This is a continuation of my previous post on what it costs to RV full-time. In my last post, I shared my budgeting list and began to break down that list by sharing costs and additional information to consider for living a nomadic life.
By keeping track of our expenses, I’m able to see exactly what it costs us to travel and live full-time in the RV. It allows me to compare living a minimalist mobile lifestyle to that of our former life in a sticks and bricks dwelling.
Continuing down the budget list
RV and vehicle maintenance and repairs – With so many diverse RV’s (recreational vehicle) on the market, it’s impossible to generalize this expenditure. So much depends on the type of equipment chosen and its age. It’s also one of the most important things to consider when shopping for a RV. Sure, you might be able to afford the RV, BUT can you afford to maintain and repair it?
Larger RVs cost more in every way. So if you have a smaller budget, buying a smaller RV will set you up for success and be less stressful over the long term. Also the more expensive the RV, the more complex it is to work on. A simpler RV will allow any semi-handy person to save money by doing their own repairs.
The most expensive option is a Diesel Motorhome with a towed (toad) vehicle. Not only is a diesel motorhome the most expensive RV to buy, it’s also the most expensive to maintain and repair. Annual service (oil change, filters, etc.) on the motorhome can cost upwards of a $1,000 annually. New tires can cost well over $4,000. For comparison sake, new tires on a travel trailer or 5th wheel might average around $700 and normal service for a diesel pick-up truck can average around $300 annually (depending on how much you travel and frequency of oil changes). That’s a big difference to consider if budget is important to you.
The least expensive option is a gas vehicle pulling a travel trailer. The smaller the trailer, the more options you’ll have for a tow vehicle. We’ve seen travel trailers being pulled by a variety of vehicles … everything from a basic pick-up truck to a van to a SUV and even a 4×4 Jeep. The simpler the equipment, the more economical the maintenance and repairs.
Van dwelling is becoming more and more popular and can be a cost-effective option, but you’re also giving up a great deal of space. Al and I would consider a van for part-time travel, but we would never consider the small space for full-time, not if we both intend to stay alive 😆
Expenses are somewhere in the middle for a gas motorhome with a toad (towed car) or a diesel pick-up truck pulling a 5th wheel or travel trailer. These are very popular options. We’re definitely happy with our set up and most years our maintenance and repair costs are minimal. In 2016 we spent $710 on our 2005 F-250 which included two new batteries, and $40 on our Fifth Wheel RV. Not too bad!
2017 wasn’t as kind on our budget. Our truck needed new injectors, repairs from damage incurred by a pack rat, and a few other major things. So along with normal maintenance added to the major repairs, we spent $5,100 on our truck.
The RV – in ’17 we replaced most of the window treatments and repaired a few other items totaling $450 for the year on the 5th Wheel.
Note: Always have an emergency fund and be prepared for breakdowns. Repairs and maintenance are part of the RVing lifestyle regardless of the RV and its age.
RV and vehicle insurance and registrations – These fees vary significantly based on equipment and your home state (domicile). Some states charge a flat rate for licensing while other states charge based on value. The same holds true for insurance rates. Where you live (domicile) and what you drive will be the deciding factor on costs.
Another cost that might need to be added here is a payment. I guess if you’re hitting the road with a full-time location independent job, a RV payment is a mere replacement of a mortgage payment and interest might even be tax-deductible (check with a professional tax specialist).
Personally, I couldn’t fathom enjoying this adventurous RV life with the stress of debt hanging over my head. New RV’s depreciate rapidly (poor investment, and yeah, we bought new, but paid cash) and there are so many good quality older RVs which provide a good bang for the buck. Chances are even if you do buy a brand new RV, you’ll still do some remodeling. There’s a big difference between using a RV for vacations versus moving into one full-time. When you live in a RV full-time, it becomes your home, and as such you’ll want to personalize it. So if you can’t afford to pay cash for a new RV, consider buying used, maybe even a fixer upper and tap into your inner Joanna and Chip creativity.
Mail service and domicile – There are so many factors to consider when choosing a domicile. In the U.S. we all have to have a legal residence for the purposes of a driver’s license, registering our vehicles, healthcare, voting, homeland security, etc. The domicile you choose will have a significant impact on your budget as well as your healthcare.
The three most popular states for domicile for full-time RVing are; Texas, South Dakota, and Florida. All three states do not have a state income tax making them desirable. South Dakota is falling out of favor with a lack of health insurance options for those under the age of 65.
When Al and I were transitioning into full-time RVing, we set up a Texas address with the Escapees RV Club. However, I soon realized that in order to keep my health insurance, we needed to keep a Colorado address. This is when family in Colorado stepped up and we used them for our mail service and domicile for the first two years on the road. We are forever grateful to my brother and sister-in-law for helping us out. We’re now based in Arizona, and never did use that Texas address.
Note: I am not an attorney, CPA, or any other professional, and acknowledge I may not know what I’m talking about 🤪 Therefore, do your homework before making any decisions on domicile. There are legal consequences to consider.
My personal advice would be figure out your healthcare needs first. Most insurance companies, medicare, and the VA, require elective procedures be preformed in your home state (domicile). So let’s say you need knee surgery … ask yourself what would be your ideal location for dealing with a medical situation? Would it be in your current home town? Near family or friends? Or maybe it doesn’t matter?
Once you answer those questions, you can research other factors including costs of vehicle licensing, taxes, and if a vehicle inspection is necessary. Most states also require you spend a certain amount of time in their state as a domicile requirement. So will your domicile state be one in which you intend to spend a fair amount of time visiting? Please do your homework, ask questions, and research!
Mail service companies can be found in just about any state, but you’ll want to check exactly what services they offer. America’s Mailbox and Escapees specialize in handling mail for full-time RVers, but some UPS Stores offer similar services and all give you an address that is not a P.O. Box. Please, do not consider using a “P.O. Box” address for full-time RVing. P.O. Boxes are not recognized as a legal residential address.
Clothing, shoes, and personal items – Most RVers will tell you that you can expect this expenditure to be a fraction of what you once spent. It’s all about space and needs.This is another category that will vary a lot from person to person. We spend a lot less on clothing and shoes than we ever did living in a standard sticks and bricks home. One – I don’t have enough closest space in the RV to be adding items …. sigh! and Two – this lifestyle has us dressing simply. Simply does not necessarily mean cheaply. I spend more money on hiking shoes than I ever did on dress shoes. But today, I only own two pair of hiking shoes versus the dozens of dress shoes once housed in my former large walk-in closest. Fortunately, the RV has plenty of room for several pairs of flip-flops, sandals, and tennies. This gal has shoe needs after all 🤫
Storage facility – Ah, the cost of storing
crap personal heirlooms. Do as I say, not as I do! We moved into the RV full-time on a whim and thought we’d only travel full-time for a year or two. Therefore, we have two 10 x 10 storage units back in Colorado full of stuff. We’re now into year five of full-time RVing, and still paying for that crap stuff to be stored … sigh!
We all have personal mementos, heirlooms or other things we don’t want to part with, so getting a storage unit makes sense. However, be ready for storage rent fees to be increased each year. If you have children, this would be the time to pass down those family treasures.
My recommendation …. purge! If you do find after a year that RVing full-time is not for you, then you’ll have fun redecorating a new sticks and bricks home. I know when I finally do get my stuff out of storage that I’ll end up getting rid of half of it anyway 😣 Al and I are in discussions on how best to eliminate at least one of those storage units, but every time we talk about it, we end up with margarita’s involved and no solution determined 🍹 Ah, to go back in time … learn from my mistake, save money, and purge!
Medical expenses and health insurance – sorry folks … I don’t feel qualified to help on this subject. You can try this site for starters. You might also want to check out how this young couple is dealing with a healthcare issue.
Membership fees – You’ll find through trial and error which memberships are most cost-effective for your needs. We love our Escapees RV Club membership and this is the one membership we’ve maintained from the beginning of our adventure. It is also important to have some sort of Roadside assistance (AAA, Good Sam, Coachnet). Other memberships you might add to your budget; Amazon Prime, Passport America, Harvest Hosts, Campground memberships, just to name a few.
Entertainment – Park passes, museums, concerts, movies, satellite TV, streaming services, etc.
Miscellaneous – pets, alcohol, haircuts. Depending on your interests and habits you might have other costs in this category that I haven’t thought about or we don’t use.
Let’s review that budget list …
- Camping Fees
- Gasoline and Propane
- Groceries and dining out
- Phone and Internet
- RV / vehicle maintenance
- RV / vehicle Insurance and registrations
- Mail service and domicile
- Clothing, shoes, personal items
- Storage facility
- Medical expenses and health insurance
- Membership fees
Cost of living in a RV full-time …
So now that we’ve reviewed all the costs associated with full-time RV living, what exactly does it cost? As I mentioned before, one size does not fit all, but I can give you some averages.
The average cost of full-time RVing seems to range from $2,500 to $4,800 a month. We know some folks who manage to live on less than $2,000 a month while others need well over $6,000 a month. Just like living in a traditional home, it’s all about the way you like to live which will ultimately determine your budget. Hope this post was enlightening and helpful.
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