Friday, June 27, 2008

Putting a Price on Paradise

Intensely blue sky, little puffy white clouds, sagebrush and pine. That’s the picture out of my dining room window. There are days I can look out and see mountain goats climbing around on the hilltop and pretty well every day I can see big groups of quail running around and Stellar’s Jays flying from fencepost to tree branch. In late May the big hedges of lilacs were in full bloom, scenting the air.

This is why I love the country. This is why I want to retire here and grow lavender and grapes and have a big English style garden. I’m happier here than anywhere else, which is no small thing in life.

But there are bills to pay to make that happen and it seems there are more of them every time I turn around. I got my Rural Property Tax assessment the last time I was here and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was only $123. I got here yesterday and discovered the reason it’s so low is that the garbage disposal costs had been removed and billed separately, along with the water. Now, the water I knew about but the extra $120 bill for the garbage was unexpected.

The property tax is due in July; the garbage bill is due in August. I’ll manage to dig up the money for them but after that I’ll have to start putting $20/month away so I’ll be prepared next year.

The water is a flat rate of $345 per year or $28.75 per month. I become responsible for that in October and will have to pay it monthly. So, my costs for this house, including the cost of the land, will be a total of $257 per month plus electricity (and gas, if we ever find a gasfitter to get the fireplace hooked up). Add to that the cost of fuel oil (about $50/month, based on a little under 2 tanks per year) and we’re paying $307 per month for our little slice of heaven.

That would be incredibly economical if we were living here full-time (even though our electric bill would go up and we’d end up putting in satellite and high speed internet) but it’s a bit pricey for the amount of time we actually spend here. We can’t spend long stretches of time here due to work and childcare issues plus the cost of gasoline has increased dramatically since we first started looking for property.

The car takes roughly 50 litres of gas and we use 1½ tanks on average actually driving here and back, plus driving around while we’re here. When gas was $0.79/litre our cost was $59.25. Gas is currently around $1.45/litre, so the same trip now costs $108.75! It hasn’t quite doubled, but it’s getting close. And coming by myself on the Greyhound costs $118.76, so I don’t save any money that way.

I’d love to come here every weekend in the summer and every 2 to 3 weeks in the winter (when we can generally only stay for one day). But the reality is that I can’t possibly afford to do so. We’ve been spending close to $10/day for gas in town recently, or about $250/month. Add even 2 trips to the house per month and that brings our gas expenses to almost $470/month! Coming every week would run us a stunning $700 per month! That is so not possible for us.

Now, we are going to try to cut back somewhat in town but it remains to be seen how much we’ll be able to save there. If we can save $5 per workday that would be about $110 per month (the equivalent of one trip to the house) but we’d also have to pay for a bus pass out of that, so our real saving would be about $40 per month.

What’s the solution? In the short term, it’s to make more money and use the cash to pay the credit cards back down. Once we no longer have payments to make to them we’ll be able to redirect the money we’re spending there in other, more life-enhancing ways. I also want to find ways to reduce the cost of some other things, notably our cell phones and bank charges. I was stunned to realize that bank charges on our 3 bank accounts (well, four, but ING doesn’t have any charges) total a minimum of $42.35 per month! If I actually use my overdraft protection I also pay overdraft interest but that’s the least of my worries. The last time I used it, I was charged a whole $0.12! Twelve cents I can handle, but paying just over $500 per year merely to have our bank accounts is outrageous.

In the long term, the solution is to arrange our lives so that we can move here permanently. That’s not something I expect to happen overnight. We’re scheduled to retire in 15 or 16 years and that would be the longest time before we could move here. The minimum would be 4 years (when my youngest granddaughter will go to kindergarten full-time) but the most realistic assessment is probably about 8 years from now when our youngest Dear Child will be entering high school. At that point it’s fairly likely we’d be sending her away to school anyway so where we live matters much less.

Even if there is a suitable girls high school in our city by that time she could potentially stay in the city with her sister (seeing as we live in the same house already anyway) while we lived in the country and we’d bring her back and forth every other weekend or so and she could spend the summer and other holiday times with us.

So, I’m facing eight more years of living my life in bits and pieces. Can I handle that? I guess I can deal with fragmenting my life so long as the costs to do so don’t increase too much more. But I look out at the sunshine and that beautiful blue sky and, for now, it’s worth it!

I’m off to relax before Shabbat, which doesn’t start until just after 9 pm tonight (the latest it ever gets). We’re having an easy dinner. Honey garlic chicken wings that will just take a few minutes to reheat, potato salad and coleslaw tonight. Roast beef on challah buns with potato salad and chips tomorrow (when it’s supposed to be very hot). I’ll pick up a bottle of wine on my way home now from posting this, so I’m not sure what I’ll get. The liquor store here does stock a number of kosher Israeli wines but I don’t know what’s actually on the shelves at the moment.

Shabbat Shalom!

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