How Much Does it Take?
A question we are often asked is ‘How much money does it take to live the full-time RV lifestyle?’ Or other not so direct questions trying to get to this point. Before we did this, we asked this question many a time as well. So, I thought I’d address it here on the blog.
During my research into living the RV lifestyle the most common answer I received to this question was ‘whatever you have’. Being an engineer and semi-paranoid about the future this was just not going to do. Thus my journey began. After month and months of on-line research, trolling many on-line RV forums, generating a thousand versions of spreadsheets and comparing them to Nina’s meticulously compiled actual expense spreadsheets, I can confidently say that I have the answer. Ready. The answer is….. ‘whatever you have!’
Now, before you send in some smart alec comments allow me to explain…
First, the hard numbers. A few surveys done over recent years by RV groups show that most full-time RVers live on $1,000 to $4,000 a month of income with the average being $2,500. These numbers do not include an RV payment or taxes but do include everything else. They assume the motorhome is owned outright. On the road you do see a large range of lifestyles from the 20ft mini tow trailers to the 45ft tag axle ‘tour buses’. $2,500 a month is $30,000 per year. Factor in the number of years you would like to lead this lifestyle for and you have an approximate number for how much it takes. That’s the simplest calculation and is probably adequate if you’re only thinking of the lifestyle for a short period of time, say less than 5 years.
If you want to retire for good and live off your savings then the calculations are bit different. The best rule of thumb for retirement planning (a topic I’ll address in future posts) is to not withdraw more than 4% of your savings in any given year. This will insure that your savings survive a long period of time (say 30 years) and keep pace with inflation. Using the $30,000 per year number means that you would need a nest egg of $750,000 ($30,000/ 0.04) to safely begin retirement. That’s a pretty big number. Fortunately, there are many other options. By the way, this analysis applies to whatever alternative ‘retirement’ lifestyle you may be considering. Full-time RVing is just one of many and an option that allows one to live with pretty modest means.
Now, for some alternatives to the straight retire-never-work-again approach. Well, the most obvious one is to do some work. You probably want to do something, even if its just part-time. One of the beauties of RVing is that there are many ways to make side income to support your adventure. One of the most popular ways is camp hosting. This is where you work at the campground you’re staying at in exchange for a free camp site with full hookups (elec, water, sewer). Usually this involves 20hrs/week of work (for a couple) at the campground doing various jobs like fee collection, light maintenance, light housekeeping, etc…Since the RV site fee (your rent) and fuel are two of the major expenses for full-time RVers this option can reduce monthly expenditures quite a bit, as much as $1,000/month. That sure makes a big difference – now we’re talking of needing $18,000 per year, down from the $30,000 original estimate.
Finally, there are many full-time RVers who make enough income to cover their lifestyle expenses 100%. Obviously, this involves more work but again there are tons of options out there. I’m constantly amazed at how people make their living on the road and at how many ways there are to do it. There is even an organization that caters to this segment, called Workamper (or Work Camping). For example, recently I saw a job opening for full-time RVers to tag along with a traveling circus and help out teaching/tutoring kids of the performers. Check out some of the cool jobs offered at Workamper under the sample jobs section. Nina is planning a working on the road post where she’ll tell you more…
As for the RV, there is also a huge range of options from the 20+yr old used motorhome (see pic below) for $11,000 to the luxury tour bus type motorhomes for $500K. The most economical options are the travel trailers, fifth wheels and used motorhomes. A very nice full-timing solution can be had for less than $50K.
So, in the end, the answer really is ‘whatever you have’. Like many things in life its about adapting the lifestyle to your particular situation and desires. Hopefully this has given you a few more of the hard facts as to what is involved with full-time RVing.