World Changes Drastically In A Month
I've had this post "in the hopper" for several days, but it seems something changes daily so I just keep adding to it and re-writing it.
The Last Month In Summary
From the time of our last post at the end of February until now, we went from having a nice plan for our year (and the next few years) to cancelling plans and having to re-think our future. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a world health scare, and I'm concerned that the economic fallout may be far greater than the tragic results of the disease itself.
But we've long ago abandoned worrying too much about things we can't control. Here is a little item that Linda's sister, Karen, posted a couple of weeks ago.
This too shall pass, and if it takes longer than we hope, we'll make necessary adjustments and deal with it.
At the end of February, when we flew back to Florida from Dayton, Ohio after an RV show appearance, there were 60 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. We certainly weren't that concerned about it, even when the first case in Florida became official on March 1. However, the stock market had started sliding about a week before, and that got our attention.
We had just had an online meeting with our investment advisor in January, and we had established an amount we could draw down safely each year so we could play a little more without worrying too much about generating a bunch of income. The projection included "down" years and "bad timing events", but none of us expected such a sharp decrease so early in our plan. Fortunately, February was a big income month for us.
As the days passed, and COVID-19 cases and deaths increased and "shelter in place" orders were implemented, we slowly went from planning to go ahead with our 2020 Spring Educational Rally to having no choice but to cancel it. And because we had to cancel due to nobody's fault, we decided the right thing to do was offer a full refund to all those that were still planning to attend as of mid-March even though our usual cancellation policy states a certain portion is non-refundable. The non-refundable portion is the amount we use as ongoing cash flow throughout our year, while the rest (which we, wisely and thankfully, keep in a separate account) is for catering, facility rental, event insurance, entertainment, printing of Rally booklets, and other items necessary in hosting a Rally.
Though it's a tough financial burden for us as we had to get a small loan with our local bank to make this happen, it was still the right thing to do to offer to refund the entire amount and all the checks went out by the end of March.
In addition, we were just about to complete a couple rental agreements for our RV. So, watching our investments shrink by 30%, losing RV rental income, and having to cancel the Spring Rally, we are taking some really unexpected hits in our finances. So, we have to adjust.
We quickly scheduled a Fall Rally in September 2020 hoping the virus crisis ends by then, and several of our Spring attendees moved their registration and reservations. And we also went ahead and scheduled a 2021 Spring Educational Rally for the end of April of next year, and a few more folks re-scheduled to that one. We are quite grateful to those that could fit one of the two future rallies into their schedule and chose to roll over their registration fees, as that took a bit of pressure off us by spreading out the obligations even if we may have to refund those fees later (which we have agreed to do).
I've applied for a couple of part-time jobs here in The Villages to help supplement our cash flow. It's sort of like the workamping we did as full-timers to both reduce expenses and earn a little income. Back during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, we took on 40-hour a week jobs for an extra financial boost. So, as usual, we'll just do whatever it takes. Pizza delivery drivers are in high demand right now. :)
I've also contacted two of the larger RV dealerships in the area to see if we might be able to work with them in some capacity.
We still have our rental property here in The Villages and our long-term tenant is going to renew for another year, so that certainly helps. And we successfully rented our primary residence for February of this year while we were traveling to RV shows for the month. We recently listed our house here - OurVillagesRental.com - to generate some additional rental income. Fortunately, within a week, we were able to rent for peak season - January through March - in 2021.
And Linda has expanded her "Your 2nd Pair Of Hands" business into weeding and trimming Villagers landscaping. She loves to pull weeds, she's outside in the sun, and she stays away from groups of people. In a matter of a few days, she's picked up four new clients and after the initial weeding/trimming projects, they are retaining her to maintain the landscaping on a monthly basis. I helped her put down mulch the other day.
Of course, as I'm writing this, the governor of Florida has just issued a "stay at home" order. Fortunately, however, under the Florida governor's order, residential exterior landscaping is an "essential business" as long as the recommended social distancing is maintained.
We're now trying to figure out how we might generate some online income. We're considering a variety of models including a new, updated RV-Dreams website where we may offer 1) online seminars for a per-seminar fee, 2) a membership whereby paid members get access to all video seminar content, and/or 3) personal consulting services for those that may be willing to pay a little more for individualized attention, advice, and suggestions.
We're also considering a new website geared to those that are interested or curious about The Villages. There are several in our RV-Dreams family that are here already, but for such a large, well-known, 55+ community, I've found that finding detailed, updated, accurate information to be a challenge. Research and detail are specialties of ours and if we can combine that with some video and question and answer sessions, it could turn into something.
While under a "stay at home" order, it would be a good time to work on these virtual options. However, I'm not as tech savvy as younger generations. It all seems daunting, and I often don't know where to start. Plus, my eyes just aren't what they used to be, and I simply can't spend as much time as I used to staring at a laptop screen all day to get these things up and running.
Once again, as we did throughout our fifteen years of full-time RVing, we are trying to create multiple streams of income that hopefully add up to enough to comfortably cover our basic expenses and keep us from having to dip into our investment savings too much over the next several months. But, if it comes down to it and we have to get full-time jobs, we'll figure that out as well.
Don't get me wrong. We are extremely blessed and we've lived our lives in such a way that we are far better off in this crisis than a lot of people. Still, it's hard when we've just made this big life change to stop being full-time RVers, and we thought we had it all worked out going forward. Part of me wishes we were still full-time RVers during all of this, but Linda is extremely happy we're in a more traditional situation right now for a whole long list of reasons which I cannot dispute.
As for our daily lives here in The Villages, all of the recreation centers have been closed, all pools have been closed, the nightly entertainment in the squares has been canceled, and all other entertainment, classes, meetings, and gatherings have been canceled. Restaurant dining rooms are closed, but they are allowed to do carry-out orders.
The outdoor sports courts remain open (see Update below) and all the golf courses are open. However, the community is no longer putting out coolers of water or equipment that is usually provided. You have to take your own equipment. There are signs everywhere reminding people to keep the six-foot distance and to keep activities on the courts limited to 10 people or less. Golfers are allowed and encouraged to use individual golf carts, so four carts per foursome if none of the four live in the same house.
I have been walking the courses to keep even more separation and to get exercise, and I'm still playing pickleball with small groups that are wearing gloves, sanitizing balls, and wiping down paddles, benches, and gates. In The Villages, the 40 nine-hole "executive courses" are free to all residents if you walk. Being able to safely enjoy these sports out in the sunshine has helped maintain my sanity.
Update: With the governor's stay-at-home order on April 1, there are exceptions for outdoor exercise such as walking, jogging, etc., but the order was not clear as to whether or not golf and/or pickleball would be allowed. Ultimately, The Villages closed all the outdoor courts, so no more pickleball, tennis, platform tennis, bocce, horseshoes, beach tennis, etc. is allowed. However, golf is still allowed with proper social distancing and they have removed rakes from bunkers, changed the holes so the ball won't go in the cup and there is no need to remove the flags. They've made modifications to golf operations so people don't have to touch anything other than their own golf carts, clubs and balls to try to keep it safer.
We're staying away from the public for the most part and staying inside the bubble of The Villages. We're still doing our Keto way of eating, so we prepare our own meals at home anyway. We have occasional trips to the grocery and we're wearing a mask and disposable gloves when we go. Linda has been shopping for her Mom so she doesn't have to be exposed. The stores have set up an hour each morning just for those over age 65 to shop, but we don't want her to take any chances. We've been far more concerned about exposure while shopping at grocery stores than any other activity we do.
Like everywhere else in the country, our grocery stores continually run out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and wipes. Eggs are not easy to find and yesterday all the flour, sugar, and ketchup were gone in the aisle I was shopping. Fortunately, we've been able to get the food items we need for our Keto lifestyle. And all that fish we brought back from Alaska last summer is looking pretty smart right now. :)
In early March, Linda and her sister, Karen set aside a week to get together since Karen was off school. They decided to do a multi-day fast together. Karen came here for a few days, and they painted an accent wall in our living room with a striped pattern and they did some landscaping. Then Linda went to Jacksonville where they worked on projects there for a few days.
During that time, they made plans for their two-week sisters RV trip in late July. They are planning to do the Biltmore in North Carolina, Gettysburg and the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, Niagara Falls in New York, and a tour of New York City that included the 911 Memorial and other highlights. They were then going to return along the Atlantic coast through Virginia with a stop in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Linda planned the trip to stay at Harvest Host locations and Passport America campgrounds, with a couple of other public and private campgrounds mixed in.
Unfortunately, when they made all their plans and reservations, no one knew things were going to get this bad. Hopefully, the worst of this will be over by then, but even if it is, it may be a tough call to go through with the trip. The New York City portion has already been canceled by the campground where they planned to stay (70 miles from the city).
Today, I have to start some sort of routine, or I'm going to lose it. I've got to exercise and be outdoors. Linda says I'm already mopey since I can't get play pickleball. It gave me great, fun exercise and I felt quite safe with our little groups of people I know. With Keto and the daily exercise, I've stayed within a 2-pound weight range at 159 - 161 for longer than I can ever remember. I could still lose another 5 - 10 pounds, but I'm quite satisfied with where I am.
Fortunately, we have beautiful weather, so I'm going to start running or walking early each morning and perhaps play a little golf in the afternoon. With that outdoor time, it will be easier (mentally) for me to work on figuring out a little cash flow in between and in the evening.
When Linda doesn't have a weeding gig, she's doing little home projects and keeping up with our own landscaping. She's still losing pounds and inches on Keto. And she's working jigsaw puzzles like crazy in our lanai which she has turned into a craft room/"she shed".
We've also put out offers to run errands, shop, or otherwise help anyone in our little community of villas that needs it.
Thankfully, we got all the major upgrades to our house and repairs to our golf cart done before the economy waned. Had we known all this was coming, we would have hoarded the cash we spent, but it is what it is, and we're quite happy with our house situation.
So, we are of course worried about the toll this pandemic will take on the country and the world from both a health standpoint and an economic standpoint. But we are in a good place overall. The Villages is working with the University of Florida Health system, and we had one of the first drive-through COVID-19 testing centers in the state set up here (our population includes a very high ratio of high-risk people), and they were testing both those with symptoms and those without as part of the ongoing research about this virus.
The Villages is geographically mostly in Sumter County with small sections also in Lake County and Marion County. We are in Marion County, which includes Ocala, and so far the number of cases in our county is in the 30s with no deaths. As of yesterday, reports were that there were 46 known cases in The Villages itself (mostly in Sumter County). There have been five deaths in the tri-county area, and we had our first death in The Villages two days ago.
Fortunately, the numbers of cases in The Villages has remained relatively steady over the last few days. We're crossing our fingers that we start seeing a trend of zero new cases per day very shortly.
We know that campgrounds and RV parks across the country are closing and boondocking spots like Quartzsite, AZ are full of RVers at a time when most are usually gone. Stay safe out there and we hope all our full-timing friends are able to find places to stay. Virtual, contact-free, safe-distance hugs to all of you from Florida. :)