I just thought I would write on a couple of topics that Roger isn’t as interested in. The first is Budgets. We put ourselves on a budget for the first time in about 15 years. For those last few years we were both busy physicians bringing in much more than we spent but we never had much free time. This is what I think lead to our burn out with medicine. It can demand all of you and we were trained long ago to give it.
Most discussions regarding full timing have found that it costs about the same to full time as it did living in a house. We are the exception but that is because of our particular situation, living in a 6 bedroom house on 0.8 acres with a pool. We worked too many hours so we needed a personal assistant to handle what we never had time to do. We had a housekeeper, dog groomer, pool man, gardener, handy man, hairdresser, etc. We still had a house payment. We are now spending $3000 - $4000 less per month.
Many of the budgets posted on the internet are from people who must be quite thrifty in what they spend. I am fascinated at how ingenious some RV’ers are at managing their money and have picked up some of their ideas. I love the topic of RVing on a Budget on the Escapees Forum, rvnetwork.com. Assuming we do get locum tenens positions for 3 months this winter we do not need to be that thrifty, however the recent recession where the value of some of our investments dropped precipitously has made us think twice about future spending. Who knows if we will have enough money to cover the rest of our lives? It depends on how long we live, how many more recessions occur, how much money we make doing temporary work, whether we develop serious health problems and how much our health care costs. Currently health insurance is our greatest expense at $1500/mo. on COBRA. COBRA ends at the end of November and then we have to go bare during December due to pre-existing medical problems. Mine is migraines. As a physician I certainly didn’t know that migraines qualify as a pre-existing medical condition. Hypertension doesn’t, so I could have had my doctor just write that as the diagnosis for one of my medications. Oh well, too late now.
The other thing related to the health budget is the cost of medications. Our current health insurance covers medications with a copay. However the only way we can get medications at 3 month intervals is through their pharmacy through the mail. That doesn’t work well for us so we joined the Walgreens generic prescription benefit plan and pick the medications up every 3 months where ever we happen to be. They have honored prescription from Roger everywhere we have tried so far. We paid about $220 last month for 3 months worth of medications, which was about the same as the copays back when we were getting our prescriptions "paid for" by the insurance.
Back to the budget, our next biggest expense is campground fees. Our budget calls for spending $25/night. However, this has been very hard to achieve. We discovered we don’t care much for boondocking (dry camping with no hookups). One has to be very careful about conserving water. I can’t do a load of laundry. I need to use wipes rather than water to wash my hands. Doing it for one night is OK, but I would just rather have water and electricity, and if we are staying a week, sewer hookups. One way to reduce costs is to go to campgrounds that have weekly rates. We stayed for a week at a campground near San Antonio for approximately $33/night, rather than the $42 one day rate. Unfortunately the rates near big cities and in tourist areas are quite high. The rate near Rapid City, SD increased by about $10/day this past summer compared to what we were paying when we stayed there in the fall of 2012. This increase and more has occurred across the country, especially during the summer so we weren’t able to meet our budget of $25/night. $30/night is probably a more reasonable goal. Another way we decrease our campground fees is to stay in Escapees campgrounds. They are somewhat out of the way, which we like because we are tired of being citified (traffic, noise, etc.). Escapees is the third largest RV club in the country and has its own set of campgrounds, mostly in the southern part of the country with 1 in Oregon and 1 in Washington. Their rates are generally just under $20/night. They also offer discounts at parks throughout the country.
There is a tendency for those RV’ers who have been full timers for, say, longer than 2 or 3 years, to stay more than a week or two as they travel. Monthly rates are even better than weekly rates. But we are in our first year so we still like to get out and travel. That is referred to as "hitch itch". The recruiting company shoulp pay our camping fees if we are able to get a locum tenens position for 3 months. That will help us stay within our budget.
The next big item is fuel costs. We are very fortunate this year because fuel costs have fallen as we travelled east and now south. We started in California at $3.89/gallon and recently paid $2.89 in Texas. We do most of our site seeing in the Subaru Forester. If I am driving the Forester, I drive at 50 to 60 mph and get about 27 miles/gallon. Roger just hasn’t completely slowed down in retirement and he drives at about 62 mph. As mentioned, I follow the Escapees forum and multiple discussions suggest that the best mileage is obtained between 55 to 60 mph. We haven’t calculated our mpg on the RV, I guess because we don’t want to know. Discussions on the Forum suggest mpg at the 7-8 range. Roger says we spent $405 on gasoline last month. We do follow the recommendation to travel about 200 miles at a time. Then we’re supposed to stay a week, but I realized that we wouldn’t make it back to California by December if we traveled that slowly so we are staying about 3 nights each place at an Escapees park.
Next is food costs. We aren’t very good at that. In fact it belongs above fuel because we eat out a lot, probably about 4-5 times a week for either lunch or dinner. We also tend to buy items that have some processing such as already made salad, cut up vegetables for soups, etc. We do now have a food card for every major market chain in the parts of the country we have traveled. That saves some money. We no longer have a Costco card because we can’t buy anything in bulk as there is no room to store it and we don’t need any excess weight to carry. That eats up the mpg. Roger says we spent $395 on groceries last month and $934 eating out.
The next biggest expense is to Verizon for cell and internet service. We were spending about $300/month for 4 cell phones and 12gigabytes of data per month. We use the campground’s wifi whenever we can, but that is often very limited. We found that just wasn’t enough so we increased the gigabytes to 20 per month and will be spending about $343/month. The biggest use of the net is streaming video, which we can’t do much of, but there are times such as watching certain YouTube videos and occasional TV shows.
Roger and I had a lot of clothes so we haven’t needed any in the last 6 months. We have clothes stored in SD so I don’t think we will need much in the next 6 months. We did find that we had to buy shoes. For some reason our feet are just bigger and some of our shoes didn’t fit anymore. I know that when we lived in Hawaii with greater humidity our shoe size was larger so maybe that explains the change.
We aren’t spending much on sundries because I used to buy at Costco. We had so much left over, like deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and hairspray. We took that with us. We spent $646 on entertainment last month. It’s not what you think. We didn’t sign up for satellite TV or radio even though we are “wired” for both. We aren’t watching any TV. We do occasionally listen to our recorded music on CDs. The money was for museum fees, an annual national parks pass, state park entrance fees, the Grand Ole Opry, etc. It’s what we do in retirement. We mostly travel and site see. We probably buy about $200/mo. from Amazon.
So now back to the $934 spent on eating out. I’ve decided that we qualify as foodies. I know that Roger’s brother and wife are foodies but I hadn’t realized that we now also qualify. If you Google “foodie” you come up with multiple similar definitions such as, “a person with a particular interest in food; a gourmet.” or Wikipedia says “Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings and occasionally reopenings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, cooking classes, culinary tourism, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito…”
Roger and I like to try the local microbreweries when we travel. We find microbreweries have beer that tastes similar to the wonderful beer we drank when we were in Germany. Roger loves smoking meats so we have been sampling the local fare in places we are traveling. We recently sampled what Trip Advisor indicated was the best barbecue in San Antonio. We also love Mexican food but I finally got Roger to understand that we are only safe trying it in the Southwest. He learned that the hard way when we tried a Mexican restaurant in Kentucky. We did find a good restaurant in Spearfish, SD. We had good Mexican food in Livingston, TX, as expected. When we eat out it is to sample the local food. We now have eaten fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, crawfish, catfish, whitefish, Mississippi tamales, Texas tamales, beer cheese, Kentucky Bourbon, Mint Julips, Scotch Eggs, mustard greens, etc. Often we have to try these more than once to see how they differ in different places. So let us know if you agree that we are foodies. Oh, and we also like to try Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) restaurants and those that Alton Brown found on his motorcycle trips.