Snowbirding on a budget

With the roller coaster financial ride the Loonie is experiencing at present, Snowbirds could be forgiven for wondering how they can still enjoy an extended vacation in the U.S. and come back with their shirts on.

There are many factors impacting on the Canadian dollar, some internal, but most external. In fact, you know you’re truly a member of the global economy when one member sneezes and everyone catches a financial cold.

Although we don’t have much control over just how low the Loonie can go, or whether it’ll continue to head south, there are steps each of us can take to save a few bucks here and there. The following are just some of the ways you can still enjoy a quality lifestyle in the U.S., largely by becoming more aware of the many opportunities available to save money. At least that way you can try to buffer the uncertain economic weather while still savouring the sun and fun.

Manage your money wisely
Almost all banks, trust companies and credit unions in Canada and the U.S. – as well as savings and loans institutions in the U.S. – offer incentives to seniors. These could range from free chequing privileges to gher interest rates on deposits, no-fee credit cards or money orders, even a free safety deposit box.

Also consider the benefits of setting up a U.S. dollar credit card (eg. VISA or Mastercard) and U.S. dollar chequing and savings account at your local branch in Canada – credit cards can be paid with a U.S. fund chequing account, saving on the exchange rate at the time. Also, cheques are encoded for processing in the U.S. clearing house system as well as in the Canadian system. You may also wish to have a bank cash card for your U.S dollar account at your local branch, and which you could use at any cash machine in the U.S.

Check out the additional services your financial institution offers. For example, most have a toll-free 24 hour phone number available to check on your funds at any time, or to move funds from one account to another. Also, don’t transfer more from your Canadian account to your U.S. account than you really need. That way, you can try to balance out the exchange rate differences over time.

Ask about currency exchange rate commission discounts. The more business you have with your financial institution, the more favourable your bargaining position. Never hesitate to ask what your institution can do to save you more money.

Take advantage of discounts
Get into the habit of asking if senior’s discounts are available, and comparison-shop. It’s important to get into a pro-active mindset about saving money. And remember, in many parts of the U.S. or Mexico a “senior” could be 50-plus. Here are some common examples that work:

  • Seniors’ associations
    Various Canadian and U.S. associations for seniors, such as CARP, have membership benefits includes discounts on out-of-county medical emergency insurance, travel packages, cruises, accommodation, meals, tourist attractions, currency exchange discounts, etc.

  • Long distance discount rates
    You can save a lot of money with the various programs set up by the major long distance companies such as AT&T, Sprint and MCI in the U.S., and your provincial telephone company, Sprint or AT&T in Canada. Comparison-shop to see who has the best rate package for your needs in each country. Are their rates lower during normal telephone company long distance discount time periods, such as between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., and weekends? Different companies have different policies, so before making a commitment make sure you get details in writing.

  • State tourism catalogues
    Most states have incentive packages or special seasonal promotions to encourage tourism in their respective areas. These may include discounts, dollar-at-par offers, and coupon books for use for attractions, entertainment, accommodations, meals, RV rentals, etc. Contact specific state tourism departments and ask for their tourist information package.

  • Bus, train and plane
    Almost every company offering bus, train or plane transportation has senior discounts.

  • Discount shopping malls
    There are many of these malls throughout the U.S. and especially the Sunbelt states, offering discount prices on a wide range of name-brand products. Check on why a particular item could be discounted, e.g. seconds, inventory over-run or surplus, off-season items, low demand items, etc.

  • Seniors’ guides
    Contact Health Canada for a directory of money-saving discounts and free services for government-related activities such as museums, parks, trains, etc. Many provinces also have similar discount policies for seniors for provincially owned attractions (e.g. museums, parks, etc.).

  • Local Chamber of Commerce
    One of the key purposes of a local Chamber is to stimulate economic activity in the community. One way of doing so is to have a special tourist discount package on services and products of its members. Contact the Chamber of Commerce in areas you’re visiting or will be staying.

  • Local newspapers
    Many local newspapers in key Sunbelt areas have special Snowbird discount subscription packages for seasonal residents. In addition, there are visitor discount package coupons for local products or services given to seasonal subscribers by the newspaper’s advertisers. Look for coupon flyers and daily specials on fruits and vegetables and other grocery items.

  • Restaurant specials
    Many restaurants have reduced prices at certain times of day as well as senior’s specials on certain days and senior’s portions any time of day.

  • Canadian dollars at par
    Look for establishments that treat your Canadian dollars as U.S. dollars. Due to the differential, many businesses may feel they cannot absorb the hit. However, to attract business in key Snowbird destinations, some businesses have begun to offer this option.

  • Advance supply of medication
    If you’re currently on medication, you can probably project your future needs for a period of up to six months while in the U.S. Have your doctor prescribe sufficient medication to cover your needs before you leave Canada. If there’s a three month maximum prescription supply at a time, you can ask your doctor to provide a post-dated prescription to cover the subsequent time period. Your pharmacy can keep this on file and forward the medication to you to ensure continuity.

  • Discount books
    There are several companies selling books listing a wide variety of discounts on restaurants, attractions and events. These books are published annually. If you’re residing for up to six months in an area close to a major city – e.g. Phoenix, Tuscon (Arizona), San Diego, Orange County (California), or St. Petersburg, Fort Meyers, West Palm Beach (Florida) etc. – you may want to check into these types of books. Generally costing about $25 U.S., they’re worth it if you go out a lot, or frequently entertain visiting relatives or friends. One of the major publishers of this type of book is Entertainment Publications (toll-free 1-800-374-4464).