May 25, 2014

HOW TO BE A SNOW BIRD...answers and lists!

I published this article 4 years ago but most of it is still relevant. I hope it is helpful.
I love being a snow bird. But I wish someone had told me all the tricks before I began. There probably was a book I forgot to read or maybe that book simply did not exist when I started my snow bird adventure. That is why I am here today. Here is the scoop on insurance, financial matters, utilities precautions and travel.

I am not here to burst your bubble but there are a few reality checks that need to be considered. I know...traveling off to warm weather in the winter, having two sets of friends and maybe a second home, sounds very luxurious. Golfing while your friends are mucking around on snow and ice would be soooooo dreamy. I want you to stop and think about what you might be doing.  There are choices to be made and even financial sacrifices. I have been doing this on and off since I was 55. If over 15 years of experience makes me an expert, then that is what I am!
    Arizona at it's finest...Sedona, Arizona
    You have always dreamed of that retirement know, the one where you get up in the morning and you do just what you want.  Every day, day in and day out, for the rest of your life. When you think about it, the first choice you make is "Can I afford to retire both financially and emotionally?"  Be very clear in your mind about this before you even start down that road. (Link:  Seven Stages of Retirement Grief)
      Should I do the Snowbird Thing?
      Being a snowbird requires some doing. I suppose the first consideration is money. Inexpensive second homes can be had but you need to be careful before you leap. (Link: Rental information)  Areas that cater to snowbirds both in the southwest and southeast do provide opportunities to rent fully furnished apartments or park models in RV resorts. You will need to do some research online or even call a rental agent in the place you have chosen to visit. It is all very doable. ( Inexpensive Retirement Information) RV resorts offer a lot of activities and that is a real consideration when you have free time on your hands. You can rent park models* in these places. This is another choice that might replace living in an apartment.

      Will I Miss my Grandchildren?
      I think the answer for this one is obvious. Yes, you might miss your family. It is a given. But on the upside, your family dynamic may be better when you are gone for a while. When we started this life my children actually needed for me to be out of town for part of the year. I got a break from babies, my children became more independent and we enjoyed each others company more when we got back together. In fact, they now see us coming home as a vacation of sorts for themselves. If you have children that live in a warm place, you can choose to live part of your year close to one child and part of the year near the other. If you get lonesome for them, you can talk on Skype. We love doing this. (Link:  Keeping Retirees Connected)

      Where should I go?
      This is such a personal thing...we chose a human comfort zone. Really the geographic location is not as important.  For example, if I won the lottery, I would not be comfortable living in a high roller apartment in Las Vegas. That is not who I am. While this is an outrageous example, it is absolutely the truth. If you are a very educated person that loves the opera and expensive restaurants, you need to find a place where those people that live around you love the same things. (Link:  Like Minded People)

      How to Snowbird
      We are leaving for Tucson within the next 10 is where we get down to the nitty gritty of being a part time person in two locations. Think about:
      1. How long to stay gone?  We are living about 6 months in both of our homes. That is a personal choice and one we have settled on after all these years. We began by traveling in a motor home and now own a park model in a resort in Tucson, AZ.  We live in the Portland Oregon metro area and have been Oregonians all our lives. It rains a lot here and we like to avoid as much of that as we can and still enjoy our beautiful location.
      2.  Should I fly or drive? After people have done this for many years they usually buy a clunker car and simply fly to their winter home. Really this depends on whether you are coming to Arizona from Nova Scotia or from Oregon. Some drives are just not worth the time and expense. Our friends put the car on blocks, disconnect the battery, find a spot in the shade for the vehicle and leave it behind. The worse that can happen is it is stolen or the rats gnaw on the electrical wires! But if it is an insured clunker, you are fine. (Rats are another thing entirely but still you need to be aware of any varmits that lurk about...FYI.)
      3. Should I rent out my home while I am gone?  Well let me tell you if this is possible and you can find someone you trust, do this.  Most of your other dilemmas don't exist when you do this. We have had students live in our house and rented it out. In both cases it was a win/win situation. The extra cash in the case of renting can pay for your time in the south! The minor clean ups and damage were nothing compared to what we need to do when no one is in the house.
      How do I switch from one life to another?  There is an extensive list of to-dos when you close your house down and switch to a different life. This is a list worth copying:
      1. Mail...the post office with forward mail with a beginning and ending date. If you are in one location, this works perfectly. If you are on the road you can have a family member forward you mail occasionally or you can have your mail forwarded to a service and they will take care of this for you.
      2. Turning off the water if possible...I know, you think this is a no brainer.  You need to consider that if you turn off your water you also need to turn off your water heater. The tank could burn up without water. Some heating system is dependent on the water. Can you turn your heat off and not have big problems? Draining pipes might be necessary if you are from the frozen north!  But, no matter what keep in mind what water can do. If you cannot turn it off, have someone check you home frequently. Water damage is a horrible thing and it happens a lot!
      3. Have the insurance for you second car changed...this can save you a lot of money. The insurance company will reduce the cost for you if you have the car in storage. Cutting the cost for car insurance for six months out of the year saves you money. In my world this is huge.
      4. Keeping the bad guys out...I know people that turned on an alarm system and walked away feeling very secure. When their house was broken into, the response from both the police and the system operators was less than wonderful. They came home to a real mess. Be very careful. We have someone check in occasionally and ask neighbors to be watchful too. We leave our phone number as well as our local family's number with them.
      5. Make your home look lived in when it is not...(see keeping the bad guys out). Be sure that some delivery person is not leaving unwanted ads at your front door. Piled up newspaper ads are an invitation to trouble. I suggest that you have a neighbor clear these away. I hate those things anyway but it happens. The local pizza parlor has to advertise somehow I guess. Leave the blinds partially cracked and leave a plant by the front door that will survive through the winter. You can even hang a generic wreath on the front door that looks welcoming. All these things make your house look lived in. I don't recommend the timers for lights...I understand they can be a fire hazard.  
      6. Make choices about turning off garbage, TV, internet, phone service, etc.  Most of these services have a "vacation/hibernation" setting.  That means that they don't disconnect you entirely and all you need to do when you return is give them a call and they turn your service back on. Your garbage can, TV cable box and your modem for internet hook-up can remain in place. You might have to pay a small fee but it could be cheaper that paying to have services reconnected. This also gives you the option of coming home for a short period of time or letting a friend/relative use the home and having the services needed. We come home at Christmas and have our internet, garbage and TV turned back on for that short period of time.  You make the choice.
      7. Decide on a wardrobe.  It has taken me years to learn what to take with me and what to leave behind. If you are a total newbie, check on the temperatures during the months you are going to be in a locality. Arizona is NOT hot in the winter. Locals and experienced snowbirds do not dress like it is 90 degree when the temperature rises to the mid 60's during the day. You will need sweaters, longer pants and a jacket in the evening hours. Pay attention to this sort of thing when you pack for your trip. I know we all dream of warm winter days but in this case it is all relative. Warm in the winter is 65 degrees but compared to say Iowa that is really warm.  See what I mean?
      8. If you leave the electricity on, UNPLUG EVERYTHING that can be disconnected...the vampires appliances can cost a lot!!! 
      9. Then there is the cat!!!  Our cat is a very real part of our life...however, the RV resort where we spend our winters will not allow a cat outside the park model. (See making snowbird location choices.)  Because our cat was a feral cat when we found him in Texas, he will NOT stay indoors all the time. In fact, like my children when they were young, he would actually prefer to live and eat at the neighbors and eat again at home! We have opted to let him live with a family member while we are gone. If the neighbors are free to keep him, we let them enjoy his company full time. We supply the food.  This is a hard choice but we decided years ago to make our life about humans and not our cat. He makes the sacrifice for us. We love him for that.
      So, there you have it. Actually, when you think about it, the benefits far outweigh the problems.  I hope this reality check helped you make the decision that will work best for you.  If you have any further question or ideas, feel free to comment and I will get back to you. I love comments and I am sure you love answers!!


      *A park model is a small trailer with all the same amenities as a trailer. Ours is about 12' wide and 34' long. We have added a room to the side that we call an "Arizona Room". That space provides storage and utility space. We also have a shed where our washer and dryer is stored as well as my husband's work bench.


      1. The number one thing that snowbirds need to do is to polish up their good manners. As a former resident of Yuma, AZ -- and yes, one of the 5 top reasons we left was because of winter visitors -- we were apalled by the "Ugly American" mentality and behavior of way too many snowbirds. Remember -- when you pull into some town, you are pulling into somebody's HOMEtown -- their home. Be courteous.

        1. Marcie, you have hit a sore spot with many locals. I have seen a real decrease in bad behavior since we began this journey but it may just be my perception. Being an ugly American/Canadian is not what we want.

          Thank you for the comment.

        2. Is there such a thing as an ugly dare you!

        3. None of my Canadian friends want to be "ugly" any more than we Americans. Sorry you misread this comment.

      2. We recently moved to Arizona, a prime mecca for snowbirds. As I drive along the highway and see all the RV camps out in the middle of nowhere, I have to wonder, "What do people do?" I actually wouldn't like to live back in the snow, but I'm not sure that living in an RV for 6 months sounds like much fun.

      3. Cathy, I know what you mean...out there at Quartzite people as camping for free...but what a price to pay in lost amenities. As for what they do, the answer is live. They cook, shop for groceries, read, clean and visit. We all do about the same things. Many of those campers in Quartzite are selling at the swap meet .

        I might add that I believe that a lot of those people that just pull into the lonely roadside to park for the winter are reclusive and only want to be alone. Each to their own.

        I do know people that go to Quartzite because they are addicted rock hounds...they search the dessert with their eyes on the ground for that perfect rock. I don't understand their hobby and they don't understand mine. I write a blog.

        Have a wonderful day!


      4. Can you give us the name of the community that your park model is in? Does it seem expensive though, with the cost of renting or purchasing a spot, plus the monthly fees? Have you ever considered purchasing a small home in a 55 plus community? Thanks.

      5. Cybermade,

        We live in Rincon Country RV Resort East .( Yes we have considered moving to a 55+ community and actually did that in Oregon where our primary residence is located.

        The park models (older) have been going for a very cheap price. The owner here will buy all the ones that are good for $10,000 so don't expect to get anything for less than that. When the individual park model gets near to it's rent time the price will on those will drop by $4000 because that is the monthly rent. That works out to about $340 a month. We could not buy a house, maintain it, pay taxes and upkeep for that amount. AND we would not have the amenities we have here.

        In the end we view the park model like a will go away someday. The rent is much more reasonable than say staying in an apartment in a safe part of town. I really don't see us leaving this park anytime soon.

        I hope this helps you out.


        If you need more information contact me at my email address:

      6. We are considering this snowbird thing, but my concern is whether the state we decide to snowbird in will tax my pension. Any thoughts on keeping a primary residence yet taking advantage of lower costs of registrations, insurance, etc in a snowbird state?

      7. Yes, I appreciate your question. You need to keep in mind that there are laws about income taxes, etc. If you keep your primary residence in your home state income tax laws will not affect you if you spend time out of state.I am not an expert on this matter but I do know that many Oregon retirees move to Washington because the income tax structure is favorable to them. You will need to do some research on this matter.

        But in Arizona people do own a car and license it in the state. However, it would depend on what state you live in and how much car registration and insurance is. We are from Oregon and that would NOT save us any money at all. Any vehicle we have would be registered and licensed in our state.

        I believe that if you were to buy a home in Arizona as a "vacation home" the interest may be more and you will be limited on the amount of time you can spend there if you plan to rent and take a tax write off. Again this requires some research and a visit with a real estate expert.

      8. What do you think of a lifestyle like this? Have an RV that we live in in the Pacific Northwest from Say May to November then a Park Model home in Arizona from November to May with a two week trip down and a two week trip back?

        1. Perfect. We are leaving one of our cars in Arizona this year and will fly home. We now travel about 3 days to get to Tucson and have been down EVERY road between Portland and Arizona. Time to travel somewhere else!

        2. Please consider Woodfield in Show Low, a short three hour drive from the Phoenix or Tucson area, where you can enjoy cool mountain climates but still be close enough to drive back and forth between your two homes. We offer beautiful new park models that are move in ready.

      9. I am thinking of selling my house and renting. I live in Iowa. I would love to be a snowbird and reside in Florida maybe from December - April. I am single and will retire in a year or two. I would love to hear others stories!

        1. If you look at the labels you can click the Snow Bird Lifestyle of any of those related to it. You will find a lot of information.

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      HOW TO BE A SNOW BIRD...answers and lists!

      I published this article 4 years ago but most of it is still relevant. I hope it is helpful. I love being a snow bird. But I wish someone h...