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Budget (Making Something Out of Nothing …)

28 Jan

Okay, so here’s the deal with the budget …

On my “About” page, I wrote that I wanted to to cover monthly living expenses using only my social security. At the time, I hadn’t firmed up plans for the first year on the road and quite frankly, I didn’t know if that was doable. Well, as of yesterday, I’ve completed my planning through mid-March. Let’s see how realistic a goal that was:

I broke the budget down into the following areas:

  • Campsite / motel fees
  • Auto expenses (gas and basic maintenance i.e. oil changes, wiper replacement, filters, washer fluid, etc)
  • Fuel and energy costs (heating, cooking, etc)
  • Connectivity (cell phone, Skype, Hulu, Office 365, etc)
  • Groceries
  • Subscriptions (motor club, Escapees, Costco, Amazon Prime, etc.)
  • Entertainment and miscellaneous

Here are how things are shaping up for the first 9 months of vagabonding:

Campsite / motel fees

Camping fees

Campsite fees are pretty good for 2015. 2016? Not so much.

I’ve got a good handle on these expenses through the middle of March 2016 since I’ve picked out all my spots and have made most of the reservations. The only things I haven’t booked yet are two campsites (which will be taken care of the beginning of next week) and a few motels where the trip between campsites is longer than I wanted to drive in one day. For the first nine months, the average cost per night will be about $16.50 or around $500 a month. That’s pretty good. I’ll have paid about $1,200 up front for deposits on the 2015 campsite visits, but will have to continue laying down deposits on future campsites as I go along. My budget assumes that after June, I’ll have to pay about $150 every month for deposits on future campsite visits. So from a cash standpoint, those two will wash out this year. (Next year? I’ll get to that.)

Auto expenses

I’ve calculated mileage from campsite to campsite and it comes to about 4,600 miles. I’ve added an average of 500 miles/month for other driving (weekly grocery shopping, the occasional “touristy” visit, etc) for a total of about 9,200 miles. I’m estimating the Azera’s gas mileage at 18 MPG in the flatlands and 16 MPG in mountainous areas and have used $2.75/gallon for pricing. That works out to about $160 / month. Add $100 for car insurance and $40 for basic maintenance – that’s $300 month for my car.

Fuel and energy costs

A mini-propane tank

This little tank stands 13 inches high and holds 2.5 gallons of propane

For the first nine months, I won’t have to use my generator. I’m still going to bring it along just in case there’s a problem somewhere down the road. The budget is based on using propane heat this winter even though the campsites provide electricity. I’m buying two small propane tanks (capacity 11 lbs – about 2.5 gallons of propane per tank). One tank is the equivalent of about 10 of the small camping canisters typically used on a Coleman stove and provides approximately 250,000 BTU’s.  That’ll be enough to cook two meals a day for two weeks. The propane heater will operate for about 60 hours per canister, too. I’ll use one tank for meals – the other tank will only be used during winter to power the heater.

Based on the above, I’m budgeting two fill-ups per month during the summer (for cooking) and an additional 2-4 fill-ups during the winter (for heat) at $12.50 per fillup.

Electric is included in the campsite costs except for two locations where I’ll be for a total of 2+ months and I’ve added $35/month average to cover that cost. It’ll be used to power the Foreman grill, the laptop and other miscellaneous gear … it’ll also be used for backup heat.

The other big cost is firewood. And that could get expensive. A $5 bundle of firewood might light a campfire for a couple of hours a night. I’m not going to be Grizzly Adams here, so I’ve budgeted 3 campfires / week, which is probably on the high side.

Based on all of the above, I’ve estimated that my fuel costs are going to run about $100/month during the summer, $150/month in the fall and $200/month during winter. Since I”ll have the electric heater, I think these are really conservative numbers. (Let me know if you’d like more info on how I ran the calculations … I’ll be glad to give them to you.)

Connectivity

I’m upping my cell phone plan to provide 3GB of data once I’m on the road. Most of the camps have Wifi, but I don’t know how good it’s going to be, so I might have to upload photos to the blog via phone. I’ll also keep my Skype number as well as my subscription to Office 365. Oh yeah, then there’s my low-tech connectivity … it’ll cost about $8/month for my mail forwarding service. That all adds up to $145/month.

Data usage is one area I’m going to have to look at once I get on the road. I’ve realized that I’m not going to be able to watch Red Sox games on the road (unless the camp I’m in is going to offer cable hookups and they happen to be on). So in order to get my Red Sox fix, I’ve decided to buy a SiriusXM boom box along with an annual “All Access” package that will let me listen to any MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL game. (See “Subscriptions” below).

Groceries

The Grizzly 40

The Grizzly 40 is even designed to withstand bear attacks!

This is where I’ve not been very scientific in the budget. I’m going with $400/month to cover food, miscellaneous paper products, ice and other sundry items. Oh yeah, chew sticks. Frank reminded me not to forget the chew sticks!

I’m investing in a high-end cooler- the Grizzly 40, which should help quite a bit. It’ll keep ice for over 6 days. (I think I said in another post that it would keep 9-10 days but that’s not right. I’ve looked at a number of coolers and got mixed up on which one was chosen.) Its inside dimensions are 18″x11″x12″. Get out your tape measure – that’s a big cooler! Even with ice, it should hold 4-5 chicken breasts, 4-5 pounds of meat, a carton of eggs, some milk and butter … certainly enough space to cool a week’s worth of food.. I wanted something like this so that I only had to go shopping once a week and avoid paying “convenience store prices”.

Can I take care of Frank and my needs on $100/week? I’m pretty sure we can. It’ll take some planning (and me doing a better job with my diet), but that’s what I’m going to go with right now.

Annual Subscriptions

These include memberships to Costco, Amazon Prime, AARP, and AAA auto club. It also includes a membership in Escapees RV club, the company that’s allowing me to use their address to set up domicile in Texas. I’m going to buy a subscription to SiriusXM Radio, too.  This will provide entertainment *cough* (Red Sox radio) *cough* without using up bandwidth. The Amazon Prime membership will enable me to stream any of their “Prime” videos at no additional charge. I don’t know how well that’s going to work, but I’ll figure that out within the first month or so. The total for all of these is $575 / year.

Miscellaneous

I’ve thrown in a baseline of $100/month for miscellaneous stuff. It’s not a lot, but then, I’m not planning on spending a lot. A new box of AA batteries from Costco here and there. Bait. Frank may find a collie and want to treat her to a bowl of Alpo or something. He’s going to need his rabies shots, too. Oh yeah, I’ve upped that monthly allotment by $200/month for the summer as well. Maybe Frank and I will visit a place with an entrance fee, or I might see a package of fishing flies I’d like to try out. And since I’ll be in Colorado, I plan on buying a few “edibles” here and there (you know what they say … “When in Colorado, do as the Coloradans do!”).

Total

$ 4,775 – campsite / motel fees
$ 2,725 – auto expenses
$ 1,375 – fuel and energy costs
$ 1,300 – connectivity
$ 3,600 – groceries
$    575 – subscriptions
$ 1,450 – entertainment and miscellaneous

$15,800 – grand total … which compares to ….

$15,800 – Monthly social security benefits at $1,760/month.  That wasn’t a plug.  Just a REALLY good guess!

So, that does it. Assuming I keep to this budget, I’ve reached my goal … except …

Medical

Healthcare!

Healthcare costs – Yuck!

I’ve not included anything in here for insurance or medical expenses. Right now, monthly health insurance is running $175, but it’s a South Carolina plan. I’ll have to convert it to a Texas plan once I set up domicile there. And even so, most of the plans available through the healthcare.gov website are HMO’s and PPO’s which won’t give me much benefit when I’m on the road. So I’ve decided that I won’t buy health insurance for the last half of 2015 and instead pay the $800 tax penalty I’ll incur as a result. However, that will change for 2016.

In 2016, my only income will be from Social Security and whatever I take out of my IRA. Based on that, I’ll qualify for a hefty premium reduction.

I did some research and discovered that Blue Cross … the company providing insurance through the Texas Healthcare exchange … offers a multi-state plan which includes $40 copays across the country (so long as I go to a doctor that is part of the national Blue Cross network). It has a $4,750 deductible but after that’s used up, the plan would pay 100% of my medical expenses.

The cost? $4,200 / year, which would have to come out of my nest egg. Unless I come up with some other income, that alone will exhaust my savings in about 12 years. In all honesty, I don’t plan on living that long, but who knows? So, I’m going to have to figure out how to make some money on the road.

I have some fantasy scenarios. They include being able to somehow make money off this blog at some point, whether it’s commissions from camping equipment sales via links to Amazon, discounts for campsite reviews, or figuring out some premium content I could offer for a small subscription price. I’ve even fantasized about being able to sell some of my photography, whether it’s at flea markets I go to or some other means. But I’ll have to figure out something for the long haul.

After February 2016 …

It gets even bleaker … at least for 2016. If I go through with my plans to head back through the northeast and back down south to Florida for the winter, I’m going to see my campground fees go up, probably by as much as $350/month! Those costs won’t be offset by penny-pinching in other areas of the budget, and my Social Security COLA adjustment will only cover about 10% of the increase! So that just puts added pressure on figuring out some way to make money on the road.

It’s not going to stop me from moving forward, but it means I’m going to have to start thinking about what I can do to bring in about $700/month beginning next year. Either that, or I’ll have to curtail my travel plans and/or confine them to a smaller region of the country. I’m not ready to do that just yet.

I guess that’s progress, though. A month ago, I was planning on spending my nest egg and then walking into the ocean when I ran out of money. Now I’m talking about living for a while. Who knows … maybe I’ll get out on the road, start feeling better and then decide to take on some small consulting gigs here and there again. But first things first.

I don’t know what I’m going to write about tomorrow. I’m about done with the planning and I’ve made pretty much all my reservations. But I’ll figure something out!

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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Planning

 

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