While walking the halls at work just before the July 4th holiday weekend, I overheard more than a few colleagues discussing the question “Is owning a cabin worth it?” Here in Minnesota, it’s not uncommon for families owning a cabin or second home “up north” to head up to the lake for weekend getaways in the summertime.
The idea of owning a cabin getaway has had its appeal, but pesky opportunity costs always seem to get in the way. The season for enjoying a cabin here in the northern boundaries of the Midwest is pretty narrow: essentially from Memorial weekend to Labor Day weekend.
With that in mind, 122,000 Minnesotan cabin owners squeeze in an average of 55 days a year to enjoy a little rustic decompression. Long gone are the days of the truly rustic cabin with no running water or attached toilet. Nowadays, buyers are demanding $250-$500K year-round new build homes as “cabins.” Hedonic Adaptation Alert!
You Don’t Need a Cabin Up North
With a narrow season limited to summertime weekends, northbound highways out of the Twin Cities get slammed on Fridays and Sundays. Weather can be unpredictable. Storms, rain, clouds, and high heat and humidity can put a dent in the experience.
Nevertheless, the faithful continue with a tradition that spans generations. Minnesotans hold onto their cabins for a very long time (nearly 25 years on average) relative to their primary residences.
Growing up, we were fortunate to have two sets of grandparents with lake homes to visit. I know firsthand the appeal of getting away to the lake. If some of your favorite memories from childhood are from those settings, it’s only natural to want to recreate those memories into adulthood.
The problem for an aspiring early retiree is how to recreate those memories without blowing up the balance sheet.
What About Those Wonderful Memories?
What is so magical about the rustic cabin nestled among pines near a quiet lake up north? For a kid, the list might include endless exploration into the woods, water sports, fishing, campfires, playing cards, building sandcastles, and more. All of this is enhanced by being surrounded by parents in their best moods being away from work. Hard to beat? You bet it is.
As a grown-up, you get to recreate a lot of those activities with your own family. You get the thrill of watching your kids stay up on water skis the first time or catch a keeper off the end of the dock.
You can invite friends and their families to enjoy the experience. Someone inevitably gets sunburned and has to spend a day inside. A raccoon will knock over the trash can and wake everyone up at 3 AM, but it’s all good fodder for future memories about “that time we all went up north over 4th of July 2017.”
If the nostalgia from these experiences growing up, or simply the idea of it has you aching for a place up north of your own, take heart. There are plenty of options for creating an experience that does not involve owning a multi-generational cabin.
Thinking of Owning a Cabin? Try These Alternatives Instead:
- Go Tent Camping. Easy enough and low cost. It allows you to explore. You’re not anchored down to the same place. It is less cozy, and camping spots can be hard to come by without advanced reservations.
- Go RV Camping. A big upgrade on the cozy factor, but you lose on the financial side of the equation. Hold off on this option until you’ve reached financial independence.
- Rent a Cabin. With VRBO and Airbnb you’ve got access to countless lakes and home styles. The problem is that the better the location, the pricier the rental. There’s also no guarantee you’ll get what you want if you wait too long to reserve. And often, summertime rentals require a full week when all you might want is a weekend. I’d recommend setting aside some vacation dollars for a week up north while stashing away for your early retirement. Just be sure to book well in advance!
- Make Friends With Cabin Owners! This is the golden ticket. If you have friends with a place up north and they want your company, make every effort to show your appreciation and not wear out your welcome. Bring the meats, bring the booze, and for God’s sake, take good care of the place.
- Staycation? If you just can’t get away for whatever reason, seek out nearby public beaches and boat rentals, head to a minor league ball-game, or fire up a back yard barbecue. No reason to sulk when half your neighbors are gone to the lake.
Owning a Cabin Is an Indulgence, Unless…
Even a modest cabin or condo up north can put a huge dent in any plans to gain an early exit from your cube. That’s not even including the requisite powerboat and jet skis!
Proceed with caution. Find ways to get up north with family and friends and build memories.
Consider what you’d rather be doing at 55: chomping at the bit to get out of your cube and onto the clogged highway up north on a Friday afternoon, or, at 45 already retired, enjoying the outdoors every day, planning another six-week cross-country road trip.
Our solution to this dilemma was to purchase a second home – a condo – and turn it into a vacation rental. There’s a good deal of work involved to get it set up, but once you’re rolling, this approach becomes an excellent investment.
We make sure to block the week we want to be there during the summer. So far, just about every day from June through August is booked solid. You can follow our progress on the right nav of this blog to see how viable this little experiment has been for us.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever asked yourself should I buy a cabin? Is it worth the trade-off of a longer career for those precious few days in the summer? (Dangit, it’s Saturday. The forecast is calling for rain.)
Featured Photo by Andres Iga on Unsplash