Worth the debt? A cabin owner reflects upon his investment.

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2013 - 5:40 PM

A cabin owner reflects upon the wisdom of a taking on a second home, a second mortgage and a second set of yard work.

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The lakefront at the Brackin family cabin has seen many happy memories — as well as its share of mishaps and near-misses.

About the time the oldest of our three children was in junior high, we met with a financial planner, seeking his advice on whether it made any sense for us to buy the lake cabin we desired in northern Minnesota. He took a look at our meager savings and said absolutely not, advising us instead to go on a full-scale savings plan, apparently fearing we had forgotten that we had three children we hoped would one day graduate from college.

We bought the cabin.

Best investment we ever made, and only partly because of financial reasons. This was never an investment that was about money.

My wife, Margie, and I have frequently watched gorgeous sunsets from the deck of our cabin, surrounded by pine trees as we gaze across the lake.

We have had our three children, now adults, and their families join us at the lake for quality time that we certainly would not otherwise have had.

We have spent play time — barbecue dinners, swimming off a pontoon and campfires — with relatives we might not have otherwise been with — my wife’s family has three cabins on different lakes within 5 miles of ours.

We have boated and fished and swam with grandchildren. Trade that for a larger savings account? No thanks.

All the while content in the knowledge that we are far enough north — three hours — that I can’t be summoned to the office for a breaking news story. Hate to admit it to my superiors, but that peace of mind has been a real benefit.

The cabin — and it is a real, old-fashioned cabin, the kind that is hard to find these days — has so often been our refuge, our getaway from the stresses of the everyday world and especially from those stresses that go beyond everyday life.

I don’t want to sound totally like Thoreau at Walden Pond. It hasn’t all been idyllic.

There was the call from our son asking us if we were aware our beautiful wraparound deck had been sawed in half and cranked away from our cabin. No, we weren’t aware of it, and we were in the Tetons at the time, visiting relatives. A quick explainer: We had hired a handyman to put in two doors, but when he saw rot under one of the doors he took it upon himself to fix the rot, which he felt required sawing off the wraparound deck to get at the boards under the cabin. Go figure.

And there was the time one of our sons, a teenager then, went up with a group of friends and lowered the boat into the water without putting in the boat plug — after a weeklong series of lectures about always putting the plug in the boat before putting it in the water.

We’ve had nephews lose a fishing motor off the back of a boat (my fault, it was decided, for not having a safety latch on the motor). We’ve battled mosquitoes, been stung by bees and contacted poison ivy.

Accept it. It’s all part of cabin life.

And it is a second home, so there’s double the yard work and an endless series of repairs. New roof. New siding. And of course, new deck, which allowed us to make contact with a new handyman, whom I now count as a friend.

Along with the family that runs the local marine. And the family that owns the local coffee shop. And the guys at the local lumberyard, who approve all my projects before I grab a tool. And the retired teachers who are the best neighbors a cabin owner could have, the kind who send us ice-out pictures in the spring.

Yes, a cabin is a tremendous investment. In family. In tranquillity. In friends.

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