Do you ever contemplate what the RV lifestyle says about you as a citizen? It’s something I think about from time to time; something that our recent visit to The Villages has brought to the fore again.
Have we gone a-RV’ing? Or have we fled from something else? And how much of what we do as RV’ers, or as retirees, diminishes our impact as citizens in the wider world? Consider this a meditation on how retiree behavior can if we allow ourselves have the same negative impact on the society from which we came as the opening of a new Walmart typically has upon the economic base of the cities where they build. A new Walmart, suddenly everyone wants the cheapest price they can find and soon the old established businesses in the community who cared for their employees and wanted more than just profit fold up and close. As Boomers hit retirement age — the largest number of new retirees in history — what will be our impact on others — not just what kind of retirement will we have?
Chances are, if you are over 50 years of age you have checked out at least 1 of the Best Places to Retire listings. There are oodles of them, organized by all sorts of different organizations for diverse reasons, and some of them are repeated annually to keep you up to snuff on where’s the best place for you to live. I find it interesting that people think you can quantify everything — like the best place to live. (But that’s a topic I’m not going to tackle.)
What factors do people typically consider when planning to retire? I’ll bet weather and cost-to-live-there are right up there near the top of the list. Perhaps access-to-quality-medical-care rates up there, as well as crime rate. For sure taxes are considered in that category of cost of living.
The Villages is a conflagration of numerous real estate developments all lumped together in one tight area and effectively combined into a town/city. There are retirement developments all around the country. In Cudahy we had a large senior only housing development directly across the street from us. But it was not large enough to have its own city status, police, fire, or shopping district — it was simply a collection of a few buildings. Large retirement communities (like The Villages or the Del Webb communities spread around the country) exist where they do because of the developers attempt to capitalize on perceived strengths of a particular area — usually cost related. The cost factor is not universally the determining factor on where to site one of these communities. After all, the Del Webb organization put a retirement community near Elgin IL — because of it’s proximity to Chicago. It might be cold during the winter, and it may not be a cheap place to live but they will never run out of potential clients by siting this development within an hour of The Windy City — it alone is a major attraction to some and a major drawback to others.
Florida and Texas are big on the retirement horizon in part because they have NO personal property tax and their real estate taxes are significantly lower than some states. Heck, I could buy a comparable valued house in either state, in or close to a major metro area and pay less than 2/3’s the real estate taxes we paid in Cudahy or West Allis. And some of the places we’ve visited have had real property taxes as low as 1/10th what we were accustomed to paying in Wisconsin.
The kicker is that low property tax and low or non-existent income tax relates to quality of life and available services. Some of that is/can be compensated for by higher sales taxes. Wisconsin had 5.5% when we left Milwaukee. It’s higher now because of state decisions to fund sports team stadiums but that’s another issue. The graph to the side considers both state and local rates resulting in different numbers than you might find in any given community in the state.
Clearly the areas favored by RV’ers as their domicile tend to be those states without Income Tax. Who wants to pay more tax than necessary. By selling one’s home and RV’ing you also avoid real estate taxes — on a home valued at $180,000 we paid +$5,000 per year to our local community in property tax. That’s a lot of money we could spend on food, entertainment, gasoline if we hadn’t been paying it to the city for local government and services (none of which were all that great to begin with)
There are not that many RV’ers in the world. The retirees who can afford, or who choose to go RV’ing will not bankrupt the local community because of lost income. Sure, with all the Boomers retiring, and some of us choosing to go RV’ing there is some loss by local communities but I doubt that it will ever be sufficient to cripple local governments. But we do have an impact on those we leave behind.
We talk among ourselves about the responsibility to serve as jurors, or the responsibility to vote. We all have our ways of dealing with these things. Some will do whatever they need to live up to their responsibility; others will do all they can to avoid those same responsibilities. That’s a function of how we take our civic duties.
By moving our of sticks & bricks we also remove ourselves from active participation in many aspects of community: we are no longer supporting churches, civic groups, clubs, etc., in the areas we left when we retired. There is also the impact on family — though in our society today so many families have been fragmented by college and the move away from home for careers that the several million of us RV’ers are not responsible for the decline of the nuclear family — we are, perhaps, a result OF it. More and more retirees go RV’ing as a way to visit their family more often than would be the case if they lived in sticks & bricks.
I’m not asking questions for answers. I’m posing questions that perhaps we all should think about a little more often. Living cheaply may not be the only mandate a retiree faces. If we made our ‘fortune’ in the big city, and bought our big house in the suburbs do we have any legitimate responsibility to stay there as seniors? To continue participating in the society that gave us those advantages? It’s easy to say, “We did our share, it’s someone else’s turn now.” Is it always the right thing to say? I don’t know. If I had an easy — or a perfect — answer I might be doing things differently than I am. As it is, we take each day one at a time in our Life Unscripted. We make the best decisions we can on the day and hope to do the same tomorrow.
Thanks for stopping by, and let’s talk again tomorrow.