By Janet Groene, F47166
The best-selling book Who Moved My Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson, M.D., is about staying nimble in the fast-changing business world. Full-timers also need to keep changing and maneuvering to stay afloat financially. Lower fuel prices mean we can cover more miles each year, but expenses for nearly everything else seem to have gone up. Social Security checks inched upward 2 percent, but Medicare health insurance costs increased 10 percent. Some Medi-gap policies went up even more, and several HMO policies have disappeared altogether, leaving seniors scrambling to find new policies at higher prices. Interest rates are at rock bottom, which is bad news for those who rely on certificates of deposit and Treasury bills for cash flow. Here are some new wrinkles on affordable full-timing.
The mail-order mess
Mail order is a must for most people on the go, but have you noticed that shipping and handling costs have skyrocketed? According to one study, at least half of all online retailers consider shipping and handling part of the profit picture, so they charge more — sometimes much, much more — than the actual U.S. Postal Service or UPS rates. I find myself reading the shipping information before looking at the merchandise online or in a catalog. Here are some ways to save:
- If one handling charge applies to each order regardless of weight or dollar amount, lump orders together. All family gifts for, say, May and June might be sent to one relative who could distribute them to recipients at the right time.
- Some online sellers offer a layaway program. If one is available at the Internet retailer you’re patronizing, keep all of your selections in your electronic shopping cart until you have enough to make shipping cost-effective. The merchant may, for example, offer free shipping for orders exceeding a certain amount such as $50, $75, or $100.
- Order well in advance so you can ask for shipping by the cheapest method. Faster service costs more. Books ship at the low Media Mail rate (also called Book Rate) with the postal service, but strictly by weight with UPS and FedEx.
- Some orders are postage-free if you send a check, money order, or credit card number with the order instead of waiting to be billed.
- Always look at the bottom line. Some shippers charge according to weight and distance; others charge by the dollar amount, which means you could pay $10 to $12 for shipping a $40 compact disc that weighs only a few ounces.
Saving and spending
There are plenty of ways to save on credit card charges, taxes, and travel expenses if you keep your eyes open.
- Change credit card companies if you can save money by doing so. Among companies that charge the lowest interest rates at this writing are Pulaski Bank & Trust with an interest rate of 6.5 percent and a $35 annual fee (800-980-2265); and USAA Savings Bank at 7 percent with a $45 annual fee (800-922-9092). For those who pay off the balance every month, a low-interest card that carries no annual fee is available from Chase Manhattan Bank (800-413-5661). Interest rates are typically higher on no-fee cards, so make sure you pay the bill on time and avoid using one to get cash advances. Interest rates can be as high as 19 percent on some cards; on cash advances, interest is charged from the day you receive the money.
- Make a point of checking with your tax adviser early this year. New (and more generous) tax rules apply for 2002 in regard to IRAs and 401(k) plans, and they are different for people over 50 than for younger people. You can put more money in your retirement account and, if your income is less than $50,000 per couple, you can receive a tax credit for the contribution.
- Some companies are getting slower about sending bills, which means you have a far shorter grace period to send in your payment. At the same time, late-payment penalties are typically $25 to $35 for credit cards and up to $200 for other accounts, such as a mortgage. Allow plenty of time for mail delays, and always check the due date as soon as you receive a bill.
- Freebies galore are available on the highway, but RV travelers miss many of them, because they are advertised in booklets found only at hotels or motels. We recently stopped at a popular national chain restaurant that was next-door to a chain motel, so we strolled over for a look around after dinner. In the lobby, a brochure rack was filled with free “magazines” containing coupons good for savings of $2 or more on admissions to area attractions and a number of meal deals. Their savings totaled nearly $200.
- Traveler coupon books found at interstate rest stops are free, but 99 percent of the coupons are for lodging discounts. Only a few, if any, apply to meals, admissions, or campgrounds. Restaurants are a good source for finding free newspapers and magazines that contain discount coupons for meals and attractions; supermarkets often contain booklets filled with a variety of local discounts on meals, haircuts, or car washes.
Never pass up an official state or city welcome center (except in rare instances where parking is not ample for your motorhome). Pick up freebies including maps, brochures, and discount booklets. The key word is official. Some welcome centers or information centers are nothing but tourist traps selling souvenirs.
Coping and hoping
Why pay more for prescription drugs and Internet service when other options can help you save money?
- If you take a high-priced prescription drug, you may be able to cut costs by using AARP’s prescription service ($15 a year for AARP members; 800-523-5800) or by taking advantage of plans offered by major drug companies. Usually, such plans are good only for drugs made by those companies. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, offers a plan to seniors who do not have public or private insurance programs and whose income is below $26,000 or for families earning less than $35,000. Ask about the Orange Card, which saves approximately one-third of the cost of drugs (888-672-6436). Merck’s YourxPlan costs $25 per person or $40 per family to buy prescriptions at a deep discount. For more information, call (877) 733-6765 or visit www.yourrxplan.com.
- Saving can be as simple as letting your physician know that you don’t have insurance coverage for prescriptions. Often, your doctor may have free samples available. Always ask if the prescription is available in generic form, and ask how the doctor feels about substitutes. In many cases, my doctor says, it doesn’t matter. But occasionally, doctors point out the importance of taking a specific brand. Look into costs for higher dosages, too, and check with your doctor or pharmacist about whether you can buy 100 pills at 30 mg strength and take half a pill each day rather than buying 200 pills at 15 mg each. However, always check with your physician before making any adjustment to the way you take your prescription medication.
Check, too, with your health insurer and with nationwide pharmacy chains to see if a discount plan is available. Even if prescriptions aren’t included in your plan, a discount might be available at pharmacies that honor that insurance plan’s card. For one-time prescriptions, we get telephone quotes from three local pharmacies. Savings can be $5 and more per prescription. If you’re an honorably discharged veteran, check with the Department of Veterans Affairs about benefits available to you. The illness need not be related to your military service.
- Most of us have to make toll calls at least sometimes to access our Internet servers. A service called BAMnet can help in this regard. It originally was intended to serve people in remote areas who can’t reach an Internet service provider (ISP) without making a toll call. Dial BAMnet’s toll-free number from anywhere in the contiguous United States (not Alaska or Hawaii), and you’re online for 6.5 cents per minute. With BAMnet’s Internet Travel option you can choose to pay with a credit card or have your per-minute usage billed to your home phone bill no matter where you are. With either option, no monthly fees are charged.
Program BAMnet’s number into your computer and use it anywhere you want to get online. You pay only for minutes you use and, if you like, BAMnet can be your only service provider. All you need is a free e-mail service such as Yahoo or Hotmail. If you’re paying $20 monthly or more for an ISP now, you can get five hours per month from BAMnet for the same price, including nationwide access. Compare the cost and convenience of BAMnet to what you are paying now for long-distance calls to access your ISP, the monthly cost of an ISP, and user time at Internet cafes. For more information, visit www.bamnet.com, e-mail email@example.com, or call (877) 322-6638.
- When a friend decided to go full-timing, he went about the task of cleaning out files, receipts, cancelled checks, stock records, and other sensitive material he had collected through the years. He was quite concerned about identity theft and other privacy issues, yet burning the material was illegal in his neighborhood and the volume of trash was far too much for a personal shredder. Then he found out about commercial shredders used by banks and other large businesses. He called one such company and was very happy with the results. If you have sensitive papers that must be properly destroyed, check the Yellow Pages under Trash Hauling, Waste Management, or Office Supplies, or call your neighborhood bank and ask for recommendations.
- We can’t say it often enough. Read and re-read the owners manual that came with your motorhome and become familiar with all of the coach’s accessories and components. Here is just one way you’ll save. If your coach or towed car is one of the new vehicles equipped with antifreeze that is good for up to five years, you may want to reconsider the need to replace it every two years as you perhaps have done in the past.
Book for travelers
An interesting approach to a healthy future is Dr. Fred Stutman’s book, Diet-Step 20 Grams/20 Minutes For Women Only! ($25.95, Medical Manor Books). The author, a medical doctor, makes it easy to stay fit and lose weight with a basic program involving a daily regimen of 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of fiber, and 20 minutes of exercise. Dr. Stutman recommends brisk walks, which are the easiest exercise in the full-timing life. The charts he provides make it easy to portion food, plan meals, or walk off a candy bar. Find it in bookstores, from online booksellers, or from the publisher at www.medicalmanorbooks.com; (800) 343-8464.
If you pursue an active, next-to-nature life on the road, perhaps you should consider adding a canoe or kayak to your travel accessories. Then add Sandy Huff’s book, Paddler’s Guide to the Sunshine State ($29.95, University Press of Florida), to your library. Florida doesn’t offer much white water, but it’s threaded with numerous waterways that weave through primeval jungles and golden swamps. This book is one of the most thorough guides to Florida’s outdoors available and is sure to pique your interest in paddling. It’s available in bookstores; from online booksellers; and from the publisher at www.upf.com, or by calling (800) 226-3822 in the United States and (800) 847-9736 in Canada.