“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.
Are you a cottage owner?
Get tips on how to pass it on without tearing apart your family in How to prevent family cottage feuds.
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