The RV lifestyle -> as rich or modest as you want it to be

One of the most common questions asked by people looking to full-time RV is “how much does it take?”. Since we’ve been on the road for over a year now, we have a good 10 months experience on this since we did our last post on budget in April 2010. Back then our view was “whatever you have” and honestly our view hasn’t changed much. There are people who full-time on $1K/mo and those who full-time on $5K/mo and then there are those who work along the way, either volunteering at campgrounds or picking up workamping jobs to close the gap.

Since we live off our investments we have to be flexible in how we spend our money and the beauty of full-timing is that you can be exactly that.  The key is to manage your variable costs to whatever you have available, and as long as you’re willing to do that, the sky’s the limit. The biggest portion of our variable budget is camping fees, gas, groceries and miscellaneous buys and managing those costs gives us the ability to stay flexible on the road. Here’s how I look at our budget on a monthly basis:

FIXED COSTS:

Monthly
RV Payment (1) $ -
Health Care (2) $ 200.00
Internet/phone (3) $ 150.00
RV/Car insurance (4) $ 115.00
RV/Car registration/tags (5)  $ 35.00
RV/Car maintenance/repair (6)  $ 150.00
Mail Service (7)  $   25.00
Pets (8)  $ 200.00
Storage (9)  $ 110.00
 TOTAL  $ 985.00

Notes:

  1. We do not have any RV payment. For some this might be a monthly cost.
  2. Health Care includes our monthly high-deductable insurance premiums ($150/mo), plus $50/mo for extra expenses (yearly check-ups etc.).
  3. For Internet/Phone we use Verizon 5GB/mo broadband plan plus  we have a Verizon smartphone with unlimited dataplan.
  4. We use Geico for RV/Car Insurance. Costs include Good Sam’s Emergency Roadside Assistance, Good Sam’s Extended Warrenty Service.
  5. Registration costs reflect rates in South Dakota. In SD Motorhome costs depend on weight and age (Click here).
  6. Costs include regular yearly car and motorhome maintenance as well as money set-aside for repairs and major service items in the future.
  7. For Mail Service we use Alternative Resources in South Dakota. Costs include our yearly membership, plus mail forwarding fees.
  8. Pet costs include food for all 3 pets as well as yearly vet visits & money set aside for emergency funds. For some people this cost would be zero.
  9. We keep a small storage in San Diego for our stuff from our old home. For some people this cost would be zero.

VARIABLE COSTS:

Budget/mo Extended/mo
Gas  $ 100.00  $   350.00
Camping  $        -  $   600.00
Groceries  $ 300.00  $   500.00
Propane  $   20.00  $     40.00
Entertainment  $        -  $   200.00
TV  $        -  $     60.00
Gifts/Charity  $   10.00  $     50.00
Clothing/Books/Misc.  $   20.00  $   200.00
 TOTAL  $ 450.00  $2,000.00

I’ve just used a range of very general numbers here, but it’s easy to see that the variable costs are KEY to overall budget.

Camping Fees: If you boondock or volunteer your camping costs can be zero or very close to it. There are people who boondock year-round and only pay small monthly fees to dump, and there are lots of people who enjoy workamping at campgrounds, State Parks, National Forest, Wildlife Refuges and other areas which provide a free campsite. On the other hand those looking to splurge might pay upwards of $1,500/mo in camping fees for fancy “resort-style” campgrounds.

Gas Costs are entirely dependent on how much you travel.  As an example our Motorhome uses ~10 miles/gallon. Current gas prices are $3.50/gallon, so for $100 we can travel ~285 miles and for $350 we can travel 1000 miles. In active “travelling” mode last year we averaged ~$350/mo for both motorhome and car combined. In winter we did a lot less than that.

Grocery costs on the road are likely to be very similar to what you use at home. There are ways to save by smart-shopping and using farmers markets. We like our food and continue to like it on the road so our budget on this is fairly liberal.

Propane: Propane use can vary a lot depending on how much cold-camping you do (and thus how much you use the furnace). Daily propane use for cooking and refrigerator (when not hooked-up) is fairly modest. We plan our RVing around warmer climates and only filled-up our 40-gallon tank twice last year.

Other Costs are very personal and variable. Some are very similar to what you currently spend at home and some will change. We currently have satellite TV, but are planning to get rid of it when our contract expires (we just don’t use it enough). For clothing we only used $8/mo last year, and our personal entertainment costs are close to zero as we eat in the RV most of the time (we love to home-cook). Depending on your interests and habits you might have other costs in this category that we don’t have.

There are a lot of other good sites that list example costs and budgets:

And for those looking to live off their investments, hubby has an excellent set of posts explaining the concept of Safe Withdrawal Rates for retirement portfolios and how to implement them:

The bottom line is that the costs of full-timing are accessible as long as you are willing to be flexible. We’ve seen people who full-time in pop-up campers or trailers that they bought for $10-$20K and volunteer the majority of their time, and then there are people who full-time in $500K rigs and splurge on resort-style camping and going out on a nightly basis. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and that certainly goes for RVing too.

44 Responses to The Costs of Full-Time RVing

  1. Karen says:

    Nina,
    Do you use your mail forwarding address to obtain your health insurance?

  2. Steve says:

    Nina and Paul,

    An excellent posting. Since we are still CA registered, toad and M/H tags cost $229 and $1409 for the toad. SD is a good deal! If I may ask, what is the tag element in #4 above.
    Steve

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hi Steve, Good question. Actually I think I’ll separate out that cost to make it a little clearer. We originally got our MH in CA so I remember the pain of registration there. In South Dakota registration costs depend on weight and age of your MH. Alternative Resources has a list here: MH Registration Costs. For our MH 1st year registraton was $381 in SD compared to a whooping $1889 in CA. Our car only cost $61 in SD compared to $315 in CA. Nina

  3. kayjulia says:

    When the fuel prices rise I cut back on moving about when they drop I move more. Full timing costs what it costs, if I lived in a sticks and bricks house I would have lots of other expenses of maintaining the house and paying lots of other fees like water/sewer, trash pick up, repairs, lawn care, insurance etc..
    The best part is the moving about part; planning and executing the next destination and if I feel a little closed in I move and get that feeling of being free again. That feeling is worth a lot to me. I’m a road Gypsy and I love it :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      Kayjulia…exactly!! There’s a real freedom to RVing as long as you’re willing to go with the flow. We’re totally with you on loving the lifestyle! Nina

  4. Scott says:

    Great Info, Hopefully in 5 years the cost will be similar and our planning will pay off. Thanks
    Happy Trails

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hi Scott, Some costs might be different, but I think the overall idea will hold true. As an interesting comparison check out this article from 2001 written in Motorhome Magazine (Click HERE ). The general cost-range was $1.5K-$5K, even back then which I find very revealing. Habits may change, but with the right flexibility a wide range of budget is possible. Nina

  5. Rick Roberts says:

    Hi Guys….from Cape San Blas,
    Just read this recent post regarding full time expenses….nicely done. Clear outline of actual cost ranges. Anybody thinking about full timing would do well to read your posts!
    Hope you all are well. We have been enjoying the beautiful weather here, and have some guests now (Debby’s Brother and Sister-in-law.
    Rick

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hi Rick, We’re already missing the beauty of Cape San Blas! I think it’s definitely a spot we’ll come back to. Nina

  6. Noah says:

    Hi,

    Great info! Thanks!

    One question, where are you able to get Health Insurance for $200/month? My wife and I are 40, we are both full timers, in good health, with an HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) with a $5000/year deductible and our monthly premium is still $750/month.

    I would love to get that number down to $200/month!!

    Thanks!

    Noah

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hi Noah, We got our insurance on-line through http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/. We just did an online shopping comparison there and took the one that made most sense. Our policy is a $10K deductable (combined for the both of us), 0% co-insurance and $5 million (per person) lifetime benefit. The total cost is $150/mo (combined for the both of us). It’s held by Coventry. The insurance (for us) was also cheaper since we’re residents of South Dakota. Hope that helps! Nina

  7. Hey guys! Loved the blog. Here are the two things that I loved:
    1. You’re not making an RV payment. Love, love, love.
    2. You have high deductible insurance. That’s what insurance is supposed to be!

    I’m excited for you since you’re obviously doing a lot of things to make your money work for you. Love the site too!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I totally agree. We have insurance solely for catastrophic issues, which is exactly what it should be for. High deductable simply makes sense. Nina

  8. I think your last sentence hit the nail on the head…”where there’s a will, there’s a way”. We’ve been at this lifestyle for almost a year and follow our budget pretty closely. When preparing, we used a lot of the same resources and sample budgets that you listed, but you don’t really know until you do it yourself. We budgeted high on some things and low on others. Some months are over budget and some are under budget, but overall, we find ourselves pretty close to what we expected. Of course, we’re still trying to figure out our balance between work and play. When we play (i.e. travel), we spend a lot more than when we’re stationary and working. But the one thing we’ve learned is that we could make it on less than we do and that is a comforting thought. It is doable!!

    • libertatemamo says:

      You are so very right! That’s been our experience and the experience we’ve had from others. So happy to hear you’re enjoying the freedom of travel as much as we are…and making it all work financially :) Nina

  9. I just stumbled on this from reading your newest post (which I saw on Twitter)! My partner and I do the fulltime RVing thing as well, and we recently posted something similar about the costs of living in an RV and our monthly expenses.

    I’m so glad I randomly came across your site; it’s always fun to follow the blogs of other RVers! :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      Christy, great post and wonderful to meet you and discover your blog too. We’re on our way West. What about you? If we’re close I would love to meet up. Nina

  10. [...] The Costs of Full-Time RVing [...]

  11. [...] agonized over the cost of full-time RVing for a long time before we jumped in. The truth is costs are flexible and totally manageable and [...]

  12. Steve says:

    I am in my 3rd week of research on RVing fulltime. Out of all the forums, blogs and other RV sites, your blog of information is one of the best I have seen. One thing consistent is the monthly budget and your numbers are not only explained well to this accountant but also accurate and within what I have been reading everywhere else. For the past 12 years I have been tracking every penny I spend or make on a spreadsheet and can see were I can control my variable costs.

    Your post on budget, and your post on 10 things you wished you knew, confirm to me I can start immediately and either boondock in a class A, workcamp at times if I want to and basically follow the weather. I can’t wait to get started but have a list of things to do before I go. One is to buy my RV and the rest is to downsize, which I have been doing for the past year.

    Sorry this is a long reply. Great blog and great information.

    Steves

  13. [...] continue to follow this mantra. RVing has actually been the perfect outlet giving us the ability to adjust our lifestyle (via how we travel and where we camp) to our income at any given time. It’s been a truly [...]

  14. Tim says:

    We are seriously considering full timing for at least a year. I have a couple of questions I’m hoping you can shed some light on.
    1. As our trip will mainly be to see this beautiful country of ours including cities, museums, etc. we wondered about the pros and cons of pulling a vehicle behind the class a.
    2. We have a large dog (rhodesian ridgeback) which requires consistent exercise. Do most campgrounds accommodate or have facilities that will allow us to run with her or at least take brisk walks?

    We have never RV’d but really feel the call of spending time with our family and experiencing America. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Tim

    • libertatemamo says:

      Tim,
      Sorry for my late answer to this (I sometimes miss comments!). Regarding your questions:
      1/ We LOVE having a tow vehicle. It gives us the ability to sight-see and drive around a smaller vehicle while “the best” is in camp. If you’re planning on travelling in a smaller RV it may not make a big difference, but in a big RV the smaller tow comes in very handy. There are alot of places we would never see without the tow simply because we’d have no way of getting there in the big rig. I do know folks who rent and that is an option, but we prefer the ease of having the tow with us.
      2/ If you’re travelling w/ a large dog that needs alot of daily exercise I’d recommend looking at public parks (state parks, national forest, COE etc.) instead of private parks. Public parks typically have lots of space and green including hiking trails which you will not find in private parks. We travel and stay 90% of our time in public parks for this very reason.

      Hope that helps!
      Nina

  15. Gerard says:

    Want to tell you first that I really appreciate your site- its great.
    I was wondering about the propane. when you say you only use $20 to $40 a month, can you give some idea as to how much, and what kind, of usage you are referring to? I’m getting a lot of extremely divergent numbers from different sources.
    thanks,
    Gerard

    • libertatemamo says:

      We use propane mostly for cooking and our fridge (when dry-camping). We sometimes use it for heating (furnace), but not often. You’ll find the BIGGEST usage of propane is the furnace, and that’s where you’ll get the big divergence in numbers. Cooking & fridge don’t use much even if you cook at home everyday. Our 40-gallon tank will easily last 6 months on that kind of usage. But the furnace is a different story -> If you run the furnace constantly you could easily gobble through a single 40-gallon tank in 4-5 days. Hope that helps!
      Nina

  16. Kristen says:

    I am interested in doing this while in college. Is it possible for me to be able to stay in one place?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sure. There are some RV parks that will allow full-time living and some will even have special month/year rates. I would search around in your neighborhood to see what kind of rates you can get and what the parks are like. If you’re really creative you may even be able to barter some work at the park in exchange for a discount or (even) a free site.
      Nina

    • Michael says:

      I spent almost 5 years all in and around work site… So, for classes it should be no different.

      But!!! You must keep moving maybe a mile or so a day which really is not that hard. after a while you make a pattern, today here… tomorrow there… and so on. Just keep it low key, no outside lawn chairs and coolers, no trashing up the place, making a scene, loud music etc.

      About every two weeks I would check into an RV park, charge the batteries, clean the rig, etc.

      Much better to have stories to tell than student loans to pay!!!

      • libertatemamo says:

        There is certainly an art to stealth camping in populated areas. It’s easier to do the smaller your rig (e.g. vandwellers), and it’s important to know the city parking rules, but if you’re creative and flexible it can be done. Cheers for sharing your story.
        Nina

  17. […] quite a number of cost estimates from the plethora of RV bloggers out there. I reviewed dozens, but Wheeling It’s posts on the subject are a great place to start, and the links towards the end of that article lead […]

  18. Charles says:

    Nina I am currently pouring over my finances and researching budget projections. I am looking at potential RVs in the 36-38 foot range. Just a quick question, do you really get 10 miles to a gallon in the “beast”. I have heard very conflicting statements on diesel mileage anywhere from 5 to 12 mpg. I realize there are a lot of variables at play here, but if I can get 10 mpg on a 40′ rig I will be tickled ****less. Thanks so much. Totally enjoy your site. Best
    Charles

    • libertatemamo says:

      It depends on the terrain, but yes I think we average close to 8-10 mpg. More on downhill, much less uphill.

      Nina

  19. mike andrews says:

    is it possibly to travel in a 24foot rv with 2 people and 2 dogs for $1,000 a month and still be comfortable…

    • libertatemamo says:

      $1000/mo is the very low end of what I’ve seen folks do on the road. For one person I would say it’s possible, for two it is a stretch. You’d need to plan for low miles and fulltime boondocking or camphosting. One person I know who manages on that kind of budget is rvsue. You can connect to her blog and finances here:
      http://rvsueandcrew.net

      I think if you can manage to find part-time jobs to supplement the income either through paid workamping, Amazon, beet harvest, online work or such you’ll be much, much more comfortable. Good luck with everything!

      Nina

  20. mark says:

    I’ve been thinking about full timing for years, I have a six year old who lives with me 4 nights a week. I have a full time job in the town my childs mom lives. Im ready to buy a 5th wheel and simplify our lives and gear towards travel when schools out for the summer. Anybody living with little ones and full timing..your advice would be appreciated. ….thanks

    Still in dream mode

  21. Chuck says:

    I am retired and have gotten the bug to see the country; Do the things that normally are done before law school. I have a few “different” questions:

    1. I am 62 and divorced. Is there a singles life within this lifestyle/ability to meet other singles?

    2. What if you have prescriptions. I have one that requires office visit every 30 days. Appears to be a deal breaker unless I can figure another strategy. But what about even “regular” prescriptions?

    3. I’ve had six back surgeries. Can this life style be lived with a limitation of driving to 3-4 hrs of driving in a day and then staying put for at least three days? Note: I would have no time frame for the trip. Years.

    4. Having a bad back and being tall, I don’t think I would survive in less than 35 ft. Is that reasonable?

    5. Does a Class A require so much owner upkeep that any inabilities to do your own work would make the lifestyle much more expensive. Like I own a house and have to hire a handyman for many things that other owners might do themselves. Are such people available at campgrounds?

    Thanks for thought provoking writing.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Gosh that’s alot of questions. I’ll try to answer them here:

      1. Yes, there are lots of ways to meet other singles. In fact there are even travel groups that specialize in this. You can join rally’s or look at these guys who are very active Wondering Individual Network.

      2. For prescriptions I honestly don’t have any experience, but I’ve heard others who are able to get their doc to send prescriptions to a nationwide pharmacy (e.g. like CVS) and then just pick them up at the local store wherever they happen to be. Don’t know if that would work for you, but talk to your Doc about it and post the question on one of the RV forums.

      3. YES. In fact I would recommend a slower pace over a faster one. We typically drive only ~150 miles (sometimes much less) and typically stay at least 4-7 days in each spot. We’ve found we get more enjoyment out of a slower pace.

      4. Sure. 35-feet is possible. It all depends how comfortable you are driving a bigger rig. Try a few out and see how it works for you.

      5. Class A’s do have upkeep, particularly oil changes, filter changes, air system upkeep etc. Many, many people simply go to spots that specialize in this. It costs more than doing it yourself of course, but it’s totally possible. There are lots of mobile RV techs who’ll do work on your RV on-site too, although “messy” things like oil changes are best taken to a truck shop.

      Hope that helps!

      Nina

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