Indio, California: Recently my in-basket has been filled with emails asking for advice. How do you pay bills on the road? How do you get television? Internet? Stand being together so much?
With the possible exception of chocolate chip cookies, I am not an expert on any subject. But I can tell you how we pay bills on the road and maybe offer a few ideas to make life easier and less stressful while enjoying the RV lifestyle. (The other questions will be answered in time.)
NOTE: Most of these suggestions are for long-term travel, but you may wish to incorporate a few suggestions into your monthly bill paying schedule. These suggestions also assume you have a mobile phone. DISCLAIMER: I am not a financial advisor or planner.
The first thing is to consolidate your bank accounts. Don’t have accounts all over the place. Choose a bank with ATMs or ATM network where you travel. Sign-up for online bill pay offered by your bank (unless your bank isn’t yet into this century, and if that is the case – get a different bank). If you are familiar enough with your mobile phone, choose a bank with a mobile banking option. Banking with a mobile phone or iPad/tablet isn’t difficult and it makes viewing your account and paying bills a snap. Best thing? With a data plan, no internet connection is required. Install the app, log in, check your balance, move money, pay a bill. Make sure your bank allows mobile check depositing via the camera on your phone. (Over half our banking is done via my smart phone.)
If traveling with your joint checking account partner, make sure each debit card has a different number embossed on the card. If one is lost/compromised, you will still have access to your account with the other card until you receive a replacement for the lost card.
Consolidate your credit cards, but use at least two (i.e., one VISA and one American Express or MasterCard). Again, in case one credit card is compromised or lost, it is best to have a back-up. Install your credit card app on your phone and check your charges often.
If you don’t already, have all income direct-deposited to your financial institution.
To avoid embarrassing (and infuriating!) card denials, you may wish to inform your bank and credit card company you will be away – and where you may be. (I can’t tell you how many times VISA has denied charges while we are attempting to fill the motorhome at a truck stop. The bank immediately calls my cell phone to inform me “someone is trying to use your card to charge $400 at a truck stop”. Yep. That would be me.) I have mixed feelings about this procedure – while happy my financial institution has my back, do I really want more people to know we are not come rob ushome? You decide.
If you want to keep track of your checking and credit card accounts in one place, sign up to a free online service, such as Mint. With Mint, you can make a budget and assign categories (making tax time a snap). Mint also has an app – awesome for checking account balances and recent activity on your phone or tablet. Mint can send an email to remind you of upcoming bills and lets you know if there has been unusual activity. Other online services are available, such as HelloWallet and PowerWallet.
Make a list of your monthly bills. If you are clever, create a secure document with every bill, the account number, mailing address, due date and even your online user name and password. You will be surprised how many items must be paid – especially if you still have a house. This document is a good thing to have handy for your kids or lawyer. Just in case.
If traveling for an extended period of time, suspend or cancel services you will not use at your house while away. Cancel or temporarily suspend the newspaper, land line, cable/internet, garbage service or anything else you will not be using while away for an extended period of time. Keep/hire a lawn service.
Then, of course, you have to receive your bills. How are you going to know how much your electricity bill will be at your house in Ohio when you are sunning yourself on a beach in Florida? Either someone has to fetch your mail and forward it to you. open your bill and telephone with the amount/due date, or you are going to have to learn this information on line. These are the bills you need to have charged automatically to a credit card or deducted from a checking account. Sign up for paper-less billing to ensure the bill will sent to you via email only. Worried about the amount on a bill that can fluctuate wildly? Most utility companies allow an “equal pay” option where payments are based on a yearly average. This is a great option for climates where summer or winter heating/cooling costs rise and fall. Call your utility company and make this arrangement if you don’t like surprises.
Plan your Bill Paying & Pay on Time
Time can really slip away. You may keep yourself too busy hiking, playing pickle ball or golfing. If you use a credit card that gathers points or miles, have bills automatically charged to this card and pay off the entire balance every month – on time. You may want to consider doing this even if you are at home – amazing how many points you can earn on everyday bills such as utilities and car payments. (I have a friend so serious about racking-up miles, she uses a mile-earning credit card to pay for everyday purchases – groceries, gasoline, etc. – and moves the money daily from her checking account to her credit card.)
Due date not working for you? Call the company and ask for a different monthly due date. Would it be more convenient if every bill were due on the same day each month? You can make this happen with every bill you pay. (Hello, VISA? This is Susie Smith. My credit card bill is due on the 18th of the month. Can we switch this to the 1st of every month? Thank you.) Companies just want you to pay them – they will work with you.
As long as you can learn the amount due, you still have the option to pay bills with a written check. If just away for a short while, maybe it would be more convenient to pay the bill in advance.
Logging on to your bank via a RV park or public location has some risk. NEVER log into your bank account on a shared computer (like in a library). Keep safe – here are some tips from the US Government.
Now, get out there and enjoy your trip!
Until my next update, I remain, your helpful correspondent.
Did any of these suggestions help you?
I have a tip jar.