What are the Costs of a Full-time RV Life? Strategies to Save Money

Oct 31

What are the Costs of a Full-time RV Life? Strategies to Save Money

When I mention wanted to live a full-time RV life, most people say they’d love to do the same thing. But there are a few that have questions, especially since we’re not close to being retired and still need to earn an income. Most of these questions question the costs of driving an RV. Gas is high right now and it will cost a lot more than the $80 month it now takes to fill up our van – and that’s IF we don’t drive to the north side of town.

Several current RV blogs are tackling this issue and have shared their costs. One thing to remember is that everyone is different and has different expenses. Vehicles vary, what people enjoy doing varies, so each full-timer looks different than another.

Howard Payne of RV Dreams has put together three versions of an RV lifestyle budget – Thrift, Moderate and Money is No Object. His numbers show a thrifty budget of $12,600 annually, a moderate budget of just over $36,000 and a money is no object budget of $99,000. Cheap RV Living shows a budget of $500 – $1000 month, which is being done by several members of the Vandwelling community.

This, again, all depends on how you live your life. If you’re used to eating out a lot, hitting a lot of tourist spots, and staying at upper end “RV resorts” you will spend more money. If you have a stationery home or land that you’re still paying for, or at least maintaining and paying taxes on, you’ll need to have the money to cover those expenses.

We’re shooting for the thrifty to moderate budget, between $25,000 and $36,000 annually. We already live on less than $20,000 and we’re almost out of debt, so these amounts will be an increase of our current lifestyle. We plan to earn this money by workcamping and continuing our own businesses and their growth.

The main goal is to keep down our expenses. How we do that will include a variety of strategies that other full-time RVers already do.

1. Stay in one place two weeks or more. Living full-time in an RV and having that travel lifestyle isn’t like being on vacation and having to go, go, go and come back in two weeks. I’ve read enough blogs from the lifestyle veterans that remind the newbies to slow down. You don’t have to hurry. You don’t have to be on the road every single day.

2. Travel 300-400 miles or 3-4 hours on a travel day. Leave early and be off the road by 3pm is our goal. Keeping in tune with goal number 1, we don’t have to be in a hurry. If we’re on our way to somewhere specific, leave enough time in the travel plan to get there without getting overtired or spending too much money for food or gas.

3. Stay in free or lower cost campgrounds. A lot of RV resorts cost $30 a night and up. It sounds cheap compared to a hotel, but when you can say in a state or national park for less then $25, or find a city park for $12, or even find BLM or national forest land to stay on for free – well, that’s the way to go. Everyone has their preferences, of course. We like to find natural surroundings so that’s where we want to camp. We want to go on hikes and have a bonfire and walk our dogs on trail. Others like the community in an RV resort atmosphere. It’s completely up to the traveler what they want to do.

4. Take advantage of RV park specials. There are weekly and monthly specials offered in many RV parks as well as off season specials, such as in Florida or Texas over the summer when most snowbird travelers have returned up north. We plan to take advantage of these specials when necessary, such as over the holiday period when it may be worthwhile to stay in one spot from November – Early January and not wonder if we’ll find a campground over the holidays. There may also be times where we need to have a good Internet signal for work or need a good spot to have repairs completed. This also goes back to strategy 1 – if you’re staying in one spot for two months, may as well look for a deal.

5. Overnight in box store parking lots or truck stops if needed. If we’re traveling and trying to get to a workcamping job or need to split up a trip for some reason, there’s no point in spending money to stay somewhere overnight. Many box stores like Walmart will allow you to stay in their lot for a night. Ask the manager and most say yes. They appreciate the money you spend in the store as well. Now, don’t set up an easy chair and a grill. Just pull in, buy some groceries, maybe watch TV and hit the sack.

6. Be out of debt and cut as many expenses as possible. We have student loan and some medical debt, but we have one paid for vehicle and no credit cards. This is our choice, but it’s much easier to cut expenses when we don’t have consumer debt. Our largest experience right now is our cell phone bill. With all the changes in the service plans recently we’ll be looking at changing our plan to see if a new one is worth changing to and if it will be a bit cheaper for us.

7. Stay away from the tourist spots / use coupons if you want to visit them. When we visited downtown San Antonio, most of the storefronts across the street from the Alamo were expensive touristy places such as Ripley’s Believe it Or Not and Madame Tussaud’s. There’s nothing wrong with these places, but they’re not for me. I don’t see the point in taking your family to a historical site and then spending $40 per person to do something that you can do in pretty much any large city in America. Again, this is my preference, but I want to visit places I CAN’T visit anywhere else.

On the other hand, there are several coupon books that can be used or online discounts to use to save a bit of money. Also check to see if the attraction has a discount day. I remember visiting the Fort Worth Zoo with  my son and niece several years ago on Wednesday, their half-price day.

I do like to take part in the Hop On / Hop Off trolley tours when available. It’s a good value if you’re staying for more than one day since the second day is free in most cities. You can park your car and have someone else drive you around an unfamiliar city. I always check the different websites to see which company has the better prices and if they have any specials.

I know without a doubt that we’ll be able to live well on our estimated full-time RV budget. Basically, it’s all about substitution. The cost of travel – the gas, RV maintenance, tow vehicle and campgrounds – is just substituted for the costs of living in a home. To bring that into perspective, the last house we rented was $650 month for rent. We paid another $900 a month in utilities, with our gas bill for heat being our largest utility payment. That’s $1550 month just to have a place to live. $1550 / 31 days = $50 day to live in our rental house before even paying for groceries or other living expenses. At $50 day, that’s going to be a stay at a very nice RV resort.

Do you travel full-time in an RV? What are some strategies you have for saving money or spending less? Let me know in the comments or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter.


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