FMC Magazine
FMC Magazine
Full-Timer's Primer: Turn Old-Time Skills Into Cash Print Email

Discover how to parlay your special interest or expertise into a paycheck, plus learn some money-saving tips.

By Janet Groene, F47166
June 2013

A smart, active, young-at-heart full-timing couple I recently encountered supplements their retirement income by spending the season at a theme park where they are paid to demonstrate their crafts and to answer questions or spin yarns. While the public looks on, she crochets rag rugs, a skill learned from her great-grandmother. He builds old-fashioned fiddles, a craft he learned while working on his woodworking badge as a Boy Scout.

This couple now earns a salary and receives a free campsite with their show-and-tell about how things were done in the old days. They aren’t pressed to produce in volume, although they are allowed to sell the pieces they make if they so choose.

While some crafters and artisans rely solely on the Internet and flea markets to sell their handiwork, this couple has learned that it pays to show your hand. They love meeting the public and have honed their act into a real crowd-pleasing presentation. If you have mastered an old-time skill, can you turn it into income as a full-timer? The answer may be yes.

Grants And Government Jobs
Blaine Waide is the state folklorist at the Bureau of Historic Preservation in Florida and oversees the Folklife Apprenticeship Program. This program offers master folk artists apprenticeship awards of $750 for three months, $1,500 for six months, and $2,000 for eight months. The program seeks master artists in a traditional culture to teach an apprentice, who is also paid a token fee. Past programs have included Everglades skiff making, saltwater fly tying, Afro-Caribbean percussion, African-American gospel steel guitar, Greek bouzouki (a mandolin-type instrument), Nicaraguan festival arts, old-time fiddling, Japanese flower arranging, Seminole basket making, and Cuban guajiro singing. Artists and apprentices apply as a team and must have Florida residency. For more information, visit

Your home state may have a similar program for master crafters or other opportunities for those who have a time-honored skill. For example, you might work several hours a day at a quilting frame in a historic home or bake biscuits in a campfire at a living history event. Some positions do not require hands-on skills, such as acting as a docent at a state park or state museum.

If your degree is in history, theater, or the arts, you might qualify to be an interpretive character. That means dressing as a particular character and assuming his or her persona, including the ability to speak with visitors as that character. During one trip, knowing that we were supposed to be in a cow camp in the early 1870s, I asked a “cow hunter” in Florida what he thought of President Grant. The character replied with historical accuracy, “We don’t think much of him down here, ma’am.”

If your talent is the spoken word and you possess expertise in something highly specialized, it may be a good idea to investigate the possibility of registering with a speaker’s bureau such as SpeakInc (, Premiere Speakers Bureau (, American Program Bureau (, or KEY Speakers Bureau Inc. ( You might be surprised to learn that you don’t have to be a polished orator to succeed in this line of work. One man makes a six-figure living by speaking to hunt clubs on how to field-dress birds or animals. The key words are “highly specialized.” Motivational speakers are also in high demand, but the field is crowded unless you have a subspecialty in that area.

You may be able to create your own bookings with an organization or denomination. If not, start with intense homework online and in person to find the kind of speakers’ agency that specializes in working with people such as you. Then learn about contracts and costs. Some agents charge a fee to register, with no guarantee of placement, plus a commission on speaking fees, if any. Sometimes fees are paid by the group sponsoring the event.

Another opportunity for speakers who have expertise in history or folk life topics includes small-ship cruises. Picture yourself camped in New Orleans, Louisiana, or Savannah, Georgia. You board a ship by the day or week and give lectures to passengers on topics such as folk music of the Civil War or ghost stories of the Low Country. Also in demand on some cruises are experts who can teach passengers ballroom dancing or how to play bridge. Again, it’s important to understand your contract, especially if it comes under international maritime law.

Similar to the small-ship lecturer is what is called a step-on guide. Such guides “step on” a tour bus to lecture about general points of interest along the way. I usually begin a visit to any city with one or two such tours for orientation and background, and I find them invaluable.

Memorable tours I’ve taken have covered Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta, the architecture of Natchez, and Boston’s historic highlights. After these initial introductions, it’s much easier to return and sightsee at one’s own pace. If you have the energy to conduct walking tours, they also can be a source of income. Almost every large city offers a walking tour of urban sculptures, historic landmarks, and so on.

If you can offer this type of service, start by visiting the city’s convention and visitors bureau or other tourism promotion agency. The agency may book you directly or steer you to a tour company that can use your talents.

If you’re a full-timer and need to increase your income, the knowledge you gained from your grandparents or a college course you took long ago may be your secret weapon.

Money-Shaving Tips For Full-Timers

  • If you change credit cards too often, your credit rating could be reduced. But it’s smart to take a look at different credit cards occasionally to determine whether you’re missing out on a better deal. You might be paying too much in interest or fees, or earning too little in rewards with the card you are using. A simple way to compare programs is to visit Unless you apply for a card at the site, you don’t have to provide any personal information. That’s a plus, because some sites ask for your name, address, and Social Security number before providing any information.
  • When using the Web site, indicate whether your credit rating is good, better, or best and what type of credit or debit card you are shopping for: no annual fee, lowest interest rate, free balance transfer, rewards, or one of the limited cards that can help you claw back from a bad credit rating. The site provides some options.

    Credit ratings can take on new importance even if you never need a loan. Should you decide to re-enter the workforce, a potential employer may look at your credit rating. Some insurers also may consider your credit rating when issuing a policy.
  • According to a survey conducted by Accounting Principals, a finance and accounting staffing firm, a typical worker spends nearly $2,000 a year on lunch. If you have a job, plug that money leak by bringing your own lunch, beverages, and snacks. On the other hand, full-timers who eat out often save by going out for lunch instead of dinner, which usually is priced higher in restaurants even for the same dishes in the same portions.
  • Electronic banking and bill paying are touted by personal finance experts as a smart way to save money on postage. However, people who prefer to stay off the Internet have another choice. Many companies offer an automatic charge to your credit card (bonus points if your card has payback rewards) or an option to pay by phone. Usually these options are free, but check to make sure.
  • Could you learn to cut your partner’s hair or groom your pet? Equipment for human and pet manicures and haircuts is inexpensive, and you will save on mileage and appointment costs.
  • With tool rentals available almost everywhere, you can save by renting rather than buying a high-priced tool. In addition, you’ll save space and will carry less weight in the motorhome.
The freedom of the open road isn’t always free, so full-timers have to stay aware, skeptical, informed, and flexible. The way it’s always been may not be the best way for today and tomorrow. 
If you have a question or comment about full-timing that you'd like to share with Janet or are interested in becoming part of her full-timer's panel, e-mail her at; or write to Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Janet and Gordon Groene's book Living Aboard Your RV, Third Edition ($14.95 plus shipping) is available from Workamper by calling (800) 446-5627 or by visiting The book also can be ordered from the publisher, McGraw-Hill, at (800) 822-8158.

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