By Janet Groene, F47166
Full-timers can find numerous ways to save money, time, and aggravation. The key to doing so is by staying informed about the best products and information sources available. What follows is a selection of news items and helpful tips to make your life on the road a little easier.
Full-timers choose their “home” state for many different reasons — usually climate, favorable tax laws, or family ties. However, there is another reason for selecting the “right” home address if you have children who are headed for college. State residents get a break on tuition at state schools; out-of-state residents pay far more. According to the October 2002 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, great public school deals can be found throughout the United States for students who choose to matriculate in their home state.
Of the schools included in the magazine’s list of the “100 Best Values in Public Colleges,” the University of Texas, Dallas had the lowest in-state tuition at $1,056, followed by San Diego State University ($1,428) and three North Carolina schools: Appalachian State University ($1,572); the University of North Carolina, Asheville ($1,591); and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington ($1,622).
Price alone, however, does not make for a valuable education. In its overall rankings, the magazine also took into consideration factors such as graduation rates, student-to-faculty ratio, and financial aid availability to come up with its “best value” institutions, led by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Other top schools included the University of Virginia; the University of California, Berkeley; the College of William & Mary (Virginia); and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Tuition is another form of compensation that RV workers might consider. If you have skills that are applicable to a university job — from teaching to janitorial services — consider applying for a campus position at a school that offers free or discounted tuition for employees and their children.
For the magazine’s complete rankings, plus tips on financial aid, ask a reference librarian to help you find the October 2002 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance or access the information online: www.kiplinger.com/links/college.
Full-timers enthusiastically scoop up plastic gift certificates that swipe like credit cards, mail in an envelope, and can be used nationwide. Without having to wrap and mail a parcel, you can give the grandchildren an opportunity to buy their favorite CD at Media Play, send your son a $100 spending spree at Home Depot, treat your in-laws to a night out at Olive Garden, and give your best friend the gift of her choice from Sears. Gift cards, usually in denominations of $5 and up, can be purchased at dozens of national chain restaurants, retailers, and home improvement stores.
All cards are not alike, however, so the buyer should beware. Most store-brand credit cards are good for face value and can be used only at outlets in that chain. Visa and MasterCard gift cards can be used almost anywhere, but you’ll be charged extra fees beyond the amount of the gift. Expiration dates for gift cards are usually 12 to 14 months after purchase, depending on store policy and state laws. In some cases, the card stays active if it’s used occasionally, and penalties don’t kick in until it’s been unused for a certain number of months. Some cards, if unused, incur a monthly charge of $1.50 to $5 until the value has evaporated.
Also find out whether recipients get change or credit if they spend less than the face amount. For instance, the old paper gift certificates at Winn-Dixie stores were used as cash; the user could buy a pack of gum for 50 cents and get $19.50 cash back from a $20 gift certificate. Today, most gift cards, including those from the Eckerd drugstores and Winn-Dixie supermarkets, work the same as other debit cards. Just keep swiping the card until it’s gone to the last penny.
What happens if the card is lost or stolen? Again, policies vary. Keep your receipt and a record of all the numbers on the card. Some will be replaced for the entire, unused amount, but only if the buyer registers them immediately after purchase.
Prepaid phone cards make great gifts for any gender and any age. Again, understand the rules about usage, loss or theft, and the expiration date.
Walk the Big Apple
Manhattan is no place to drive a motorhome, but we love staying at the nearest campground (for a fraction of the cost of a Manhattan hotel room) and taking the bus into the city. If you liked the book Manhattan on Film ($14.95, Limelight Editions), the same publisher has released Manhattan on Film 2: More Walking Tours of Location Sites in the Big Apple ($15.95). Author Chuck Katz describes 13 routes you can walk, with an explanation of what movie sites you’ll see along the way. It’s fun to recall the stars and movie plots while visiting places where the films were shot. This pocket-size paperback can be ordered at bookstores or through online booksellers.
We recently crossed from Alaska to the Yukon Territory in a rented RV with Alaska plates. Our passports were examined briefly, we answered a few cheerful questions, and we were on our way. Returning to the United States, the delay was longer. A customs officer entered the RV, looked around, opened the refrigerator, and asked if we brought back any prescriptions. However, that crossing also was businesslike and pleasant.
I conducted an informal survey about crossing the American-Canadian border with several members of the Society of American Travel Writers, some who cross weekly and even daily, and others who have crossed only once. It was no surprise to find that each person’s experience was different. Some were waved on through without a glance at their papers, while a few others went through lengthy delays and/or searches. Some had widely different experiences at the same border crossing on the same day. One American woman missed an entire day of meetings, because she didn’t bring her passport. She was not allowed into Canada until her passport arrived via FedEx from her hometown.
My conclusions: First, it pays to carry a passport, even where it is not officially required. It’s useful not only for crossing borders but for any identification purposes, including banking or currency exchanges. Second, you never know what to expect. It all depends on the day, whether the state of security alert is high or low, and the mood of the border guards. Some are “by the book” tough, while the next shift may wave you through with hardly a glance. Third, RVers are subject to special attention, simply because we can carry more items and the vehicle has more concealed storage areas. Expect to spend extra time at the border. I was told that RVs with Texas plates are especially suspect in Canada because of that state’s liberal handgun laws. Finally, it’s generally easier for Americans to get into Canada than to get back into the United States. While in Canada, safeguard your passport or birth certificate. You’ll need it to get home.
Cell phone fine print
Before you sign up for a cell phone, make sure you like the deal well enough to stick with it. If you terminate service before fulfilling the contract, exit fees could be as high as $200. The charge is legal, and it’s right there in black and white. Read the fine print.
It is getting more expensive to be late paying your bills. Many major credit cards name not only the due date but the hour. Suppose your payment is due on or before 3:00 p.m. on a Monday that is a holiday. Since only bank business days count, your check has to arrive the previous Friday by the appointed hour. If that office picks up its mail at 10:00 a.m. Friday, and your check doesn’t arrive at the post office until after that time, you’re late. And being late means a penalty of $25 or more, getting kicked up into a higher interest rate bracket, or both. Considering holidays, bank days, and those hourly deadlines, your payment may need to arrive as many as four or five days ahead of the actual due date just to be on time.
Be careful not to be late with payments on interest-free accounts, which are popular with some hospitals, doctor and dental offices, and retail stores. If you are late with such a payment, the contract may now allow the company to charge interest of 20 percent or more on the entire amount, not only the remaining balance. The solution? Get your mail as promptly as possible and act on it immediately. If you can’t mail the check at least 10 days ahead of the due date, use expedited delivery. The $10 or more you spend on FedEx or Express Mail could save more than twice that in penalties or increased interest rates. Electronic bill paying is increasingly popular, but it has its horror stories, too. If you are using this method, be sure the payment went from the bank to the payee and was properly and promptly credited to your account.
A new three-digit telephone number, 511, has been set aside by the FCC as a national traffic information source. As of this writing, only a handful of states have the 511 system in place, but many others are in the process of putting it into operation. By dialing 511 in the areas that are using the system, you receive updates on traffic jams, road closures, and detours in the area you’re traveling. To learn which states have this in operation, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/511.htm.
Own-your-own campsite caveat
Do you know what a nonjudicial foreclosure is? If you’re looking to buy a lot in a campground that is governed by a board or owner’s association, you’ll want to ask how often this type of foreclosure has been initiated during the lifetime of the property. You may own a campsite free and clear, but you could lose it if you fall behind in your assessments or dues, or if you refuse to pay a fine levied against you by the board. When you do buy into such a situation, know your rights, pay all fees on time, play by the rules to avoid fines, pay any fines promptly (even if you are disputing them), and participate in meetings and decision making.
A tax break
Shopping for a towed car? By purchasing one of the new hybrid gas-electric cars, you could get a $2,000 tax credit from the IRS. Check with your tax adviser, not the car salesperson, for details.
Avoid identity theft
Here are some useful addresses supplied by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Administrator of National Banks, to help cut down on the risk of having your identity stolen. Get off “junk” mail lists by sending your name and address to DMA Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735. If you also want your phone number taken off such lists, write a separate letter to the same address using the box number 9014, and don’t forget to include your phone number. If you don’t want to receive preapproved offers for credit, call 888-5-OPT-OUT (567-8688). Some offers come with official-looking checks printed with your name and address and could become an identity theft nightmare if they fall into the wrong hands.
If you are a victim of identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission, (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338), as well as these credit reporting companies: Trans Union (800) 680-7289; Equifax (800) 525-6285; and Experian (888) 397-3742.
Two in one
We have long doted on our cordless Black & Decker DustBuster, but now Ryobi has introduced a 12-volt, cordless hand vacuum and drill motor. The combo comes with two rechargeable battery packs, one charger, a drill motor with a 3/8-inch chuck, a 24-position clutch, and screwdriver bits, plus a powerful vacuum with crevice tool, brush nozzle, and filter. It all comes in a slick carrying case. We find ourselves using it every day in our RV. Look for this new tool in home improvement stores.
Thanks to the national pack rat syndrome, it’s easy to find self-storage space in almost any community. If you’re shopping for a unit to hold the overflow from your motor coach, here are some ideas:
- Look for discounts, which are often available in an area’s “off” season, such as summer in a ski area or after school has let out in a college town. There may be a move-in discount that applies for the first few onths; some companies even offer a senior citizen discount.
- Check with your insurer and, if necessary, buy extra coverage for the items in storage. In any case, keep a careful inventory of everything that is in storage.
- Comparison shop at national storage facilities, such as www.extraspace.com. The company has units in 14 states. Public Storage www.publicstorage.com) has more than 800,000 self-service storage spaces in 80 U.S. and Canadian cities.
- In choosing a storage unit, look for good security (lights, locks, attendant on site) at a facility that will be accessible when it’s convenient for you.