September 5th, 2006

Black Rock City

Long-Term Living Arrangements

Now that I've got significantly more financial stability in my life, I can start the planning that I honestly thought I would have done by now. When the Libertalia "blowed up real good" and I then recovered from the resulting period of homelessness by moving into this apartment, I thought it'd take me about 3 years to put my life back together and go on to the next thing, whatever "the next thing" was going to be. That was five years ago. That's far longer than I expected to be living in this tiny, fairly run-down apartment.

But now, at least, I've got some reliable numbers to plan with, assuming the taxpayers don't (as I occasionally worry) take it all away from me. I can, with some pinching of pennies, afford roughly $500 a month, maybe $600, to cover the roof over my head. Right now, it's costing me approximately $400, so I'm saving back a reliable, consistent $200 a month towards the down payment on whatever comes next. Counting the money I have left from the lump-sum disability settlement, that'll bring me to about $5,000 in two years, a pretty good down payment. Looking at a range of possible interest rates, $500/mo plus $5,000 down over 15 years gives me about $55k to $65k as an offering price on whatever comes next if I decide to buy a house. At today's housing prices, that's a shack. And a pretty stingy one at that, and what's more the only way to push it that high is to spend my whole housing budget just on the loan payments. That doesn't even count the other costs like insurance, and every bit as importantly it leaves me with nothing for repairs let alone improvements. So unless the housing market rolls back not just all of the gains of the last 10 years, but collapses even farther than that at exactly the right point for me to be buying, I'm going to have a hard time getting anything bigger or better than a shanty shack.

But the alternatives aren't looking much better. That same $500 a month over 6 years comes to maybe $30k to $35k if I were to try to move back into a motorhome. I could almost raise that to $40k when I allow for the fact that my cost of living would be much lower. (I'm not blowing smoke here. Remember, I've lived in a motorhome, and the costs of living are much lower than living in either a house or an apartment.) But $40k won't buy me anything new, and I learned the hard way about the repair costs of a used motorhome. So as much as I'd love to move into a Roadtrek 190 Versatile ... and that's a lot, oh ghod the day doesn't go by that I don't fantasize about it ... I don't see the money I'm making even putting me into an end-of-model-year clearance (but still under warranty) Roadtrek 170.

I have two years to decide, but it makes it easier to live in the present (not to mention easier to save the money) if I have a Plan, what the Pranksters used to call "the current fantasy," to look forward to. So assuming that a roommate is right out (and that's the assumption I'm taking, now), those are my three meaningful choices: continue living in sub-standard apartments, buy a shanty shack, or squeeze the budget so hard it screams trying to move into an almost-good-enough motorhome. Thank Prime I have two years to decide; as impractical as it seems from a raw crunch-the-numbers standpoint, the motorhome is leading in "the current fantasy" category. And not just because this was Burning Man weekend.

(P.S. to Purple: The "Subculture Engineering" series of articles that we were talking about at the party, the ones you said you were looking for, the link to the first of them is here; that one and three of the next four after it.)