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

By Bob Lowry

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 décor 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, 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.

Bob Lowry is the author of the definitive retirement guides: Living A Satisfying Retirement and Building A Satisfying Retirement.

Bob has been profiled in Money Magazine & as well as Ad Age Insight White Papers. He is a featured author in nationally released book, “65 Things To Do When You Retire” and “65 Things To Do When You Retire – Travel” as well as a contributor to PBS’s Next Avenue web site.

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