The Costs Of Fulltime RVing (Part II) – Specifics & Links
If you’ve landed on this post hopefully you will already have read the intro post that I wrote a few days ago (HERE). If not, I definitely recommend you do so before you read this one as it’ll give you a basis for some of the numbers and info I’m going to present today.
As I mentioned in that post, we know RV couples who spend anywhere between $1,500 to $7,500/mo (with a few select cases above and below these numbers). Their lifestyles obviously tend to reflect their income levels (those with less income make it work on less), but also reflect the type of rigs they have and how they travel. The folks at the super-budget end of the scale generally travel in vans or smaller trailers and might boondock/workamp a lot while those with bigger spends generally travel in bigger rigs and do not boondock/workamp much. There is no one “right” way and ALL can be fulfilling and enjoyable ways to travel on the road.
With that in mind, I’m going to make this statement up-front:
Our spend is simply a reflection of OUR particular travel style, and you may well end up spending way less (or way more) depending on how YOU decide to travel.
In other words, do not consider ANY of the numbers I’m about to present as “fixed”. Rather, use them as a guide together with others that I’ll link to at the bottom to create your own financial plan. You may well find spots where you can see big savings for yourself, or other spots that you know you’ll want or need to spend more. Either way, your final financial plan will be individual to YOU.
Lastly this is a LOOOOOng post (my longest ever on the blog!) so make sure you’re comfortable and have your beverage of choice in hand before digging in….
A Bit About How We Travel
Before I dive into the numbers I want to talk a bit about how we travel since this does impact how we spend our $$.
We personally do a mixed style of travel with some cheaper months intermixed with some bigger months, so we are neither super-frugal nor super-splurge. Some folks will find our spend super luxurious while others will find it far too constrictive. I personally think we have a pretty generous budget that provides ample freedom to both travel & enjoy our RV travels as we wish.
We Like to Volunteer/Boondock Part Of The Year: On average we workamp (= we volunteer at State Parks) and boondock (on BLM land) at least 4-5 months each year. We do this primarily because we truly enjoy it, but it also cuts our camping/gas expenses in those months significantly which loosens up the budget for the rest of the year too. When we’re not volunteering/boondocking we do a mix of cheap and sometimes more expensive camping.
We are Very Frugal (In Places) & Not (In Others) – For day-to-day & practical stuff we’re pretty frugal. I get a kick out of finding “deals” and consider it a waste to spend $$ on stuff that I don’t consider important. So, for example we spend very, very little on beauty or clothing. We cut our own hair, I don’t wear makeup (except mascara and a touch of lipstick on occasion), I make many of my own beauty products, we only buy one pair of shoes each a year and I love to thrift shop (Paul’s last pair of jeans cost $8…I love it!!). We personally find all of this quite fun and not at all constraining. On the other hand we are happy to spend $$ on food and beer. That spending gives us huge life enjoyment, so it’s an important part of our RV lifestyle 🙂
Our Goal Is To Continue To Save – Our philosophy as a couple has always been to spend well below our means so that we can continue to grow our savings and investment portfolio. And thankfully we’ve always been in a position to do this. This approach allowed us to quit our regular jobs in early 2006, and it’s how we plan to preserve our financial independence in the future which is very, very important to us (our current financial plan takes us to the age of 100, which should hopefully do the job!). Since we’ve been on the road it’s helped us maintain a healthy 6-month emergency budget as well as spend some extra $$ for “stuff beyond the budget” every year (e.g. for RV upgrades and such). These are all things that go beyond our baseline spend.
With that said, let’s dive into some specifics….
Our Baseline Spend = $3,500/mo
We are currently domiciled in South Dakota (SD) and have been since we started on the road. We travel in a “beastly” 40-foot RV with a Honda CRV as our tow, and our family unit consists of the two of us and three pets (2 cats and a dog).
Overall our average spend nets to right around $3,500/mo, and this is based on actual spend over our last 7 years on the road. During our workamping/boondocking months we typically spend much less (~$2,500/mo) whereas when we’re in active travel mode we’ll spend more (~$4000/mo). Some things have gotten a lot cheaper as we’ve become more experienced as RVers and discovered cheaper options (e.g. camping costs) while others have gotten more expensive and are mostly out of our control (e.g. health insurance). Overall we spend quite a bit less than we did in a stix and brix, but of course we lived in San Diego before we went on the road so we came from an area with high overall cost of living.
Here’s a top-level breakdown of our current spend, broken down into fixed and flexible buckets:
Now let’s go into each of these sections in more detail:
Fixed Costs ($1,318/mo)
These are fixed costs that we pay every month mostly related to our rig, insurance and the pets. We can’t do much about health insurance (it is what it is) and we pay what we need to for our pets, but our other expenses are very much tied to the size of rig we drive and where we’re domiciled.
We travel in a “beastly” rig which means our fixed rig expenses are MUCH higher than someone traveling in a smaller rig or trailer. So, for those of you that are still in the planning stage and looking for places you can save, the size/kind of rig you buy (and subsequently where you domicile it) can make a BIG difference to your fixed expenses on the road.
I’m going to compare our current $$ to the numbers I released in the very first blog post I did on this almost 7 years ago so that you can all get an idea of how/where these have changed in that time-frame.
|RV Payment (2)||–||–|
|RV/Car Insurance (3)||$115||$167|
|RV/Car Maintenance (4)||$150||$160|
|RV/Car Tags (5)||$35||$55|
|Mail Service (6)||$25||$31|
Our healthcare spend has been the biggest and most unpredictable $$ increase we’ve seen in our budget since we started RVing, mostly because the healthcare landscape has changed so much over the last 7 years. When we started we were able to buy a high-deductible health insurance plan (catastrophic, $10,000 family deductible) for only ~$150/mo. Since the ACA was implemented those plans went away and we now spend ~$360/mo on an ACA-compliant Silver plan ($8,000 family deductible). In addition to our health insurance spend we always put aside around $50/mo for self-health checks and the various cash-care visits we typically do during the year.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: If you are starting your RV journey today your monthly $$ here will vary enormously based on how old you are, whether you qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or ACA subsidies and where you decide to domicile (costs vary vastly from state to state, and even county to county within the same state!). South Dakota is still pretty cheap compared to most places, but the health insurance options for our age are abyssal (= there are NO nationwide plans for pre-Medicare on the ACA in SD). You can currently get a quick quote for health insurance by going through either the ACA website or Health Sherpa, but with the political situation as it stands today I have NO prediction for where these $$ will end up in the future. Our numbers could easily be totally different next year.
WHAT ABOUT THE DEDUCTIBLE? If you have on-going medical expenses (prescriptions, treatment etc.) that you pay out-of-pocket and/or force you to meet the full the deductible each year, you’ll need to plan for and include those $$ in your fixed monthly spend. As an example a health plan with a $4000 yearly deductible would add another $333/mo to the above number! Thankfully we are healthy, so this is not one of our on-going expenses. We do keep an emergency fund ($8,000 in an HSA = tax-free Health Savings Account) to cover this, but we’ve (touch wood) not had not had to use that fund in our 7 years on the road. If ever this becomes a fixed spend for us, we’ll have to re-adjust our budget to reflect that.
RELATED LINKS: All about Health Care on the road (including insurance & self-health checks) -> Click HERE
(2) RV Payment
We paid off our RV within the first few months on the road, so we’ve never had a payment since then. If you have a payment you’ll have to add it to your fixed expenses in this column.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: As a rule I always recommend buying an RV you can afford to pay for in cash, so that you do NOT end up with a monthly payment. New RV’s depreciate like crazy and there are lots of good quality older rigs which provide good bang for the buck. Also pay attention to the the costs of repairs, registration & maintenance before you drop the big $$ on a rig. Larger rigs cost more in every way, so if you have a smaller budget, buying a smaller rig will set you up for more affordable costs over the long term too.
(3) RV/Car Insurance
We’ve seen a moderate increase in this cost mostly because South Dakota (SD) has seen a moderate increase over the years. We’ve been with Geico for both RV & car since we before we went on the road and they’ve always offered us the best rates (I quote around yearly just to check) . Since we’ve been with them for so many years we’ve also achieved accident forgiveness, a nice little bonus which came in mucho handy when we had our big RV accident last year. The monthly $$ here also includes Roadside Assistance (Coachnet) for which we currently pay ~$139/year.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: If you’re starting your RV journey today your $$ here will vary significantly based on what kind of vehicle you buy and where you decide to domicile. For example a van or small RV will be be much cheaper to insure than our “beastly” 40-foot Class A plus Honda CRV. Also insurance rates vary quite a lot by state (and sometimes even county). SD insurance rates are generally lower than either TX or FL (two other popular full-time RV domicile states), but the only way to get an accurate number is to get a quote for your particular rig & domicile. DO be sure to add roadside assistance to whatever quote you get. For smaller rigs you may be able to use the plan offered through your insurance company, but for bigger rigs you should add-on a big-rig specific plan such as Coachnet or Good Sams.
RELATED LINKS: Fulltime RV Insurance – What’s The Difference?
(4) RV/Car Tags & Registration
Again a moderate increase here mostly because SD has seen a moderate increase. This are the costs for our 2009 Honda CRV and our 2008 Holiday Rambler Endeavor.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: Once again, if you’re starting your RV journey today your $$ here will vary significantly based on what kind of rig you buy and where you decide to domicile. I’d say SD is in the middle-of-the-pack for registration costs. Last time I looked at this TX was about the same price as SD, while FL had much higher initial registration fees (first-time fee), but was much cheaper over the long term (low yearly tag fee).
RELATED LINKS: Home Is Where You Park It…Or Is It?
(5 ) RV/Car Maintenance
Over the years our maintenance costs have seen a small increase to $160/mo. This includes regular maintenance on both our car and RV such as oil changes, air system maintenance, generator maintenance etc, as well as money we put aside for specific larger maintenance expenses such as new RV tires (every 7 years or so). Basic repairs are included in this number (we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve needed very few repairs since we’ve been on the road), but elective upgrades (e.g. our solar system) are not.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: If you buy a smaller RV your $$ here will undoubtedly be much lower than us. As an example, when we buy tires we have to buy big honking truck tires that can cost $450-$650 a piece plus we need to buy 6 of them ($$$$!) whereas a smaller rig can use more regular-sized tires and might only need 4 of them ($). Also when we get our oil changed we need to go to a truck service ($$), whereas a smaller rig might be able to go to a regular car guy ($).
(6) Mail Service
We use our mail service address not only for regular post, but also as our legal domicile address for taxes, health insurance etc. Our current provider is DakpotaPost in Sioux Falls SD. We started with their basic service 7 years ago and recently added their online mail scanning service (which we LOVE, but does cost more $$). The monthly costs here include postal fees which are in addition to the cost of regular mail service.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: There are lots of other mail providers in SD, TX and FL that cater to fulltime RVers. Examples are MyDakotaAddress in SD, Escapess in TX and Escapees, MyRVMail & St.Brendans Isle in FL. Costs vary some, but you can expect to pay between $10-$20/mo for basic service plus an additional $5-$10/mo for the postal fees.
(7 ) Internet/Phone/TV
LOTS of changes in our set-up over the years, but surprisingly only moderate changes in our overall costs. In 2010 we started RVing with a small data plan on Verizon, a single phone on Straight Talk and Satellite TV (through Direct TV). As of 2017 we carry 3 internet plans (an unlimited Verizon plan on our MiFi (~$50/mo), 6GB of T-Mobile (~$35/mo) as a back-up and 10GB of ATT on our phones through a shared family plan (~$98/mo)). We no longer pay anything for TV (we got rid of our satellite dish and rely entirely on over-the-air channels), but we do pay ~$17/mo for Netflix & Amazon Prime, which we use for online streaming.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: How much you spend here will totally depend on your individual internet & phone needs. There are LOTS of ways to save (e.g. super low-cost phone providers) and also LOTS of ways you might end up spending much, much more (if you’re used to cable internet at home, you will be downright shocked at how much more you’ll have to pay for data on the road). Plus this landscape is changing ALL the time! I highly recommend our friends over at RV Mobile Internet Resource Center as THE place to get the latest info on this. They’re the #1 resource we rely on and the only reason we’ve been able to find such good deals over the years.
RELATED LINKS: The 2015 Wheelingit Internet & Phone Set-Up
(8 ) Pets
Our 3 pets cost us around $250/mo on average. As our cats have gotten older we’ve enrolled them into a health plan with Banfield ($60/mo total) which covers their bi-annual checkups, as well as their shots and yearly dentals. Polly is still young and so just gets regular check-ups as we go along. Food costs haven’t changed much in 7 years, but we do put some money aside each month for unexpected expenses (goes towards our emergency fund).
(9 ) Storage
We started out with a large storage unit that initially cost us $120/mo (and eventually rose to a whopping $180/mo!). Last year we finally tackled that expense and now only rent a very small 5×5′ unit that costs us $45/mo.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: Whether or not to get a storage unit is a big question when you first start RVing. If you are able go without it’s absolutely the best option ($$-wise) and will save you years of fixed costs & stress down the road. If you’re unable to go without, see if you can store stuff with family or at least pare it down to a bare minimum so that you can get a smaller (lower-cost) storage. More tips in this post.
- Making Memories & Getting Rid Of Them
- 7 Tips For Renting A Storage Unit (If You Decide To…)
- Selling Your Stuff Part I -> 4 Basic Selling Tips
- Selling Your Stuff Part II -> Where & How To Get The Most Out Of Your Sale
Flexible Costs – Camping & Gas (~$670/mo)
As I mentioned in the last post the biggest two flexible costs on the road are camping & gas.
How you camp & how far you travel each year can easily swing your monthly RV budget by a factor of ~$2000/mo or more! So if you’re looking to economize on the road this is your #1 area to focus on. There are powerful $$ to be saved here, and it’s super easy to do so!
In our case we typically workamp (volunteer)/boondock at least 4-5 months of every year which helps to lower our overall costs of camping, even if we decide to splurge a bit the rest of the year. Also we tend to stay out West where’s it generally easier to find low-cost camping options than out East. Lastly we really prefer a slo-mo pace of travel and generally don’t travel too many miles each year, so this keeps our gas costs low too. Here’s an example of how this typically breaks out for us:
|Monthly Spend||Lowest Month||Highest Month||Average|
When we workamp (volunteer) or boondock we spend nothing at all on camping (except small $ on dumping every 2-3 weeks when boondocking) whereas when we actively travel we spend anywhere from $10/night upwards on camping fees. In the years we’ve stayed West and workamped/boondocked for part of the year we’ve averaged out to around $350/mo on camping fees. Last year we traveled East and had more limited low-cost camping options so this number rose to ~$700/mo. Since we’re staying out East this year (2017) we fully expect a larger number this year too.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: Camping costs vary a TON depending on location and type. National Forests can cost anywhere between $15-$30/night. BLM campgrounds can cost anywhere from $5-$15/night. State parks can cost anywhere between $20-$65/night (that high number is CA, by the way). Private parks cost anywhere between $25-$150/night. And of course volunteering/boondocking costs nothing at all. There are MANY ways to save such as using membership discounts, free overnight spots, and opting for monthly stays instead of daily rates (all tricks we personally use). Also there are workamping jobs that will pay you to work at a campground, and although they don’t pay big $$ they can certainly bring this average number down even further.
EXAMPLE: An example of a totally do-able budget. If you workamp/boondock for 5 months per year and then budget $20/night on mixed-type paid camping the rest of the year you’ll be spending right around $4,260 a year on camping (or just over $350/mo).
- RV Camping Cost Memberships – Are They Worth It?
- 5 Ways to Camp for Under $500/year
- Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies”
- All about Boondocking -> Click HERE
- All about Volunteering -> Click HERE
- For info on workamping -> Click over to Workamper News or Workamping Jobs
Our costs here include the TOTAL costs for both our RV and car throughout the year. When we workamp or boondock we only drive the car and we tend to stay pretty local so our gas costs can plummet to as low as $45/mo, whereas if we have a month where we’re traveling a bunch of miles that might rise to as much as $800. Our average is right around $320/mo and that reflects our slo-mo travel style. Our absolute biggest travel year was 8,128 miles while our average hovers right around 5,000-6,000 miles/year. We know RVers who drive MUCH more than this.
TIPS FOR NEWBIES: Gas costs are obviously very dependent on gas prices, the fuel efficiency of your rig and how far you travel every year. A smaller, more fuel-efficient rig will obviously get much better $$ and someone who travels many more miles than us will obviously spend more.
EXAMPLE: An example budget. In our 7 years on the road we’ve seen diesel pricing range anywhere from $2.00/gallon all the way up to $4.50/gallon, so I generally use $3.50/gallon as an average for calculations. Our RV gets ~8 miles/gallon, so if I were planning a 6,000 travel mile year I’d budget around $2,625 (or ~$219/mo) for gas costs on “the beast” alone. In addition, we typically drive another 7,000-10,000 miles per year in our Honda CRV (sightseeing, errands, daily driving etc.), but we get MUCH better fuel efficiency here (~25 miles/gallon) so I’ll add-on another $980-$1400 (or ~$81-$116/mo) for gas costs there too. When you add both together it comes out to a total of around $300-$335/mo.
- 5 Tips To Managing Gas Costs On The Road
- Planning RV Travels Part I -> 4 General “Rules” For Planning Where To Stay & When To Go
- Planning RV Travels Part II -> Selecting Pace, Map Routing & Campsites
- Planning RV Travels Part III – Maps, Resources & Links
Flexible Costs – Other (~$1,500/mo)
We have a general budget of ~$1,500/mo for “everything else” which I think is pretty darn generous and gives us quite a bit of flexibility. How we use that budget depends a lot on where we’re staying and what we’re doing. Plus, in any given month we can cut it down and move around the buckets as needed to prioritize the spending. Here’s a general example of how that spend might split out for us in a given month:
|Others (gifts, misc.) (17)||$50|
Groceries/Entertainment (12) – Yes, we keep a HUGE budget here and that’s because this is a big part of our enjoyment on the road! We love good food and we love craft beer & wine. We always look to stretch this budget as far as we can each month by buying veggies in season and opting for inexpensive lunches (e.g. beer & taco truck) over dinner (which we almost always cook this at home). But yeah, we don’t hold back much so this is a VERY big spend for us. Obviously LOTS of potential savings in this number for someone who is planning to use less than us!
Electronics (13) – This varies a bit from year to year. We’re not the kind of folks who always always need or want to have the latest snazzy stuff, but when we invest in something new we do like to buy quality stuff. If we have a big (known) purchase coming we’ll typically knock down some of our other budget buckets (e.g. entertainment) for a few months and put extra money aside for this one. It’s all about how/where you prioritize your spend.
Propane (14) – Our 40-gallon on-board propane tank supplies the fuel for our oven, stove, fridge (when boondocking) and furnace. Of these four, the furnace is by far the biggest potential $$ and if you run it a lot, it will suck down propane like a parched animal. However we aim to travel with the weather and minimize cold-weather camping, so we don’t use a ton of propane for heating. Also we prefer to use Mr.Buddy (which is much more propane-efficient than our furnace) when we need heat in the boonies. We fill our big 40-gallon tank around twice a year, and have done so pretty consistently for the past 7 years.
Memberships (15) – We only pay for a few yearly memberships and we only really pay them when we need them, so this number sometimes goes lower. Examples of memberships we use are Escapees, Passport America, National Parks Pass, Harvest Hosts and Overnight RV Parking.
Clothing/Beauty (16) – Not a priority so always a very low spend for us. We buy one pair of shoes each per year (when they’re on sale) and bargain/thrift shop quite a bit. Also I don’t really buy “beauty” products, I never get manicures and I very rarely go for professional haircuts (once every 3 years or so at Supercuts).
Other (17) – We keep a small budget for gifts and other miscellaneous stuff.
- 6 Tips To Buying & Eating Fresh On The Road
- RV Camping Cost Memberships – Are They Worth It?
- Lessons in Cold-Weather Dry-Camping = Our Sierra Nevada Week-end
Unexpected Expenses & Stuff Beyond The Regular Budget
As I mentioned in the last post there are $$ beyond the regular spend that I’m not going to discuss here. This includes unexpected expenses (e.g. last year we had Polly’s TPLO surgery and Taggart’s I-131 treatment), as well as the various elective upgrades we’ve done to the RV over the years (e.g. solar system, MCD shades etc.). The former are are $$ that come out of our fixed emergency fund while the latter are one-time expenses that we plan for and budget separately on a year-by-year basis depending on our financial situation and income.
No matter what your travel style, every RVer should plan for and build-up a 4-6 month emergency budget for unexpected personal, RV and pet expenses. In addition, if you are pre-Medicare consider setting money aside in a tax-free Health Savings Account for health expenses.
Also I haven’t talked about vacation $$, for the very simple reason that we pay very, very little for those things. Paul flies home to Miami 2-3 times per year, while I typically fly back to Europe once a year, but we pay for ALL these tickets (100%) with credit card points. I started playing the points game when we got on the road and we haven’t had to pay for a ticket since. If you want to learn how to do this yourself I recommend this free Miles 101 Travel Course, or following blogs such as The Points Guy, Doctor Of Credit, and Million Mile Secrets. I LOVE my miles hobby 🙂
Lastly I’ve not discussed business expenses here (e.g. what it costs to run our two blogs) since we manage those separately through our business.
Examples From Other People
I’m not the only RV blogger that publishes spend, although admittedly not everyone does. Here’s some other examples & resources for you to compare (if you publish a budget and I’ve missed you in this list please comment and LINK to your budget in the comments!):
- RV-Dreams– Howard and Linda share budget examples and provide a downloadable spreadsheet for you to use for your own planning. In 9/12 years of tracking their spending varied between ~$1800/mo to $3200/mo.
- Technomadia – Chris & Cherie have tracked and shared many years of their baseline budget. Last year their baseline ex-groceries/entertainment and some other miscellaneous stuff was right around $2,300/mo.
- Road Less Traveled – Emily & Mark are hard-core boondockers so in 2014 they spent zero on camping and only used ~$2,000/mo on everything else.
- Interstellar Orchard –Becky is a frugal solo gal that travels in a cute little Casita. She spends around $1300/month on everything.
- We’re The Russos – Joe & Kait have been sharing monthly costs since 2015. Their spend has averaged between $86-$120/day ($~2,600-$3,650/mo)
- Hourly America – Heath and Alyssa have shared 2 years of fulltime living on their blog. In 2015 their average was $2,716/mo.
- Five in a 5th – This family of five (!) spent just over $5,200/mo in their first year on the road.
- RVLove – Julie & Marc shared their 2016 costs for camping, fuel, repairs & insurance. This come to just over $1,100/mo.
- Kirk & Pam – They shared 5 years of workamping budget from 2005 to 2010. In that timeframe they averaged $2,900/mo.
- Gone with the Wynns – Nikki & Jason shared costs while they were fulltimers from 2011-2014. Their budget was between $2600-$3600/mo.
- RV Living Now – This post takes you through an example budget showing the range between $1250-$5000/mo
- Tiny House Blog – Andrew shared his expenses for his family of three. Total was $2,600/mo for everything.
Other Good Resources
- Cheap RV Living – Bob’s site is the #1 place to go for van-dwellers and frugal fulltimers. If you are on a strict budget you will find your tribe here! The forums have lots of examples of how to keep it cheap with some folks spending as little as $500/mo!
- Mobile Home – Interesting article that summed up 19 different fulltime budgets. Average spend was $2,170/mo.
Wow….that was over 5,000 words!! If you made it this far, congrats to you. Hopefully this will be a helpful reference to folks who are planning their own RV budgets and provide some ideas for places to either save or splurge depending on your own individual travel style and financial situation. I’m ready for some beer and “fluffy” posts now!!