March 28, 2012

Being a Snowbird: Is It The Right Choice For You?

Comments left on a post a week or so ago asked me to look into the pitfalls and joys of living in two different locations, the so-called snowbird or rainbird lifestyle. Would your satisfying retirement benefit from such an arrangement? I decided to ask an expert. Barbara Torris is a blogging buddy and produces Retire in Style blog. She, her husband, Earl, and cat named RV (great name!) spend half of each year in Tucson and the other 6 months in Portland. Here are her answers to the questions I posed:

1) What prompted you to decide to spend the year in two different locations? Like so many new retirees we needed to try our wings. We traveled in motor homes in the United States. As we grew older we came to realize that we had satisfied that need but really didn’t know what the next step would be. Friends invited us to visit the park we are in now. We were in our motor home and we spent one season tucked in among the park models on the street where we live today. It was like “love at first sight”. All I can say is that the time was right for us. We were only spending 3 month on the road at that time. Now we spend 6 month in Oregon and 6 months in Arizona.

2) How has it worked out? What problems didn't you anticipate? What benefits? We have a wonderful life. Sometimes it is not easy though. The things you don’t anticipate can make it a challenge. Illness and problems with the family back home are the things that call snowbirds like us home. We are very flexible and we keep ourselves in a position that allows us to come and go on a moments notice. I suppose I didn’t anticipate that my family would need me. We have built a plan for flying home into our financial picture in recent years.

The benefits far out weight the problems. Our life is much richer for having traveled and lived in a place like Arizona. We have learned from the culture here in Arizona. The fact that we live in a place that draws people from Canada and even Europe is wonderful. We rub shoulders with authors and mechanics and doctors and educators and business owners. I learn from these people each and every day.


3) What about your belongings…do you miss having your stuff with you if it is at the other home? This question made me smile. I hate to admit it but I have two of almost every kitchen tool. We have family pictures and Arizona d├ęcor fills our southwest home. In Oregon we enjoy an entirely different lifestyle. There we surround ourselves with art from travels. We don’t worry much about clothing although I do reach for something once in a while and remember that it is in the other place. I think my husband misses his tools. He has cool stuff in both places but does not carry them back and forth. We scratch our head occasionally and try to remember where something is. A little head scratching never hurts us!

4) Do you rent or own both homes? We own both places. The home in Oregon is a 1500 sq. ft. one level in a 55+ community very near my daughter’s home. In Arizona we own a park model in a RV resort. We paid less for it than we did for our car. Location was the reason we chose this particular space in the park. We pay about $4000 (about $340 per month) a year to rent the land.


5) What about doctors and health care…any problems being in two different cities? Our insurance covers us no matter where we travel. Our primary care physician is in Oregon and that clinic maintains our health records. The records are available on line so if a doctor in another location needs to see them, it is possible.

We have a university hospital in Tucson and in case of a severe emergency we would go there. We do have a family practitioner that we use when we have a cold or infection of some kind. I have used immediate care a time or two and that worked just fine. When we were traveling in our RV, knowing that immediate care was available gave us a lot of comfort.

6) How difficult is it to make friends if you are only in one location for part of the year? We have made a lot of friends everywhere we have been. Here in Arizona our friend’s come and go just like we do. In fact, I think that my Arizona friends are much closer to me than any I have in Oregon. This community of people is much like a co-housing community in that we take very good care of each other and share what we have. For example, we own the neighborhood ladder! I like that sense of cooperation a lot.

7) Overall, how has this decision affected your finances? Do costs double? No, costs do not double. We turn off water, gas, cable service and electricity when we leave Oregon and do the reverse when we come here. Our costs are a less here in Arizona and we use the excess to golf and travel a little. Just the fact that we do not need to heat or cool the park model a great deal saves us a lot. I do not have winter and summer clothes. I have clothes that work all winter and are still comfortable in Oregon through the summer. We are great car pool people so that is a huge savings. Here, our entertainment is built in. We dance, enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the companionship of our friends. We are financially sound and would not do this if we could not afford it. The motto is: Spend Less Than You Make!


8 What are the factors that someone should consider before doing what you have done? You always need to remember: finances, family and comfort zone. Take it slow. I think when it is right you will be ready. Until that day comes, wait until you find something you like and can afford.


Conclusion: I need for you to know that I did not dream of this life. It has been a wonderful surprise. I had no idea we would ever be able to afford to live in the sunshine for 6 month out of the year. I think my husband feels the same. We did not vacation for extended periods of time when we worked. My dream always was to move to the city. Fortunately, that is where our children live. I knew we would travel as much as we could afford. The lesson here is that life unfolds and you need to be ready. Remember, retirement is not a destination…it is a new beginning. I think we should embrace all the things that are different about this part of our life.


Barbara is a retired teacher of Kindergartners. She is a freelance writer that has lived in Oregon for all of her life. She has travels to Spain, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Her blog, Retire in Style Blog, is her favorite hobby.

I want to thank Barbara for her invaluable insight into this type of lifestyle. I must admit I hope my satisfying retirement follows her example sometime, spending the summers in Oregon or Flagstaff, and the winters in Scottsdale. Her experience has helped give me a much clearer picture of how that might work. If you have some questions for Barbara, please leave them here as comments. She will be glad to give you her advice and answers.

Additional note: I have no connection with this company, but I was told about Kinek.com, a new company that ships and stores belongings for snowbirds. You may find they are a good alternative to UPS, FedEx, or hauling stuff in your car or RV. It is worth a look on their web site.

35 comments:

  1. Great post. Thanks since we are going to be doing that at some point. In Tucson no less!

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    1. We will be watching for you. Let me know when you are in town and I will meet you for coffee. You will love the big city that feels like a small town. The "Old Pueblo" is a great home away from home.

      b

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    2. Great story ! My wife and I spent the winter of 2011/12 in an RV park on the Colo river near Needles, loved the boating,bicycling, friendship ; but missed all our hobbies, tools, and activities of our home near Mammoth Lakes. So, we stay in our home and shovel snow in the winter, and do one to two week trips in our RV in the summer, backpack the John Muir Trail, and enjoy our toys and tools.

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  2. I have often dreamed of RV travel and being a snowbird but my wife is a hard core homebody. So I end up living the life via people like Barbara. Thanks for having her as a guest. She is now on my daily read list.

    A community ladder. I love that idea. Why should all of us have to have everything?

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    1. Your comment made me smile...a "hard core homebody" is usually very content with their life. I do know a lot of women here that have given over a little part of the year to their husbands wishes...especially after that husband suffered a major illness. Hopefully, you can include your family in some rented RV travel and the homebody can take part of that home with her.

      I might mention that I made our RV into a very comfortable and inviting home...I felt bonded to that vehicle.

      Keep on following Bob and I. Maybe you will find a way to make part of your dreams come true.

      As for the community ladder...who knew we only needed one per block? Wow!

      b

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  3. Sometimes we can become resistant to change as we get older. This interview is a great reminder that life is a series of constant change, and that that is absolutely OK. Barbara and her husband enjoyed RV'ing for a good number of years, slowly realized that need had been met, and turned in the direction of something new - dual living. I would imagine down the road something different may call to them, and they will once again heed the call and change up their lives.

    Being open to change is a wonderful way to go through life. I applaud their courage to do so. I'm sure they've found their lives to be much richer as a result.

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    1. Tamara I think you must be very wise. Our life unfolds in front of us and we follow a path that enriches our world. You are so right when you say that "down the road something different may call...." We continue to grow and change with each and every day.

      b

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  4. I know a few people living in Oregon and a few in Arizona. It seems to me (based on my unscientific survey) that people in Arizona are friendlier than the people in Oregon. Is that possible? Could it have something to do with the weather?

    Anyway, I'd think it'd be great to spend the year in two places. (I usually spend 3 winter weeks in a warmer clime -- and would like to do more.) But I can't imagine owning two places. It's hard enuf. to take care of one. For me, anyway.

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    1. You know I don't know about how friendliness compares. I do know that I have had people from around the world tell me that Oregonians are the most polite people they have ever run into...even at the airport. However, I will agree, the sunshine does make me smile!

      Actually the maintenance is not X2 at all. When you are in one place you do what needs to be done and don't worry about the other. Believe it or not it is nice to have a purpose in life in both places. Forced leisure can be very tiring!

      Hope to see you soon.

      b

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  5. Barbara's positive experience helps support the desire my wife and I have to spend part of the year in Oregon. We love the small towns and coastline, with its parks and hiking trails. But, we couldn't tolerate the winters or be that far from family for too long.

    Thanks, Barbara for giving us your insight. We will be "heat birds" at some point.

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    1. Bob, this has been so much fun. I learn something about myself everytime I write an article like this. Thank you for the opportunity.

      b

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  6. Great article.
    What do you do a out licensing cars?
    How a out state taxes?
    I am being nosy because we are seriously considering a second home near my daughter in Maryland. Much smaller and much less to keep up with, BUT within a quick drive to see the grandson.

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    1. Jannette. These are very good questions. I think that people think there is more cost than there is. We only pay taxes for income in Oregon, our home state. We pay property taxes in both places but our park model taxes are so low they are not worth mentioning. In the world of property the smaller the place the less the taxes. You should check with the state your are moving to about the cost of property or sales tax. For example, here in Tucson ours is getting near 10%. I buy big things in Oregon where we don't have a sales tax.

      Some people own cars here. They buy a clunker that they can tootle around in. They license them here in the state. I don't know how much that cost. Not much I think because the cars are not expensive. We drive our car in both places and license it in Oregon so we do not pay double car license fees.

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  7. Barbara, So nice to "meet" you. I live in Portland, too, but year round. Maybe you and I could have tea sometime and come up with a plan to get Bob and Betty up here for a visit--maybe an extended one!

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    1. I would love that. Go to my blog and find my email address. Get with me and we will meet for tea soon. I am looking forward to returning to Oregon on April 11. Our 12th grandchild will be born by c-section the next day.

      b

      http://www.retireinstyleblog.com

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    2. It just occurred to me, Barbara, that Betty and I drove right by you on Tuesday night. We were coming home from a few lovely days in Patagonia, about 90 minutes southeast of Tucson. There will be a post with pictures Friday!

      Galen, would you and Barbara be our tour guide of Portland? It would be lots of fun to have some "locals" show us the area. Our major vacation of the year was to be a train trip from Phoenix to San Antonio to New Orleans. But, Amtrak changed the schedule and made the trip a no-go. So, we are not sure what we will do this summer...maybe Oregon!

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    3. Oh you guys would be in for such a treat!

      b

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    4. Bill Birnbaum (Adventure Retirement blog) and his wife are in the Phoenix area Saturday and Sunday. We are getting together for breakfast Sunday morning to meet each other and swap blogging stories. He lives in Sisters, Oregon and has offered us his guest room if we come to Oregon in July. So, I'd say Oregon is looking good for a visit!

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  8. This may seem like a silly question but what do you do with your magazines and mail? How does the Post Office know where to deliver your things?

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    1. If you are going to be in one location, the post office has a form you complete before you leave. You let them know when you are going to leave when you will return. You can also include a date you are going to return but it is not necessary. That form can be filled out again at your winter location. However, the first way is a temporary change of address which is probably what you really want to do. Your magazines will be forwarded with this service.

      If you are traveling there are services that will hold your mail and send a package of the mail to a location. You would have your mail forwarded to them. You park in your RV for a few days and call them with the address so your mail can be forwarded. The post office has flat rate envelopes that can be stuffed very full. You can decided about magazines depending on cost to mail. It may be cheaper to buy a new magazine rather than have the subscription mailed.

      This is a good time for you to get all that junk mail stopped and begin to pay bills and do business online. You may even eliminate all bill pay and business mail by doing this.

      I hope this helps you.

      Barbara

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    2. Excellent thought about using this as a time to prune your mailing lists and cut down on junk mail. I wouldn't have thought of that.

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  9. I have enjoyed reading Barbara's blog for several months now, having found it from this one. I am eager to be a rain bird, traveling between Seattle and Tucson or maybe Phoenix. It does worry me how well the two of us and the dog will do in 450 square feet or so-)

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    1. Denise...the trick in Arizona or Phoenix is living out doors. We expand the feel of our living space with outdoor chairs, the barbque and even an outdoor heater that allows us to sit out in the evenings.

      If you are thinking of staying in a park model like the one we live in, you will have a covered carport/patio. We have so many activities that you can be out doing something everyday if you wish. You will be assigned to a "doggy row" part of the park and your neighbors will share your love for your dog.

      Good luck!

      b

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    2. I hate to sound dumb, but what is a park model?

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    3. That's not a dumb question at all. In fact, it took me several visits to Barbara's blog to figure out what she was referring to. I gather it is a manufactured home that looks like a small cottage instead of a typical mobile home. On her site, there is a tab at the top labeled Park Models that I think that takes you to the company's web site to explain more.

      So, there you go, Karen. And no April Fool's Day answer!

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    4. Bob is right. They actually resemble a mobile home and the wheels remain underneath so they can be moved. The skirting hide them. They are generally about 12 feet wide and 35 feet long...a tiny house on wheels. Link here: http://www.retireinstyleblog.com/search?q=park+model

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  10. my mom wants to try snowbirding this winter, due to my schedule my daughter (10) and i are going with her. i home school, but we dont really know where we are going, maybe travel and stay a month here or there, do you have any advice for short term places and what about getting our postal mail?

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    1. AS far as place recommendations that to a bit too broad a question I'm afraid. It depends on what you prefer. I live in Arizona but that may not suit you.

      In terms of mail the post office will forward your mail to either a post office box that you rent at a private company, or you can have it sent in care of general delivery to a post office at a place you are staying.

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  11. June 5 Newly retired fr education; it would be great to have builders build funished studios with a long therapy pool with water treadmills, art and music acivities and music jams for all of us who have downsized and want cheaper retirement living. I , as many I talked to, do not need luxurious apts.
    From Kay, fr miserable (this yr anyhew) MINNESOTA

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    1. That's a good point, Kay.It is like a phone that has so many features it is hard to figure out how to make a phone call. All of us don't need all the bells and whistles.

      BTW, it is 110 degrees right now in Phoenix. Is Minnesota still miserable?

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  12. I live in Washington and have never considered turning off my gas or electricity when I go to AZ for the winter. We have gas heat and are concerned about not having any heat on in the house during the winter. Not a problem? Also, we want to have security light on at night even though we live in a 55+ community. In AZ, you totally turn off your a/c when you're gone? You're not worried about the extreme heat? Just curious. Maybe we're being overly cautious.

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    1. I would think you would need to maintain a minimum level of heat for your home in the winter unless you drained all the pipes and water heater. I know a couple who keeps their condo in your part of the country set at 50 degrees while they in Arizona for the winter.

      We turn the AC up to 88-90 degrees and turn off the hot water heater when we are gone during the summer. All electronics are on power strips so we can totally turn off all power to the TV, computers, and stereo.

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  13. I'm going to be a sort of snowbird this winter, but I will be missing no less than 9 children and grandchildren's birthdays from Jan-March, and I'm wondering if I should plan to fly back and forth a few times. Is this an issue for you?

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    1. My grandkids and daughters all live in the Phoenix area so none of them is more than 40 minutes away. But, if they were I would certainly find a way to visit them a few times a year.

      In between the visits tools like Skye for video calls and e-mails with attached pictures are good ways of staying involved in their lives.

      One other suggestion: depending on the ages of those involved you can consider celebrating birthdays as a group of several at a time.. Your kids probably don't care if their birthdays are celebrated on the actual days, so try to visit close to the grandkid's actual dates and celebrate the older folks' special day during the same visit. That should cut down on the number of separate flights you have to take.

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