Friday, November 17, 2023

Motorcoach vrs. Camper, Yacht vrs. Boat

Middle-class and even upper-middle-class people get into trouble when they think they can afford luxury items (or knock-offs of luxury items).

A reader writes asking me about hydronic heating for motorhomes.  I wrote about hydronic heating before - it is a complicated system of pumps, pipes and a "boiler" that never boils.  It is expensive to buy, install, and maintain - and woe be to you if it ever leaks.  A series of pipes behind every wall, floor and ceiling - what can possibly go wrong?  And in this day and age, even people in Alaska are installing air conditioning - which hydronic heating has no provision for.   So you end up with two HVAC systems to purchase and maintain - hey, that has to be even more affordable, right?

No, it isn't.  It is just spending money on status.  And no, the floors aren't "warm" like they claim.  You still have to wear your shoes or slippers in the house.  And the idea of putting hydronic heating under your driveway so you don't have to shovel snow?  How inexpensive is that?  Heating the whole neighborhood!

It is just craziness.  But as our reader noted, in some high-end "Motorcoaches" they have hydronic heating under the marble floors, because you need that to go camping.   Big diesel "rock star" motorcoaches have this sort of nonsense.  Engine coolant can be circulated under the floor to heat the coach. When parked, a "Webasco" diesel-fueled water heater (also popular on yachts) heats the water to heat the floors.  They are noisy as all get out, too.

But note I said "Motorcoaches" and "Yachts" - two things that people of ordinary incomes (under $200,000 a year, at least) have no business buying.  Worse yet, people in the middle- and upper-middle-income brackets are often enticed to buy "lookalike" products that they still can't afford and often end up costing them, well, almost everything.  The cheap motorhome styled to look like a "Motorcoach" is no real bargain, as it has a lot of complicated systems, but like most RVs is poorly made.

Similarly, the stylings of the yachts of five or ten years ago filter down to the boat world, where a 30-foot boat is now shaped like a football with "Italian" yacht design cues, including large, ellipsoid-shaped windows located alarmingly close to the waterline.  Looks cool on the Mediterranean, but you ain't fooling no one at the local boat ramp.

What's the difference between a Yacht and a Boat?  As one wag noted, "A Yacht doesn't move when you step onto it.  A boat does!"  Most of us can only realistically afford boats.

Mark likes to peruse motorhome and yacht sales and he has an encyclopedic knowlege of makes, models, and prices.  To the uninitiated, they all look alike, And often I am surprised when he tells me what looks like a rather plebian boat is actually a million-dollar yacht.  With motorcoaches, it is easier to tell the million-dollar "rock star" buses from the consumer-grade crap we plebes buy.  Gas engine up front?  Wanna-be.  Rubber roof and fiberglass laminate sides?  I don't care if it is a "diesel pusher" it still is an RV and not a motorcoach.

Yet, some middle-class people get caught up in this nonsense and spend more on a motorhome than they spent on their house.   Worse yet are those who sell their home and plow the money into an RV.  If they are lucky, maybe they have 10 years of "seeing America!" before "ill health forces sale" and they realize the are upside-down on the coach, and have nowhere to live and no money left.  Far-fetched?  I've seen it happen, more than once, to people who ordinarily would seem to be of sound mind.

Don't get me wrong - toys are nice and all, and I should know, I've had enough of them.  But they are a huge hole in your wallet - a depreciating asset for which there is no depreciation deduction.  Trust me when I say you'll never regret spending less on toys but willl always regret spending more.  The most fun we had with toys was with $1500 cars we fixed up, our first and second boats that we were not afraid to take anywhere, and the Casita travel trailer that, since we spent so little on, had no compunction of driving it to Alaska.

The "ultimate" or "dream" RV, boat, or car, often ends up being - if not a nightmare - at least a disappointment or less than expected.  Old men figure to "trade up" their paid-for boat or RV or motorcyle or whatever, for the 'next level' only to realize they lost interest in boating or RVing or whatever, and the boat/RV/motorcycle was not the problem.

Having toys is a form of status-seeking, and yes "look at me!" HVAC systems are just status toys - not really necessary for daily living and not providing any (or very little) in the way of greater efficiency compared to the installed cost - and maintenance costs!  Marble floors in motorcoaches are nice and all, until they crack, which they will do, particularly on look-a-like motorhomes which tend to flex more.  Hydronic heating sounds like fun, but it weighs a lot (as does marble) and when those circulating pumps start to fail, it is not fun to repair.

It's OK to be a plebe and live the Walmart lifestyle and be content.  What I see causing unhappiness in the middle-class is when they want more than they can afford and borrow money to obtain that.