The Heir Abides?

Maybe I shouldn’t take so many of these restful days where I don’t go out, because I ended up looking up real estate listings again. Even in low-cost-of-living cities a home of decent caliber in a decent area (nothing great or luxe, mind you, just something decent and comparable to what I own now well outside the city) costs like $400,000, which is horrifying. I know I already said that here last March, but I’d like to dig in a bit deeper as to whether I’d want to buy a home in today’s environment even if I could afford it.

Let’s say I wanted to buy one of these $400,000 crackerboxes. At today’s interest rates that means a mortgage payment of around $2400 a month. That’s with a 20% down payment of $80,000 (ouch); without that, it comes to $3100 a month. To afford that, per the 30% rule for qualifying for a mortgage I’d need to be earning $86,000 a year; at full time that works out to $43 an hour.

I’m in training to freelance in a field where that’s a realistic benchmark for me to hit; I could do it. But all that work and effort, to get one of these $400,000 crackerboxes I don’t even like in a low-cost area I don’t even like? Doesn’t seem worth it, when I could just as easily continue hunkering down in the house I inherited from my grandparents; sure, I hate living where I do now, but I pay $0 in principal and interest to do so.

At best I might get into a more convenient location for my commute (which now qualifies as a super-commute…yikes), but for an extra $3000 expense every month? Even if I had that kind of money, which I don’t, it honestly wouldn’t be worth it. $500, even $1000 might be tempting, but $2000? $3000? Even more, if it’s a high-cost area? No, please no!

I’ve recently estimated that I spend $500 in gas a month now that prices have approached $5 a gallon, which is triple what I was paying a couple years ago. But they’d have to get high beyond the Republican Party’s worst nightmares to make moving closer into the big city worth it. Even at $20 a gallon it would still be cheaper for me to keep commuting a couple hundred miles round-trip than move out of my inherited abode into a $400,000 house.

If I had it I might be willing to spend the $3000 a month if it were somewhere I truly loved, but I’ve never encountered such a place. Oh, I’ve visited plenty of places I’d rather live in than where I do now (where prices tend to be double or triple that $3000 a month figure, making the math even worse…), but no place has inspired any drive in me to make real sacrifices so I could put down roots there.

But even if I did find a place I was passionate about, I wouldn’t want to put down roots anyway; the experience of lockdown cemented for me that my real dream is to travel in luxury as a lifestyle. Why stake your life on the premise that a place won’t betray you when instead you could go to where you’re treated best at the drop of a hat? What keeps me from doing that is my financial inability to do the “luxury” part.

Sure, I could sell my house now and very comfortably finance the “van life”, but the rub is that I really love having a place to store all my stuff. Minimalism is trendy, I know, but it’s not for me; giving up the many childhood artifacts I hold dear, among many other things, is too much for me to even bear the thought of. Having a bed and bedroom of my own that will always be there for me to come back to is very comforting as well; even if I don’t like the location much, it’s better than having a small vehicle with no recourse (big vehicles cost about as much as a house…). A home address that’s also a mailing address is also nice to have; even a post office box proved a headache, so I shudder to think how frustrating being officially nomadic would be.

No, I think I’d like to have an official residence but travel a lot. I’d only bother changing from my $0 a month current residence if it was a real upgrade, and properties I actually like for a real upgrade, somewhere I’d be enthusiastic about changing to as the place where I store my stuff and have my bed, run about $1 million to purchase or like $10,000 a month to rent.

Today I’m questioning if it’s even worth it. After all, $10,000 a month buys a lot of high-quality travel. Like, if I save that up I could go on the Cunard round-the-world cruise or a National Geographic private jet expedition once a year, every year, for the rest of my life. Throwing that money on a luxury apartment or an upscale house seems like a huge waste unless $10,000 a month was the equivalent to me of spare spending money.

Why not instead keep my official residence where it is and use the savings to spread my wings all the more broadly? After all, just because I have a home doesn’t mean I have to spend all or even most of my days in a given year there; if, let’s say, I even spend even a year at a stretch abroad it’ll still be there for me, and for $0 in interest and principal.

My deathly fear when I have a family is that the local yokels will rub off on my children and they’ll turn out assimilated to their provincial ways, but spending most of the year traveling abroad and being in a cosmopolitan Beautiful Bubble of foreigners even at home basically eliminates that risk. The latter I’ve pretty much accomplished already, so bequeathing it to my children should be a cinch.

Adopting this perspective also frees me from the demotivation of working hard to earn money to get out of my hated home region only to end up in roughly the same place I am now, having to go onto the treadmill for another round to get to the lifestyle I really want. A life I actually like seems so remote that way, whereas the travel-centric approach can be brought into my life much sooner and much more easily.

Unlike moving where you store your bed and your stuff, you can incrementally ramp up travel as your earnings and savings increase. That means I can treat myself to a new delight made affordable by my earnings much sooner, which makes me much happier and more motivated. It also makes me feel more like I have a safety net, since if the cost of renting hotels every month (comparable to a similar-quality apartment, believe it or not) becomes too much of a financial strain I can dial back and spend more time at my official residence.

There may be no escape for the cheap, but there may well be an escape for the heir.

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