Not that long ago, people traveling and living in recreational vehicles carried traveler’s checks and had someone back home handle their bills. Their financial options were pretty limited.
Those days are over.
The financial services world has caught up with the mobile RV lifestyle. Banking and paying bills on the road has never been easier. Managing money is a snap.
An ATM for every KOA and Flying J
“The biggest mistake people make is worrying about it,” says Ron Hofmeister, a retired accountant and co-author of “Movin’ On: Living and Traveling Full-time in a Recreational Vehicle.” He also runs the Movin’ On Web site with his wife, Barb.
“Handling finances is probably the easiest thing we do on the road. It’s just not difficult.”
For openers, there’s no need to fret about being caught without cash in the middle of nowhere. ATMs seem to be everywhere.
“They’re on every corner,” Hofmeister says. “They’re even in the truck stops.”
Of course, getting cash at an ATM is certainly convenient, but it’s not always free. The bank owning the ATM may charge a $1.50 fee or more to non-bank customers. Some banks charge their own customers fees whenever the customers use another bank’s ATM.
So stick to your own bank’s ATMs whenever possible. The larger your bank, the larger its ATM network. That’s one reason why banking with a large financial institution with branches and ATMs nationwide can come in handy when you’re on the road.
With so many ATMs charging fees, why not make the most of each ATM visit and take out a big chunk of money? After all, the fewer withdrawals you make, the fewer fees you’ll have to pay.
Most banks limit ATM withdrawals to $200 or $300. You may want to ask your bank to raise this limit before you hit the road. Some banks may raise the withdrawal limit to $1,000 or more.
Other ways to swipe money
Debit cards, such as the Visa Check Card and MasterCard Money, are linked to a cardholder’s checking account and can be used for purchases and to withdraw money from ATMs.
So bring along your debit card the next time you head to a grocery store. You could pick up some quick cash and you won’t have to pay a fee.
A credit card is also a great way to pay on the road. Some full-timers charge all their major expenses — food, gas, campground fees, you name it. They pay one big, itemized bill once a month. Tracking spending is easy; all they have to do is study their credit card bills.
You can even pay other bills with credit cards. Hofmeister has cell phone and satellite TV bills automatically charged to his credit card. Insurance and utility bills also can be paid this way. Other full-timers prefer to have automatic bill payments pulled directly from their checking accounts.
|— Updated: April 7, 2006|
Some take the old road
“I’m an old-fashioned accountant. I like to look at it before I pay it,” he says.
How do you get mail when you’re traveling from place to place and state to state? It’s easy. Just sign up for a mail-forwarding service.
Some full-timers pick up mail just once a month. Others check mail once a week.
Customers pay postage costs plus any additional fees charged by the mail-forwarding service. Fees vary widely. Signing up for The Escapees RV Club’s most basic mail service costs $185. That’s $85 for an annual fee, $50 for a postage deposit and $15 for an enrollment fee, plus a $35 cancellation fee.
Many RVers coordinate billing due dates with mail pick up dates. It’s awfully tough to pay a bill on time if you receive it after it’s due.
“It’s just working with the companies. We haven’t had any problems with that. They’re happy to have customers who want to pay on time.”
Dialing-up for dollars
Lots of RVers choose to bank by phone while they’re out on the road. All you need is a cell phone and the bank’s 800 number.
Getting online takes a bit more work. However, new technology is the RVers friend. Many truck stops, coffee shops, hotels, motels and restaurants now offer WiFi or wireless Internet. You receive a network signal but you either pay a subscription to a hot-spot provider such as T-Mobile or sign on to a network provided by the store or truck stop. Some RV parks and campgrounds have also gotten on the WiFi bandwagon offering free wireless broadband Internet access to their guests. If you really want to be online from anywhere, anytime, broadband satellite Internet services are an option, but they’ll cost you. Typically, satellite involves a fairly hefty installation fee, around $400 – $500, plus a monthly subscription fee.
Before signing up for an online banking service, be sure you understand how the account works. Our Checking basics story explains exactly what to expect when using online banking services.
Many RVers choose to do all their banking at a single financial institution. It makes it easier to move money in between accounts, plus all your financial data arrives in a single envelope each month.
When it comes to keeping tabs on personal cash flow, many full-timers are in for a pleasant surprise. Living on the road cuts expenses by 40 percent to 50 percent. Fifty-nine percent of full-timers have monthly expenses of $2,000 or less, according to a survey by rvhometown.com.
“It really is a lot cheaper to live this way,” Hofmeister says.
“There is no house. The RV is home. We don’t pay property taxes. We don’t have to worry about a house up north or pipes freezing.”
Once on the road, you’ll have the time and freedom to do things you’ve always wanted to do. So you may find yourself spending more money on entertainment and fun then you did in your old life.
“One of the hazards of being on the road is you’re exposed to a lot of good restaurants and interesting places,” Hofmeister says. “So we probably spend a little bit more on that.”
Bankrate editorial assistant Sheyna Steiner contributed to this story.
|— Updated: April 7, 2006|