Having just wrapped up over three weeks of moving from one apartment to another, mobility is fresh on my mind. It’s also fresh in the minds of many personal finance thinkers, who are once again considering renting as a very attractive alternative to buying.
People like renting for a number of reasons, including the relatively low and predictable costs, and the freedom that comes with a lease. It means you can move at will, leave the country, or explore different experiences.
I have to admit that I’m very intrigued by the whole idea, and my long-lived dream of owning a home has had some gentle breaking applied to it.
But then I moved, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were cheaper rent and a better location. Both promised to save us a boatload of money every month, in hard living costs (rent, water, cable, power) and some of the more flexible things (fuel, daycare, and even groceries).
During the whole experience, my first move as a part-time personal finance writer, I began to notice a few things:
- The moving process, which lasted a little over three weeks, was more physically and emotionally challenging than any before, particularly with our new baby.
- We ate out more than usual, because of a lack of our regular food source (well-stocked fridge), our usual supplies (knives, cutting boards, plates), and time (which was spent unpacking and carrying things from place to place).
- Every home presents new challenges: from new window curtains, to furniture that is either too big or too small, to kitchen appliances that are either duplicated or needed anew (in our case, the microwave). And if you’re design-biased, like we are, you’ll want to paint every new place you move into.
- There are little costs, the things that added up much quicker than anticipated, like shower rods, fridge filters, and closet supports.
- There are costs associated with moving itself. In our case, we relocated only three miles, and had family to help, so there was no need to hire movers or rent a truck. But we had to pay the gas for many moving trips, buy people lunch, and thank others with gifts.
- The utility company, cable company, and others wanted to get paid for reconnecting our service, too!
- Our old and new leases overlapped by about two weeks, both by necessity to secure the new apartment and to…once again…maintain our sanity. That meant two weeks of double payments for utilities and rent!
- In addition to all the hard costs of moving, three weeks of our lives and 95% of our flexible time was spent on moving activities. Could that time have been better spent? What is the opportunity cost?
It turns out moving is a lot more expensive than I ever cared to realize in the past! Are all these expenses worth the ability to lead a more mobile lifestyle, one filled with options, rather than being “settled down?”
I think there are two major counter-arguments to my line of thinking that most people would think of immediately:
- But I don’t move that often, I just like the option. True, but the average person moves something like 16 times during their lifetime, and that includes stable homeowners. Can we ignore the reality of averages?
- I can “frugalize” my mobile lifestyle. Also true, but you can equally frugalize a non-mobile lifestyle. If you can cut 30% off your living costs, then you can do it in any setting.
Is a simple rent vs. buy analysis too straightforward for the realities of life? I think so. It would be foolish not to include the true cost of mobility in our abstract calculations.
What do you think?
Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks says
I think there are other intangibles that make me lean to the owning standpoint. Owners are typically more proud of the spaces they own. They take care of their homes. They try to instill peace amongst neighbors. And as a result, there’s a desire to stay put longer. When I rented, I always knew my neighbors would change and I might not like them, so why not be the first mover.
Secondly, because I became a proud home owner, I began using my kitchen more (eating out less) and hosting get-togethers more (going out to bars less). Both of those things translate into huge monetary savings over time.
So, just because I might be spending a little more to be a homeowner doesn’t mean I’d change it for the world. Oh and by the way, our home was just appraised this past week and it’s value has actually increased over the past couple years. Don’t believe everything you read about real estate values falling even more.
The key to making the mobile lifestyle easy is minimalism! This is definitely NOT the time to own a house as prices will continue to fall as will rental prices.
We sold our home , “stuff” and vehicles in 2006 and it was one of the smartest choices that we have made.
I write this from a gorgeous, new 3 bedroom,2 bath furnished home in Spain with spectacular Med sea views that I’ve rented all winter ( warm & sunny!) for peanuts ( and have had other equally nice ones the last 4 years.
There are places like this all over the world, so if you have a mobile lifestyle it makes a LOT more sense to rent a furnished place. Next winter we will do it in Malaysia for even less so that my child can immerse deeply in her Mandarin Chinese in local schools there.
We’ve rented places in many countries. It sure works for our family!
Richard @ Debt Assistance Guru says
I have moved more times than I care to remember and I agree totally that it is expensive. My partner and I were considering moving again recently to a cheaper part of the country which would free up more cash each month and give us a better lifestyle as a result. But when we actually added up the costs of moving it would be months and months before we actually really saved any money. We decided we’re happy where we are and as if by magic she just landed a killer job here that we wouldn’t have been able to take if we were moving away.
Wojciech Kulicki says
Good for you! “Lower costs” are definitely appealing and that’s what lured us in, but in the end like you said, it takes months if not years to recover those “savings.”
I agree that moving is an emotionally and physically draining experience. This move, we wound up having a three week gap where we are technically homeless and living on a friend’s couch, while leaving nearly every single thing we own in a storage unit. Moving out required coordinating friends to find the rare times when everybody was free and then we will have to do it all over again in two weeks.
In college, move-in/move-out was a big adventure, but all of my worldly possessions fit in my Corrola hatchback. I think that living a mobile lifestyle is something that requires you to be a minimalist and to convince (I would say delude, but that’s my opinion) yourself that you don’t need regular creature comforts like waking up in the same bed, not having to fish your toothpaste out of your bag in the morning, etc.
Wojciech Kulicki says
Ouch! We went through something similar 4 years ago, and it’s definitely not fun having to move twice in such a short span!
Agree completely about the minimalism to make this work–it’s just not feasible for the “average person.” That and being relatively content with whatever your new surroundings bring, enough to avoid going shopping for new stuff every time you move.
Thanks for commenting!
Adventure-Some Matthew says
My wife and I have recently been looking at rental units, slightly bigger ones that our current apartment. While I love the idea of having a bit more space and some quieter neighbors, I dread the process of moving. Actually packing up, transporting, and unpacking doesn’t bother me too much, it’s all the other things. Things like: reconnecting utilities, buying new curtains/blinds, having to add/subtract furniture, new decorations, etc. All the stuff you mentioned and so much more. To me, that headache won’t be worth it unless we just love the place we find, or it’s a significant cost savings. Not to mention that a bigger place will cost more to heat and cool.
Wojciech Kulicki says
Yes, we are definitely on the same page. Moving actually helped me get some much-needed work-out time, but it’s all the other shopping and computer time that I absolutely dread. Oh, and dealing with the U.S. Postal Service.
Brandon Pearcr says
Most of those expenses and hassle listed could be eliminated by selling your furniture and unnecessary possessions beforehand and moving into furnished rentals. But this is yet another lifestyle. 🙂
Wojciech Kulicki says
Indeed, Brandon. 🙂 I am curious as to the actual availability of furnished rentals. In our area, I would have to say I’ve only ever come across one or two units that were available furnished. I believe both were single family homes, which is probably too large for most people’s needs.
During my last apartment search in the Northern Virginia area (about 1.5 years ago) I had trouble finding apartments/rooms that were unfurnished. There’s lots available if you don’t want do drag furniture around.
And as someone who is very happy not to be a homeowner any longer, I’d say not to discount the stress and irritation of being trapped living somewhere you don’t want to be any more, just because you can’t sell the house.