Becoming an RV owner and taking your RV out on fun trips throughout the year is such a fun experience for many people. Each trip is unlike another and offers travelers the experience of visiting new and exciting places, all from the safety and comfort of their own tiny home on wheels. In fact, with the onset and continued threat of COVID-2019, RVing has become more popular than ever. This is largely due to the ability to stay in one’s own space and eat food from one’s own kitchen, even while traveling. This excellent and safe way to travel has been such a game changer for so many people. In fact, the best RV trips and experiences often have people wondering if they could make this lifestyle work full time, living in an RV for more than just the short term.
Of RV owners and travelers, approximately ten percent live in their RVs full time, with many more showing curiosity and interest in the lifestyle. However, living in an RV is certainly not for everyone, and this way of living has its fair share of ups and downs. When pondering the idea of going full time in your RV, there are many factors to consider. Some are more logistical, and others are more financial. Today, we are going to focus on the financial aspect of living full time in an RV. While the cost of this lifestyle will look different for every person, there are set expenses that are typically universal to all those who travel in their RV full time. So sit back and buckle up while we cruise along and crunch the numbers together.
1. RV/car payment
Depending on what type of rig you choose to go full time in, you will need to factor in the monthly costs of this. While many people may pay for their RV upfront or outright, many folks will finance an RV, creating a monthly payment. In addition to a monthly RV payment, you may also have a car payment for either your towing vehicle or your towed vehicle. This is essential to factor into your total monthly costs for life on the road. This is also something to keep in mind if you have not yet purchased your rig: do you have the income to support and upkeep monthly car/RV payments? Factor this into your choice, and adjust accordingly.
2. Car insurance
Traveling all over is even more fun when you know that you and your belongings are protected. It is absolutely essential that you have quality vehicle insurance for both your RV and your tow(ed) vehicle. Make sure you are honest about the number of miles covered in each vehicle per year, as this will ensure that you are best covered and prepared, should the worst happen. Be sure to call around and compare plans to make sure that you are getting the best plan and coverage for you and your needs.
In addition to car insurance, you may also wish to look into getting RVer’s Insurance. This typically protects more of your interior belongings than standard car insurance, covering against accidents, weather damage, fire, theft, and more.
3. RV/car maintenance
All the road tripping in both your RV and/or car is sure to increase the wear and tear on these items. Staying up-to-date on your vehicle maintenance can help you to cut down on potential repair costs. However, this is something that can cost you on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Be sure to factor in any maintenance costs for your vehicle(s), including, but not limited to, oil changes, transmission flushes, fuel and air filter swaps, battery maintenance, tire maintenance, brake system maintenance, and more. Staying ahead of these can save you money in the long run, but routine maintenance will still cost you periodically. Knowing how to do some or all of these things will certainly help with costs, though.
4. RV Warranty
Having RV insurance and maintaining your RV are great places to start when it comes to protecting your home on wheels. However, even a perfectly-maintained vehicle with excellent insurance can need an occasional repair. Because of the large size of RVs and the fact that RV mechanics are harder to come by, RV repair is rather pricey. As part of your full-time RV lifestyle, you should consider purchasing an extended warranty to cover the additional components on your home. Warranties come in a variety of tiers, but the most basic ones will cover the larger mechanical components on your rig, as well as the expensive appliances and interior components. There are several companies that offer extended warranties, and it’s a great idea to look into these before you hit the road.
5. Gas costs
Traveling from one place to another requires fuel to make it happen. Whether your RV and/or vehicle run off of gasoline or diesel, this will be an added monthly expense for you. The distance you cover will vary each month, so factoring in the average total miles that you plan to cover, as well as the current average fuel prices, will allow you to gauge a rough estimate of this expense. Of course, staying in certain places for longer, and traveling fewer and shorter distances will also help to minimize fuel expenditures. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of cruising around in your tow(ed) vehicle while your RV is stationed at the campground.
6. Phone bill
While on the road full time, it’s important that you stay connected with family and friends. In addition, like many, you may also need to work from the road, and this will impact your monthly phone bill cost. And while different travelers will have different phone plan needs, it is important that all travelers have a plan with unlimited talk and text, and preferably unlimited data as well. Consider going with AT&T or Verizon for the best nationwide coverage, and consider diversifying your carriers (having more than one plan) if you plan to regularly visit areas that only serve one cell provider. In addition, be sure to shop around for the best rates on phones and plans before picking one for your travels.
7. Internet payment
Like with your phone bill, monthly internet costs also differ between travelers. If you are working from your RV, how much data do you need per month to work? In addition to work, how much data do you need for other internet-based activities, such as travel planning and research, sharing your travels on social media, keeping up with family and friends, streaming TV on Netflix or Hulu, and anything else you do on the internet regularly. All the major cell phone companies offer hotspot devices, and some of these can even be set up with their own plan. As with everything else, be sure to shop around for the best rates before adding this to your monthly expenses.
Speaking of campgrounds, this is a monthly expense that you will need to consider. Again, because everyone travels differently, this expense will look different for different people. Do you prefer to mainly stay in five-star resorts? Be sure to factor in at least $60-100 per day in lodging. Do you prefer a mix of mid-tier and national parks campgrounds? Factor in an a cost of $15-45 per night, on average. Do you plan to supplement your stays with camping at Harvest Hosts locations or on public land? Be sure to subtract this from your total for monthly stays. Don’t forget to check out this free resource for your guide to camping your way through the US.
Do you have health insurance through your current job? Or do you have your own private plan that you cover each month? Health insurance plans and options are deeply personal, but going full time on the road requires you to nail down a healthcare plan ahead of time, in case the worst should happen. This may also include eye exams, dental exams and cleanings, and the cost of any medications you may take. These numbers look immensely different for everyone, but being prepared for this expense is essential.
10. Household Expenses
Household expenses in an RV are similar to those incurred in a house. This typically consists of a slew of miscellaneous costs for items you need to keep your home in check. This list includes, but is not limited to, cleaning supplies, paper products, clothing and accessories, toiletries, office supplies, laundry costs, and more. In addition, if you have children, there will be added general and household costs here. Be sure to factor in the average monthly total.
11. Pet costs
Do you travel with a furry family member or two? The costs of their care and upkeep should also be factored into your monthly expenses. This includes food, treats, toys, cat litter, and any other expenses you may incur caring for your pets. Medical care should also be accounted for, for both routine care and emergencies. Check out our articles on RVing with cats and RVing with dogs for more information on traveling with pets.
Food as a monthly expense also varies greatly between travelers. Access to a full RV kitchen can allow you to cook many of your meals at home, drastically cutting back on food costs. However, part of the fun of traveling is trying new and local foods, so be sure to factor in restaurant visits, as well as coffee stops, ice cream, and any other treats you encounter.
Propane is used for a variety of systems in an RV. This includes cooking on the stove or in the oven, running the fridge, running the hot water heater, and running the furnace. Of course, many of these systems also run on electric, so staying in campgrounds will drastically reduce your regular costs in propane. However, cooking on your stovetop always requires propane, so this will need to be refilled periodically, depending on how often you cook or run appliances on propane. Consider stopping at specific propane suppliers (instead of gas stations) to reduce the cost here.
14. Spending/travel money
Finally, you need to consider your monthly spending money and travel costs. This includes any leisure or exploring activities, including visiting museums, national parks, going to shows, or anything else it is that you enjoy while traveling. You will also want to factor in the cost of souvenirs and gifts for friends and family here. This number may change month to month, depending on your plans. If you are trying to keep this cost low, consider setting a specific budget for it each month.
Judging by this list, it’s easy to see that full time RV life can be pricey. However, many RVers say that it is similar to or even less expensive in cost than living in a traditional home. These specific numbers are so different for everyone. Whether you are someone who plans to work and travel, someone who is taking a temporary sabbatical from work to focus on travel, or someone who is planning to retire and travel full time, these monetary expenses are universal. If you are planning to retire and travel, be sure to check out the calculator tool below to help determine your monthly costs. Stay tuned for the next installment on full-time RV life, where we discuss the logistics of making it all possible.
Do you live on the road full time? Have you considered it? If you are already a full-time RVer, do you think this list of expenses is comprehensive? Are there any other costs that you regularly factor in? Feel free to share in the comments below!
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