‘I don’t want to just be alive, I want to live. And to truly live I feel I cannot spare my daily oat milk lattes. That’s off the table’
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Jul 24, 2020 • • 6 minute read
A 26-year-old Toronto woman we’ll call Janis just wants to hit the open road and leave everything else behind.
Before she turns 30, Janis, who earns $65,000 per year in a communications job, wants to get behind the wheel of an RV and spend six months driving it through each of America’s 48 contiguous states. She’ll be completely alone: no friends or boyfriend with ideas of their own about how the trip should go. There won’t be a schedule or a course plotted on a map for her to follow. Those are too restrictive.
For the boomers reading this, look no further than the lyrics of the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man to understand the impulse. The life of the protagonist, who was “born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus, rolling down Highway 41” and never stopped his travels, is what she wants to experience for six months. But why the U.S.?
“I think America is a beautiful country both culturally and geographically and I think it’s so unfortunate that so many Canadians have a negative view of it,” Janis said. “Comparatively, Canada is a cultural desert.”
Janis is complicated. There are things about her that make you believe that she’s a fit for that lifestyle and others that suggest she wouldn’t last more than a week. Take her finances, for example. There is no structure. She mostly spends as she sees fit and if there’s money left over at the end of the month, well then that’s a blessing. In a recent month, she was able to put away more than $1,000.
Her resistance to eating a prepared meal is another. Janis buys breakfast, lunch and dinner because she does not want to be hindered by a choice she made the night before. Being that restrictive is an “unnecessary cruelty on to oneself,” she says. You can see that in her spending. Of the $426 she spent on food, only $20 of it was on groceries. The refrigerator in her apartment is about as useful as an empty China hutch.
“Can I tell you something: If I could, I would unplug it and save money on electricity,” Janis said.
Then there are the lattes — sorry, oat-milk lattes. “It’s important we clarify this. Double underline and bold it,” she said. She had them at 11 different coffee shops in Toronto in one month. There’s two ways to digest this trait of hers: In one, it sounds like that desire to try a little bit of everything and not stay committed to one locale would suit life on the road. In another, you’d be hard-pressed to think of how she would survive in the swamps of Louisiana without an oat milk latte in her hand.
I suspected that a financial advisor might make Janis cut back on the oat milk lattes to afford her dream vacation, given the fact she unforgivingly spent $106 on them.
“I don’t want to just be alive, I want to live,” she said. “And to truly live I feel I cannot spare my daily oat milk lattes. That’s off the table.”
Surely, Janis will have to make some lifestyle changes, but before we figure out those details, we’ll need to know just how costly this vacation is going to be.
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According to Michael McNaught, president and founder of online RV rental marketplace RVezy, Janis would be better off buying an RV than renting. The average one would cost her about $20,000, McNaught said. If she rents it out before leaving for her trip, she can easily get back $10,000 in a summer, he said.
For the trip itself, she’ll need to set aside about $2,000 for maintenance and about $100 a week so that she can spend two nights per week at an RV campground. When Janis returns, McNaught suspects she’ll be able to sell the RV for between $10,000 and $15,000.
With those figures in hand, Spent asked Pax Planning founder Natasha Knox to draw up a budget that would allow Janis to reach her goals.
Knox’s plan calls for Janis to set aside $950 per month from now until the end of 2023. In May 2021, Janis would have saved enough to put down $20,000 for an RV. Between then and December 2023, she can rent it out and should be able to net $21,000 after storage costs and insurance. By the beginning of January 2024, Janis will have saved $49,500.
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There’s only one way that plan can actually be executed though and it’s if Janis’s spending doesn’t return to pre-pandemic levels. Knox only set aside $350 for a food budget because the $800 she was regularly spending pre-pandemic “is way out of whack,” she said. Before COVID-19, Janis might’ve blown through the $350 in less than two weeks and so the key to stretching it out will be to ensure that $200 of her food allotment is spent on groceries. And that doesn’t mean spending $29.39 on “gourmet” gummy bears like she did in a recent month.
Tired: Oat milk lattes. Wired: Homemade soup.
Conversely, Knox increased Janis’s shopping budget to $350 from $207. Knox suspected there would be pent-up demand — and she’s right. Janis, unlike most millennials, refuses to shop online and so her spending in that category has inevitably tailed off.
In the next three years, it’s crucial that Janis develops new habits while saving. The $49,500 she’ll have available may sound like plenty of cash, but Knox is worried about the potential for her to blow through it and then some unless she plans the trip ahead of time.
“I totally respect that kind of free adventurous spirit,” Knox laughs. “However, in order to make it achievable I think there have to be boundaries she sets for herself. You want to make sure you have the money left, if she’s starting on the east coast, by the time she gets to California to afford San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
What Janis will also have to consider is the opportunity cost. Saving nearly $50,000 to spend on one trip will take a serious dent out of her long-term plans. The trip as structured will mean she’ll be delayed in investing, saving to buy property and retirement.
And so it might be wise, Knox said, to consider halving the trip to three months, something that would “take care of near-future Janis and far-future Janis at the same time,” Knox said.
Unexpectedly, Janis agreed. In only two weeks, she went from refusing to budge on her initial plan, or lack thereof, to considering a shortened vacation. She admits the initial vision was a bit lofty and she’s even willing to stock up on frozen chicken fingers and soup to make the RV trip happen. That said, there is some bitterness over how restrictive she feels Knox’s plan is.
“This trip was supposed to free my soul and now my soul has been caged,” Janis said.
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