By Janet Groene, F47166
Change is a fact of modern life, but each day seems to present more challenges for the full-timer. You must be nimble to keep your balance (and your bankroll), and even small changes can mean a big difference in comforts or costs. Here are the latest wrinkles, warnings, and tips for the full-timer.
Bird-dogging for Wi-Fi
Do you have to boot up your computer and search for a signal before you know if you’re in an area that has wireless Internet reception? The WiFi Finder from Kensington is small enough to carry on a keychain and lets you know if you’re in a “hot” area. The inexpensive device (less than $30) is available from the company online at www.kensington.com and from other retailers that sell electronics.
Charges for non-use
Watch those credit card interest charges. One company offers six months of free interest if you transfer your balances to its card, but the deal requires you to use the card twice a month for new charges. And these new charges are subject to an interest rate of approximately 14 percent. All your new payments go to the original balance first, while the new balance keeps building at a high interest rate. Your best bet is to get out of debt and stay that way.
Charity begins at home
When you sell your home and possessions to go full-timing, there are many ways to dispose of your belongings. You can distribute them to your kids, throw them out, hold an auction, run want ads, or have a garage sale. Most of us do all of the above. Another quick, carefree option is to donate them to a charity and take the tax deduction. ItsDeductible software ($19.95) lists thousands of items and their approximate value as a donation, depending on whether they are in good, moderate, or merely acceptable condition.
The information is eye-opening, especially in regard to such items as expensive clothing, books, collectibles, and artwork that are hard to sell at tag sales. The software can be used by itself or with TurboTax software.
Have patience with the program, which I found counterintuitive. It requires you to input the name of the charity that received the item before it will tell you the value of the item. I finally discovered that certain blanks must be filled in, with fictitious names if necessary, to get to the value of items.
The values listed by the program are much too high to use as a pricing guideline for a garage sale, at least in the Southeast. However, this software is an authoritative guide for tax deductions, especially if you have receipts and records to back up your claims. It is available where tax software is sold or at www.itsdeductible.com. When you register the program online, you can also get updates to the price lists.
ItsDeductible software also allows you to track other charitable contributions, such as tickets to benefits and mileage you drive as a volunteer. It’s a useful program to have on hand all year. The sooner you get started, the bigger your tax savings.
Comparison shopping can be difficult when you’re on the go and can’t shop around from store to store to find the lowest prices. Visit www.pricegrabber.com to help you find the best deals. The Web site even has a feature that notifies you when a major chain store lowers its price on an item you want.
Emergency radio information is essential when you’re on the go. The radio(s) in your motorhome are suitable for most needs, but Grundig makes a small unit that does far more. Weighing less than two pounds, the Grundig FR200 AM/FM/SW Emergency Radio has an integrated flashlight and pulls in shortwave signals as well as AM and FM stations. The radio is equipped with a rechargeable battery pack, but also will operate on three “AA” batteries. Should the battery pack run low and batteries aren’t available, a built-in hand-crank generator allows users to recharge the battery pack for an hour’s worth of power with a minute of cranking.
The radio sells for less than $40 and can be found at national chain stores such as RadioShack and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Gift shopping at the last minute is a hassle when you’re on the road, but www.giftcertificates.com is a Web site for one-stop shopping for any birthday or holiday. Choose from a long list of apparel stores, bookstore chains, children’s and teen’s stores, travel suppliers, restaurants, and much more. The gift certificate can be ordered instantly and mailed or e-mailed to the recipient, complete with a personal message. Investigate thoroughly so you understand each vendor’s policies regarding expiration dates, cash and exchange privileges, and other requirements that the gift recipient must meet.
Leave a lasting legacy with people or places you’ve visited with the gift of a tree from American Forests Historic Tree Nursery. Every seedling originated in a historic site. Charles Lindbergh’s boyhood home provides red maples; the nursery’s apple trees are descendants of the last tree known to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed himself; live oaks are from the William Bartram Trail; a gingko comes from the area of Independence, Missouri, where Harry Truman lived. The story of this project is fascinating, and its potential as a lasting gift that full-timers can send is enormous.
Species are available for all planting zones and represent a long list of heritages, from Appomattox Courthouse honey locusts to Sgt. Alvin York tulip poplars “” even trees from Elvis Presley’s Graceland home. Each tree comes with instructions and protective planting aids, a certificate of authenticity, and a metal plaque. Prices range from $40 to $60 for small trees plus overnight shipping; larger trees are also available. Request a catalog by calling (800) 320-8733 or visit www.historictrees.org.
Locked in a cell?
If you dread getting a new cell phone because you don’t want to re-enter all your existing phone numbers, ask the cell-phone retailer if the job can be done electronically. Verizon Wireless, for example, will transfer all of the numbers from your old phone to the new one for only $5.
Some rebate cards quarantine all of your accumulated rewards if your payment is late. Then they charge a hefty fee to reinstate them. This is in addition to other late fees and penalties. It’s one more reason to make sure every credit card is paid in full and on time.
Spam is an annoyance to anyone, but to full-timers who are paying by the minute for time online, it also can be a pain in the pocketbook. To reduce the amount of spam you receive, go to www.the-dma.org, the Web site for the Direct Marketing Association. Click on “For Consumers” and follow the instructions for opting out. You can list up to three e-mail addresses. Your request will be honored only by members of the Direct Marketing Association, so you’ll still get spam from non-members. Don’t forget to follow up as instructed on the Web site. You must confirm via e-mail within 30 days that you made the opt-out request.
If you receive offensive spam, forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]. The FTC keeps a list of these out-of-bounds spammers. It’s possible nothing can be done about it because of First Amendment rights, but you may help expose an illegal site.
Touchy money transfers
Some credit card companies have started charging customers who use their credit card to pay telephone bills by touch-tone telephone. Watch your credit card statement and if you find new charges, look for alternatives that cost less, such as paying bills on the Internet or changing credit card companies.
Vexing voice mail
People who live on the go need flexible voice mail that allows them to receive messages from anywhere and to use a remote signal to change the outgoing message as necessary. You may, for example, dial in to get your accumulated messages, then key in a code that allows you to record a new “greeting” that indicates you’ll be at another number until a certain date, or will not be able to return calls until next Tuesday.
However, if you can trigger your voice mail to do and say things, so can a hacker. A scammer can break into your system, eventually hitting upon the right access code, then record a new message that says you’ll accept the charges for a collect call. The hacker then can make expensive calls to far-away countries at your expense.
The first defense is to ask your long-distance carrier if it offers a feature that blocks third-party calls. Next, use the longest password allowable (six digits instead of the minimum four) to make it harder for hackers to get in. Then change your password every few weeks. You also might check your own greeting message as often as possible to make sure it’s actually your message and not one that says, “Yes, I’ll accept the charges.”
Wind speed is easily measured with a new 3.5-ounce device called the WindScribe. It’s of interest to any RVing family with a wind-related hobby such as hang-gliding, kite-flying, dinghy-sailing, fishing, racing model airplanes or boats, or simply keeping a weather log. Besides wind speed, which can be measured in knots, miles, or kilometers per hour, the device provides accurate readouts for temperature and wind chill. The device offers plenty of instrumentation in a 5-inch-by-3-inch-by-3/4-inch package. The WindScribe retails for less than $100 from Davis Instruments, 3465 Diablo Ave., Hayward, CA, 94545; (510) 732-9229; [email protected].
Books for travelers
The Rough Guide to Skiing & Snowboarding in North America ($21.95, Rough Guides) is a great aid to full-timers who don’t follow the sun but stay behind to celebrate winter sports. The comprehensive book covers more than 100 great ski resorts in the United States and Canada.