New retirees are often eager to vacation and enjoy some of the wealth they have been accumulating for decades. There can be a huge temptation to buy a vacation home or timeshare in a fun location, since you finally have time to relax. Some retirees also make large recreational purchases, such as a boat or RV. But expensive purchases at the beginning of retirement can turn out to be a big mistake that puts a strain on your finances for years to come. These three consumer trophies can quickly turn out to be landmines, and there are often other ways to achieve a similar experience for a lower cost.
Vacation homes. The sales pitch that leads you into purchasing a second home might tell you that this is an appreciating investment that will provide rental income, a tax deduction and unlimited free vacations. Unfortunately, most buyers grossly underestimate how much the property will really cost them in terms of time and money. Renters do not treat the property like it is their own, so be prepared to replace furniture frequently and have a maintenance person on speed dial. And when you no longer want this burden, it will likely be a slow and expensive process to find someone else to take it on.
The fool's gold of a tax deduction may not pan out if your income exceeds $150,000, since you will have to defer losses until you sell the property. And don't forget, the IRS limits how often you can use the property yourself. If you plan on personally using the property more than 14 days a year you could jeopardize the deductions that offset the rental income.
Renting a vacation home that someone else maintains is often a far better deal, especially if you're only going to be there a few weeks per year. Technology is changing the tools we have available to help us travel and vacation. You can rent a vacation home through VRBO.com and replace the need to buy a second home. An even better alternative is to split the cost of a vacation home with a few friends.
Recreational vehicles. Boats look so fun to own. It's easy to imagine yourself zipping across the lake or being lulled into relaxation by the sound of the water. And there are national boat shows that attract thousands of attendees. But many boat owners face the runaway costs of maintenance, fuel and a place to store the boat. These are all ongoing costs that reduce your cash flow and funnel money out the door. In terms of financial success, boats are best enjoyed when you're invited to spend Saturday on the lake and someone else is taking care of and maintaining it the other six days of the week. Boat clubs that have monthly membership fees can be a more cost effective alternative to owning a boat, and give you access to more boating options if you want to fish one weekend and water ski or socialize the next.
Another retirement spending trap is exploring the country in a recreational vehicle. Even though some RVs will qualify as a second home tax deduction, RVs depreciate much like automobiles do. They are not fuel efficient, and there's a good chance you'll pay a monthly fee to find someplace to park your rolling reminder of a poor financial decision. RVs have tremendous appeal when you are tailgating with your favorite sports team or traveling with the family to camp or visit our beautiful country. However, the costs for insurance, maintenance, parking and other ongoing expenses can cut into the happy memories you're hoping to make in a RV. Cruiseamerica.com offers RV rentals that you can return when you tire of traveling.
Timeshares. A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when an industry attracts clients with free giveaways and high pressure sales tactics. Some timeshares allow you to purchase the rights to a specific week at a vacation property, while others work off of a points system. The administration, research and complexity of using a timeshare has increased as these points systems have been implemented. Pay special attention to ongoing maintenance fees. It is not uncommon for the maintenance fees to escalate over time to the point that the maintenance fees exceed what you would pay to use a comparable hotel or resort. The hassle may not be worth it if you can get a similar experience without an ongoing commitment. It is often more cost effective to rent the units instead of buying into the timeshare.
Vacation and recreation equipment can certainly help you have fun and build memories. Experiences you enjoy can have a value that is truly priceless. But don't lock yourself into a big financial purchase when you might be able to get just as much enjoyment by renting.
Brian Preston and Bo Hanson are fee-only financial planners who host the podcast, "The Money-Guy Show".
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