July 5, 2006

No, we didn't get flooded today either.  We had a very brief shower, mid afternoon, and early evening, and that's it.  Nothing serioius.  We did hear thunder rolling in the distance though.  I wasn't paying too much attention to what the temperature was today, but it was  partly cloudy most of the day, so I'm sure it didn't heat up like some other days.  I am not posting any pictures tonight, but I did copy an article and am posting it about people who live in their rv's fulltime.  It is a fairly informative article, and no, I am not trying to persuade anyone to sell their house and live fulltime in an rv.  This is just for information purposes, nothing more.  Along the same lines, after you read the article below, there is a link just below what I am writing here, that says "Backup a trailer".   This is a link to a website that you can attempt to back a trailer into a spot between some trees.  You use the 4 arrow keys on the keyboard to turn the wheels, and go forward and backward.  Someone posted the link on an rv forum website.  Today, we had a bunch of people leave since the 4th is over.  About 1/2 of the sites are now empty, and the other half, have rv's on them, but only about 1/2 of the rv's here are occupied.  Some of them will be back for the weekend.  Anyhow, that's about it for this evening.

Backup a trailer

RV nomads find a different road to a rich life

01:34 PM CDT on Sunday, July 2, 2006

RED RIVER, N.M. – While much of the country is suffering from overwhelming heat, Jim and Chris Rett are enjoying the cool temperatures at 8,900 feet. In summer, days here average 75 degrees. Nights average 38 degrees. "When it gets hot," Jim says, "you can move north – or you can move up. Up is closer."  Rich people have done this kind of move for centuries.

Wealthy Texans have fled the heat and humidity of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for decades, escaping to Santa Fe during its summer monsoon season or on to Red River, which some have called "Little Texas."  But Jim and Chris Rett aren't rich people. At least they aren't rich by the usual definition – having lots of money.  I call them Reimagined People.

Officially, they are domiciled in South Dakota, but they have never lived there for any period of time. At ages 58 and 55, they are in their fourth year as "full-timers" – people who live in an RV and travel the country.  Earlier this year, they were living in Big Bend National Park. Come October, they will leave Red River.

I met Jim while admiring the hummingbird feeder planted outside his 30-foot New Horizons "fifth wheel," having just bent the stout metal rod of my own hummingbird feeder on the incredibly solid soil at the Road Runner RV Resort.  Jim and Chris are camp hosts – meaning they exchange some time helping operate the resort for an RV spot, free electricity, propane, cable TV and laundry access. This allows them to avoid about $900 a month in cash expenses.  "This is a surprisingly inexpensive way to live," Jim told me.  How inexpensive?

Try $2,000 a month for expenses, including medical insurance, and an additional $200-a-month reserve for federal income taxes. That, he told me, is what they've averaged per month this year.  Earlier, when they traveled more and did not serve as camp hosts, their expenses ran to $3,000 a month, he said.  Then again, their expenses in Big Bend were about $1,350 a month, nearly half of which went for medical insurance.  "You don't spend much money when you have to drive 80 miles to a grocery store," Chris smiled. It also helps to live in an RV – when you buy something new, something old has to leave.

It is common to view "early retirees" as a euphemism for corporate cast-offs, as the victims of an increasingly desolate corporate culture that views people as expenses rather than assets. But you don't have to spend much time with Jim and Chris to understand that they are true free agents, unencumbered.  They aren't rich. They aren't poor. They aren't victims. They are people who examined their lives and decided to leave the 9-to-5 world behind. They went on to build the healthy, active, outdoor life that most people on the planet would envy.

Jim said he was a mechanical engineer, explaining that he and Chris had always lived below their income and had spent years living on a sailboat in the Pacific Northwest. 

When it rains

Just before their shift to full-time RVing, Jim had been teaching at a community college. Then two of his colleagues quit, and he had to teach five courses a semester.  "And we had 77 consecutive days of rain," he added. After those 77 days, they decided it was time to invent a new life.

They sold their paid-off house and most of their possessions. Jim converted a major part of his savings into a life annuity. They ordered a custom-made fifth wheel, adding solar power, extra batteries, more windows, XM Satellite radio and other goodies. It cost about $75,000.  Jim, always an engineer, customized a relatively small GM truck to increase its torque and horsepower so it could pull the 15,000 pounds of trailer and contents. The truck brought their total investment, paid in cash, to nearly $115,000.

Is that a lot?

For many, yes. With a careful purchase of used tow vehicle and trailer, I figure you can be on the road for less than $50,000. But here in America, the Land of the Infinite Upgrade, it's also possible to spend much, much more.

Avoiding the ersatz glitz of many RVs – the bizarre carved velvet couches, the ludicrous beveled glass cabinet fronts, the plethora of flat-panel televisions and other touches that make $500,000 motor homes feel like mobile bordellos – the Retts custom-designed their fifth wheel with birch cabinets, simple flooring and crisp, brushed stainless-steel fittings. The result is a bright, airy and very efficient one-bedroom apartment on wheels.

Then they hit the road, gravitating toward the Southwest. They spend time in Arizona and California. But they've also windsurfed Laguna Madre by Padre Island – and they ride their bicycles everywhere.  Both are lean and fit. Both love to cook and are quick to admit that they spend more than $600 a month on food.

A catch?

Is there a fly somewhere in all this ointment?   I don't think so.   For one thing, their modest living expenses are entirely voluntary. They could spend more but don't feel a need.  They live on less than their current income. They are living on what they will eventually receive in Social Security benefits alone.  And when Jim shared their investments with me, I entered it all in ESPlanner, the dynamic programming software that was the subject of a recent column series.  What did it tell me? At an assumed return of 7 percent, just 4 percent over inflation, they could safely live to 95 – even if they doubled their spending.

So there it is – free time, airport-free travel, a healthy life and more income than you need. It's available today, not tomorrow. It requires some savings – more than most people have. But it doesn't require a fortune. The real price of entry is the courage of reimagination.

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