In modern usage, the term “white elephant” refers to a possession—often rare or valuable—which imposes massive financial burdens upon its hapless owner. The phrase has ancient origins. In eastern Asia, rare albino elephants were kept by monarchs as symbols of prestige and power. The animals were considered sacred and therefore exempt from work. To receive this beast as a gift was a sign of royal favor, but one that inevitably cost the recipient a king’s ransom to house and feed. Many were ruined by the burdens of ownership.
I’ve encountered my fair share of alabaster elephants. The worst was an outdoor hot tub that came along with the house I bought in 1993. For many Colorado winters, I paid big bucks to simmer large volumes of water at 102°F. Repairs were rampant. In the harsh conditions, parts failed often, including expensive heaters. The insulated covers gave out every few years—they sold for $450. I incurred ongoing costs for chemicals, test kits, and filters. Some winters I emptied the tub out and shut everything down in order to stem the losses. In 2009, I finally gave up. I hacked the tub to death with a reciprocating saw, lugged its sorry remains to a rented dumpster, and planked over the deck where its removal had left a big hole. All told, from 1993 until 2009 my hot tub operating costs exceeded $7,500—in other words, I had treated myself to a thorough soaking.
In today’s post, I draw upon my unfortunate experiences to help you identify and eradicate any white elephants that you might possess. Showing these burdens to the door right now can save you thousands in future financial suffering. The sooner you make a change, the more you can put in your pocket.
How to Spot a Pale Pachyderm
Look for possessions with high ongoing ownership costs and infrequent usage. Likely candidates include recreational vehicles (RVs), all terrain vehicles (ATVs), snowmobiles, extra autos, motorboats, lawn tractors, snow blowers, jet skis, swimming pools, hot tubs, and saunas. If it has a motor, it might be trouble.
For each potential candidate, use this handy checklist to estimate your ongoing annual expenses. You don’t have to record precise amounts. But if the total figure runs into hundreds of dollars, you might be paying through the nose for an unpalatable possession.
|Ownership Costs||Annual Costs|
|□ Maintenance costs||$___________|
|□ Repair costs||$___________|
|□ Storage costs||$___________|
|□ Accessories [trailers, covers, helmets]||$___________|
|□ Frequently replaced components [tires, motors]||$___________|
|□ Energy costs [gas, electric, batteries]||$___________|
|□ Insurance premiums||$___________|
|□ Fees, registrations, licenses||$___________|
|□ Ownership taxes||$___________|
|□ Depreciation costs||$___________|
|□ Interest costs [if purchased on credit]||$___________|
|□ Transportation costs||$___________|
|□ Other costs||$___________|
How to Make a Graceful Disposal
If you decide the ongoing benefits of ownership don’t justify the outgoing costs, you can take several courses of action.
If it’s something big, list it on Craigslist. If it’s something small, list it on eBay. Or maybe you know someone who will gladly take it off your hands so that you don’t have to list it anywhere.
Donate to Charity
And gain a tax deduction if you itemize.
Give Away to a Private Party
No tax deduction here, but maybe someone wants to adopt the very thing you’ve become so very tired of. Consider listing it on Freecycle.org.
It’s Dumpster Time!
Sometimes the ongoing costs are so high that it’s better to discard the offending object immediately instead of waiting around for an interested buyer. Cut and run.
How to Survive Separation Anxiety
If you’ve owned something for a long time, you’re likely to miss it a bit when it’s gone—even if you were paying bundles to keep it around. Consider these coping mechanisms.
You don’t have to go cold turkey on your recently departed elephant. If it’s cheap to lease, then pay some rent every once in awhile.
You might have friends who continue to possess whatever it is you abandoned. Ask for visitation rights.
Adopt Cheaper Technologies
Shovels for snow blowers, paddles for outboard motors, skis/snowshoes for snowmobiles, tents for RVs, mountain bikes for ATVs, push mowers for lawn tractors, pogo sticks for trampolines, ping pong tables for tennis courts, warm baths in bathtubs instead of continued soakings in hot tubs. You get the idea.
* * *
So consider this money saving advice. Set aside some time to review your guardianship of any possible pachyderms. If you acknowledge the elephant in the room instead of just continuing to ignore it, you just might get to enjoy some jumbo-sized savings.