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Unexpected expenses

When we stop in urban areas for a few days, it’s usually to catch up on errands, maintenance, and practical things like work. Tampa has been a favorite stopping point for us over the years because we have so many friends here, including my associate Brett (I like calling him “associate” because it seems mysterious, like he’s mobbed up). Our friends help us get things done in a hurry so we can get back on the road, kind of like having a pit crew.

This time the major task was to get the “new” old Honda ready for a 1500-mile trek up to its retirement life in Vermont. I thought it was all set today but we got zapped by bad luck. I took it into a tire shop to get two new tires put on the rear axle, and once the car was on the hydraulic life they discovered that the right front wheel bearing was very loose and needed immediate replacement.

Not being born yesterday, I took the car back and did some research of my own, but it soon became clear that they were giving me the straight poop, so back it went to a different shop for the wheel bearing replacement. Once the car was disassembled, they discovered why the bearings were bad: a prior owner had replaced the right axle (half-shaft) with a new one that was slightly too long. They forced it to “fit”, which bent parts of it, and caused the bearings to fail. The cheap car got a lot less cheap today.

Without local friends this process would have taken a lot longer, been much more worrisome, and probably cost me more than it did. Full-timing doesn’t really mean you’re utterly independent of everything and everyone; on the contrary, you’re more dependent than ever, or at least more aware of your dependence. We do get by on the kindness of strangers and friends sometimes.

That, and credit cards. Our expenses are usually moderate, but when problems crop up, there’s nothing like a high-limit credit card and a zero starting balance to smooth out the bumps. I have known a few people who went out on the road without first resolving their financials, and they’ve all discovered that it is a serious mistake. You want plenty of credit handy and as little debt as possible when you drive out the driveway, because like anything else, you need a safety margin.

The unusually high expenses we’ve had lately (tires, car repairs, higher fuel costs) are definitely hurting our budget. When that happens, our answer is to slow down, or pause for a while in an inexpensive place. We can reduce our traveling budget dramatically when we want to. We aren’t forced to drive around at 41 cents per mile.

Still, we have promised to get to Vermont by June. Since we have three weeks to do it, we have some options which will cut our budget painlessly. First, we can look for courtesy parking opportunities along our route, and stay for 1-3 days at each one. Courtesy parking each night is like getting a half-tank of gas free (or at least it used to be, now it’s more like 1/3 of a tank).

Second, we can drive more slowly. At 60 MPH we can cut our fuel budget by 10% or more. I talked about this a few days ago.

Third, we can get to Vermont earlier and start courtesy parking there. If we drive with the minimum number of stops along the way, we can cut a week or two out of the travel plan, potentially saving hundreds of dollars. Eleanor and I will be talking about this over the next few days to develop a strategy.

We could even go nuts and cut out a splurge from our trip plan. The obvious thing here is our upcoming stop at Disney World. But instead of deleting too much fun, we’ll probably take one of the less painful options. Courtesy parking with new friends is always fun. And driving slower is hardly a big sacrifice when riding around in a big comfortable car with the iPod playing and the scenery of America going by.


Trip update: Today Susan and Adam broke off to get to Disney World a couple of nights early. They haven’t been there in ten years and were really looking forward to going. We had taken them to Tarpon Springs a few nights earlier (above), and last night had a big group dinner with all our local friends, so they had some fun in the Tampa area before they left. We’ll catch up with them on Thursday.

I’ve just been working (and wrestling with car #3) for the past few days, so we’ve had minimal adventures. Emma has been working on school stuff with Eleanor cracking the whip periodically. We’re all trying to get things done so we can feel very justified in completely dropping everything for a few days at Disney.