Thursday, January 1, 2015

(mobile) Home Economics

"Chez Mobile" - our Cañon City abode
This past summer we moved into a late model (1999) two bedroom, 840 sq. ft. mobile home in Cañon City, Colorado. We've owned other mobiles, including one in pricey Boulder, Colorado that was the most comfortable, quiet and energy-efficient of all of the places we lived in our 2+ decades there. 

Our Boulder home was a real eye-opener for the two of us, as we like so many others were prejudiced against mobile homes to begin with, but felt forced into one due to financial constraints. The insulation and tight window and door seals in our mobile there translated into peak winter gas and electric bills under $100 combined, and our neighbors, much to our surprise and delight, turned out to be a mixture of Naropa and CU professors, savvy budget retirees, and Mexican immigrant families. 

We'd owned a conventional ranch house and a condo in Boulder and so were very familiar with typical operating and ownership costs, and were astonished at both how much more peaceful our mobile was and how much money owning it freed up for actual living. 

Boulder is also the epicenter of the cohousing movement in the U.S., and we've had friends who've lived in such places and visited several others. It's a concept and a lifestyle we find appealing, but as such places are nearly always new construction they are very expensive. Over time we've come to realize that manufactured home communities, especially some of the larger ones with more amenities, are, effectively, cohousing for the real (or at least other-than-upper class) world. Our friends and mentors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli offer a good overview of such communities here

View of the Arkansas River from Tunnel Drive in Cañon City

Cañon City is a town of 15,000 on the banks of the Arkansas river, about a 45 minute drive from Colorado Springs. It's a conservative place overall, but with a small, very visible and growing progressive community. Hiking and biking are fantastic, the climate
is the mildest in the state, and the cost of living is about as low as you'll find in any habitable place in the U.S. There are plenty of artists, good yoga teachers, a great deal of agriculture in and around town, a thriving farmer's market, and (important to us) lively Buddhist and Christian contemplative communities. 

Getting back to the economics, here are the basic numbers for our current mobile:

Purchase price: $16,000 (we got a bargain and it's easily worth 20K)
Annual taxes: $80
Monthly space rent: $245
Average combined monthly gas and electricity: $120
High-speed internet + phone: $50
Home and auto insurance (combined) : $60 per month 

We have a couple of excellent all-road bikes for workouts and getting around town on our errands, and our car is a 2006 Scion xA that gets 40 mpg on the highway - one of the (in)famous finance blogger Mr. Money Mustache's Top Ten Cars for Smart People

Prior to living in Cañon City we spent the better part of three years in México, and before that tried our luck in such low-cost domestic retirement havens as Silver City, New Mexico and Port Angeles, Washington, while also investigating numerous other options, including Tucson, Albuquerque, Bisbee, AZ and a few others. 

It would be difficult if not impossible to achieve the kind of rock-bottom low overhead I've detailed here in any of these places, due primarily to the much higher value of real estate as well as transportation costs. Mobile home space rent in, say, Tucson or Albuquerque, which are considered U.S. average cost cities, would run more like $450-550 per month. Our mobile home park is an easy 1 to 2 mile bike ride to the supermarket and the heart of downtown, with the Riverwalk off-road trail system and great road riding out our door; we could easily go for several days without getting in the car except during the worst weeks of winter. Contrast that with any of these other car-centric cities where we'd probably need - or at least often want - a car per person, and would be filling them both up with gas multiple times per month. 

We're certainly spending a bit more on food here than we did in México, but being a 45 minute drive from a Costco and Trader Joe's and having fabulous local organic produce from May-October at prices that are about a third of what they get up in Boulder go a long way towards keeping things in check. 

Our biggest concern, financially and in terms of quality of life, in returning to the U.S. from México was health care and insurance, and this remains the one area that lends a major asterisk to our hope to remain in Colorado for the long run. In México we had great catastrophic insurance for a few hundred dollars a year total for the both of us and happily paid out-of-pocket for routine doctor and dental visits at ~$20-25 a pop. Colorado is one of the better, more progressive states in terms of its embrace of ACA/Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, but all we are eligible for, due to our low income, is Medicaid, and that basically means hospital-only coverage with very poor access to doctors. Looking ahead, it's obvious with the Republicans in charge of both chambers of congress that attacks on ACA and Medicaid will continue, so we know that we'll have to continue to monitor things closely and continue to get dental work and other care done during periodic México trips, while also knowing that we need to be ready for a long-term return to life down there at any point, should the U.S. system continue to implode. 

That major "asterisk" aside, our overall cost-of-living in Cañon City is on par with, and probably a bit lower than, what we were spending living a car-less life on foot at Lake Chapala, where we paid an average of $600-700 a month in rent for modest-sized furnished dwellings. The other thing we really notice in the brief time since we've been back N.O.B. ("north of the border," in expat lingo) is that while inflation in food and energy costs as well as residency visa fees was a stark reality in México we seem to be seeing flat-to-declining costs in many areas here, with the current cost of gasoline (we just filled our 10 gallon tank for $20!) being perhaps the starkest recent example. 

Setting costs aside there's the most important issue of all, at least for us, and that's quality of life. In our experience it's really hard to equal the ease of making friends and depth and diversity of people one meets in such expat havens as Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende. A lot of this has to do with the fact that those who choose expatriate life are by definition much more curious about the world and adventurous than most. We've been exceptionally fortunate in having a community of friends based on deep common interests in sustainable living, organic agriculture, progressive politics, outdoor adventures and contemplative practices here in Cañon City, so that for us, the México and Colorado options are pretty much on par in terms of quality of life, but with the huge difference of easy access to wilderness, silence and solitude and proximity to aging parents and old friends here in the U.S. that make being here the right choice for us, for now. 

1 comment:

Stan said...

Great writup - glad to see you summarize recent developments. Seemd like a fair amount of potential in CC when we passed through there a few years back. It's probably worth including the fact that family matters can also play a not-inconsequential role in selection and evaluation of place...