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THE OUTRAGEOUS PRICE OF CONVENIENCE

convenience

Would you spend 800% more for a product or service in order to gain a 10-15% improvement to your level of comfort or convenience?

The truth for most people is that they would think nothing of this sort of behaviour.  It happens all the time.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons people find themselves stuck financially.  We live in a culture that has become programmed to spend exponentially more money on products and services in order to make minor improvements to luxury or convenience.

If we look at this in reverse, one of the most effective ways to transform your financial situation is by sacrificing some of that convenience in order to save significant amounts of money.

To illustrate, I’ll use a favourite past time of millions of North Americans, myself included….camping!

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Allow me to detail a typical scene of our family arriving at a campground.  We pull in with our 2005 Toyota Sienna, towing our late 90’s vintage pop up tent trailer.  The five of us hop out and spring into action…well, my wife and I spring into action that is.  Our kids are usually quick to grab their bikes and take off, exploring the park.

All of this is ok to my wife, as she prefers having space to work and not be tripping over people.  Until everything is put together, she is a woman on a mission.

Once the tent trailer is disconnected and levelled, we crank up the top shell and pull out the beds at either end.  My wife works from inside and begins organizing things that were transported in our van, while I make the exterior connections, propane, electricity, water etc.

It takes about 30 minutes and a small amount of elbow grease and we’re good to go.

Kings of Convenience

The tenants in the adjoining campsite have just arrived.  Their camping arrangement is a tad more premium than that of the Mystery Money family.

A shiny, black GMC Sierra is backing in with a travel trailer that must be about 30 feet long.  Both truck and camper look as though they’re no more than a couple years old.  Camping doesn’t get much more luxurious.

The RV has two large slide outs, and without a doubt comes equipped with comforts such as air conditioning, a big screen TV and a bathroom w/ shower.  Heck, it may even have granite countertops.

We’ve clearly got some big spenders as neighbours!

Across the park we’re a clear minority with our tent trailer.  There are a few others scattered around.  There’s even the odd brave soul who dared to camp in a (gasp), tent!

But overwhelmingly, the campground is filled with newer pick-ups towing large 5th wheels or travel trailers equipped with all of the modern conveniences of home.

Now, let’s take a look at the cost difference between the Mystery Money and “Big Spender” camping set ups:

Mystery Money Family

2005 Toyota Sienna     $6700.00 (cash purchase in 2013)

1998  Dutchmen Tent Trailer   $2000.00 (cash purchase in 2012)

————

Total cost of equipment $8700.00

Big Spender Family

Almost New Pick Up $45,000.00 (approximate cost to purchase new)

Almost new Travel Trailer   25,000.00 (approximate cost of a new 28-32 ft. RV)

————

Total cost $70,000.00

There’s a high likelihood that the Big Spender family has financed the truck and the camper.  This would add thousands of dollars of interest costs, but for this illustration I’m only using an average purchase price for the sake of comparison.

Let’s see how much more expensive the Big Spender’s approach to camping is than mine:

$70,000 /  $8,700 = 804%

In this scenario, the ‘new truck and ridiculously luxurious trailer’ camping experience cost over 800% more than my Mystery Money family van and used tent trailer adventure.

That’s a HUGE difference.  For someone to be willing to spend that much more money to camp at the same campground, they must be gaining an incredible amount of comfort and convenience!

Not quite.  I would estimate that my campsite neighbours enjoy 10-15% of added convenience for all of their additional expense.

What are the advantages to their trailer vs. mine?

To me the obvious one is that it’s easier to prepare prior to a camping trip.  A trailer built with hard walls allows you to leave it set up when you get home, and store supplies in advance of leaving, without the hassle of setting up or tearing down.

The other added convenience is that you are more comfortable in poor weather.  It easier to spend a rainy afternoon in a large camper than a pop-up.

But tent trailers have some distinct benefits as well.  They typically sleep more people, with many sleeping up to 7 comfortably.  A lot of travel trailers can only sleep 4 or 5.

Also, by uncovering the large screened walls of the camper, you have plenty of airflow throughout, which is very nice on a humid afternoon or night.  It also helps you feel as though you’re more a part of the outdoors.

Here’s the thing.  When people are camping, they are outside 90% of the time.  They really only go inside the camper to sleep, and perhaps to prepare food.

Also, the restrooms and showers in many campgrounds in this day and age are so spacious and modern that even campers with fancy trailers choose to use the campsites facilities.

In many cases, the pick up truck was purchased solely for the purpose of towing the camper 5 or 10 times per year.  Meanwhile, my minivan is my family vehicle, and has the advantage of having much lower operating costs year round.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of pick up trucks.  If you want to read more about what a terrible investment they are, feel free to read my earlier post, “YOUR PICK UP TRUCK IS DRIVING YOU TO THE POORHOUSE”.

Summary

My campsite neighbours are paying over 800% more money to enjoy a camping experience that might be 10-15% more luxurious than mine.

Question: 

I’d love to hear from readers on this one.  What things have you spent extra on in order to be more comfortable.  What does the cost vs. added comfort ratio look like?  

Comments 30

  1. First off, you got so many good nuggets in here. Secondly, I’m glad I came back. The first time I came, I just read. But I think I can share now, and be vulnerable.

    My wife and I spent extra on a van for convinience. I say that because there is really no financially benefit for paying the kind of money for it.

    We couldn’t come to an agreement so one of us gave in. It came to a point it wasn’t beneficial for our connection and marriage in general.

    Hopefully a lesson is learned from it, so it doesn’t happen again.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. You got awesome resources here. A lot of people will benefit from it, so keep it coming!

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      Francis, thanks so much for sharing, it means a lot! I can relate to your van story as my wife and I did something similar a number of years back, thankfully we learned from it as well. I will have to write a blog post about that one sometime. : )

  2. I love this post! I’ve had similar thoughts rumbling around I’m my mind for months about how we pay a premium for convenience. That said, I’ve never tried to do the math – this is far worse than I imagined. Yikes!

    BTW, this makes me want to go camping. Too bad summer is all but over. Oh well, next year!

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      Thanks for sharing, Ty! Being someone who enjoys camping, it’s one of the more extreme examples of overspending that comes to mind, but there are so many more of course. I’ll have to compile a list sometime!

  3. Good stuff. We just back from camping a couple of weeks ago and this is all totally true. Distorted status symbols of the camp ground.

    My predicament. My wife won’t camp in a tent. I have two Chevy volts but they have a zero lb tow capacity. I want to get a pop up like yours but have nothing to tow it with. I’d hate to buy a cheap van for it to sit 95% of the year.

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      You make an interesting point Matt. Not everyone is willing to camp in a tent. I’m interested to know why you own two Chevy Volts. Do you and your wife both commute a substantial distance to work?

      In our situation, my wife drives the van, but she’s at home and so we don’t put much mileage on it. I drive an Elantra as my commuter car, which isn’t as thrifty on fuel as a Volt, but it’s not too bad! : )

  4. Yes, we both drive about 50 miles a day for work. I was able to pick mine up for $6900. Hers was a bit more at $9k but the prices have really dropped on them in the used market.

    Maybe a cheap conversion van from the late 90s would be the solution?

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      1. I’d love a conversion van to camp in; I am finding that they are either ways too much $$$$ or really old. We live in the city with a 2 car garage, and I really want my camper to be my main mode of team so we don’t have to store anything extra. We are using our minivan for an upcoming trip 😉

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  5. Neat post…We are actually taking the kids (5 and 1.5) on their first camping trip this weekend to one of North Georgia’s State Parks.
    My wife and I did a ton of camping before kids, and yes always in a tent, and we are ready to get back into it and share those experiences with the kids. A couple months back I got rid of my leased Prius and we bought a used Honda Odyssey (with cash of course) so now I can pull my camping trailer that my dad and I built some years ago. I use to pull it with my Jeep Wrangler before I sold it and it holds all of our camping gear, coolers, tent, canopy, and even has a firewood box.
    You are spot on with the crazy amount of money families have spent to park on the same $30 a night spot that I am on with my tent and homemade trailer.
    Last weekend we went and looked at a used popup that the local dealership had come in and while we were there we decided to look at some of the new HUGE 5th wheels that were on the lot….one had 5 slide outs, a huge entertainment room with 3 leather couches a fireplace and massive flat screen tv. This thing was like $70,000 and I have a hard time understanding why someone would want all of that stuff if they are going “camping”.
    ps. I grew up camping as a kid and most of my childhood memories are out at the lake camping in a tent or popup!

    – Chad

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      Chad, thanks for sharing! You make so many great points here. That $70,000 camper sounds pretty over-the-top. Needless to say, whoever buys that thing will also have a $50-60K fancy truck to tow it, in all likelihood. Furthermore, I would bet that your family will enjoy the weekend camping as much as anyone pulling in in one of those things! That homemade camper sounds impressive by the way. One other thing, and I’ll have to write a post about this sometime soon, but it’s hard to beat the value of a used Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. I don’t think any other vehicle can match their combination of versatility, space, reliability, power, comfort etc. Great choice!

  6. I think I may have found a solution to my camper issue.

    I could pick up a small tent trailer that only weighs about 300lbs. They are like small pop-ups that are light enough to be towed by motorcycles.

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  7. Great article! The convenience factor is very nicely illustrated by your camping example. I know we overspend on a lot of things for convenience sake. Luckily, they’re relatively small purchases. Not finding the sales on clothes, non-mustachian AC habits, not biking or walking as much as we should. Luckily we’ve stayed away from the big anchors like housing and vehicles. Your example combines the two to a certain extent, so I guess it’s not surprising most people’s priorities can get so out of whack when dealing with rec vehicles. Really enjoyed the article.

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      Hey Adam, I appreciate your thoughts! I agree, the big anchors can really drag you down! I know we fall short on the smaller things as well. The mustachian standard is pretty high! : )

  8. This is how I feel when my wife and I cruise. We always get the cheapest interior room and right across the hall from us are people with balconies. Everyone told us that we needed a balcony when we were cruising up to Alaska but my wife and I woke up early each morning and sat on the top deck. This allowed us to have 360 degrees of views instead of just the 180 degrees a balcony may offer. To my wife and I it definitely was not worth 2x extra what we paid for an interior room.

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      Hey MSM! Love it, such a great example of making a small sacrifice of convenience in order to save an enormous amount of money. I’ve never been on a cruise, but it sounds like that 360 view trumps all!

  9. I think part of it is the convenience factor, but a larger part is the image factor, or the “Keeping Up With The Joneses” factor. None of these people wants to have the least shiny, oldest, smallest anything. They see that everyone else in the campground has a huge pickup and a 5th wheel camper, so they feel that they have to have that too. They may even have a golf cart, boat, ATV, or other recreation equipment as well. What they don’t realize is that it is killing their savings and none of those assets will appreciate.

    By the way, we’re a family of tent campers. Sometimes, we’ll even *gasp* carry our equipment on our backs out into the woods! An RV or camper might be nice, but I don’t see it as camping. I see it as sleeping in a smaller version of a house that happens to be in a different place.

    Good post!

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      So true, FPF! It’s all about status in this day and age. Everyone has to outdo one another, regardless of what it is. And you’re right, tenting it is the true frugal, and likely most enjoyable way to go! 🙂

  10. I’ve been looking at these trailers recently. I walk in our neighborhood at night and I have seen one set up in someones driveway (in front of their massive house). I think the have guests staying in it! Anywho, I’m off to troll craigslist to check out my options. Thanks!! 🙂

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  11. Not only is convenience harming us financially, it’s also killing us physically. We’ve “convenienced” ourselves into a sedentary lifestyle, with horrible consequences for our health and longevity. Great stuff here.

    And rain is part of the experience! I grew up camping and take my kids camping, and we’ve never even owned a camper of any kind. It always rains, but the things that go wrong make the best experiences. 🙂

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      Carrie, thanks so much for sharing, and what a great thought! It’s so true about our sedentary lifestyles. One has to be really purposeful to maintain a healthy lifestyle in this day and age. I think you’ve given me another blog post. : )

  12. We are the tent campers. While it takes us some time to get situated, we can often rent smaller/cheaper sites as well. I think that calculating for gas costs between your setup and the neighboring campers might have widened the gap in costs even more. I’ll bet that hauling that big RV is guzzles a lot of fuel on the way to the campground!

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