What is the cost of full-time RV living? This is probably the most frequently asked question about full-time RV living, and probably one of the most difficult to answer.
If you’re thinking about going full-time RVing and you want to figure out what it is going to cost you, you need to figure out how YOU want to live, and then try to build your budget and plan around that.
Full-Time RV Living Will Cost Everyone Differently
This is because everyone lives life and makes decisions differently. Some people need to blow dry their hair after a shower; others need to be able to watch football every day and some don’t watch TV at all; some can’t live without an RV washer and RV dryer (perhaps a family that goes through a lot of laundry daily) while others are fine with going to a laundromat. Some people love to eat out every other night, while others prefer to eat at home.
Many people want the community and socialization at an RV park or campground, while others prefer the peace and solitude of middle-of-nowhere camping. You get the picture.
There is nothing wrong with any of these decisions, it just changes your RVing needs and the costs associated. Camping in RV Resorts with full hookups, swimming pools, and amenities is going to be more expensive than boondocking out in the wilderness for free, but the boondocking may take a little more effort and a little more “doing without.”
Living Within Your Means
We have met and heard from a lot of people who want to move to full-time RV living to save money. I want to take a moment to address this.
My mother always told me that if you don’t learn to live within your means, you never will. Meaning: if you can’t figure out how to live with the money you have, it doesn’t matter how much money you have – you’ll always need more.
Now, “never” is a strong word, but the moral is there – you have to look at your lifestyle and spending choices.
If you’re struggling for cash now, should you buy a brand new RV?
Should you be paying $100+ a month for cable TV?
The Costs of Full-Time RV Living Can Be Less, But…
While we’re no financial experts, chances are if you are struggling with money now, moving to full-time RV living may be a way out because you CAN reduce your expenses and make some serious life changes. But it also may not.
We have met people on the road still living month-to-month, some of whom are even retired. They’ve bought brand new RVs that have monthly payments they struggle to make!
On the other side, we’ve met many people who have finally been able to pay off their student or credit card debts by living more simply and are able to work and travel at the same time.
If you’re looking to find financial freedom and are willing to make some significant lifestyle changes to do that, then RVing could be a path to achieve that but it is NOT a golden ticket quick fix – it’s a bit more complicated than that.
How to Build Your Full-Time RV Budget
Regardless of your style of living, you’re going to want to build a budget. This will help you estimate your full-time RV living costs and balance them with your income.
For us, we sold everything and quit our jobs, so we had zero income at the start of our journey. It was important to track all our expenses carefully so that we could stay on the road for as long as possible while not bringing in any income.
We had enough in savings to comfortably go a year or two without making any money. You’ll want to figure out what your limit is so you don’t find yourself hitting the bottom of the bank before you make any changes.
Figuring Out Your Expenses
For your expenses, you’re going to have both fixed and variable expenses.
Fixed expenses are going to be the same every month and HAVE to be paid. These are things like cell phone, internet, and RV insurance bills. If you have a loan on your RV or vehicle, they would also fit into this category (*Note: we highly recommend eliminating this monthly expense if possible by buying less-expensive used RVs/vehicles.)
Trying to get these Fixed Costs down is key to a low-cost lifestyle, so try to find way to eliminate or reduce these when possible.
Variable expenses are the ones that fluctuate from month to money and in RVLife you actually have a LOT of control over these expenses.
As you’ll see in our Lodging/Camping expenses category, we have been able to significantly decrease this expense over the years by getting better at free boondocking and utilizing RV Clubs like Boondockers Welcome, Harvest Hosts, and Escapees/Xscapers. However, if you decide to park in an RV Resort in downtown San Diego for example, it could cost you upwards of $1000 per month.
Boondockers Welcome – This is a “Be My Guest RV Parking” membership. We’ve had this membership from the very beginning and it pays for itself so quickly! You also get to meet fabulous people who open their properties for RVers to park on.
Escapees/Xscapers – Join the Total Support Network for All RVers! Enjoy member-only benefits including discounts, mail services, and campgrounds – not to mention a community that travels with you.
Before I get into our specific monthly and yearly costs, there are a few things you need to know about our lifestyle.
- Even before RVing, we were frugal. We only bought things we needed, and even then it was a drawn-out research process to get the best bang for the buck.
- Most times we opt for free experiences vs. paid.
- We don’t have debt – after the sale of our house and getting rid of our mortgage we were debt-free. We bought our vehicles and RV used with cash.
- “Do-It-Yourself” is our default – we do our own RV & truck maintenance and upgrade projects to save money…and we kind of enjoy it, too : )
- We prefer natural rural places over big cities and attractions.
- We put a big emphasis on eating healthy, so we spend more on food to buy local and organic foods. (You’ll see in our expenses that Grocery is one of our biggest monthly spends.)
- Cooking at home is preferred. We didn’t even before RVing. We are also vegan, so it’s actually pretty hard for us to eat out.
Your lifestyle might be very different from ours, and this will have to factor into your budget.
How Much Full-Time RVing Cost Us
Full disclosure: this is not a complete list of our expenses. For privacy’s sake, we have omitted business expenses, fees and taxes, and health expenses from these calculations. However, these numbers are very close to actual and should help you get an idea of our expenses. These numbers are from 2015-2017.
Our monthly lodging expenses are relatively low because of free boondocking, staying with friends and family, and our use of RV Memberships. We stayed at places owned by family or friends for 142 days in 2017 at no cost to us.
Besides Boondocker’s Welcome and Harvest Hosts for the occasional stay, we heavily relied on our Thousand Trails Zone Passes. We received our first one for 2015-2016 for free with the purchase of our RV (a perk from the dealer). Then, we purchased Buy One Get One passes for $545 for the entire West Coast.
The first 30 nights were included, and then it was $3 a night after that. We ended up staying 143 nights in Thousand Trails campgrounds with our NW/SW Zone Pass. This brought our average cost per night staying at these (mostly) full hookup sites for less than $6/night. Pio Pico Thousand Trails, CA .
We are really happy with averaging less than $100 a month on our camping fees. We spend even more time boondocking now that we have our Solar System up and running.
These are for things like parks, attractions, events, day parking fees, tolls for traveling around, etc. This is the “getting into things” category. If you’re traveling around, you want to go see things, right?
Our $80 Annual National Park Pass is something that is baked into this number…it really should almost fall into our “fixed” yearly costs at this point! Check out our blog about the Pros and Cons of the Interagency Park Pass.
Bridge tolls and toll roads are in here as well, and we try to avoid them as much as we can. But sometimes you can’t avoid and sometimes it’s a LOT easier than trying to avoid them.
The truck needs regular oil changes, new filters, new tires, alignments, and regular maintenance as it gets older. It also occasionally breaks. For us this number is relatively low since Tom and I do so much of the maintenance and repairs ourselves. We estimate that we’ve saved thousands of dollars in labor and parts by doing it ourselves.
In 2016, we had a big breakdown that we had to take it to a shop to get fixed. This brought our costs way up. Better to estimate high in this category and be pleasantly surprised than the other way around.
Similarly, your RV is going to need repairs, maintenance, and upgrades. When you’re living in an RV full-time, the costs can also seem to stack up faster than if you were just using it for a few weekends.
Regardless, just having an RV costs money. Find out how much RVs cost to own and maintain.
In 2015 and 2016, we were still learning about our RV. We slowly replaced things, caulked things, and completed projects we thought the RV needed from when we bought it. It really didn’t cost us too much until 2017 when we started to put our first Solar Installation on.
Propane is typically used in your RV furnace, RV refrigerator (when not on electric), RV water heater, and RV range/oven. As you can see, this is not a very big expense for us overall. In fact, it is much less than the cost to heat our house during the winter when we lived in Michigan! However, the more boondocking we do, the more this may increase.
We have since moved to a Truma AquaGo On-Demand Water Heater that barely uses any propane. Learn more about why we love our Truma AquaGo and find out if it’d be a worthwhile upgrade for you.
One way to save on climate control-related costs is to chase 70 degrees in your RV and stay in perfect weather year-round.
Before our solar install, we used a Honda generator to provide our off-grid power when boondocking. The Honda is so efficient that we hardly spend anything on gas for it.
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We boondocked 139 days in 2017 where we did not have electric hookups. At $94 for electricity those days, that costs less than $1 per day.
As far as generators go, investing in a reliable, quiet model like the Honda is a great plan for going full-time RVing. If you’re into boondocking, it’ll pay for itself over and over.
Diesel Fuel (for the Truck)
We’ve averaged a little less than $300/month on diesel for our big truck and moving our house around. You’ll notice the increase over the years, and that is partly to do with the general rise in fuel prices. We were also in areas of the country for a good chunk of 2017 where fuel was generally higher.
We made an interesting observation about traveling “full-time.” We now actually drive less overall than in our stationary life. Below are our miles, and as you can see we are averaging around 20,000 miles a year in the truck.
In our previous jobs, we did a lot more driving with commuting to work every day in two vehicles. We averaged 15,000-18,000 miles PER VEHICLE, so in our RV life we actually drive less!
As we mentioned early, we do not do this often. Maybe once or twice a month, which is why our monthly spending on this is so low at less than $100/month. We prefer to “eat out at home” and make wonderful culinary creations!
It can be tempting to get stuck in “vacation mode” and feel the urge to eat out in every new town. This can add up fast. Fortunately, this is a variable expense, so if you have one month of many outings, just make sure to balance it with a month of staying home.
These are things that we do for fun. Maybe rent a movie, go to a theater, buy a new game to play, etc. Again, we tend to find free or cheap things to do in the places we visit. It helps that we are pretty easily entertained.
Again, try not to slip into “vacation mode,” but definitely give yourself some allowance here so you can actually enjoy some of the cool places you’re going to be visiting!
Since we don’t eat out a lot and we try to buy organic, local food that tends to be a little more expensive, our grocery bill is one of our biggest. We shop a lot at Costco (you wouldn’t think a bulk store like this would work for tiny living, but the prices are right for the things we like!) and Trader Joe’s for most of our groceries.
We also lump in here things like cleaners, toilet paper, shampoo, new clothes, etc.
We traveled with two dogs who are over 10 years old. These monthly costs are mostly food (we typically buy from Costco, so gets bunched in with the Grocery/Household category a lot), heartworm preventative, flea and tick treatments, etc.
We also had to take them to vets while traveling for lump removals and sudden illness, and both dogs got dental cleanings done in 2017.
We reduce our costs by doing some home pet care (for skin things, minor cuts, etc) and by going to vaccination clinics where you can get rabies and annual vaccinations for fractions of the cost.
→ Make sure your Dog First Aid Kit is stocked for living the RV life.
This is our catch-all category for things that don’t fall into the other categories. This could be gifts for family, strange fees that randomly show up, laundromats, etc.
In 2017, we allocated a bit of money into a non-RV-or-business-related side project, so we see a bit of a rise there.
Cell Phones & Internet
Mobile RV internet is a big topic for full-time travel, and we managed to keep ours down in those first few years.
We used cheap pre-paid cell phone plans and used older phones. We were on cheap 15GB/month Total Wireless from Walmart for our phones and were able to get our hands on an AT&T Mobley (now unavailable) that kepts our internet cost down. In total, we spent less than $100/month on this category.
We have since upgraded our connectivity equipment as the demands of our work have changed. Your requirements might also be more stringent, so it isn’t unreasonable to have $100-$200/month in expenses for this category.
Many RVers still have storage units where they’ve kept stuff they just can’t get rid of. When we initially hit the road, we had some stuff in an enclosed trailer that we parked on a storage lot for $20/month. And we also had an old ski boat that we were storing for another $150/year.
Once we decided to full-time RV longer-term, we wanted a more permanent solution. In 2017, we went in on building a barn at my parent’s house in Michigan to store our trailer and our boat, so that raised our average up to $82 per month but this will slowly come down over time.
You’ll want to think about how long you anticipate being on the road, and how much that storage unit might cost you total.
Financial Advisors / Accountants
When we started out full-time RVing we hired some financial advisors to help us get organized and settled in our new living and financial situation. We really didn’t want to mess up our retirement savings doing this lifestyle change. We ended that agreement in early 2017 to cut down on our fixed costs.
However, if you have a similar service or an accountant, you’ll want to add these costs to your budget. The help of an advisor or accountant can be really helpful if you’re worried about how full-time RV life is going to affect your finances.
Your health, vehicle, and RV insurance premiums are going to be pretty straightforward fixed costs that might only change slightly and on a yearly basis.
Our health insurance is through Healthcare.gov. This cost is relatively low because we enrolled in catastrophic health plans and qualified for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. It has changed every year, and this year they got rid of PPO plans that have in-network doctors across the country and not just in one state. But it is very affordable!
Our truck insurance is through USAA and our RV insurance is through Progressive. Insurance rates vary drastically from state to state, so consider looking into these differences if you’re planning on changing your domicile.
Overall Total Cost of Full Time RV Living
Our initial budget estimate was somewhere between $2500 and $2800 per month. We are very happy that we’ve been able to make this lifestyle work at much less, around $2000 per month (not including health costs, business expenses, and paying taxes). We continue to look for ways that we can reduce our overall monthly costs, and are still very frugal about what we buy and when.
Once you hit the road, there are also many easy ways to save money while RVing.
Breaking Even – Breaking Free
In January of 2017, we crossed the line of breaking even. We started this adventure with no jobs, no streams of income coming in, so getting to where we were making enough each month to pay off these living expenses was an awesome feeling!
Having this budget and being able to track money going out and money going in made it clear when we hit that point and then it was the realization that we could do this long-term. It also makes it easier to say “Yes, we can invest in a solar system now” or “Yes, we can put in new flooring as we’ve wanted for the last 2 years!”
With determination, responsible spending, and a close eye on our finances, we figured out how to make enough to pay for this lifestyle that makes us happier and allows us to see all these amazing places! We hope this breakdown helps you in planning, starting a budget, or tracking your full-time RV living cost.
Have More Questions About The Cost Of Full Time RV Living?
The cost of full-time RV living is different for everyone and changes constantly. As new services and memberships become available and campground fees change, we always have to adjust to living within our means.
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