Today's economy

Frugality and cottage life

By Kevin Press,

Comments (10)

Image of a man relaxing enjoying cottage life.“He’s so tight, he squeaks when he walks.”

I don’t think my sister-in-law was talking about me on Saturday night, but the fact that I entered the room in perfect time with “squeaks when he walks” did strike me as well-timed.

I am cheap, it’s true. For years, I wrapped gifts in newsprint. I never used a daily, mind you; it was always the free entertainment weekly for my friends and family. (I’d still do so if it were socially acceptable at 45.)

Witness the following conversation between the Lovely Lisa and me, on our way up to my brother and sister-in-law’s cottage this weekend.

Lisa: It’s good to get out of the city, to enjoy nature.

Me: We’ve got plenty of nature at home. Did you see what the raccoons did to the recycling bin? This trip is costing us $100 in food, another $20 in beer. And I just filled the tank at $1.248 a litre. It could have been worse, too. My brother wanted me to buy you and the kids lifejackets so we could take a ride in his new boat. I told him we’d be just fine in our lawn chairs.

Lisa: This will be good for you.

Me: Guaranteed I’m coming home with a sunburn and more mosquito bites that I started with. I just don’t understand cottage weekends. Why drive two hours so you can get sand in your shoes?

Lisa: It’s about downtime.

Me: (At this point, I felt I was on a bit of a roll. So if what follows makes me sound obstinate, please don’t judge.) Let’s talk about how we’re investing our time this weekend. Add up the hours we spent shopping, preparing food, packing and now driving, and I’ll bet you get something close to the amount of downtime we have ahead of us. That sounds like a poor return on human capital to me.

Lisa: Chill out, grumpy-pants. Maybe you’ll get a blog post out of it.

I’m not wholly antagonistic toward the cottage experience. But they can be a bit of a money pit. Leave aside the tax and estate planning implications, which can be complicated, to say the least. Considered simply from the perspective of frugality, cottages can derail even the most carefully designed budget.

You plan for the mortgage, and maybe even a couple of DIY projects. But then you start looking at toys: the boat, the water skis, that inflatable five-seater that has more cup holders than a minivan. Pretty soon you’re keeping up with the Joneses in two neighbourhoods.

Frugality and cottage life aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, of course. Like any other real estate investment, you can earn a decent return under the right circumstances. It’s all in the planning, and in your ability to stick to that plan. If you’ve figured it out, please share.

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Santa on

Yeh… you’re cheap all right !! :-))

jon on

I was one of those kids who got to enjoy a cabin from a baby on up. Now, of my sibs, I’m really the only one around who can take care of it. I was the kid who grew up not wanting to be around my parents in my teen years, wanted to bring up friends in my early 20s and am now I’m 39 with a 5yr old and one year old. My time there at the cabin now is to work mostly but also I get some short moments with my wife and kids and visiting neighbours in between work projects. When I want a vacation, I get on a cruise ship where just about everything is done for me. When I’m at the family cabin, its to give back and do for others as so much was done for me so I could enjoy an experience out of the city – boating, bbq’ing, sun tanning, swimming and playing in the water, building things, learning how motors, boats, dinghy boats work and how to fix things and be a gracious host to others.

detent on

One of my favourite memories is driving a boat at a cottage at the age of 12. Denying your kids these memories because you’re too cheap to buy some lifejackets, well, I just don’t have words for someone like that. And who else do you think they were talking about when you walked into the room and all conversation stopped?

Gerard Pittman on

Kevin, I can understand where you’re coming from, however I do own a cottage and spend almost every weekend there when I can. Even if it’s raining. Its not the nicest cottage on the lake, but it has everything i need. 3 bedrooms, full kitchen and amenities. I bought it 5 years ago when my investments tanked in the economic downturn. I pulled my money out and invested in a cottage. Yes, itncosts me money to go there, but it is down time. My place to get a way. I am married and have two young boys, and the memories that have been created in those last 5 years have made every bit worth it. Friends, family gatherings, sitting by the fire, playing guitars, watching the kids fish are things that last forever. When kids think back to their childhood, this is the stuff they remember. Eventually my kids will get older and may not want to hang around, but that’s expected…. It won’t happen at home either. Then they’ll get to an older age where they will want to come back again because of those memories……

After I bought, yes we did invest in some toys, ie: boat, towables, etc…. But that’s part of the game. You can be frugal all you want, but money doesn’t last forever and you can’t take it with you. Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so to me it’s important to enjoy what you have , enjoy the people you have and make the best of our time here. You can be cheap and frugal and watch the raccoons in your garbage, and maybe that’s what you like to do, but there are cheap ways to enjoy yourself at a cottage. I just renewed my 5 year mortgage on my cottage. The amount it’s worth now is much more than I paid for it including what I have spent to date on toys. It’s tough to find a place on a nice lake, and you just can’t build one if you wanted to. For me initially it was an investment in money, but at the end of the day, the good times, and the ability to just unwind 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from the city is the most amazing part of it. Life is short!

    kevinpress on

    Thanks Gerard, I’m glad to hear you and your family are enjoying your cottage. I’m not sure that any real estate investment provides the same kind of return on investment that a balanced portfolio will, but as you rightly point out, you can’t take it with you. It sounds like you and your family are getting full value out of the cottage.

    For my part, I’m working on the grumpy pants thing. I might even buy a lifejacket.

Susan on

“It’s all in the planning, and in your ability to stick to that plan.”

So true! It’s easy to get swept up in the appeal of cottage life and make an emotional decision to buy a cottage, especially after a positive experience visiting someone else’s. But I think the key is to be really clear about the specific reasons you want a cottage, how you plan to use it now and into the future (e.g., as your kids get to the age where you’re an embarrassment to be around) and whether you’re viewing it as a financial investment or a quality of life investment (probably both, but to what degree is each important?).

For my friends who own their own business and only know on short notice when they can get away, buying a cottage made sense. They bought in a location where prices are moderate, and consciously chose to make the purchase for quality of life reasons, with little emphasis on financial return. For our situation where we book our vacations well in advance, we decided renting made more sense, since there seemed to be little certainty that a cottage was a good financial investment for us and our overall financial goals, and we didn’t want to double-up on the ongoing maintenance-type of chores associated with home and cottage ownership: We can barely keep up with yard work at home, and we do most of it on weekends… you know, when you, in theory, go to the cottage… where there would also be yard work to be done. I love sand in my shoes, but buying a cottage just didn’t make sense for us.

As to your question, Kevin, I think there is nothing innately frugal about having a cottage. But as to how you live the cottage life frugally, it’s just as you said: it’s all in the planning. Let’s take the food example. I grew up in a cottage area, and I can tell you that my mother never bought groceries at the local convenience store, because, as the owner herself would say, you pay for the convenience. (And the cost of convenience was greater than the cost of gas to drive to an actual grocery store where you didn’t pay twice as much for bananas.) So if frugality is your priority, you do need to plan ahead so you don’t end up paying convenience prices. Now I am also a firm believer in supporting local businesses. So I would say, in the interest of frugality, plan ahead; in the interest of local businesses being there for you when you need them, support them by making some of your purchases locally.

    kevinpress on

    Thanks Susan. I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses. My family and I live in the city, so there are several retailers within a five- or 10-minute walk that we like to support. One of my favourites is a hardware store. It’s packed floor to ceiling with just about everything you could possibly need. And the owner is always around to help. I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about big box stores (positive or negative). But I do genuinely appreciate the businesses in our neighbourhood. Especially in this economy.

Vacationing in B.C. on

Interesting blog post. I think you may be looking at the cottage experience, or “going to the cabin”, as we say in B.C, the wrong way. Vacation is a necessary expense if you work. You need to take time out to sharpen the saw, as Stephen Covey likes to say. So cottage time, whether you own it, or whether you’re visiting, is a vacation expense. The question is not whether it’s cheaper than staying home. Of course it’s not, but you’re not as likely to get the downtime you need at home either. The question is, is it cheaper than going somewhere else you’d like to go on vacation and paying for a hotel and airfare and a rental car, etc. In other words, what’s it going to cost you to get the downtime you need?

    kevinpress on

    Thanks Vacationing.This is exactly the right question. If you compare a year’s worth of weekend trips to the cabin with an annual vacation (complete with travel, accommodation, etc.), the numbers will speak for themselves.

    Personally speaking, I’m a lot more relaxed on my front porch than I am in my brother’s lawn chair. But that has less to do with finances than it does my distaste for sand-filled shoes.

Michelle Smyth on

“Chill out, grumpy-pants. Maybe you’ll get a blog post out of it.” I like Lisa. A LOT.:)

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