By Janet Groene, F47166
A new mail option; estate taxes; free information; managing food costs.
As always, this column’s focus is on people whose motor coaches also serve as their homes. Full-timers’ needs are unique, their problems varied, and their lifestyle enviable. Here is this month’s collection of news and ideas.
More about mail. Do you wish someone could scan all your postal mail and send it to you via e-mail? Earth Mail does just that. Prices range from $14.95 to $59.95 per month, plus a $35 activation fee. When you log on, you see a list of your mail. You then have three choices: scan and send, shred, or recycle. The service is said to be highly secure.
Shredding is, of course, a necessity for all mail that contains sensitive material, but the paper recycling option also allows Earth Mail to send unwanted catalogs and junk mail to a recycling center. Go to www.earthclassmail.com/rv to determine whether this service is for you.
Death and taxes. Each month I get several letters from future full-timers who ask for advice on choosing a “home” state. Each time I have to explain that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Many full-timers make their base in Texas or Nevada because of the lack of state income taxes, but there are many other considerations. For example, health insurance costs are a huge expense for full-timers who aren’t old enough for Medicare. Rates vary widely around the nation and are based on your “home” address. Go to www.ehealthinsurance.com for sample quotes. (Keep in mind, however, that the cheapest plans are often for HMOs or PPOs that aren’t suitable for roamers, because they serve only one city or region.)
Now, here’s yet another reason why I can’t provide a quick, pat answer on which home state is right. According to an article in the August 13, 2007, issue of Forbes magazine, 23 states and the District of Columbia impose death taxes on top of federal estate taxes. Federal taxes are generally exempt on estates worth up to $2 million, but states create their own exemptions. (Ohio, for example, taxes every estate worth more than $338,000.) Also, some states have a complicated schedule that varies according to who gets the inheritance.
If you have a sizable estate (and you may be worth more than you realize), check with your tax adviser about state death taxes and include this additional information in the long list of considerations that go into choosing your home state.
The 411 on free information. It now costs $1 or more to get phone numbers by dialing 411, but a free service provides the number you need after you’ve listened to a brief commercial. Dial 800-FREE-411 and follow the prompts.
Full-Timer’s Forum. The question of the month comes from Ethel Horton, a three-year full-timer who seeks redecorating ideas that are affordable and don’t have to be stowed each time the coach is moved. She says too many decorating items look cheap, are distracting, or just get in the way of the on-the-go lifestyle. All full-timers are invited to chime in. Send your ideas to [email protected] for use in a future column.
How do you cut down on food costs? Dave and Irene Renfro have been full-timing for two years and have loved every minute of it. They are in the habit of buying a daily newspaper, and on food ad days they look for a local paper so they can check for best buys at grocery stores they are parked near. “We have a freezer in one of the bays so we can buy some things, like meat, on sale,” Irene reported. She loves to cook, so they eat in most of the time, reserving their eating-out budget for when they go to rallies with friends.
Kenny Dalton researches restaurants carefully. To find out where locals eat, he looks for a parking lot filled with pickup trucks. He finds that fancy names such as “bistro” or “gourmet” usually mean higher prices and not always the best food. “Extensive wine list” is a tip-off that prices will be high, he said. Word of mouth is a great advertiser, so he suggests asking locals. “Try having lunch at a place you’re considering,” he advised. If the cuisine isn’t up to par, you haven’t paid high dinnertime prices for the lesson.
Lastly, Kenny said he looks for a restaurant’s health inspection scores. In some states they are posted in the restaurant itself; in other states, he said, they are found on Web sites. To be honest, I didn’t have much luck with my online searches for key phrases such as “restaurant inspection score” plus the names of cities or counties, but a more persistent browser might have better luck.
Lynn Brooks reads the local paper on food ad day, which varies around the nation. In my area, food ads run on Thursday, and the Sunday paper includes coupons, so both issues are worth buying. Lynn also checks out the posted food ads when she enters the store. “Be sure to sign up for each store’s super saver card,” she advised. Cards for nationwide chains such as Kroger, King Soopers, and Albertson’s/Jewel/Acme are good throughout the country.
Walt and Shirley Greenes check local papers (free at the library) and ask at the community center or local police station for information about farmers markets. As seniors, they often find reasonable, tasty meals at senior centers.
Here are some other suggestions:
- If you’re 55 or over, ask whether the restaurant has a senior discount. Even if it’s a chain, it may have a different deal than others in the same chain, or no deal at all. Some chains offer “frequent diner” membership or punch cards that are honored everywhere.
- Some small food markets and produce stands offer senior discounts on certain days of the week.
- Some restaurants charge extra for splitting an order, but many do not. If it isn’t made clear on the menu, ask before ordering one portion on two plates. Most restaurants don’t charge for providing two forks with one dessert or two straws for one milkshake.
- Don’t fall for the “still or carbonated?” water question at fancy restaurants. They want to sell you bottled water at added cost. In most restaurants, tap water is still free. Unless seconds for soda fountain drinks are free, specify “very little” or “no” ice to get a full serving of soda.
- When ordering one of those huge breakfasts that come with pancakes, sausage, bacon, and eggs to order, ask that your eggs be hard-boiled in the shell and save them for lunch.
- In many restaurants you get the same amount of soup whether you order a cup or a bowl. If you don’t know the restaurant and its china, try a cup on your first visit.
- No matter how big a bargain the meal may be, beverages can be budget busters. Know whether free refills are included. Iced tea, coffee, water, and additional hot water to use with the same tea bag usually are free, but rarely will you find free soft drink refills or a fresh pot of hot tea.
- Read menus, taking time to understand the fine print. Ask questions.
- Don’t assume that rolls and butter are included unless they’re placed on the table unrequested. Some restaurants charge for them.
- Eat before or after going to the movies. Theaters charge outrageous prices for snacks and sodas, and they won’t let you bring your own.
- Go to www.wow-coupons.com/restaurants.php to find printable coupons for restaurants or www.couponmom.com for supermarket coupons. Check with the cashier or server first to make sure the coupon will be honored. Some merchants have stopped accepting printer-generated coupons.
- It’s only right to tip servers, but look at the cost of food and drink, not the total tab. A $20 restaurant bill plus 10 percent tax adds up to $22. If you tip 15 percent on the cost of the meal, you’ll leave $3; a 20 percent tip would be $4. If you tip on the total bill including tax you’ll pay $3.30 or $4.40. The same goes for pizza delivery, which could include taxes and a delivery fee, resulting in a bottom line far greater than the cost of the food.
- In the United States it’s rare for a gratuity to be added automatically (except for parties of six or more), but the European practice of adding an automatic gratuity is creeping into use. Be on the watch for it.
- If you’re a light eater, ask whether child-size portions are available. Some restaurants offer entrees in two sizes or allow seniors to order a child’s portion.
- Avoid being a captive audience at mealtime. Food in museums, tourist attractions, festivals, and theme parks is usually premium priced. Most places will stamp your hand or otherwise allow you re-entry if you leave the attraction to have lunch in your motorhome.