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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can you afford to snowbird?

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 do-able.

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 on the downswing. 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 you 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 e-mail 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..

Thursday, September 25, 2014

RV shoppers: A leaky RV is no bargain

Among the pet peeves of a prominent RV technician – customers who bring him an RV with a roof leak. No, he's not upset because your roof developed a leak; that kind of thing can happen. Rather, it's the customer who recently bought the RV, only to discover the roof leaks. In many cases, the seller was often a private party who swore up and down that the roof was just fine, no leaks.

A roof leak is a serious problem – in many cases a leak can cause serious structural damage. Serious spelled "thousands of dollars to repair." So if you're shopping for a used rig, BEWARE the leaky teaky. How can you protect yourself from a leaker?

Stain gives away leaking vent. R&T De Maris
First, know what to look for. Leaks in RVs frequently leave tell-tale signatures. Look up at the ceiling – if you see discoloration on the ceiling, often a brownish stain, look out. And always open the upper cabinets and look inside at the ceiling area – leaks often develop at the edge of the unit, along a seam, and manifest themselves close to an inside wall.

Certain types of rigs have areas where leaks are more prone to occur. Looking at a motorhome? Class C units often leak at the cab-over area, and near slide-outs. Class A units are said to have the lowest leak rate, but look closely around slide-outs. Towable rigs where you find an "end cap" at the front or rear of the rig will often spout loose here. All rigs with roof vents, and particularly skylights, do well to have a close look.

Don't limit your leak-looking to the ceiling – windows can leak, as well as any other area where the skin is opened up for a passage. Open lower cabinets, look closely at walls. Watch for the tell-tale signs of corruption – discoloration. Warped wall paper can also indicate water infiltration. At floor level you could find signs of damage from plumbing leaks.

Use your nose to check for possible leakage. If you open the RV door and get the scent of mold or mildew – run away quick. Mold or mildew is a huge clue of leakage, and probable serious damage.

If you find evidence that that rig has leaked, the best advice is to run the other direction. But if you have just "fallen in love" with the unit, then spend a bit of your own money and hire an RV technician to evaluate the rig and give his professional advice as to what it might cost to really put the rig to rights. In the long run, you may save BIG bucks.