The hidden fixed travel costs of having a house

There are a lot of posts around on travel blogs talking about how to save money to travel, showing you Travel Is Cheaper Than You Think, and showing you Ten Ways Of Saving Up For Your Gap Year.

This is not one of them.

There are also a lot of blog posts about the costs while travelling, and how You Can Travel Thailand For Less Than $5/day, Maldives Don’t Have To Be An Expensive Destination, or How I Did Australia On A Budget.

This is not one of them either.

Rather this post is a collection of thoughts looking at it from the other direction – essentially detailing The Costs Of Staying At Home And Not Travelling, but of course I wouldn’t be so corny as to use Start Case typography …

Unlike many world travellers, I’m a homeowner. This causes several disadvantages when it comes to long-term travel, not least the simple inability to just ‘pack up and go’. Renting a house (or even still living with your family) makes travelling much easier since it’s fairly simple to give a months’ notice and do your preparations in that month. Once you leave, you’ve got no bills or residual costs left at ‘home’.
Owning a home leads to a dilemma – sell up, rent it for a period, or leave it empty and don’t travel too long. Due to my working a normal office job, most of my trips have been in the 2-3 week category, so it’s not much of an issue to just disappear and not worry about things. However for my stuttering year out travelling, obviously this wouldn’t suffice and I had to work out what to do with the house.

I’ll concede I’m not the most house-proud of people, and my lack of attentiveness to it, coupled with both messy ex-tenants and a lack of due care & attention from previous owners, alongside the fact my house isn’t exactly central even to the town I live in, means that it wasn’t the most attractive of options. A couple of people had a look around with a view to renting it, but never got back to me. Even one of the local estate agents offered to take it on only at a lower-than-average rate, and then only after some considerable decoration – about £1,500 in total, straight off my travelling budget.

My house
The back of my house. Typical ex-mining cottage in a typical ex-mining area. It’s Grim Up North …

In the event I rented it out to the brother of an ex-work colleague, at a rate lower even than my mortgage payments, who needed somewhere to live as otherwise circumstance would have dictated he’d end up being technically homeless. One of the sticking points with the estate agent was my need to put stuff in storage; my new tenant had no problem with my filling up my smallest bedroom with it and locking the door. I figured it’s better to have someone in the house I could easily contact had there been any issues, and who was prepared to be flexible to my convenience, and accept a lower rent (the storage costs would otherwise have pretty much negated the higher rent). Having someone in it was better than no-one at all.

Since coming back (you’d have thought I’d have done it beforehand, but that would require far too much organisation), I’ve mused about the actual (unavoidable) costs of having a house, that you would have to pay regardless of what else you do. These costs include the mortgage payments, insurance, energy bills, and local property taxes. Obviously a couple of these could be mitigated by having a rental agreement with a tenant who pays ‘bills’, and if you leave the property empty then the energy bills would be pretty low, but let’s assume the worst-case scenario. These are therefore what I need to pay as a minimum; if I didn’t have a house I wouldn’t need to pay any of them – obviously costs like food, Internet access, etc I’d have to pay regardless of where in the world I was, so are not linked specifically to having a house.
For a caveat, remember that I live in a fairly unfashionable part of the UK, more often than not on my own. I’ve also rounded the figures to the nearest rough multiple.

Mortgage Payments: £350/month
Insurance: £60/month (includes both home and buildings/contents)
Gas/Electric: £55/month
Water Rates: about £30/month (the water bill comes twice a year and I don’t remember seeing my last one. I’m unmetered1.)
Council Tax: £80/month

This means in total, to maintain my house, regardless of anything else, I have to spend a minimum of £575/month. This works out roughly at £19/day.

Let’s have a think about this figure for a moment. This means that every day I am alive, I am spending £19 just to maintain a brick building which I’m not even using when I’m on holiday. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of money, be aware that for many of my holidays, my total daily spend (including food, accommodation, and travel) comes in at around £13-£15/day. When you look at things in those terms, spending your life travelling actually seems like a sensible option, if you’re willing to take the risk of selling up.

What it also means is that, when I’m budgeting for travel, I’d have to add this figure on to any daily budget that I’m calculating. Obviously for my 2-3 week jaunts, it’s fairly inconsequential since I know I’ll have my next monthly pay packet to balance it out, but if I ever do any long-term (ie unpaid) travel again, it’s definitely something I need to consider; maybe if I’d have done that in the first place I’d have delayed my year out for a few months until I was absolutely sure I could afford it.

Budgeting. Bloody boring but absolutely vital :p

1 – As a result of typing this entry, I’ve spoken to my water board and they’ve said they haven’t issued me a bill. I’ve also requested a water meter!

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4 thoughts on “The hidden fixed travel costs of having a house

  1. Some good points. Enjoyed reading that.

  2. Great post- life has all kinds of hidden costs, doesn’t it? We wound up renting out our basement suite for a few months- a) to help out a friend who needed temp housing and b) to have someone in our house while we were gone for a 2 month trip and to earn a tiny bit of money. The basement wasn’t really awesome enough to rent outpermanently but it worked for a few months. So maybe sometimes homeowners can find a “part time” solution.

    1. Yes, that’s what I’m doing now, although sort of in ‘reverse’; my friend is renting most of my house off me and I’m stuck in the second bedroom. But it makes sense for exactly the reasons you state – my house isn’t empty when I travel for long periods, and I’m getting some money out of it. And I chose to have my friend rent it as she’s lived here before and knows how … quirky it is, and it meant I didn’t need to do anything fancy making my house look pretty!

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