Cost of Full-time RVing – Part 2

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.

full-time RVing

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.

hummingbirdThe 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!

Lake Havasu Arizona

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.

cost of Full-time RVing

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.

cost of full-time RVingThe 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.

Full-time RVing cost

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!

costs of living full-time in a RV

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
  • Entertainment
  • Miscellaneous

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.

What Will Your Full-time RV Budget Be?Full-time RVing costs

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Cost of Full-time RVing

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.

Lake Havasu State Park Arizona

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.

Budgeting list

  • 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
  • Entertainment
  • 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.

Full-time RVing

Monthly expenses

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.

egretIf 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).

Colorado wildflowersSome 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?

gas prices in Death Valley
gas prices – February 2012 in Death Valley …. ouch!

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.

Farmer's Market

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 🤑

sunset over Lake Havasu

what does it cost to RV full-time

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