This article is primarily about the practicalities of living full-time in a mobile home, unplugged, or “boon-docking” as it is called. For those of you who have found yourselves wondering from time to time, as you sign yet another rent cheque, if this is possible, let me assure you it is, you will not become any stranger than you already are, and the financial ramifications of living this way are profound. You will become a millionaire.
I’ve been living in an 18 foot Nissan motorhome for 6 months now, with my dog. My reasons were initially to save rent and have a home I could have my dog in - most apartments do not allow pets. At 18 feet, the motorhome can be parked in any regular parking stall. It has a full kitchen, hot water, shower, toilet, furnace, upper double bed, and a dinette. For years I had considered living this way and always wondered about staying clean, sleeping without being disturbed, and generally not looking like a weirdo. Finally circumstances made the choice easy and I bought my 1985 Nissan motorhome for $4,600. This is profound. I purchased my own home, which is also my car, outright, immediately. Many monthly housing payments come close to this figure when you add the mortgage, heating, maintenance fees or monthly repair costs, and that montly cost lasts 25 - 30 years, eventually paying 2 1/2 times the initial purchase price of the home. The argument that the price of the house increases, making the investment worthwhile falls apart when you consider the power of inflation. Every 40 years, one dollar is devalued to a nickel. The price of the house has increased yes, but so has the cost of everything else.
An average day in the motorhome includes getting up, listening to the birds outside and looking out at the rolling fields of the Hazlemere Valley, where I have found a quiet country road to park that is about 8 minutes from work. I turn on the furnace and make breakfast. The fridge stove, furnace and hot water run off a propane tank that needs refilling every two weeks at $18 dollars. Then I have a hot shower. The fresh water holding tanks become full every two days, at the same time the “grey water” or shower and sink water tank needs to be emptied. At just about every corner of a city block you will see an iron grate covering the city septic system. I dump the grey water which consists of organic soap, water and some organic food particles from the sink into the city septic. I don’t use the flush toilet, which would require adding chemicals to keep it from smelling and finding a “sani-dump” station to empty it. Instead I use a folding toilet seat and a plastic bag. It took about 2 days to become accustomed to that, but now that as well as the dog’s poop goes into a trash can. I would prefer to compost, but the space just isn’t there. Alternatively, I use the washroom at Starbucks if I go in to check my email. I fill the water tanks with the gas station water hose. The deep cycle battery that powers the fan to the furnace and the interior lights is charged by the Nissan charging system when I’m driving. I thought initally I would need to install an expensive solar system. As long as I drive a few minutes per day, I have enough battery charge to power everything I need.
A benefit that might not be immediately apparent is the lack of commuting to work. I simply find a quiet spot to park near where I’m working (I teach yoga trainings, so I’m in a different spot every month in B.C.) and park the motorhome on the street like everyone else and walk. I have never had a problem doing this. Gas is getting more and more expensive, the average Vancouverite spending 200 to 300 dollars a month in gas and up to two hours a day in the car not to mention vehicle depreciation. No commuting, no wasted time, no wasted gas. The Nissan gets 18 mpg, which is about the same as a modern SUV.
In the evenings I come home, take the dog for a frisbee toss or walk, make dinner, do some reading or watch a movie online (wi-fi is everywhere and if you don’t get a signal, you can get 3G access for about $40 per month) and go to bed. It is that simple. If I don’t like the view, I drive somewhere more enchanting. If the neighbours are too loud, I move. If I go out for drinks with friends, I don’t have to drive home - I am home.
Now for the really interesting part. The monthly savings on rent (about $1,200 for a place I’d like to live that would allow a dog) and gas (about another $300) totals $1,500 per month, or $18,000 per year. Invested conservativey at 8% return (Berkshire Hathaway is a solid investment firm and has done an average of 18% return over the last 30 years), when I retire in 20 years at 65 I will have:
That’s right. Without even trying. Just investing what I would have spent anyway on rent and gas. If I lived this way for 30 years, I’d have
"The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest" - Albert Einstein
So, the next question is what to do when you retire? Many people buy an expensive new motorhome, trying to replicate their living room in a vehicle out of habit, and stay in campgrounds. I’m just going to fly to Europe, buy a small used motorhome, and travel and live there just as I’m doing here. When I come “home” I will leave the motorhome with the mechanic I’ll pre-arranged rental with and split income from renting it out to tourists when I’m not using it. I may do the same thing in Hawaii. It’ll be nice to spend the coldest months of the year there. And I’m not waiting until I retire.
I often watch the older people in White Rock shopping at the thrift store, picking up little useless items and considering their value. This is a deeply embedded habit - shopping. Our ancestors would keep their senses keen by picking berries and roots. We’ve dulled our senses by picking out candy and looking for couches. Driving daily to a job you probably dislike so that you can pay for the car that takes you to the job, the couch you use to relax on to forget about your job, and the walls that surround the couch is a habit you can walk away from.
You don’t need to worry about money. You don’t need to stay at a job you dislike. For most of human history, we were nomadic hunters and gatherers. Notions of ownership of land have seeped into every aspect of our modern life, even relationships with others and “ownership” of a space in the sky called a condominium. You don’t need to spend 30 years of your life paying for a strange idea. You may appear strange to the majority of our culture. That is the only price you do have to pay.