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Financial Planning,General

Tight Spaces

We got back last week from our nearly three week long RV trek up the east coast.  The family rule is that every time we get in the car to pull our RV to a new destination, we can’t leave until Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again is cued up.  We sing it loud and proud and it’s become a bit of a theme song for us.  We even managed to find a plush singing bull (whom we affectionately named Buck) who sings this song on command at a farmer’s market in Amish country of all places.

Part of the fun of RVing is (as Willie sings) “Goin’ places that I’ve never been.”  As much planning as you can do before you travel to new places, there’s a lot of things you just can’t know until you get there.  You can know a campsites amenities but not necessarily that it’s right beside the freeway.  While there are lots of unexpected surprises on road trips, one of the worst in pulling an RV is finding yourself in an unexpected “tight spot”.

Here are some of the tight spaces we found ourselves in:

  • Detouring off the highway to avoid a traffic jam only to encounter a sign that said “Low Clearance – no buses, trucks, or RVs”
  • Being “pretty sure” our trailer would fit through a bridge that was under construction and prohibited vehicles wider than 9’8″”
  • Trying to visit Newport, RI (amazing place, by the way), and ending up on continually narrowing roads that went down to one lane with cars parked on both sides
  • Parking in Boston.  We knew better than to try this with the RV so left it back at the campground, but our Expedition’s roof only made it into the parking deck by about 2 inches.

But the worst by far is the one that often comes out of nowhere – bottoming out.  It takes a really steep V in the road for a normal car to bottom out and scrape the bumper.  But the physics of a trailer, especially a long trailer, means that even slight indentions can scrape up the rear end.

We managed to avoid most of these danger spots until near the end of our journey when visiting Hershey, PA.  Apparently, when Milton Hershey planned out much of the town for his factory workers, he failed to take RV travelers touring his factory into account.  And so when we came to an otherwise normal intersection, I saw one of those steep V’s in the road with the tell-tale scrape marks all around it.  It came out of nowhere, and there was nothing I could do except pray and start to sweat.  I couldn’t back out, so I just tried to try to take the intersection as wide and slow as I could.  But as I watched in the rear view mirrors as our trailer passed through, I saw and heard the trailer tear into the pavement like a giant asphalt scraper.

Tight spaces in life are like these.  Sometimes we make it through by the skin of our teeth.  Sometimes we get pretty scraped up.  Some are completely avoidable with good planning.  Some there are no way to avoid.  Some we can laugh at in hindsight.  And some will leave us in a long season of anguish.

There are tight spots with our money as well.  When we don’t have very much in cash reserves.  When we get overly aggressive in our investments during a bull market.  When we over-extend ourselves on borrowing money.  When we fail to save adequately for college.  When we presume that life will go in a straight line – or as Willie Nelson sings, “insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way.”

It’s been said that failing to plan is planning to fail.  So long as the road directly in front of us is clear, we can at times assume the journey will be smooth.  Like with a road trip, most of these tight spaces can be planned for and avoided.  Unfortunately, we often don’t know when these tight spaces are going to show up.  But the key is to have margin.  Cushion.  A buffer.  It’s like raising up your trailer so that you have a lot more room before you would ever bottom out.

The point of stewardship isn’t to avoid life’s obstacles.  We are stewards, not owners, after all.  But part of stewardship is to look down the road, try to identify the tight spots that could get you into trouble, and to stay clear.  Because that’s what allows us freedom to be able to say “yes” when the Owner asks us to give, to lend, or to help.

If you’d like some help “stress testing” your finances, please let us know.  We’d be happy to take a look at your strengths and weaknesses to help you avoid some of the potholes that are bound to show up.

Happy trails!