By Janet Groene, F47166
No matter how well prepared we are as happy wanderers, there are sure to be potholes in the road of life. The motorhome needs maintenance, repairs, and updates. We need health checkups and dental work. Reservations must be made for campsites tomorrow, next season, or next year. Money must be found, saved, and spent wisely while allowing for whatever surprises, breakdowns, earnings, and shortfalls lie over the next hill. Laws and tax bills change, not just at the federal level but each time we cross a state line or change our forwarding address.
Complicated? You bet! Here is a list of things to watch for during the next year.
It has always been crucial to have a valid, up-to-date will, but it’s even more important for full-timers to have their legal life in order. As a full-timer, you could die in one state, have assets in several states, have your will filed in yet another state, and have heirs scattered throughout the country.
According to a story in the January 2004 issue of SmartMoney magazine, there are two items you should make sure you don’t neglect when doing your estate planning. First, make sure you’ve named a secondary beneficiary for your life insurance and retirement plans, such as a 401(k) or other pension. Designating a second beneficiary will keep the life insurance distribution out of probate in the event that your primary beneficiary dies with you or before you. Second, make it clear how you want any estate taxes to be paid. If you don’t, one heir could get stuck with a disproportionate share of the bill. Remember that the laws of your “home” state also may determine how your estate will be handled.
But, officer …
If you receive a traffic citation and are ordered to attend traffic school in addition to, or instead of, incurring insurance penalties or points on your license, U.S Interactive’s Take Home Traffic School program may just be the ticket for you. The interactive program, which is available in DVD or VHS formats, has been approved in a number of states as a point-reduction course. It’s also useful as a refresher course for those who want to sharpen their driving skills. It can be rented for $39.95 for three days and is fast-moving, informative, and almost fun. It involves using the videotape or DVD in concert with an Internet connection, which is far more convenient for most full-timers than having to show up in person for a course that could take weeks.
For more information, visit www.takehome.com or phone (800) 505-5095. First, make sure the course is approved in the state from which your received your driver’s license. U.S. Interactive’s Web site indicates that the program currently is approved in California, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas, but it is working to gain approval in other states. Second, follow the instructions to the letter to make sure you pass the test.
Fat rate or flat rate?
As a full-timer who gets mail at each stop along the way, are you confused by rates and, at times, information offered to you by local postal authorities? One postal worker, for example, worked very hard to sell us on First Class, even though we knew the package qualified for the much cheaper Media Rate. At another post office, we were told that Flat Rate Priority Mail envelopes are no longer available except online. However, we’ve found some post offices that have them. Because mail shipped at this rate travels in one to three days for a $3.85 stamp regardless of weight, these envelopes can save you money and possibly time waiting in line at the post office. The envelopes themselves are free, and we always carry a supply of them. If you can’t find them at the post office, order them for free or purchase a packet of 10 envelopes with prepaid postage for $38.50 at www.usps.com.
Make sure you don’t grab regular Priority Mail envelopes, which look exactly the same but are sent by zone and weight. You’re looking for cardboard, folder-style mailers that carry the words Priority Mail Flat Rate (not Priority Mail cardboard boxes or Tyvec envelopes). If your mail has to get there overnight, Express Mail Flat Rate envelopes also are available; the fee is $13.65 regardless of weight or zone distribution. Again, make sure it’s the Flat Rate envelope, as regular Express Mail envelopes do involve incremental pricing based on weight.
When sending a package, postal workers may ask whether you’d like to upgrade or add other services. Question any additional services that are offered, such as a return receipt, registered mail versus certified mail, delivery confirmation, signature confirmation, and insurance. Know what you’re getting “” and are not getting “” for your money in terms of speed and security. The United States Postal Service still offers some of the world’s greatest bargains, but keep abreast of rates and rules so you don’t pay more than is necessary.
Have you always dreamed of inventing the next Beanie Baby or Scrabble game and financing your full-time life with the royalties? Thanks to a new book, it’s a very possible dream. The Toy and Game Inventor’s Handbook ($19.95, Alpha Books) is an extremely detailed guide by Richard C. Levy and Ronald O. Weingartner, who know their game. Mr. Levy helped develop Furby; Mr. Weingartner was vice president of product acquisition at Hasbro Inc. Their advice is based on solid experience and industry insider know-how.
Much of the book deals with pitching and selling ideas. Here’s where travel comes into play and you, as a full-timer, are in an ideal position to promote your invention as you go. At nearly 500 pages in length, the book is a comprehensive and fascinating read that leads you through the mysteries of copyright, trademark, licenses, and patents. The book is available at bookstores and through online booksellers.
Never stop exploring the credit card market to find the right deals for your full-timing life. Citibank alone offers a multitude of MasterCard options, each with advantages such as frequent flier miles, cash back, rebates that are paid into retirement or college funds, or a platinum card that carries emergency travel assistance, $1 million in travel insurance, and retail purchase protection. State Farm Insurance offers a Visa card that pays back 1 percent on all purchases, but the “State Farm Dollars” reward comes only after you have $50 in credits, and it can be applied only to State Farm insurance, banking, and securities products. Citibank’s cash-back card pays 1 percent on all purchases, but you can’t get the rebate until you’ve accumulated $100 or more.
The Advanta Platinum Business Card pays up to a 2 percent rebate, but only on certain business purchases. The card has many other features that are of interest to business travelers. For example, you can choose your own due date according to your own cash flow.
When applying for any credit card, read the fine print regarding annual card fee (many free cards are available); interest rates (many different rates could apply to the same card, with some varying monthly according to the prime rate); late payment penalties; over-limit fees (spending more than the stated limit of the card); returned payment fee (bounced check); and whether you sign away your right to sue in case of any disputes with the card issuer. The contract might state that you agree to compulsory arbitration. Shopping for and maintaining the right credit card(s) can occupy a lot of time, but it also can pay impressive dividends in cash and convenience.
Glen Fotre, F36478, took exception to comments made by an industry expert in the December 2003 “Full-Timer’s Primer” column that indicated big galleys were on the way out. The Fotres have a kitchen counter that is seven feet long in their 33-foot Beaver Patriot motorhome and Glen wrote, “It serves us just right.” In fact, the spacious kitchen was an important selling point to them. “And we also want a real stove and oven,” he noted. A combination microwave-convection oven alone won’t do, and neither will those fancy two-burner stoves that can’t be turned down low enough, in his opinion.
The Fotres also don’t like mirrored walls or ceramic tile floors. “A good-quality vinyl floor for kitchen and bath would be a great improvement,” Glen wrote. Another important feature for him is a gray water tank that is larger than the black water tank. “Ours are the same size, which is a waste of space,” he wrote.
Karen Dopher, F5445, also commented on the December “Full-Timer’s Primer” column, which was about motorhomes of the future. “This has been bugging me for about three years,” she wrote. “Have you noticed that motorhomes now look like they are “˜cookie cuttered’?” She believes all new coaches look alike, regardless of price, except for color scheme and length. When they bought their newest coach, the Dophers asked for a table and recliner to be substituted for a couch “” a seemingly reasonable exchange, you would think. Not to several manufacturers, who told them they would have to pay for the sofa anyway.
Here’s hoping coach manufacturers are listening to avid motorhome owners like the Fotres and Dophers.