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Money-saving tips for snowbirds

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

This is the third winter that my husband and I have been snowbirds -- people who head to a warm place to avoid the winter cold.

A recent survey by RBC Financial Planning found that 27 percent of not-yet-retired Canadians 50 and older expect to be snowbirds in retirement, but only 16 percent of retired Canadians actually are snowbirds. I suspect that a survey of U.S. pre-retirees and retirees would have similar results, in part because living in two different places is a retirement planning challenge.

If you are considering this lifestyle, here are some things we've learned about the practical aspects of flying south:

Expect duplicate bills. It isn't practical to turn off many services. For instance, no one is watching the TV, but the cable and telephone services are tied into our security systems, so they must operate year-round.

A gas-powered generator provides peace of mind. The initial expenditure is at least $10,000, but when temperatures hover in the teens for months, knowing that the power -- and the heating system -- won't fail is priceless.

Explore inexpensive monitoring devices. We have a thermostat that can be controlled remotely by our mobile phones. The device, sold at Lowe's and Home Depot, costs less than $200 to buy and install, and the app is free. We used to pay a service monthly to do this for us, but now that bill is gone.

Cameras are comforting. A system of inexpensive cameras allows us to view rooms in our homes and our front and back yards from our mobile phones. Sophisticated security systems like this once cost thousands of dollars, but a perfectly adequate one is now less than $1,000. Our techie kid set up the system without breaking a sweat.

Install locks with codes that can be changed remotely. We don't hand out keys to anyone. We just release the locks remotely with our phones -- and re-arm them when workmen or others leave. These devices are no more expensive than good quality conventional locks and a lot more secure.

Premium forwarding is worth it. The U.S. Post Office will forward mail at no charge, but that service is hit or miss. Its premium forwarding service costs $15 to enroll and $17 per week to reship the bundled mail weekly via priority mail.

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