Camping is one of the best ways to vacation for less. Campsites are very affordable, even in beautiful, expensive-to-vacation areas like beach towns. A campsite offers a true room with a view, more space than a hotel room, and lots of fun, free or cheap activities for families right within the camp ground.
Of course there are other ways to vacation cheaply, like travel hacking. And we do some of that. But camping is good for the soul. And it’s especially good for kids.
There is a bit of a learning curve to camping. Here are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over 16 years of tenting it.
- Grocery pickup: This year, I’m going to do something incredibly un-rugged, and I couldn’t be more stoked about it. I’m doing Walmart grocery pick up for my shopping while on vacation. I think this is a great hack for many travel scenarios. Pluses include: not getting overwhelmed, forgetting a bunch of stuff, and also making unnecessary impulse purchases while trying to shop with three kids and a husband. We’ll save time, and the last thing the kids want to do is go grocery shopping the first day of vacation. While I’m not a huge Walmart fan in general, order pickup is great for these scenarios, and it’s convenient that I can make the order ahead of time, modify it until the night before, and get things like diapers and camp supplies as well.
- Coffee: if you think I’m overzealous about camping, don’t get me started on coffee! I need it so bad, especially while sleeping in a tent with three children! There are lots of ways to make coffee while camping, but the easier, cheapest, and least breakable option for me is this $7 pour-over product. Walmart, give me some of those #2 filters while you’re at it. If you drink it by the pot, go for a percolator (non-electric) or inexpensive coffee maker (for electric sites).
- Glamping: on some trips, we have electricity. And let me tell you, we make good use of it. For these trips, we bring a small, old “hot pot” a.k.a. a simple electric kettle. We use this for all our water boiling needs–for tea, coffee (see above), oatmeal, ramen, and even for heating the baby’s bath water. And it significantly cuts down the amount of propane we use on our camp stove.
- Don’t unpack: We store a camping box or two in our garage, and they’re always stocked with our mobile kitchen, paper products, propane, and other necessities for camping. I also leave little things like a hat, quarters, a deck of cards, a laundry line, a rain poncho, hand warmers, and toilet paper in our duffel bag all year young. These could come in handy on just about any trip so why unpack them?
- Beach supplies: the beach is so much more fun when you’re well prepared. We’ve always brought a beach blanket (just an old ugly comforter that’s handy in our car all year for emergencies, picnics, and beach days). Since having kids, we’ve added this nifty beach umbrella to our stash and it is sooo worth it. It’s great to have a shady place to retreat–especially for pale folk like me and the kids. We also bring a puddle jumper, a basket of cheap beach toys, and a good mini metal shovel for epic sand digging. Lastly, I keep a swim bag with towels, swim suits, sunscreen, and goggles packed all year. It makes getting out the door (or tent) to swim so much easier.
- Meal swap: we often camp with friends, and usually team up with 2-3 other families to take turns making meals. This obviously reserves more vacation time for vacationing rather than cooking, without having to go out to eat. But it’s also great because it streamlines grocery shopping. We don’t need to buy a ton of different ingredients for different meals, only to end up throwing away extras at the end of the week. This high chair is great for trips because it folds up small and fits on any table.
- Packing list: I have a spreadsheet listing all the stuff we need to camp for a week, including grocery items and meal ideas. Though I tweak it from year to year depending on the kids’ ages and needs, it saves time not to start from scratch on my packing list each year.
- Road trip ideas: we download audio books, music, and movies for the kids ahead of time via library apps like Libby and Hoopla, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. We also save by packing some snacks and sandwich stuff to augment the fast food stops (because we have to stop at Bojangles on our way south).
- Travel hack hotel stops: on our way back we stop at a hotel that we book using hotel points rewards. You can accumulate these by using credit cards, or if you stay at hotels frequently for work and sign up for a rewards program with a particular chain.
- Excursions: once a year we camp in a Florida, and some friends have taken the opportunity to do a less-expensive, one-day Disney visit. It’s not the same thing as an extended stay inside the park, but it scratches the Disney itch while saving massively on accommodations. We have yet to take the Disney plunge, but Neil took our son to Kennedy Space Center last year, and there are plenty of other great tourist options within driving distance.
I hope at least one of these ideas helps you on your next camping trip! Wish us luck on our first trip with three kids, and please share your tips and tricks below!
In a world of Dave Ramseys and Suzy Ormans bossing you about what to do with your money, it’s nice to read a personal finance book that doesn’t make one single practical suggestion about what to do with your money.
It’s nice, and maddening. All at the same time. Paul David Tripp’s 2018 Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients our Hearts is big-picture, philosophy over practicality. It’s about a book about your relationship with money. And the only to-do takeaway is to consider what money reveals about what your heart truly loves. The intended audience is Christians.
But this isn’t just another Christian money book explaining Bible verses or defining stewardship (although it does). The real thrust is to get you thinking about the gaps between what you believe about money and how you live–and the why behind this breakdown. He looks at this from several angles, including how we spend based on how we view ourselves (identity); how we view this world vs. eternity, and the purpose we’re living for–our glory, or God’s glory.
Tripp breaks identity into four components. He says we’re creatures–not the Creator–and this is why we should view ourselves as stewards, not owners. We’re also sinners living in a fallen world, and this means that the tool of money is used in broken ways, and also that it cannot fix our broken world. He describes this as being sufferers. We can spend on comfort, convenience, and pleasure, but we can’t spend our way out of all suffering. Lastly, we are “saints,” i.e., believers and followers of Jesus can be changed by God’s power to use money in ways that are in line with God’s value and bring Him glory.
My favorite part of this book is how he relates money to satisfaction and eternity. We all want to feel satisfied, happy, content, and this drives much of our over-spending. If we could accept that complete satisfaction will not happen this side of paradise, we may be better able to reign in the spending whilst also investing in God’s eternal kingdom through generous giving.
Though he doesn’t make this connection, this point relates closely to the financial independence/early retirement movement. I’ve thought before about how for those who long for early retirement, what you really want is heaven. You want to be able to do productive, meaningful work with freedom, with ample resources, and without having to worry about significant time restraints. Sounds a lot like eternity to me.
My main critique of the book is that he used over-spending and debt as his examples of misuse of money, without talking nearly as much about the pitfalls of a wealth-building obsession (when that wealth is built but not over-spent). Being miserly, overly focused on saving/investing, or driving too hard toward financial goals such as debt payoff or retirement can be equally dangerous. These could have used more attention, even just as examples and illustrations.
The greatest strength of the book is that he tries to address the underlying problems, rather than just telling you to make a budget, save for emergencies, or invest in index funds. There’s a time and place for both types of advice, but dealing with the underlying issues of the heart will take you a lot further in carrying out practical steps.
Like all Tripp books, he belabors some points with excessive lists of rhetorical questions and redundant sentence structures. It’s annoying in a literary sense, but I keep coming back for more because his content is good. And best of all, he gets grace–hence the title. I like that he makes a play on the word “redeem,” which we use to mean make something useful out of something wasn’t. But it also has a financial sense: purchasing a slave’s freedom. His overarching, hopeful message is that God in his grace can take any person and any financial situation and redeem it if we will surrender our money and our hearts to Him. Maybe that doesn’t look like you get out of debt fast, or you retire when you want. But He can help us stop being enslaved to our longings and the spending (or saving) that comes with them.
What’s the best money book you’ve read lately? What do you believe is the connection between our money and what we love most?
To rent or not to rent a car for a road trip? As our annual 2000-mile road trip/camping vacation approaches, we’ve been crunching the numbers on car rentals.
For most of the last seven years, we’ve rented for the trek as part of our frugal approach to car ownership. We drive older cars and Neil does almost all the maintenance and repairs himself. So we usually rent in order to avoid the wear and tear of such a long journey. It’s a strategic move, carefully calculated to save money in the long run. And of course it doesn’t suck to enjoy a nice, new ride on vacation.
Yet our “new” van feels so luxurious and road-trip-ready, we both felt the itch to bypass renting this year. Reality check: our “new” van is actually 13 years old and has around 150,000 miles. Even if it were brand-new, would it make sense to drive it that far?
Here’s how we see it: if the cost of wear and tear on your vehicle is greater than the cost or renting (or even close), it makes sense to spare your daily ride and rent instead. How can you calculate the cost of wear and tear? The government currently pays $0.58 per mile which includes fuel. Subtract the cost of fuel for your vehicle and you have approximate wear and tear. Or AAA estimates around $0.61 including fuel and insurance.
Our van gets around 22 miles per gallon. If gas costs around $2.20 right now, we’ll spend about $0.10 per mile on fuel, leaving $0.48 per mile of wear and tear. So that’s:
$0.58 – (Price of gas per gallon/miles per gallon) = price of wear and tear per mile.
Multiply that by the total number of miles for your approximate cost of driving your own vehicle.
Or if that seems too rich, take a highly conservative estimate of $0.25 wear and tear per mile. Maybe you won’t spend as much on vehicle maintenance because you DIY. Or maybe your own car gets way better gas mileage than what you’d rent. Even with the more conservative figure, it rarely makes sense to drive your own vehicle on very long trips.
For our van, we’d put somewhere between $500 to $960 worth of wear during a 2,000 trip. We can definitely rent a car for less than $500 for our 10-day trip.
While renting a car sounds like an extra and unnecessary expense, it can really reduce the cost of car ownership throughout the year (and over the life of the vehicle). And if you DIY, you’ll also be spreading out the impact of the time you spend working on your vehicle. Breaking down on a long trip is always inconvenient–but much more so if you’ve got to stop and fix your own vehicle, rather than just swap out one rental for another.
And of course it’s quite a luxury to drive a newer vehicle that’s loaded with features. It makes vacation a little more fun. Plus we enjoy not needing to give it a deep cleaning and oil change immediately upon returning from camping and driving 2000 miles with little kids!
How can you save on the cost of renting? We’ve found that renting an SUV is much less expensive than renting a minivan. Until this year, we’ve fit into an SUV. This year with 3 kids plus camping gear we’ll have to splurge on the minivan rental. But using a Costco discount we were able to rent for $420–still coming in under the conservative estimate of $500 cost of driving our car.
In the past, we’ve saved by cashing in travel rewards from renting cars for work, or collected rental car company coupons throughout the year (also from work). Like so many things, it’s best to shop around, look for coupons or promotions, and book in advance.
Our camping vacation is rather expensive and inefficient in many ways, but our $420 vehicle rental (the most we’ve ever spent) is still cheaper than flying 4 people to our destination. And driving means we can bring all our camping gear, and our camp site cost for the week equals 1-2 nights in a hotel in the same city.
We do hope to be able to fit in an SUV again in a couple years when we’re not bringing a pack n play, stroller, infant carrier, and high chair along. We’ll see if we’re ever able to downsize again!
Have you ever considered renting a car to save money? Do you have any trips coming up?
What was your New Year’s Resolution? Did you break it yet?
I didn’t make any this year, but I do see the value of getting back into healthy habits after eating too many Christmas cookies, staying up late, or spending more than usual during the holidays.
In the same way, we put some of our normal frugal habits on hold surrounding the birth of our third child. There were take-out pizzas and Great Clips haircuts. I bought more convenience grocery items than usual. I bought retail clothes when I didn’t have time to sift through secondhand. We turned up the A/C (it was 95 degrees the week she was born) and used the dryer rather than hanging clothes. Our entertainment spending increased during Neil’s babybatical when he took a month off and treated the older kids to epic fun. And recently when the kids were home sick or for snow days, I enjoyed using Walmart grocery delivery–when free delivery was available, but I still tipped and spent a little more on certain items.
Do I regret any of this? No! But just as it’s easy to keep eating too much sugar well after the holidays have passed, it’s easy to forsake frugal habits forever. Thus a busy time when conveniences are necessary can slide into small-scale lifestyle inflation. And while some increased expenses are par for the course with a growing family, I’ve felt like it’s time to return to some of of our former habits.
Will we retire early by hanging clothes or making homemade yogurt? Hardly. Or budget, let alone future plans, do not rely on the small savings from these tasks. I will gladly abandon them again as needed. But to me there is something healthy and hearty about not losing sight of the types of little tasks that added up to getting out of debt, and getting the investment ball rolling.
Admittedly, I have the time to do some of these things because I’m a STAHM. If I only had a couple hours at home with my kids each day, you better believe I’d spend more on convenience. But if I have the time, and I’m not focusing on career or income right now, it makes sense to save money where I can. It’s also a great way to model throwback thrift for the kids and get them involved. I mean, how many kids know making yogurt or bread is even a possibility?
These habits won’t make us rich, but they do keep us grounded. Viewing small things like a comfy thermostat setting, ordering a pizza, and going on fun outings as luxuries helps calibrate realistic expectations in both us and our kids. When holiday over-spending and over-eating becomes the norm in the new year, it leads to problems. The same can be true of seasons of increased spending if we lose sight of a thriftier lifestyle.
We’ll continue to stay flexible, choosing convenience when that supports our greater values of relationships and following God. And we’ll keep saving big with Neil’s DIY skills, and by avoiding major expenses such as car payments or a big mortgage. I hope these small savings support our overall mindset of avoiding excess, enjoying small luxuries, and building gratitude for the abundance we’ve been blessed with.
What are some frugal habits that you practice? Have you ever
put them on hold for a season?
Although it presents less raw danger than a physical flame, FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) is not necessarily safe for the soul. So what is the stop, drop, and roll of the FIRE movement?
Fire safety is drilled in our kids at a young age. Even my preschooler can tell you what to do if you catch on fire: stop, drop, and roll. Kids have fire drills at school and on the bus, and are encouraged to plan escape routes for home. It makes sense that fire safety is a big deal, and that teachers and firefighters know how to make it memorable.
Even if you never plan to retire early, we all need safeguards against losing ourselves as we navigate money, work, and life. That’s why I believe we should all pursue financial flexibility; there’s no benefit to being enslaved by our jobs by over-extending ourselves financially. So, what’s the soul-risk in pursuing FIRE or even financial flexibility?
Last week we talked about Luke 12, where a man retires early and decides to live unabashedly for his own pleasure. The catch? He dies on day one of retirement. It’s a parable, so it’s meant to teach some lessons about relying on God, living for yourself, and the foolishness of putting all your hope in this short life.
And then there are verses like this one: What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:26). You could gain freedom from work, freedom from worrying about money, but lose yourself in the process. Even the popular blogger and early retiree Mad FIentist admits he fell into depression on the intense journey to FIRE (scroll down to Dark Times here).
Like money itself, FIRE isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s a tool that depends on how you pursue it and you use it. Here’s the stop, drop, and roll of FIRE soul-safety as I see it:
Purpose. Many people advise you don’t just retire from something, but retire to something. I believe this should mean more than projects, hobbies, or travel. Life is most satisfying when it’s lived for a bigger purpose. How will you connect your interests and talents with your values and purpose? Finding how these connect before retirement will help you find contentment and fulfillment when you leave behind traditional work.
Practice makes perfect. What do you dream of doing with your time in retirement? Makes sure you do some of that now! This will help you avoid living for the future but missing the present and make sure you’re living a useful life. And it will also hone your dreams and plans and you figure out exactly what your why is for retiring early. Here are some areas worth practicing:
Generosity. There’s no better way to guard the heart against greed than to give charitably and sacrificially. I’m not necessarily talking about extravagant gifts or buying your friends dinner. It’s great to be generous to those you know, but sometimes greater to help those you’ll never even meet. There are no end of good causes and reputable charities supporting them. Read more on the benefits of giving and how to find an effective charity.
Volunteering. Giving your money is not interchangeable with giving your time and talents. But both are undoubtedly important ways to make sure you’re not just living for you and losing your soul along the way. For us, this looks like volunteer ministry such as leading and teaching home group Bible study, serving as elders, and discipling new leaders.
Relationships. Staying connected with people along the way to FIRE is invaluable. Making time for the people in your life ensures you have a healthy family and friendships to enjoy your retirement or flexibility with. It’s part of living for more than yourself. And it also opens you up to the possibility of accountability and feedback along your journey to FIRE.
What else do you see as important for FIRE safety?
Our tie-breaker baby showed up on her due date and girls now outnumber the boys! Of course we are absolutely in love.
Although I was getting antsy for her arrival once we had a working toilet, everything worked out so perfectly. Just the night before she was born, Neil made more progress on the DIY bathroom project and cleared many of the tools out of the bathroom, our bedroom, and the kitchen counter. The vanity drawers and doors went on, and fixtures including shower head and tub faucets were installed. And probably lots more details that I’m unaware of.
I woke up feeling completely normal the next day, hung out at a friends’ house with the kids, and was planning to go to the library for an event my sister-in-law got us tickets too. We were going to go straight there but my daughter soaked her dress playing outside, so we decided to stop home first. As soon as we got there I had a couple early labor symptoms that could mean labor was hours or days away.
I didn’t think this was reason to stay home from the library–it takes a lot to keep me away from the place–but right then my daughter somehow fell down the stairs into the basement (it’s only 6 stairs) holding a full, open canister of peanuts. By the time I comforted her and we cleaned up, we didn’t have time to go to the library.
A little over two hours later I was making dinner and started having contractions. Now, I had experienced weeks of on-and-off early labor contractions, sometimes called prodromal or (inaccurately) “false” labor, which are more intense than the usual pregnancy “practice” contractions, but not as painful like active labor. I had them for up to three hours at a time, and then they would just fizzle out. Considering my first two labors were shorter than average, I was a little nervous that this would make it hard to know when it was the real thing.
But these were different. Not get-me-to-the-hospital-right-now painful, but felt more like I was approaching active labor. I decided to keep cooking because I knew this could go on a while, and they were still five minutes apart. So I can now say I’ve cooked Indian food while in labor. (Neil was grilling the meat.)
After half an hour, we agreed it was time to call Neil’s mom to come be with the kids. As with my last labor, I decided it was not a good idea to eat Indian food, so I stuck with plain rice. I guess turning down Indian food is another sign of labor for me!
It was a little after 5 and she had to come through a congested traffic area on her way to our house. I had two big fears about delivery during the last month: that I would not make it to the hospital in time, or that I would not go into labor on my own and have to be induced at 42 weeks. As we waited for her, I wondered if we called too soon. Obviously we didn’t have to go to the hospital immediately but I didn’t really want to labor with an audience. The kids kept asking if I was okay, so I decided to go in the basement and wait there.
After a few minutes I had a very intense contraction and thought, if they keep up like this I’m going into transition. We need to leave! I told Neil and he called over a friend who was there in minutes and we left. Neil’s mom got there 5 minutes later.
Fortunately we did not hit traffic on the way (we don’t live in a high traffic area, but it was rush hour). And fortunately the contractions were not as intense as that rogue one had been. We got to the hospital around 6:20, got through registration and triage, and were admitted into an L&D room around 7. The nurses and midwife all acted like it was probably going to go fast and they were right. She was born less than 40 minutes later.
I have so much to be grateful for–so much that I do not deserve. I got there in plenty of time, while still having a short and uncomplicated labor. She is very healthy, something I don’t take for granted after a scare surrounding her 20-week anatomy scan. Neil has the month off and has been a huge help both the with baby and the big kids. The kids are in love with her. And the bathroom is totally functional. Neil’s friends came and cleared the tools out of her room, installed the handle on the bathroom door, and mowed the lawn the morning we came home. And left tons of Thai take-out in the fridge. And we’ve had family and friends bring us dinner every night.
I did get a minor infection (mastitis) on the 4th of July and spent a lot of the day in bed with a fever, aches, and chills. It wasn’t fun, but I got into the doctor the next morning, got on antibiotics, and have been feeling fine since.
We’re enjoying our new daughter so much, and I keep thanking God for all the answered prayers and for such supportive and helpful friends and family.
What blessings can you count lately?
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” asked Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. Is it just me, or does it seems like people’s most persistent and urgent question now is, “What am I doing for myself?”
What am I doing to grow my career?
What am I doing to improve myself and my life?
What am I doing to fulfill my dreams?
While these questions could intersect with King’s foundational query, they often fall short. Statistically, younger generations (i.e., my age & younger) of Americans are demonstrating less generosity and volunteering less than previous generations did at the same age. The ideal of activism often translates into a Facebook posts rather than real-world application.
Personal finance blogs offer many useful tools and advice for improving one’s finances. But why—what’s your why? Is it comfort, security, freedom, flexibility? It’s all still as meaningless as the 9 to 5 we want to escape, if we don’t have a more compelling purpose.
You don’t have to work out that purpose perfectly right away. It doesn’t have to look like a detailed five- or ten-year plan of how you’ll do good in the world. I think it should look like asking MLK’s question of ourselves on a regular basis, though, because we can’t afford to let it go unanswered.
Thankfully, there are many people of all ages who are activists, advocates, volunteers, and philanthropists. But we all know there aren’t enough. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to our society was immeasurable. Yet so much more work remains.
No, you can’t save the world. But you can change the life of one person. Maybe two. Maybe five. Maybe more. The tragedy isn’t that you don’t pull off saving the world. The tragedy is when you don’t even try. It’s not just the people you would’ve helped who miss out; it’s you. You’re missing out on your best possible life, the fulfillment of the most worthwhile dreams.
This past weekend, I was involved with a volunteer appreciation dinner for the adults in our church. We have about 25 people involved in 5 different organizations, serving a range of people in need:
- Visiting incarcerated youth at detention centers and holding a Bible study.
- Visiting with and/or mentoring sex-trafficked young women, or those at high risk of being trafficked.
- Teaching preschool, an after school program, or providing childcare for refugee children.
- Teaching Bible studies at a nursing home. One group is dedicated entirely to those suffering from dementia.
- Helping refugees get settled—giving them rides to the SS office or other appointments, helping with paperwork, supplying household items, helping them move, and more.
At the dinner it was beautiful to hear from the volunteers, both about the very valuable, needed work they are doing, and about what they are learning and how they’re growing from it.
I know everyone is busy. We work a lot. We have children in many activities. We have hobbies and side hustles, and television shows to watch and blogs to read. We need to exercise, read, and relax. But what is the goal of all our self-improvement and self-care? At some point we must ask ourselves, for what purpose am I trying to become the best version of myself?
Or, as King put it: “What are you doing for others?”
Jesus also chimed in on this topic: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35).
How do you think your life might look different if you asked this question regularly? Have you volunteered? How has it impacted you, and those you helped?
Hey all, here’s what we’ve been up to the last month. Let’s just say travel has eclipsed blogging.
We drove about eight hours south to see the eclipse. It was awesome. Traffic getting home was not awesome. We were only about halfway home by 10 pm and decided to stop at a hotel. Those Marriott rewards sure came in handy, because others we knew traveling back from the vicinity did not get home until 6:30 am!
Neil found a great place to view the eclipse– a library next to a splash pad. It was perfect for entertaining the kids leading up to totality.
It’s also why Neil is wearing his swim trunks while photographing the eclipse.
On the way to totality, we camped at Mammoth Caves.
We didn’t realize you need to book tickets ahead of time, so Neil waited in line for over an hour and scored us a tour. Our son squeaked by in the free age category by just two days. There’s the personal finance tie-in: late summer birthdays are good for tourist attraction admission.
I was a little nervous about descending into the cave, but our daughter was more than comfy. She fell asleep near the end.
A couple weeks before our eclipse adventure, we headed to a beautiful campground in Michigan. If only our station wagon had wood paneling!
Things we did: camped with friends, picked the biggest blueberries I’ve ever seen, swam, kayaked, biked to town, got ice cream, played Uno, toured the light house, hiked in pouring rain, made s’mores over the fire.
Things we didn’t do, but probably could have: contracted lice from a family of nine, been eaten by bears, gotten lost in a National Forest, and blown away in 18-20 mph winds (we only lost our tent’s door mat).
Light house tour was fun. We all made it to the top.
The light house’s Fresnel lens. In tact ones are apparently rare.
View of the bay next to our camp site.
The “lunkers,” as my son calls them.
Beautiful little beach a minute’s walk from our camp site. The kids would swim during sunset.
After camping, we took a steamship ferry across Lake Michigan since Neil had a meeting for work in Green Bay.
We stayed at a tundra-themed waterpark hotel in Green Bay. I took the kids down the slides. So. Many. Times.
The National Train Museum in Green Bay was free with our reciprocal membership benefits. There were lots of old trains you could go in. My favorite was the mail train on the left.
It’s been a whirlwind. During our few stints home we were busy preparing Bible teachings, making garden-fresh salsa, and having play dates before school starts. Neil also had a men’s retreat, and is getting ready for a short-term mission trip to India. I’m both soaking in the last days of summer and longing for the structure of the school year.
How has your summer wrapped up? What did you think of the eclipse?
Does the seven year itch apply to home ownership? Because seven years in, renting is sounding pretty good. I’m very grateful for my home. It serves our family well. We love having a yard, storage space, and a garage. We also enjoy having space to share with others. There are advantages to home ownership, but there are also real drawbacks.
Let’s look at some common reasons for wanting to purchase a home.
My own space.
The dream: Before you buy a place, you scheme about what colors you’ll paint the walls, the sleek interior decorating you’ll do, and the spare room where you’ll finally have space for your hobbies, or guests.
The reality: Houses are huge boxes made of things that break and wear out, full of items that break and wear out. And fixing and replacing all this stuff isn’t easy, or cheap.
Lots of stuff has been breaking, wearing out, or needing to be upgraded around here. That’s just routine. And then there’s the time ants ate the studs of our house two years ago. You really can’t quite appreciate what “maintenance and repairs” will involve until you’re several years into home ownership. It’s not merely cosmetic. Homes have to be maintained, sooner or later, and we’d rather keep up with it along the way than wait until it falls into real disrepair.
I’d love to have a yard.
The dream: I’ll read out on the back deck while drinking coffee every morning. The kids will play out back while I clean the house. We’ll host fabulous neighborhood barbeques and everyone will like us. I’ll also raise a vegetable garden and can the fruits of my labor.
The reality: The yard you’re longing for? Has to be mowed. The garden you want to keep? Is a ton of work. The flower beds you dream of? Good freaking luck. Maybe I’ll plant flowers when my kids go to college.
That said, we love our .3 acre (.1 acre “farmable”) burbstead. Right now we have chickens, bees, a garden, a woodpile, and a years’ worth of sap from our maple trees.
I want a garage.
The dream: I will never have to scrape a windshield before work again. I’ll have a place to put my bike and tools. I’m going to do projects and make awesomeness out there.
The reality: I don’t miss scraping my car windshield in the winter. But you know what I do miss? Not having to be responsible to fix every single thing that breaks. So next time you’re scraping your windshield, think about all the time and trouble you’re saving by not having to fix stuff.
If you really want a garage, rent a place with a garage. Then you get to not spend all your money fixing your house, and you don’t have to scrape your car, either. Best of both worlds!
I want more space.
The dream: You’ll have room to move, host, do hobbies, store stuff out of sight, and have kids.
The reality: Having more space is nice, and there are some perks to that especially once you have kids or for people who want to host big groups. More space also means more to clean and maintain, and it makes it easy to accumulate excess stuff.
I would ask: could you get some of that space in a rental? We had some decent-sized parties in our one-bedroom apartment. We fit about 10 girls for a youth ministry sleepover once. And our Bible study used to meet weekly in the basement “party room” of an apartment complex.
I want to gain equity.
The dream: I will sell my house for way more money on day, making it a great investment.
The reality: That “equity” is often purchased with your interest payments and the cost of maintenance. Why do you think it’s called a mortgage–French for death pledge? Read a breakdown in Millennial Revolution’s “Why Renting Will Make You Rich.”
Why let someone else build the equity by renting? Because we don’t have to do the work. We don’t have the risk—of what will break, and when, and what the market will yield if/when we ever want to sell. Plus taking a mortgage is a lot like renting from the bank.
If we could go back we might buy a duplex, live in one half, and rent the other. We could save the money we made for a down payment in the future. Then, when needed more space and were ready to move, we could potentially cover most of both mortgages by renting out the two apartments in the duplex. In this scenario, there would be more to maintain, but at least it would be for an actual investment (here’s why I don’t think most residences are investments).
I don’t mean to discourage prospective home buyers, but to say: enjoy renting as long as you do. If there’s no rush to get a place, take your time. Because a few years later, you just might find yourself missing the old apartment.
Renters–what are you longing for in a home? Home owners–do you ever miss renting?
In 2013, Neil traveled to India with three friends to witness India Gospel League’s (IGL) growing ministry. In addition to teaching at a Pastor’s Conference, they traveled up steep mountains roads to visit a village transformed by the Adopt-a-Village program. This holistic program provides clean water, schools, vocational training, medical camps, Bible teaching, and much more.
The trip cost approximately $3000 for each traveler, bringing the total trip costs to a hefty sum of $12,000. Many, including myself, would balk at that price. Wouldn’t that money be much better spent directly helping the people there? Couldn’t it go further there? Are these trips more for the travelers than those they’re supposedly serving? Are they financially inefficient?
These are important questions. It took a decade of interest in short-term missions for Neil to find a organization and type of trip that seemed like a sensible partnership.
Even still, it was hard to cough up $3,000 for travel expenses when many people lack basic needs. Should he skip the trip and give more? In the end we decided it was important to see the work firsthand, help with the organization’s need for Bible teachers, and meet and encourage our sponsored child.
Neil benefited personally from the trip in many ways. He learned new things about himself, God, and the work going on through IGL. He gained a new perspective on the world and our family. But the trip also started a chain reaction of financial giving and spiritual impact, and the cumulative effect far exceeds the $12,000 the team invested. From a mathematical standpoint, this trip was far more financially effective compared to if we’d gifted $3,000 to the organization.
The Chain Reaction
For starters, while Neil’s team was in India they used their limited wi-fi access to connect unsponsored children they met with sponsors from our church. At least 8 children were sponsored at $360 per year, a commitment the donor can continue until the child finishes high school.
When the team returned, they came with a huge ask: Could our church raise $75,000 over 5 years to sponsor a village in India through the Adopt-a-Village program?
Many individuals in our church said yes, and our church was matched with the most remote village in the program. Since then, the village and church there are growing spiritually and economically.
In the past year, a farmers group started meeting to help improve agricultural efforts. Eighty women attended a candle-making training to learn how to generate income for their families. Other women have been trained in tailoring, or making crafts or food to sell.
Adopt-a-Village staff and leaders also gathered for training on communicable diseases, pre- and postnatal care, accessing government subsidies, running Women’s Transformation Groups, and character development.
The people of this village have not been content to keep these benefits to themselves. Another important aspect of the ministry is outreach to other villages in the region. The pastor was walking up to 15 kilometers a day (over nine miles) through rough mountain terrain to share the gospel with neighboring communities. He was living the prophet Isaiah’s statement: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).
When our church heard this we realized the pastor needed more than just his feet to carry the message—he needed some wheels. The church raised funds and bought him a motor bike.
Since then the pastor has started churches in six neighboring villages. With the help his motor bike, the pastor recently discovered an extremely remote, primitive tribe which is unreached by any government structure. No schools. No health care. No running water or electricity.
To address these urgent needs, our church is in the process of raising an additional $10,000. The gift will be used to provide educational materials for the school and daycare that IGL has started. The money will also provide skills training for villagers, and run medical camps since malaria is rampant.
The Bottom Line
Are mission trips a waste of money? In Neil’s case, his team’s $12,000 investment has yielded well over $90,000 for the ministry. This has directly benefited hundreds of people whom the government was likely unable to help.
Mission trips should not be a trap for endless fundraising. But done right, they can unlock support and action when others hear about an effective organization from a person they trust. In fact, all of our charitable giving has started as a result of hearing a friend speak about their firsthand experience with a particular ministry.
Many of the benefits of a missions trip are difficult to quantify, but there’s no doubt Neil’s trip was a great investment in financial and spiritual impact. Without seeing the Adopt-a-Village program there was little chance our church would’ve felt ready to commit. Our $3,000 was just a drop in the bucket, and we’re excited to hear how far the ripple spreads.
For more on short-term missions, read Are Short-term Mission Trips a Scam? and What Seeing Poverty Taught Me About Pretending to Be Poor.
Do you believe mission trips are financially inefficient? How have you seen the ripple effect of a trip?