Breaking through barriers that may be keeping you from embracing the full-time RV lifestyle.
By Janet Groene, F47166
Every time I do a book signing for Living Aboard Your RV, I meet at least half a dozen people who desperately want to go full-timing, but . . . At their side, invariably, is a scowling partner who is eager to torpedo the idea because . . .
Sorry, but I’ve heard all the excuses. I also have met dozens of people who are full-timers in spite of the same drawbacks. Many families with children are full-time motorhomers. Some are single parents; some have a blended family. Others have special challenges but live the close-knit, full-timing life because they want to spend more time with a child who has Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy.
You say you can’t afford full-timing? One FMCA member told me that he gets by on less than $8,000 a year. Do you or your partner have a terminal illness? One couple, each with slow but inexorable disabilities, is full-timing to make the most of their last months together. They made arrangements to enter a life care community when the time comes, but for now they hit the road.
Perhaps the most unusual case reported to me is a woman who travels with her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. Dealing cheerfully with the problems, she finds that travel keeps him active and engaged.
One of the best community support groups in the world is the family of full-timers you meet everywhere you go. In any case, you’ll see that people choose the full-timing lifestyle despite all sorts of physical, mental, and financial challenges.
If you truly want to tackle full-timing as your way of life, here are some of the most common reasons not to embrace the lifestyle, along with some practical solutions.
“We can’t sell our house.” This is one of today’s stickiest problems, and it will continue to be so in many parts of the United States. Is the rental market a better choice in your area? If you turn over the house to a professional management company, it will probably cost one month’s rent in advance, then a commission of 5 percent to 10 percent each month.
If you want to do your own background checks on prospective tenants, there are services that provide the information you need (do an online search using phrases such as “Tenant Background Check”). The cost is approximately $40 a year, and individual reports cost $15 to $60, depending on the amount of detail you wish to receive.
According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, your costs will include landlord insurance. Although this type of insurance costs about 25 percent more than a homeowner policy, a good landlord policy covers lost income due to structural damage, and also legal fees if the tenant sues. Rental income is taxable, but countless deductions are available. See a tax professional. You may find that you’ll collect enough rent to cover the mortgage and have enough deductibles that you’ll have tax losses.
“I have severe allergies.” If the problem is local pollens or pollutants, you can simply drive away. If you’re allergic to common household allergens that you can’t escape, you’ll have far more control in a 350-square-foot motorhome than in a 2,200-square-foot house. Minimize soft upholstery and maximize hard surfaces. For example, order a leather sofa rather than one upholstered in plush fabric, and select wood or vinyl flooring rather than carpeting. Encase the mattresses and pillows in allergenic covers and wash them regularly in very hot water. Keep pets off the bed and upholstery.
Plan your itineraries to escape allergy seasons. Check Web sites such as www.beyondallergy.com, which lists the most pollen-free places to live, and www.nasonex.com, which provides daily pollen count reports according to zip code.
“We have children.” Homeschooling has become more accepted in recent years, so raising children on the go has become a common lifestyle. Several Web sites provide information related to full-timing with children, homeschooling, and other topics. Some are mere blogs that follow a family’s experiences, but other sites are based on serious research with advice that can apply to your situation.
There are legal issues (you may be questioned by truant officers in some areas) and practical issues, such as assuring that your children take certified courses and receive proper instruction that will allow them to plug back into public schools if and when the time comes. I met one family, all of them avid anglers, whose son continued to travel with them and received his education at home and online through the second year of college.
“We have health problems.” As a footloose full-timer, you can follow the sun to ease your arthritis or travel to a clinic to see the nation’s top specialists in your disease. Many hospitals have hookups for RVs. While your spouse is having that bypass or knee replacement, you have your entire household right at the hospital. After the surgery, when the patient moves to a rehab facility, you and your rolling home move, too.
“I love my profession and won’t give it up.” When you have a portable home, you may find that there are many more job opportunities available than when living in a stationary residence. Go anywhere for an interview, an audition, or a temporary assignment. Employers love not having to provide housing for you. Temporary assignments allow you to grow in your field, build a nationwide network of colleagues, and truly enrich your resume. Go to sites such as www.transitionceo.com, www.engineer-jobs.com, or www.kellyservices.com. Also try an online search using keywords such as “temp+your specialty+job” or “seasonal+marine+mechanic.”
“My home and everything in it are my world. Don’t ask me to leave it.” Could you agree to go full-timing for a stated period, such as one year, 30,000 miles, or until you have completed a trip from Maine to California? What you learn about yourself and each other may surprise you.
I’ve observed many outcomes from such arrangements. They range from divorces to happy endings in which both parties discovered they loved full-timing. For grandparents who want to stay near the grandchildren, full-timing allows them to visit without intruding. “Our kids and their kids need their own space,” a retired teacher told me. “In the RV we can be there to babysit or visit, but we also have our own bedroom and kitchen.”
Sometimes after these trial periods, there’s a role reversal. The person who wanted to go full-timing didn’t take to it after all, while the reluctant partner found it wasn’t so bad. In many cases, however, these temporary deals end with both sides agreeing they’ve had enough. Everyone is happy because they’ve given it a fair try.
Taxes. After reading the suggestion in the April 2010 column (“What’s New In Taxes,” page 76) that it’s important to keep taxes in mind all year, one FMCA member asked: “Can people who borrowed against their stock and bond holdings with their broker deduct interest on cars, motorhomes, and park models?” Tax expert Julian Block replied, “I say no. The interest would have been deductible had he taken out a home equity loan and used the proceeds to buy vehicles; no deduction (applies) when he borrows against stocks and other investments.” Mr. Block referred readers to the section on Investment Interest in “Your Federal Income Tax,” publication 17 (www.irs.ustreas.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p17.pdf). See pages 156-163 of the document.
“This is another example of questions that should be asked beforehand,” Mr. Block emphasized. Each year’s tax situation is different, so things that were allowed last year may not be deductible this year. There is no substitute for investigating tax consequences before making a major financial move.
Hoarding a gift card? No, a gift card isn’t money in the bank. It can get lost, gradually lose its value, or expire. Trade it for cash or for a card at a store you prefer. Go to www.giftcards.com, www.plasticjungle.com, or http://gifts.cardhub.com/us.
States’ rights. Payouts from Roth individual retirement accounts are not taxed, but with a conventional IRA you must start collecting at age 70½ and pay tax on the income. Even though there’s a big tax to pay when converting a conventional IRA to a Roth IRA, many taxpayers are biting the bullet now rather than later and making this change. Your tax adviser can sort it out for you. If your home state is Wisconsin, check first. At this writing, that state is still considering whether to permit Roth IRA conversions.
Kids on board? Pediatricians find that one of the leading reasons for emergency room visits is that parents give feverish children too much or too little medicine. Dosages can be especially puzzling when you’re on the go. Get the new Pediatric Fever Fighter dosing card, developed by an emergency room physician. First, find your child’s weight (from less than 6 pounds up to 76 pounds) on the card and then use the sliding scale to see exactly how much medicine your child needs.
The compact card also lists important tips and precautions. It’s only $3.99 at Buy Buy Baby stores or at www.meinsteininnovations.com/products.
Books for full-timers. Most RV travelogues are what we writers call “me ‘n Joe” stories, first-person accounts of how “we” went there or did that. It takes a truly talented writer to handle first-person travel writing that’s both informative and entertaining. Here’s where Brad Herzog gives us both good writing and an authentic RV yarn. His book Turn Left At The Trojan Horse: A Would-Be Hero’s American Odyssey ($14.95, Citadel Press) is filled with lively descriptions and realistic dialogue. It’s available at bookstores, online booksellers, or by visiting www.bradherzog.com.
Books about how to get organized have been around for decades, but much has changed in the computer era. Nowadays many of the items that we need to store and streamline are in digital form. They require an entirely new way of sorting and protection. Another issue is countertop clutter, always a problem for motorhome travelers, because things have to be secured before the coach moves. We all have “junk” drawers, bulletin boards, and tax records.
In her new book, What’s A Disorganized Person To Do? ($16.95, Artisan), professional organizer Stacey Platt tells you what to keep, why, how, and for how long. She tackles 317 organizing areas one by one and explains how to deal with them. The book has a color-coded thumb index so you can immediately find tips for the kitchen, closets, entertainment media, toolbox, and so on. It also comes with stickers you can paste anywhere as reminders.
She has tips to help organize the grill and its gear, including how to prepare it for off-season storage. In organizing the bathroom, she offers suggestions on where to hang up small items to dry. She provides instructions for organizing the linen closet and also suggests ways to maintain it to keep linens fresh. You’ll find yourself going back to this book time and again for ideas.