THE COSTS OF FULL-TIME RV LIVING
Full-time RVing–a dream that many imagine but also wonder how to turn the dream into reality. It’s all about having a plan. Now, some folks are great with that while others just did not end up with the planning gene. Have no fear, it’s all outlined for you here.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Are you ready to retire or do you have a job which allows you to work on the road? It cost money to live no matter where you lay your head. Workamping jobs, campground hosts, writing, IT work or having a doable sales jobs while living from anywhere gives people the opportunity to keep their dream going. Another plan may be to lease your home annually or allow adult relatives to live there at a reasonable price. This provides additional income for that RV lifestyle.
THE RV ITSELF
Some folks are fortunate enough to be able to pay cash for their RV so there is no monthly expense to account for. But for most folks, a monthly RV payment will be a monthly expenditure. The payment will then depend on the amount of down payment and the price of the RV. To figure out how much your monthly payment will be there are plenty of rate calculators for RV financing on the web. But basically, you can expect to pay about $15 per thousand borrowed at a 5% interest rate for 7 years. For example, if you borrow $30,000 your payment will be about $450 per month. ($30,000 divided by $1000 = $30 and $30 x 15 = $450).
FUEL EXPENSE – GASOLINE VS DIESEL
RVs come in many shapes and sizes. If choosing a motorhome, we’ll assume you’ll be towing a car. While a fifth wheel or travel trailer allows you to park it, and use your tow vehicle for adventures and necessary trips to the store. In either case, fuel will be one of your biggest expenses.
My husband and I were on a merry-go-round deciding on gasoline vs diesel. Friends of ours said it best, it’s the lifestyle. Find the mode of transportation best suited for you! Determine what vehicle effectively pulls the fifth wheel or travel trailer of your choice. Class A, B, or C motorhomes use either gasoline or diesel fuel depending on the make and model.
Fuel costs are difficult to pinpoint. Fuel goes up; fuel goes down and fuel varies from state to state. There are apps you can download to give you a heads up on fuel prices in your vicinity. We’ve found www.gasbuddy.com does a great job. I also wrote an article called What is the Average Gas Mileage for a Class C RV? where you can find some great tips for improving your gas mileage and saving money no matter which type of rig you drive.
Tires are one of the most important things to maintain, period. If you want an RV lifestyle, you won’t be going anywhere without them. Do your research. Ensure your tires are 10-ply and have excellent reviews. Check your tires often. Properly inflated tires help avoid blowouts, provide better fuel mileage and last longer.
Naturally, you’ll have regularly scheduled maintenance for your RV and vehicle. Take the time to deal with whatever maintenance is needed on a motorhome, be it oil changes, brakes, hoses, batteries, etc.
Any RV will run into issues from time to time. Keep your owner’s manual handy and confirm you understand the basics. The best time to have that broken thing-a-ma-jig worked on is when you’re at the dealer for service, however, we all know life on the road will not always be accommodating. Perhaps the slide suddenly jams or the awning rips from a falling tree limb. Stuff happens, and repairs will arise. With so many RVs and tow vehicles out there, make a list of scheduled maintenance items you’ll need and plan for unexpected expenses as well.
Vehicle insurance is the topic we all love to hate in many aspects of life. Of course, you are insuring your vehicle and RV. This might be the time to check around for separate RV insurance or your current insurer may be able to provide adequate coverage. It’s worth the phone calls to check pricing on coverage and a deductible you are comfortable with.
Roadside Assistance, in my opinion, is a must. We are aware that needed repairs will occur. Whether you break down on the side of the road, have a tire blowout, or stuck at a campground with a dead battery, a roadside assistance plan can help lessen the stress when that time comes. Many insurance companies can add the plan onto your existing insurance. Companies such as AAA, Good Sam or Coach-Net sell roadside assistance plans. We found the price to be minimal when added to our USAA policy.
Other insurance worth noting is your personal healthcare. Most employer healthcare plans will cover you no matter where you are in the U.S. Medicare plans vary as do doctors who take Medicare. Depending on where you are, you’ll want to be assured you’re covered. If self-employed while on the road, confirm that the healthcare plan you choose allows access to doctors across state lines. Many full timers also use Health Sharing through companies like Liberty Health Share. You can expect to pay about $320 per month or so through a health share.
Besides fuel, this expense also ranks right up. However, there’s still plenty of ways to save.
Private Campgrounds: Most private campgrounds range $30-$50/night with full hookups. Some may include cable and internet. Depending on the time of year and popularity of the location, private campsites can run upwards of $100/night.
Discount Camping Clubs: There are awesome discount clubs to help you save money on campsites and more! Escapees RV, Passport America, KOA Value Kard, and Good Sam are a few that offer campground discounts plus additional benefits to members. Their prices are reasonable, especially when considering the RV lifestyle. Check out our article called The 5 Best RV Campground Memberships where we share discount campground memberships like Passport America and also Memberships like Harvest Hosts and Boondockers welcome where you can overnight for free!
National Parks/State Parks: If you are 62+ years of age, take advantage of the Senior Access Pass for half-priced campsites. This lifetime pass costs $80 and can be purchased at any national park. Campsites will range from full hookups to dry camping. Many national parks do accommodate larger RVs. Discounted camping is also available to military personnel and veterans.
State parks generally charge less than private campgrounds and some provide senior or military discounts. Many have full hookups but at a minimum provide electric and water with a dump station in the campground.
When choosing national or state parks, it affords you the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, catch a glimpse of native wildlife or enjoy close-by paddle trips, hikes, and sights. A word to the wise, reserve your campsites early. Location and time of year will often affect availability if you just by chance pull in on a whim.
Free Camping: We’ve all heard of the Walmart parking lots or truck stops along your route. They can accommodate when you can’t drive another mile and need some shut-eye. We have an article full of useful info called Overnight RV Parking At Walmart – Know Before You Go. Going this route will definitely save money, but don’t forget about BLM lands. Federal lands provide a multitude of campgrounds throughout the U.S. at little to no cost. BLM sites offer a variety of campsites from full hookups to boondocking. If you can boondock for a night or so, it’s freeing to get out of the campground routine and live in a spectacular environment. Check it out at https://www.blm.gov/.
GROCERIES, DINING OUT AND HAPPY HOURS
At home or on the road, we all must nourish our bodies and souls. The costs associated with food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, dining out and happy hours, should be fairly consistent with when you were stationary in one place. Many people enjoy checking out the local eateries or look forward to an evening out on the town. Farmers markets, local produce stands, and the town grocery store will provide you with whatever you love to keep on hand.
RVer friends of mine enjoy their daily sightseeing adventures then come back to their home on wheels, set up for happy hour and enjoy dinner camp side. Whatever you choose, these costs should mimic the pattern to which you are accustom.
Depending on your travel itinerary, you may have a special sightseeing tour in mind. A number of national parks require a guide to view particular areas, such as Denali NP. Other things to check off your list could include whale watching, whitewater rafting or a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia. With so many sights to see in the U.S. alone, our bucket lists can keep us busy for years.
Be sure to research any discounts that might apply on tickets, such as senior discounts, AAA, weekday vs. weekend, etc. If your kids are wondering what you might want for your birthday, give them a few ideas.
THE TECHY WORLD
While we love life on the road, connection to family, friends, and life goes on. Every RVer I know requires a decent cell provider so they can access directions, make reservations, google places in an area and stay connected. If you do not have unlimited cell data, the added price to do so may be worth its weight in gold.
Campgrounds often offer internet connection with the campsite. Businesses, such as Starbucks or Panera, offer free on-site connection. Some locations may find you with a stubbornly slow internet connection. Cell providers offer wifi capabilities, called a hotspot, accessed via your cell phone. Depending on the data plan and provider, a hotspot can run $20-$75/month.
When it comes to watching TV in your RV, it’s rather optional. Some campers are fine with whatever their antenna picks up. Private campgrounds occasionally offer cable. Otherwise, you basically have two choices – DISH TV or Direct TV. Packages range from a basic $30/month to as high as $90/month for 250+ channels with high-def services.
Ah, those lovely little add-ons each month that life brings our way. We know it’s always something. Additional expenses might include new clothing, a birthday gift that must be mailed along the way, a computer mishap that requires replacement, propane, lots of coins for laundry or mail forwarding services you may require.
Let’s not forget you will encounter tolls on the road. We have a Sun Pass which works in several states, but certainly not all. Just verify when you’ll need to pull into the pay lane and chalk up the change.
When traveling with pets, the fur babies will still need their annual shots, flea and tick treatment, possible grooming and might encounter a visit to a vet on their travels.
Life is good. Taking the plunge to full-time RVing can be a dream come true with a little preparation, budgeting and a leap of faith. Take the time to make an excel spreadsheet or search online for an RV budget worksheet to guarantee your knowledge of expenses you may incur. It’s a good idea to have an emergency fund set aside for that unexpected repair, added fuel when prices spike, or the luxury of bucket list items you don’t want to miss.
May your spirit soar and your adventures never end.
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Nancy Ferri and her husband are recently retired. They are avid campers who plan to hit the road this year to enjoy some longer adventures throughout the US. They also enjoy kayaking, hiking and bicycling in the great outdoors.