.|
|Baby/kid stuff||$15||With the 3rd child pretty much everything is hand me down. We cloth diaper (most of the time) and are currently only paying for wipes and the occasional box of diapers (I use disposables when traveling or when things get crazy busy).|
|Clothing||$5||This is probably too high of an estimate. We are typically given clothes (for all 3 kids), and my husband and I may purchase from thrift stores/garage sales occasionally, but really we just keep wearing the same clothes we’ve worn FOREVER|
|Doctor and Pharmacy||$0||We have extremely good health insurance and max out on our health savings account (HSA). Even with our 3rd child born in December of 2017 being in the NICU, we didn’t have to pull any more money for this.|
|Primary Residence||$305,000||A current market value estimate, based on advice from a real estate agent we recently spoke with|
|401k (through Riley’s employer)||$100,649||Target date type funds, Vanguard 2040 and 2050.|
|Rental Property 2||$69,000||No loan, very conservative market value estimate|
|Rental Property 1||$62,000||No loan, very conservative market value estimate|
|Pension (through Riley’s employer)||$22,769||Riley is fully vested|
|2007 Chevy Silverado||$16,000||Used as needed for projects on our acreage; One of us has tried negotiating not keeping but another someone refuses to hear of that and sees it as a necessity for our living situation.|
|Tractor||$10,000||Another need for our acreage and winter snow removal.|
|2003 Town and Country Van||$1,000||Payton drives for transporting children and for trips.|
|1997 Subaru Legacy||$750||Riley uses for driving back and forth to work (11 miles round trip each day)|
|Mortgage||$89,000||Primary home loan; projected to pay off within 5 years if we do not change residences; it is a 15 year loan at 3.25% interest|
Payton’s Questions For You:
- Considering our desire to live where our family support system is, would you consider these businesses and move to be feasible and worth sacrificing our current living arrangement?
- If so, should we sell our rental properties to help facilitate all of the initial costs of this move?
- Since being debt-free (including the mortgage) is one of our primary financial goals, should we consider selling one or both of our rental properties in order to meet this goal more quickly?
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
I am so impressed with how thoroughly Payton and Riley are considering this move and, I am thrilled that they’re debt free! They’ve done an excellent job of stewarding their money and it’s exciting to help them out at this juncture. Also, I am 100% having Mr. Frugalwoods make us one of those kid artwork display racks that Riley built (pictured below)!
Big Picture Analysis
Before I delve into the specifics (or the numbers), I want to encourage Payton and Riley to examine their motivations and desires for relocating. As someone who lives in a place with exactly zero family members closer than a plane ride away, I totally understand their wish to have their kids grow up near extended family members. For me, living away from family is the one downside to where I currently live and I get the sense it’s also the one and only downside for Payton and Riley. I found it telling that there were quite a few cons listed under the “moving” category, but only one con listed under the “not moving” category.
After reading through their Case Study, I didn’t come away with the impression that Payton and Riley have any sort of deep desire to become campground and laundromat proprietors. To the contrary, it seems to me that they truly love where they live now and are thrilled with their acreage, fruit trees, gardens, Riley’s job, and the town where they live. In many ways, it seems they’d be sacrificing an awful lot in order to live in the same town as Payton’s family. You can’t assign a monetary value to living near family, but, it does seem like they’d be giving up a lot in order to achieve this goal.
What really stood out to me was Payton’s note that, if they moved, they’d probably live in town in order to save money with the longterm hope of one day returning to the country. That’s a pretty tough trade off to leave your dream home with the hopes of maybe one day returning to a similar home.
Where They Want To Be In 10 Years
Another thing that’s striking to me is that Payton and Riley didn’t identify being the owners of a campground and a laundromat as longterm goals. What this tells me is that they’re focused on their wonderfully simple lifestyle and their time together as a family. The underlying message I got is that they’re already living the life they want to live! They’ve carved out their little corner of the world and truly love how they spend each day. THAT, my friends, is the ultimate goal of using your money wisely. Having the ability to enjoy your life every day is WHY we save money, why we invest, and why we steward our resources carefully. And Payton and Riley are already there! From that perspective, they are essentially a Case Study success story. Now, it’s entirely possible that their quality of life would increase if they lived closer to family, but it’s also possible it wouldn’t. I can’t answer this for them, but I encourage Payton and Riley to ask each other the following questions:
- In five years, what will you regret more: not living near family or not living on your dream property?
- Is it possible you’ll feel resentful towards family members if you give up so much in order to live near them?
- If you moved, would you feel as though you were just trying to work back to what you have now (a home in the country)?
- Will you feel as though your children are missing out on the benefits of family if you don’t move?
The Campground And Laundromat
Ok before I totally veto this idea (which I am going to do… ), I do have to say that I’m impressed with Payton and Riley’s creativity here. They identified some businesses for sale, they did some research, and they are definitely thinking outside of the box! And for that, I congratulate them. However, I’m not seeing how this would be a good decision financially. Plus, as I mentioned before, they don’t seem to have any passion or interest in running a campground and laundromat.
With such low profit margins, I’d only advise doing this if it was a lifelong passion or goal. Because from a financial perspective, there’s not a lot of upside. It’s a pretty massive expenditure of capital for some pretty low revenue businesses that have a lot of potential for expensive maintenance and upkeep over the years. One huge bonus is that Riley is both an electrician and extremely handy, which would likely mean they’d be able to do the maintenance work themselves. However, is that how they want to spend their time?
If Payton and Riley decide that they want to make this move, I strongly encourage them to consider other sources of income. A few ideas:
- More rentals. They’re doing a great job of managing their two rental properties. Is there an opportunity to purchase more rentals in the town they might move to? With a few more revenue-generating rentals, they’d be in great shape from an income perspective. Their DIY approach to management means that their profit margins could remain pretty substantial. Since they’re already successful landlords–and thus know what goes into it–I encourage them to take this under consideration. I rarely encourage people to take on rental properties, but given their success and given Riley’s experience as an electrician and all-around handy person, I am inclined to think this is a good idea.
- Residential electric. Is Riley dead set against doing residential electric work? With how low their expenses are (and especially if they add a few more rentals), I imagine he could work a limited schedule and earn enough to cover their needs.
- Private counseling practice. It sounds like Payton is really interested in opening up a private counseling practice once their youngest is in school. This seems like another great avenue to explore since it’s something she already has experience–and a master’s degree–in. Perhaps the family should wait to make this move until the youngest is in school so that Payton can pursue this career path when they move.
Overall, Payton and Riley have A LOT of skills and strengths and I would encourage them to lean into these strengths as opposed to charting the totally unknown territory of a low-yield campground and laundromat. Additionally, other than the possibility of buying more rentals, these are low overhead businesses that wouldn’t gobble up very much capital. All in all, I don’t see the benefit of taking on a low-income proposition (a campground and a laundromat) unless it’s a genuine passion.
Another consideration with this move, which Payton mentioned, are healthcare and retirement savings. Since they’d likely be self-employed no matter what route they take, I recommend that Payton research what the family would be likely to pay per month for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This will be a helpful guidepost in constructing their budget and mapping out what their income needs to be.
All that being said, I am not a small business valuation expert and if Payton and Riley decide they’re interested in pursing the campground and laundromat, I recommend they seek out a CPA in their area who can run the numbers on this accurately and advise on the valuation aspects. Another thing I would investigate is why the current owners are selling the businesses. Payton noted that the campground owners have been trying to sell for awhile, which could be a red flag.
Is There A Middle Ground?
Another thought I had is that Payton’s family isn’t terribly far away from them. Three hours isn’t exactly next door, but it’s not insurmountable either. I’m not sure how often they visit now, but I wonder if it might be possible for Payton and Riley to continue living where they are but find more opportunities to visit family. Could they go every weekend? Every other weekend? Could the older kids go spend a week at a time with grandma and grandpa? One other idea: buy a fifth wheel travel trailer and leave it at a relatives’ home so that they have their own place to stay while visiting.
And finally, are there any locations in between where they currently live and the small town where Payton’s family lives that they could move to but retain Riley’s job and the country living that they love? It may very well be that they’ve already tried all of these options and found them unsuitable, but, worth tossing around middle ground ideas before going whole hog on moving.
Stop Paying Down Your Mortgage
While Payton and Riley are, on the whole, doing an amazing job managing their money, something that alarms me about their finances is their lack of diversity. I’m delighted to see that Riley has a 401k and a pension, but I’m concerned that they don’t have any other savings or investments. I understand that a primary goal of theirs is to pay off their mortgage early, but they’re doing this to the detriment of building wealth or planning for their future.
Riley and Payton have three kids and I mention this because I myself have two kids and kids are NOTORIOUS for cropping up with unexpected expenses, which can’t be paid for with a paid-off house. Additionally, I wonder if Payton and Riley are interested in saving for college for their kids because if so, they need to start doing that now. I recommend researching 529s (tax-advantaged college savings plans) and possibly opening up accounts in all three kids’ names.
A paid-off house is a wonderful thing, but you can’t use a paid-off house to buy groceries or pay for health insurance if you’ve lost your job (you might be able to get a Home Equity Line Of Credit, but that’s not a guarantee and certainly not if you’ve lost your job). In addition to the fact that a paid-off house is an illiquid asset (unless you’re able to sell it quickly, which is an unknown), there are opportunity costs to paying off a mortgage. Namely, you’re missing out on the potential investment returns you’d enjoy if your money was instead invested in the stock market.
Mr. FW and I choose to hold mortgages on both our primary residence and our rental property because, mathematically, our money is better deployed in the stock market thanks to the average annual rate of return (7%) that you can expect after many decades of remaining invested in low-fee index funds. Essentially, money is better leveraged in the stock market than in a paid-off house.
If you have a low, fixed interest rate mortgage, like Payton and Riley do at 3.25%, then from a mathematical standpoint, I wouldn’t pay it off early. I view holding a mortgage–and having money properly invested in diversified assets (aka low-fee index funds)–to be a much less risky decision.
Additionally, a mortgage is an excellent hedge against inflation. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable and the neat thing about a mortgage is that it’s denominated in the dollars you originally paid for the house and so, over time, as inflation increases (which generally happens), the money you’re using to pay off your mortgage is “cheaper.” Essentially, it’s not bad to hold a mortgage and it’s actually a fine component of a diversified portfolio of assets. Paying off your mortgage to the detriment of investing is a lot like putting all of your eggs in one basket.
It’s not that it’s a bad thing to pay off a house–it’s just that it comes at the expense of other opportunities to grow wealth. Many of us who are early retired/financially independent choose to hold mortgages–even though we could afford to pay them off tomorrow–for the above reasons. In lieu of paying off their mortgage, I highly recommend that they invest in a portfolio of low-fee index funds because this is where wealth is created. Without investments, you’re not going to grow your wealth. By leveraging a low-interest rate mortgage, and funneling extra cash into investments, Payton and Riley could create the possibility of buying more rental properties, which would in turn grow their wealth further. Not all debt is bad and sometimes, carrying debt is the most financially savvy thing to do. More information on how to start investing is here.
Don’t Sell The Rental Properties
In this same vein, I do not advise that Payton and Riley sell their rental properties because these represent some excellent diversification to their financial portfolio. However, I caution against owning three paid-off houses all in the same housing market as your only investments. Why? If there was a market downturn–and especially if there was a hyper-local downturn–ALL of Payton and Riley’s investments would be impacted. If they also had some money invested in the stock market, they’d have much greater diversity to their assets and would be able to move money around more fluidly. A paid-off house is not an asset you can easily leverage, or liquidate, and especially not in a bad housing market.
Selling the rentals in order to pay off their primary residence would decrease their income and would lower their overall net worth and ability to build wealth in the future. In my opinion, this would be a risky decision since it would concentrate almost all of their net worth into one asset: their home. Being mortgage-free is a good goal, but it shouldn’t come to the exclusion of all other financial considerations. A sound financial portfolio is a diverse financial portfolio and I really encourage Payton and Riley to start looking towards how they might diversify their assets.
I’m delighted to see that Payton and Riley have $22,000 in cash as this is a great emergency fund for them! Huge congrats on having this cash on hand. The total amount for anyone’s emergency fund should be somewhere between three and six months’ worth of living expenses–I prefer six months, but some folks are comfortable with less. An emergency fund is your insurance against disaster. It’s the difference between an unexpected job loss or car breakdown or health issue being a crisis that you have to take on debt to pay for, or, merely a question of withdrawing money from your emergency fund. An emergency fund is not to be spent on Christmas or vacations, it’s for emergencies, such as if you both lose your jobs tomorrow and can’t find new ones immediately. Anytime you need to use some of this cash, replenish it as quickly as possible.
Since Payton and Riley spend only $3,081 per month (way to go, by the way!), their current emergency fund would last them seven months. Perfect!
Savings Accounts Side Note
One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:
- Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
- Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.
And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
I get the sense that Payton isn’t a fan of owning the truck in addition to the minivan and Subaru, but, I also understand the need to own a truck in order to facilitate life on a farm. What I recommend here is looking into whether or not the added expenses of owning three vehicles (registration, maintenance, insurance) outweighs the fuel efficiency of the Subaru versus the truck? If Riley is just using the Subaru to commute (and it looks like he has a pretty short commute), I wonder if it would make more sense for him to commute in the truck and sell the Subaru?
However, since the Subaru is an older car, the insurance might be so cheap that it doesn’t matter. But, something to consider since fewer cars = fewer maintenance headaches and overhead costs. Another thought is that they might want to sell the Subaru while it still has some value (we sold our 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan for $1,000 a few years ago in part because we wanted to sell it while it still had a modicum of value). But for $750, I obviously wouldn’t sell the Subaru to “make money”–I’d only sell it if the insurance and registration were more burdensome than gasoline for the truck (this assuming that the truck is less fuel efficient than the Subaru).
I hesitate to even run through Payton and Riley’s expenses because they are firmly in the category of SUPER FRUGAL folks. Woohoo!!! They’ve done a STELLAR job of identifying their priorities, spending in service of those priorities, and saving in every other category. They are frugal rock stars with very little room for improvement in their spending. My focus for Payton and Riley is on the investment side of things because in terms of expenses, they are absolute pros. But since we’re here, let’s go ahead and see if we could save them any more money:
- At $300/month, their utilities (electricity and trash) seem mighty high to me. However, since this is an average for the year, I’m guessing perhaps it’s higher for heat in the wintertime? Might be worth doing an energy audit to see what’s gobbling up so much electricity every month. In addition to analyzing their individual usage, they could get an energy watt monitor to see if their refrigerator or freezer (or other large appliance) is a secret energy hog.
- $135/month for internet and TV also seems awfully expensive. I wonder if there’s an opportunity to get rid of TV and just have internet for a slightly lower bill? I recommend calling the company to find out.
- $60 for two cell phones is pretty good, but they might be able to find something even cheaper. I have BOOM Mobile for $19.99/month. Other inexpensive providers to investigate include Republic Wireless and Ting.
In summary, here’s what I advise Payton and Riley to do:
- Do more soul-searching on whether or not they really want to make this move. Where would they be happiest? How would they feel if they left their dream home? Is this the right time to make the move? Is there a happy middle ground?
- If they do decide to move:
- I highly recommend they explore options for income other than the laundromat and campground. I’d look into residential electrical work, a private counseling practice, and additional rental properties.
- I recommend researching what their healthcare costs would be and also making a determination of how much to set aside in IRAs each month.
- Start investing in order to diversify their assets and reduce the level of risk in their portfolio. All of your money in one place (such as a paid-off house) is a risky proposition.
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Payton? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!
Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (email@example.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.
Updated 10/29/18 with Payton’s Decisions:
We loved doing the case study and definitely appreciated people picking up on our move in question not being entirely right for us if we were just moving to be near family. We will probably always emotionally want to move back to be close to our village but, in all other aspects, we are completely content. We are staying where we are for now and will evaluate again when I go back to work.
We had a few people comment about what we would do with Zaycon (the place we bought chicken breast in bulk inexpensively) closing and I’m excited to share we found a huge sale at our local grocer. We stocked up on chicken for the year for 59 cents a pound! Once we use that up, I guess we will just keep an eye out for sales.
We weren’t asking for advice on retirement but we got a ton of comments on this topic and loved how thought provoking that was for us. We have been working harder to better understand our retirement accounts and compile an actual plan for our future.
Thank you again so much for choosing our story and letting your readers weigh in. It was so insightful for us and has helped us to evaluate our own lives in ways we weren’t before. We also found a deeper appreciation for the life we’ve created for ourselves and our little family.
-Payton & Riley
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