By Janet Groene, F47166
This month’s column examines what a Health Savings Account is and how it’s used, along with revelations from several members of our full-timer’s forum on how they save money on camping expenses.
Medical savings accounts
For full-timers under age 65, medical insurance can be a big stumbling block. Although little publicized and even less understood, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) now cover more than 5 million people.
Basically, an HSA is a tax-free savings account that one would use in combination with a high-deductible health insurance policy. If you need it, you draw on this account to help meet the deductible. If you don’t need it, the fund continues to build. HSAs are portable state to state, a plus for people on the go, and they allow you to build up an account that belongs to you. If you don’t need it for medical bills, it becomes part of your retirement nest egg.
Under new rules, you can put up to $2,850 yearly in this account for an individual and $5,650 per family. You also can cover the deductible with a one-time transfer from an IRA. Any unspent money in the account rolls over year to year. It’s your money.
More information about HSAs can be found at www.treas.gov/offices/public-affairs/hsa. You also can do an Internet search for “Health Savings Account,” which will bring up articles containing advice from a number of sources, including companies that sell these accounts. As always, it’s important to be a skeptical, thorough comparison shopper.
From our full-timers’ forum
The question for the month was, “How do you cut down on nightly campground costs?”
Second-generation full-timers Ken and Ann Sair, F381266, still have friends and family in the San Francisco Bay area, and that’s also where they return for yearly physicals and dental care. The nearest camping, 25 miles away, is a membership campground, so Ken shopped online and found a membership he could buy just by paying the $750 transfer fee. The Sairs now pay $599 a year for a membership that allows them to stay 14 days in, seven days out, at any of three resort brands. They also get a reduced rate at two other park brands.
“A word of warning,” Ann said. “The company we bought into offers 150 different types of memberships.” She recommends a thorough investigation of all rules and specs before deciding. The Sairs stay in government parks when possible, do a lot of research on the Internet, and, when looking for a commercial park, visit www.parkreviews.com for firsthand reports.
Lastly, when “deadheading,” which is what Ken calls covering as many miles as possible each day, they may spend the night at a Wal-Mart lot, but they don’t activate the leveling jacks or extend the slideouts. They just grab a night’s sleep. They fear that people who are too obvious about setting up camp at free spots will ruin it for everyone else.
Al and Doris Sutherland, F347882, bought a Thousand Trails membership before going full-time, choosing the Alliance category that allows access in all three Thousand Trails systems. “The RPI system gives us great parking in superb parks at super rates,” Doris reported. “We also bought Passport America … and find it (a good choice). We have tried a couple of other ‘park discount clubs’ but found (they had) too few parks and/or so many restrictions that we were unable to realize enough value to justify the fees.”
Occasionally the couple will pull in for a quick overnight at a Wal-Mart, but they admit cheerfully that they usually end up spending up to $100 in the store. They also have a Golden Age Pass for national parks, and they have “desert camped” at rallies for fun rather than cost cutting. The Sutherlands, like the Sairs, do a lot of research online.
Forum follow-up: More on pets
John Larkin, F255216, strongly recommends two books for full-timers who have pets “” On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, a leading expert on dog behavior, and Kinship With All Life: Simple, Challenging, Real-Life Experiences Showing How Animals Communicate With Each Other And With The People Who Understand Them by J. Allen Boone.
“Certainly the best thing we can do for our pet, ourselves, and those who come in contact with us is to spend the necessary time (and money, if applicable) to see that the pet is well-trained and socializes with both humans and other animals,” recommended Mary Capo, F266169. Thanks to training classes, she said, her miniature poodle, Mike, is a joy. After Mike had leg surgery, she found a pet stroller at a pet store. Much like a baby stroller, it has a screen, a sun shade, and a zippered enclosure to keep the dog inside. “Small children are delighted when they realize it’s a dog in there. Thanks to the stroller we have met people who would never have taken the time before,” Mary said.
Rosemary Lipper, F379772, isn’t a full-timer, but her 40-foot diesel pusher has four slideouts and she reminds others that grisly accidents can result if pets are caught in them. “Nobody touches a slideout button until I am holding the dog,” she said.
Rich Miller, F333547, finds that “99 percent of RVers who are pet owners are courteous and considerate of those of us who (don’t have pets). My biggest gripe is when owners leave a dog unattended in a rig and it barks incessantly.” When that happens, Rich leaves a note stating, “Your dog barks continuously while you’re away. Is it OK?” That usually works, he said. If it doesn’t, he complains to park management.
Gil and Kathleen Gilley have been full-timing with dogs for 18 years. Kathleen and her husband abide by three rules when it comes to pets: 1) clean up; 2) leash up; and 3) shut up. She said all solid dog products, including hair and food, should be disposed of in a sanitary manner. Inside public areas, liquid waste should be wiped up and the area disinfected.
As for keeping the dog on a leash, she said that a dog shouldn’t approach people or a vehicle unless invited. By keeping a dog leashed at all times, even when in off-leash dog-walk areas, you know where the mess is so you can clean it up. Also, you can watch the dog so it doesn’t eat anything harmful. Unleashed dogs are at risk for many hazards, including cars and tangling with other animals.
One area that Kathleen feels needs to be addressed more by owners is incessant barking. “Most people are not aware that barking is a sign of emotional overload. Further, it is physically detrimental. Repetitive vocalizations lead to hyperventilation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dehydration, and possible electrolyte imbalance. If the emotional overload is due to the dog feeling abandoned, the resulting stress causes a flood of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to immune system deficiencies.”
No matter what the doting owner thinks, barking isn’t cute. “The rest of the world finds it annoying. If you wouldn’t allow your child or grandchild to scream at passersby, why would you allow your dog?” she asked. Tying a dog outside is also a no-no, although Kathleen recommends an exercise pen if you can watch the dog and keep it from “stress” barking or being abused by others.
“A dog is a perpetual child,” Kathleen wrote. It shouldn’t be unattended inside or out for more than four hours. It should be walked for exercise and mental stimulation, taught manners and respect, and given “together” time with you. “Once the No Pets sign goes up, it won’t come down again,” Kathleen warned. “Your lack of good judgment and breach of dog etiquette” can affect all other pet owners.
To learn about the Gilleys’ Dancing Greyhound Drill Team and Comedy Show, visit www.geocities.com/petsburgh/8332. With their six former racing greyhounds, they put on shows for good causes, and in the summer they manage two National Forest campgrounds in a remote area of Colorado.
About the full-timer’s forum
E-mail difficulties, including spam filters, have hindered efforts to contact many who volunteered to participate in the full-timer’s forum, so future topics will be announced only in this column.
Next full-timer’s forum questions: First, how do you conquer clutter? Please give specific tips on what causes your biggest messes and how you fight back.
Second, how do you keep mentally stimulated and current on the real world? You might, for example, attend Rotary meetings everywhere you go; volunteer; take online college courses; subscribe to the hometown newspaper; or follow an obscure satellite TV or radio broadcast, such as live opera from La Scala.
E-mail your answers to email@example.com.