Are you an RVer tired of the cold winter weather and ready to become a snowbird? Wondering how you can afford to snowbird? Here are a few things to help you figure out whether or not you can fit the snowbird lifestyle into your financial limits.
Getting away from the cold country for the winter can bring some amount of relief to your finances. Pull out the records for the last couple of years and figure out how much you’re spending on heating the house. You may be able to cut way back on that expense, and in some cases, even eliminate it altogether. How so?
Afford to snowbird: Cut back on thermometer and utility expenses
When you’re out of the home for the winter, you can cut way back on your thermostat dial. There are a couple of different views on the heating issue. Some snowbirds leave the heating system on, but dial back as far as they can on the temperature – up enough to prevent pipe freeze, but low enough to keep the energy-chewing heat system at bay. Others drain their pipes and water heater, dump RV antifreeze into their plumbing drains, and shut down the heat system altogether. It takes a bit of doing to ensure you have all the water out of the system, but for some it’s doable.
Before you decide to take that approach, check out your home insurance policy. Some insurance companies require that heat be left on at all times, and if something adverse were to happen in your absence, if you step outside the bounds of the policy, you may find yourself not covered.
Aside from reducing the cost of home heating, there are other financial savings snowbirds can rack up. Other utility costs may be able to be reduced. For example, how much does your home TV cable or satellite provider ring up? Some of these may be put on “vacation” settings, or shut off entirely. Of course, you’ll need to weigh the costs of reconnection and setup fees. Your water usage, while gone, will certainly go down, and you can also put garbage collection services away for the winter.
Cost balance: home vs. on the road
Now comes the balancing act—and the balance sheet. Of course, it does cost you to snowbird, too. But there are ways to run those costs down.
How much will it cost you to get to and from your snowbird destination? While coming back costs may be hard to predict, right now, the cost of motor fuel is very high. You can keep travel fuel costs down and still enjoy RVing by “sitting put” for longer periods of time and enjoying the local scenery and activities, rather than constantly traveling.
What about “where to stay” costs? If you have a membership in a camping club, check out the costs for staying in your targeted snowbird area. Check out how long you can stay in any given park during your season. Consider other discounts available: You may qualify for discounted stays at state or federal campgrounds.
If you’re “stuck” with staying at a privately operated RV park, you may find that paying by the month, the season, or even for a full year in advance can rack up considerable savings. Sure, you may not really stay a full year in the snowbird zone, but paying the whole year may actually save money. Sad to say, fewer parks are offering year-round rates. However, there are some that offer seasonal rates. If you stayed on in Quartzsite, Arizona, you could pay as little as $900 for a November through March stay. On the other hand, the highest rate we found was $3,535 for the same time frame!
Boondocking can make life much more affordable
What about boondocking? Here’s where real money can be saved. Again, using Quartzsite as an example, for less than $200 for the entire snowbird season, RVers can camp out in the desert and still have access to water, a sewage dump, and garbage drop-off. Of course, you’ll need to make a capital investment in outfitting your rig with solar panels to provide enough electricity to care for your needs, as there are no hookups available in the desert.
Some RVers simply roll into Quartzsite and make an appointment with one of the local solar retailers, and get solar installed on their rigs within a few days. The money they save from staying at an RV park pays for their solar installation, and they retire to the desert and the low-cost camping.
Watch out for “hidden costs”
But what about the “hidden” costs of snowbirding? There can be a few and can affect your ability to afford to snowbird. If you stay in a given area for a lengthy period, you may find it easier to rent a post office box, rather than rely on General Delivery for your mail. Some post offices are cleverly forcing folks into renting a box by limiting how long General Delivery can be used. A small box will set you back a few dollars—around $80 for six months.
What about TV? If you need more than the limited “free” TV signals coming off the air, then you’ll have to factor in satellite TV for your RV. And internet service? If you stay in an RV park, it’s often included as a “free” service; just don’t count on it for downloading movies and other big data-hogging activities. RV park Wi-Fi service is generally dependable only for getting your email and web browsing. If you depend on the internet for more, then add the cost of service—most dependably a cellular provider’s 4G or 5G service.
Medical care? Again, read your insurance policy carefully. Most policies will provide for emergency and “urgent” care; but if you need to see a doctor for more than that—say regular testing or consultation—make sure your policy will cover you where you go, and factor in additional costs if needed.
Many RVers are happy to “break even,” or even find they spend a little bit more to snowbird. After all, getting away from sore joints, snow shoveling, and gray skies can make a huge difference in life’s enjoyment. A few others find they even save money by getting away from Old Man Winter. So, can you afford to snowbird?
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We have wintered in FL for the past eight years. Our RV is left there, with stowage charged by the park. The house back home is pretty much dead, in that the water is drained, heat shut off, and things that might freeze stored in a home-made box made with 2” rigid insulation and heated with a ceramic chick heater controlled by a 110v thermostat. The box is located in the basement, so even if something malfunctions most of the items won’t freeze. While snow-birding we eat out frequently which drives up our expenses, but what the heck, we consider our time there as our yearly vacation! Considering the money not spent on heating, electricity and internet service, four months in FL (including costs to get there and back) runs around $2500.
We became snowbirds the day after we retired. We knew we wanted to spend at least the first winter in Yuma. Our first visit was only expected to be about 6 weeks as it began in mid-February. We were curious about the prospect of workamping and inquired at a few resorts about positions. We were offered a position and accepted. We each work 4 hours a day, one week a month. We receive our site with utilities and use of all resort facilities. We’ve found our ‘winter family’ in this small community and purchased a park model for hubby’s mom to stay in during the winters.
I am a sunbird. I keep wifi because I have a security system and cameras that use it. Plus my thermostat is wifi. I was in MT a few months ago and got a notice on my phone that the AC was out. Yes, I kept it on but set to 85, when it gets to 110+ in the desert I don’t want my house to get that hot. My house was 89 when I checked it. Called my neighbor who called an HVAC repair company and got the system up and running in about 20 minutes and just over $300. When on my way home two days before arriving, I switched it to my regular schedule (77-79 degrees) so it was cool when I arrived. In the winter when I head out exploring the south, I leave the heat on at 45.
My security system has water monitors and I have one at the tankless water heater and one at the washing machine (thinking of putting them under the sinks). If something happens, I can call my neighbor who can take care of it.
You mentioned as much as $3535 for Nov-March in Quartsite. How about Phoenix area. The big corporate owned parks will charge you as much as $7000 for that same period.
Our aspirations and dreams have been trashed. A country that claims to be the “home of the brave and land of the free” is curiously more terrified of “unvaxed” Canadians than of those thousands swimming across the Reo Grand??
America is a beautiful country, but like other countries. We have our share of wack job politicians. But when you visit another country you have to follow their rules whether you agree or not. I would like to visit Canada, but it seems like a hassle to take a gun into your country for protection. Don’t always feel comfortable traveling without protection. Many of us Americans don’t like allowing those coming into our country illegally. I don’t like being around unvaxed Americans. We do welcome Canadians but must follow each of our countries rules which always change. Hope you make it to America and enjoy yourself.
We became snowbirds for the first time last winter. We live in Northern NY state, and luckily have a newer, very efficient house. We turned down the heat to the mid-50’s and had a neighbor keeping an eye on things. We didn’t stay in RV parks often, and didn’t spend a lot of time in big cities where shopping is a temptation (or with good enough internet to do online shopping, plus, where would we put the stuff?). We wound up putting almost $2K a month into savings while on the road. We did spend $ to stay in County, State and Federal campgrounds, and we did eat out regularly, we had to sample Mexican food everywhere we went! Fuel was our biggest expense, fortunately the prices didn’t spike until the last 6 weeks of our journey, we put 15,000 miles on the motorhome. This season we won’t move as much. Our health insurance is good across the US and we didn’t have to use it. The cost of being gone for 6 months was a concern for us, but it turned out well for our situation.
Don’t forget repairs on your RV.
If you live where you have to leave the heat on in your house. They sell a setup with a light and thermostat. People put a red bulb in the light and put the light in the window and set the temperature so if the furnace stops running/breaks. Your trusting neighbor can call you and let you know the light is on and furnace is broke. Than your house won’t be damaged. My neighbors furnace in March broke with freezing temperatures, They removed about five dumpsters of material and took over 6 months to repair the house. Also in really bad freezing winters the frost can freeze your water pipes due to lack of not using. It happened to me. Fortunately I had a special plastic type water pipe underground that didn’t burst the pipe. Supposedly only the water company can get the pipe.
As a Canadian snowbird, the added cost of out of country medical insurance is a must have. Our first year snowbirding (2021-22) we stayed at about 20 different locations. This coming winter we have cut that down to about 5, which saves considerably on costs.
Having moved into a condo there are no cost savings in the winter, however we simply turn off the HVAC, have a friend look in once a week for insurance purposes and that’s it!
I have set up a virtual mailbox, so I can check my physical mail remotely through a website.
All first world problems to be sure, but it is worth it to escape the snow and cold!
As fellow Canadian Snowbirds (Manitoba), we have stayed home since 2020, never again, winters are horrible. We travel in a Class A with a toad. We also include travel health insurance to our budget. The first 5 weeks are a week here and there, the 5 months in one resort in Arizona. Our condo expenses are minimal and we will rent out our 2 parking spots for the time we are away to cover some of our condo fees. This summer has been wonderful but can’t wait to get on the road again in late October. See you on the road!
What would you call someone who does the opposite, a sunbird? I’ve run into a few people who do just that. They live in a warm southern state and go north in the summer to beat the summer heat and humidity. I wonder if it would be cheaper?
The utilities should be much cheaper, in the winter you may have to heat even if you are not there (I do) but you never have to cool if you are not there.
I think that depends on the location. I am in south Louisiana where the humidity is extremely high. No AC = mold and mildew.
I’ve been thinking of doing that. We live in Bullhead City, Arizona. summer here gets to 120. Thinking of spending the summer somewhere cooler. Right now we stay home during the summer and go places in our RV the rest of the year. No need for heat here because it never freezes here.