Winter can be a tough time of year for many people. If you’re tempted to escape the cold by going to a warmer area of the country, that’s definitely understandable. It isn’t for everyone. There are many pros of being a snowbird as it can benefit both your health and well-being. But, before you flee to Florida for a few months, there are a few things that you need to consider and do first. Similar to planning for retirement, the way to get the most out of your snowbird “nest” is to make sure you’ve planned enough and taken the right steps to prepare.
Your financial situation may be the most boring of all the things you need to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a snowbird, but it’s probably the most important. If you can’t afford to winter somewhere else, you shouldn’t be a snowbird, plain and simple. What you can afford will also define, or limit, many of the other decisions you need to make when adopting this lifestyle.
One way to know if you can swing wintering in warmer locations is to speak with a financial advisor or planner. If you’re financially literate, you could probably do a lot of the legwork yourself. Simply look at your expenses and your income and see what money you have left to play with. Then, figure in the expected cost to be a snowbird and see what you can afford.
When trying to decide if you can afford being a snowbird, ask yourself:
- Can I afford two mortgages or rent for two places at the same time?
- What type of housing will I want or need?
- Are there taxes in my winter location I need to consider?
- Can I afford travel and food costs?
Also, will you be renting or purchasing a winter home? There are benefits and negatives to both. When renting, it’ll be less expensive, and upkeep is usually handled by the owner. The disadvantages of renting are that you don’t own the space and you may not be able to stay at the same place each year. Owning a winter home will obviously be more expensive, but you’ll own it. You’ll be guaranteed to have a place to stay, and you can make the place how you want it. At the same time, you’ll be in charge of upkeep of the property.
The Where, When, and How of Being a Snowbird
Beyond finances, planning out the specifics of your winter escape is essential to finding the right location, time of year, and travel for you. Determining where you’d like to go for your winter retreat might be a bigger decision than you expect. The region you choose can define not just weather, but the type of heat and the cost of living for the area as well. Just think of how different 80 degrees in Miami is from 80 degrees in Phoenix. The cost of living can also be significantly different, according to Money Sense.
Between cost and weather, you have to balance what you’re looking for. Florida tends to be a bit warmer in winter, though it can be humid and more expensive. California is another popular choice for its mild weather but is probably the priciest. You have to do your research, so you know what to expect before you move.
Additionally, you’ll want to plan your length of stay and how you’ll get around. How long you’ll be away wintering can actually make a few decisions for you, especially if you’re renting. Some places prefer to have either long-term or short-term renters. Either way, a service like HomeAway or VRBO may help you find a rental, though long-term rentals may require more specialized searching.
You should also plan for transportation. If you’re driving to your snowbird nest, you’ll already have a vehicle there. If you’re flying or taking public transit, you may need to rent a vehicle, rely on Uber, or get a bus pass while there. You can also use your transportation options to plan where your nest is located — within walking distance of the beach, for example.
When figuring out the logistics of your stay, ask yourself:
- What kind of weather do you want?
- What area can you afford?
- How long are you planning on staying?
- How will you get around?
- Do you want or need to be close to anywhere in particular?
What You’re Leaving Behind
Before running off to your new winter abode, you’ll also need to have a plan for the things you’re leaving behind. Remember, you’ll be heading to a warmer climate, but your house won’t. You should still get your home ready for winter storms so that you don’t return to pipes that have burst and damaged roofs. It’s also a good idea to ask a neighbor or family member to check on your house occasionally while you’re gone. Your house sitter should check to make sure the house is safe from break-ins and undamaged.
If you have a pet, you need to keep them in mind, too! Can your pet travel with you to your winter home? If not, it may not be a good idea to travel, since you’d be away from your pet for several months. For more stationary pets, like fish, see if your neighbor can feed them while you’re away.
You should also have your house sitter bring in your mail and even run your car occasionally (though not too often) if you leave it behind. If you have your mail rerouted to your winter address while you’re away and take your car down, they won’t have to worry about these.
When preparing to leave your primary residence, ask yourself:
- Who can check in on your house if needed?
- Do you have or want a pet that’ll need taken care of?
- Will you reroute your mail or just have it brought in?
- Can somebody run your car for you every once in a while?
Your Medical Coverage
When you’re looking at traveling for the winter, you have to consider your health insurance coverage. If you have Original Medicare, your coverage should be accepted by any doctor that accepts Medicare assignment. If you have Medicare Advantage, your plan’s service area or network may not include your winter location. The same goes for a private or non-Medicare plan.
If your snowbird nest is outside your plan’s coverage area, you may want to consider changing your nest’s location or changing your Medicare plan. The best way to find out your plan’s service area and network is to call the plan directly and ask. You can also ask your doctor if they are in a plan’s network.
Before you leave, you should also look into where you can receive health care or pick up prescriptions near your home away from home. While your network can help narrow these locations, you should do a little research to find the options that fit you best. Another solution would be to schedule appointments or procedures and pick up any prescriptions before or after leaving for or returning from your snowbird nest.
When thinking about your insurance coverage and care needs, ask yourself:
- Will I still be able to get coverage through my insurance plans?
- Does my plan cover the services I may need in that area?
- Will you have a nearby doctor and hospital in your winter location?
- Where will you pick up prescription medications while away in the winter?
- Is it better to have any doctor’s appointments or medical procedures before or after wintering?
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The idea of escaping to a warmer place during the coldest months of the year is certainly intriguing, especially if you’ve dealt with subzero temperatures lately. The decision about whether or not you should become a snowbird should only be made after careful consideration. After answering the 18 questions we’ve asked today, though, you’ll be more than ready to make an informed decision!