Every now and then, I’ll receive an email or comment asking what it costs to RV full-time? I know a lot of people are either curious for the sake of general curiosity or because they have a genuine interest in the lifestyle. Seems folks either think you need to have a lot of money to travel full-time, or they think you’re down and destitute and the lifestyle barely costs anything. With that said, full-time RVing can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. It’s all about personal preference.
The first thing to consider when it comes to breaking down monthly costs is the type of RV you have (or will have), and whether or not you’ll have a monthly payment or pay cash for the equipment. The next considerations are how often you travel, where you park, and the activities you do in the places you visit.
Budgeting for full-time RVing is a very personal thing with lots of variables, and one size does not fit all. I’ve put together a general list of items most RVers can expect to pay to sustain the nomadic life of full-time RVing.
- Camping Fees
- Gasoline and Propane
- Groceries and dining out
- Phone and Internet
- RV / vehicle maintenance and repairs (perhaps a monthly payment)
- RV / vehicle Insurance and registrations
- Mail service – domicile
- Clothing, shoes, personal items
- Storage facility
- Medical expenses and health insurance
- Membership fees
- Miscellaneous – pets, alcohol, hair cuts, etc. Depending on your interests and habits you might have other costs I haven’t thought of or that don’t pertain to us.
Camping Fees – Similar to living in a fixed location, you need to consider monthly rent. There are quite a few options available. There are people who boondock year-round and only pay small fees to dump their holding tanks and take on fresh water. A bunch of RVers enjoy workamping in exchange for a free place to park, and then there are others who enjoy all the amenities of an RV park and budget accordingly.
If you boondock (camping on public lands with no facilities) or you work camp (volunteer at a campground, State Park, National Forest, Wildlife Refuge) in exchange for a free campsite, your camping costs can be zero.
Private RV Parks can range on average between $300 to $900 a month. On the other hand, those looking to splurge might pay upwards of $1,800 or more a month for a fancy resort-style RV park. Location and amenities are the major factors in such a fluctuation of fees.
Al and I tried work camping once and didn’t find the risk/reward to be worthwhile for us personally. Be sure and do your homework and know what you’re signing up for when you agree to work camp (aka workamp which is a trademark of Workamper News ). The thought of a free campsite is enticing, but do the math and understand the physical demands! Plus ask yourself, “Is this a place we would gladly pay to stay? Is it worth the risk for the reward gained?”
Let’s do the math …. Many state parks now charge about $30 a night (or more). If you were to stay a month, the cost would be $900 for the month (30 days times $30). If you decide working in exchange for a campsite would be ideal, keep in mind these state parks require couples to work 20 hours a week – per person. Thus, between the couple it’s 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month. (Two people for the price of one campsite. A single person would be required to work 20 hours for the same campsite. If you ever wonder why parks prefer couples, you just got your answer. ) So back to the math …. $900 a month divided by 160 work hours = $5.60 an hour per person. For an individual it would be $11.25 an hour ($900 divided by 80 monthly hours).
Some folks love volunteering and don’t care about the numbers, while others are dealing with long-term injuries incurred while work camping.
In lieu of work camping, Al and I manage our monthly rent budget by utilizing a combination of options. When we stay in a private RV park, we go for a monthly stay or at the very least, weekly. The monthly rate is always the most economical.
Daily rates are usually the most expensive unless you’re able to utilize a discount membership rate through an organization like Escapees or Passport America. The nightly discounted rates quite often apply for one night only and are not available on weekends or holidays, but each park is different. So be sure and call ahead for clarification. We’ve actually stayed at places up to three nights at the discounted rate.
We love staying at National Parks, National Forest Campgrounds, and Corp of Engineer Parks, all run by the Federal Government. With Al’s old fart’s card (America the Beautiful Senior Pass), we usually pay half of the nightly fee. There are also special benefits for military personal, veterans, and the disabled. We love those discounts, but not all federal places offer the special discounted rates. As the government turns over the managing of these campgrounds to private management companies, these companies are given free rein to charge what they want and to honor or not honor any special passes. We’ve even noticed these private companies charging higher camping fees for holiday weekends.
State Parks and Regional Parks are always a campers delight, but too many nights at a rate of $30 – $60 a night can really put a crimp in anyone’s budget. This is when a little boondocking (aka dispersed camping) can help offset those monthly expenditures, but dispersed camping is definitely more work and requires much more forethought living off the grid and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.
As you can see, there are so many camping options with a wide range of fees. It took Al and me well over a year of full-time RVing to find our groove, but that doesn’t mean we don’t change it up on a whim and end up throwing the budget out the window, but we always end up back on track.
Since Al and I enjoy the diversity of private RV parks, state parks, regional parks, and boondocking by mixing things up, in 2017 we managed to keep our monthly rental expenditure under $400 a month. This works for us, and we feel we handled our campground budget well in 2017. (Our 2018 budget was closer to $500 a month)
Next on our list
Gasoline and Propane – Gasoline is entirely dependent on how much we travel and the price per gallon we pay. Obviously this number can fluctuate a lot, and it’s something we have no control over other than to drive less when gas prices sky-rocket. But what fun is that?
Propane use also varies depending on how cold the weather gets, and thus how much we use the furnace. We also use propane for cooking and our refrigerator when we’re not hooked-up to electric. If the weather is cold and I’m baking a lot, then our propane will need to be filled more often. Propane prices also fluctuate.
Last year (2017), we spent about $125 on propane (for the entire year) and an average of about $325 a month for gasoline. Not too bad, but we did slow our travels in 2017. With the exception of our winter excursion to the Texas Gulf Coast, we spent most of the year meandering around the state of Arizona. In previous years, we traveled further with trips to Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Illinois and all parts in between. In 2016 we spent around $350 a month on gasoline and in 2015 it was closer to $410 a month.
Groceries and dining out – We find these costs to be very similar to what we used to spend living in our sticks and bricks home. We don’t go out to eat very often, but when we do, it’s usually to socialize or learn more about an area. We enjoy looking for local places that offer lunch specials or visit a local brewery or winery.
Part of the fun of traveling is exploring new places which includes local farmers markets, dining out at local restaurants, and meeting new friends. Connecting with fellow bloggers is always so much fun. And not all my blogging pals RV and yet we seem to have a lot in common. One (of many) upsides to a nomadic life is the people we meet.
Phone and Internet – Staying connected is vital to us. I have an iPhone 5, Al has a
dumb flip phone, and we have a Verizon hotspot with 30 Gigabytes of data. If we’re not careful by monitoring our daily gig usage, we can easily gobble up those 30 gigs in a couple of weeks. Therefore, we’re currently shopping around for other plans, including the unlimited ones.
This subject makes my head spin and again there are so many variables. I know RVers who spend around $100 a month for phone and internet while others spend well over $300 a month. It just depends on your needs.
To be continued …
In my next post, we’ll work our way down the rest of that budgeting list 🤑