I follow a number of bloggers who love to talk about their fulltime lifestyles, from major strategic decision-making right down to what a great beer they had last night. The ones I find most interesting are the “I wish I knew that before I set out” posts, that every fulltimer seems to have once a year or so rolls around and they take stock of their experiences, or a forehead-smack moment happens.
A blog that I follow pretty closely is “Technomadia“, created and run by Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard, who have been fulltiming for a number of years in a 60’s-era converted GMC bus. Apparently Chris is very knowledgeable about electronics, mobile connectivity and RV tech, and despite their much-overhauled, 50-year-old vehicle, they have pushed the envelope of cutting-edge RV tech considerably . I bought one of their books, “The Mobile Internet Handbook”, and it has helped me develop a picture of what I think I need to stay connected once we hit the road. Other bloggers, who mostly write in order to generate an income stream from advertisers, write about different aspects of the full-timing lifestyle: the places they go, unexpected problems like mouse infestations, RV cooking, DIY and a host of RV trivia about things most folks don’t think about very much in their weekends-only RV experience. How do you wash an RV? How do you change the oil yourself? Service a generator? Where do you park when boondocking and for how long? How do solar panels work on an RV?
Another great source of information on RV life is YouTube, where video bloggers like the RVGeeks, Gone with the Wynns, RVwithTito, Pippi Peterson and RVLove throw out a steady stream of RV advice on repairs, upgrades and generally anything having to do with the RV experience.
At this stage of our preparations, we’ve done a lot of the strategic decision-making for our RV escape. Being government employees, Pat and I have separate, self-only, Federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans that we’ll take into retirement with us. As anybody who moves a lot knows, BCBS wants you to incorporate your plan in whichever state you reside (Blue Cross Massachusetts, etc.), and it can be difficult when you don’t own property in any one state. But the Federal Employee BCBS plan doesn’t tie itself to one state, has no problem with us using a mail forwarding service as our official address, and since we each have our own plan (cheaper than doing a “self plus one” option), if we need to see a doctor or refill a prescription in any one place, the BCBS folks won’t give us any guff about the location in which the service is performed. I’m still a bit confused about how to transfer my medical records between doctors in distant states, but that’s one of the things we’re working on.
We also plan to keep our current Maryland doctors in the loop, with the possibility of doing a yearly stop in MD to visit kids, get physicals, dental cleanings and vision checks.
Speaking of prescriptions, Pat and I both take regular drugs for mundane things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes management, etc. We decided to go with Walgreens as our usual provider since they have a nationwide computer network and we can simply use their app on our smart phones to scan the barcode off our empty pill bottle, choose the Walgreens nearest to us, and half a day later pick up the drugs. At the time we decided on Walgreens. it boasted a larger nationwide network of outlets than CVS, and Wal-Mart didn’t make the short list due to other factors. Hopefully this plan will stand the test of time, but if not, we’ll adapt and overcome.
Our excellent credit union at our workplace has handled our finances for 30+ years, and we see no reason to change just because we won’t be near one of their branches. Secure online access to our bank accounts makes a lot of stuff on the road possible with minimal risk as long as we’re careful about only using it on our 4G links. Our credit union has a share system with other participating CU’s that allows us to make 4 fee-exempt ATM withdrawals per month, wherever we are, and any other cash needs can be handled through cash-backs at grocery stores and other retail outlets. Our CU’s free bill-paying service facilitates anticipated regular bills like satellite TV, cell phones and 4G, and even features a free, web-based, Quicken-like accounting service for tracking our expenses. Things like pension annuities, social security and 401K disbursements are all handled by direct deposit these days, so the check doesn’t have to be in the mail anymore.
We’ve been advised by many folks that getting a loan becomes problematic when you don’t have a local address to serve as a statement to the bank of your liquidity. We don’t anticipate the need for a lot of loans since we’re buying the major things – RV and toad- with cash as much as possible, and hopefully we’ll build up a slush fund for things like medical co-pays or unexpected large expenses. The lack of an RV loan may hurt us in the federal income tax department, as we won’t have the same itemizations that we benefit from regarding home ownership (mortgage interest, property tax, etc.), but if we can save a bit of our retirement income to handle any overflows, it should work out.
South Dakota. It’s not just for statuesque presidents.
Once we sell our Maryland home, we’ll be free to drive out to South Dakota and become domiciled there, even before we buy our RV. SD has changed recently to make it a bit less attractive among the three (Florida and Texas are the others) top domicile states for fulltimers due to state income tax breaks. They raised their vehicle sales tax from 3% to 4% (sort of a big deal if you’re buying a $150k RV), and some counties have a “wheel tax,” so care must be taken to set things up properly in the right county. But the other states have certain restrictions too, such as vehicle inspections that require a yearly stopover, or a requirement for a CDL if you drive an RV. Escapees, an RV club favored by many fulltimers (and of which we are members) has expanded out of its home state of Texas and has set up mail forwarding services in South Dakota, so it’s not so hard to choose SD as our home state.
The best thing about South Dakota is its residency requirements. All we have to do is stay one night in a motel or campground, show the receipt to the DMV, and we can swap our Maryland drivers’ licences for South Dakota licenses.
You’ve actually got Mail.
Most folks handle their snail mail via a mail forwarding service. We plan on using a South Dakota firm to do this, mostly because of the ease of determining what we want to see and where it’s sent. Many forwarders have a website that lets you see a scanned image of the envelope so you can make the decision of having it forwarded or discarded as spam. It costs a bit extra to have the mail filtered this way, but ultimately it pays off by not having junkmail forwarded to our current location. When we’re on the move, we log onto the website and instruct the forwarder to hang onto the mail until we reach our next destination. When we arrive, we log on again and input the address of that week’s campground, and the mail arrives at the campground’s office for us to pick up. Online purchases are done pretty much this same way, but are shipped to our current address directly, specified when we check our cart out. I favor Amazon Prime ($99/year), which allows free shipping on a lot of items. The plethora of spare parts, gizmos and upgrades for RVs on Amazon is amazing, and as long as it’s not too complicated, I’m willing to handle most repairs myself with the right parts and tools.
Some mail forwarders go beyond simply handling your mail needs. At least one will handle the legwork of registering your vehicle and shipping you the plates, and that’s going to come in handy since, following our switch to South Dakota, we’ll likely drive over to whoever has the RV we want – in Texas, Florida or wherever – buy it and handle the registration and insurance issues via the mail. One forwarder advised me that it takes about a week to turn around an RV registration in the mail. It’s going to necessitate a deal of motel-ing while we wait for this, but that’s sort of a part of the mobile lifestyle.
That’s enough for now. More when I get my thoughts sorted out.