By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Are you an RVer tired of the cold winter weather and ready to become a snowbird? Worried you can’t afford it? Here are a few things to help you figure out whether or not you can fit the snowbird lifestyle into your financial limits.
Getting away from the cold country for the winter can bring some amount of relief to your finances. Pull out the records for the last couple of years and figure out how much you’re spending on heating the house. You may be able to cut way back on that expense, and in some cases, even eliminate it altogether. How so?
When you’re out of the home for the winter, you can cut way back on your thermostat dial. There are a couple of different views on the heating issue. Some snowbirds leave the heating system on, but dial back as far as they can on the temperature – up enough to prevent pipe freeze, but low enough to keep the energy-chewing heat system at bay. Others drain their pipes and water heater, dump RV antifreeze into their plumbing drains, and shut down the heat system altogether. It takes a bit of doing to ensure you have all the water out of the system, but for some it’s doable.
Before you decide to take that approach, check out your home insurance policy. Some insurance companies require that heat be left on at all times, and if something adverse were to happen in your absence, if you step outside the bounds of the policy, you may find yourself not covered.
Aside from reducing the cost of home heating, there are other financial savings snowbirds can rack up. Other utility costs may be able to be reduced. For example, how much does your home TV cable or satellite provider ring up? Some of these may be put on “vacation” settings, or shut off entirely. Of course, you’ll need to weigh the costs of reconnection and setup fees. Your water usage, while gone, will certainly go down, and you can also put garbage collection services away for the winter.
Now comes the balancing act – and the balance sheet. Of course, it does cost you to snowbird, too. But there are ways to run those costs down.
How much will it cost you to get to and from your snowbird destination? While coming back costs may be hard to predict, right now, the cost of motor fuel is fairly low. You can keep travel fuel costs down and still enjoy RVing by “sitting put” for longer periods of time and enjoying the local scenery and activities, rather than constantly traveling.
What about “where to stay” costs? If you have a membership in a camping club, check out costs for staying in your targeted snowbird area. Check out how long you can stay in any given park during your season. Consider other discounts available: You may qualify for discounted stays at state or federal campgrounds.
If you’re “stuck” with staying at a privately operated RV park, you may find that paying by the month, the season, or even for a full year in advance can rack up considerable savings. Sure you may not really stay a full year in the snowbird zone, but paying the whole year may actually save money. Here’s an example: In Quartzsite, Arizona, a big snowbird capital, rent on an RV space in many parks runs $1,000 to $1,200 per year, while renting by the month can run $300 or more.
What about boondocking? Here’s where real money can be saved. Again, using Quartzsite as an example, for less than $200 for the entire snowbird season, RVers can camp out on the desert and still have access to water, a sewage dump, and garbage drop off. Of course, you’ll need to make a capital investment in outfitting your rig with solar panels to provide enough electricity to care for your needs, as there are no hookups available in the desert.
Some RVers simply roll into Quartzsite and make an appointment with one of the local solar retailers, and get solar installed on their rigs within a few days. The money they save from staying at an RV park pays for their solar installation, and they retire to the desert and the low-cost camping.
But what about the “hidden” costs of snowbirding? There can be a few. If you stay in a given area for a lengthy period, you may find it easier to rent a post office box, rather than rely on General Delivery for your mail. A small box will set you back a few dollars. What about TV? If you need more than the limited “free” TV signals coming off the air, then you’ll have to factor in satellite TV for your RV. And Internet service? If you stay in an RV park, it’s often included as a “free” service; just don’t count on it for downloading movies and other big data-hogging activities. RV park WiFi service is generally dependable only for getting your email and web browsing. If you depend on the Internet for more, then add the cost of service – most dependably a cellular provider’s 4G service.
Medical care? Again, read your insurance policy carefully. Most policies will provide for emergency and “urgent” care; but if you need to see a doctor for more than that – say regular testing or consultation, make sure your policy will cover you where you go, and factor in additional costs if needed.
Many RVers are happy to “break even,” or even find they spend a little bit more to snowbird. After all, getting away from sore joints, snow shoveling, and gray skies can make a huge difference in life’s enjoyment. A few others find they even save money by getting away from Old Man Winter.