So you’re still asking, “What’s it gonna cost to live in my RV?” Using research from a few friendly seasoned RVers, the average cost per year of living in your RV full-time is about $10,000 for two people. While this sounds like a crazy amount of money, keep in mind that this also factors in utilities and food, which you would already be paying if you were living in a permanently fixed home. According to careertrends.com, the average cost of living in the midwest is $39,649 annually for a married couple with no children. If you look around, there are a ton of ways you can drive down the cost you’re racking up on the go, which is the great thing about RV living!
Now I’ll tell you what I will do. I will show you how an average lower-middle class family can not only survive financial difficulty, but thrive despite it and use the situation to invest in their future. I’ll tell you what we’ve learned about financial responsibility through our hardship, and I’ll give you some encouragement on your own journey to financial freedom.
To save money, we don’t have a cell phone. We estimate that since we started traveling this may have saved us about $50/month or as much as $4,500 all together. We have also equipped our trailer with solar panels and we camp for free virtually every night. These choices make us happy, but may not suit everyone. Here’s a description of our minimalist internet and communications solution and our tips for how to live off the grid in an RV.
Hope you don’t mind us asking but whilst we have amalgamated what we feel is a good nest egg, our concerns are what to do with it to generate enough income and hopefully enable it to grow somewhat more being in our early and late fifties. We’d hate to run out of monies and the ability to continue our travels due to jumping the gun without an adequate plan in this regards.
I always imagined that you should try to buy the biggest RV you could afford. After all, who doesn’t want lots of space? Our travels over the past years, and perhaps more specifically the kind of travel we like to do (camping in public campgrounds, forests, state parks, off-the-beaten-track spots) has taught me that bigger is not always better. Our “beastly” size is super-comfortable but requires me to do quite a bit of detailed planning to make sure we can fit into the kinds of spots we like to visit. In retrospect, I would have wished for a smaller RV. For those camping mostly in private parks this is not a consideration, but for our kinda camping it sure would be nice with a few less feet.
2. Make a plan for your kids’ education: Living in an RV is a rare learning opportunity. Your kids will be home schooled, the only difference being that their home will be on wheels. Your travel destinations are an important part of your kids’ education, so take advantage of historical, geological, and cultural sites as you travel. Alongside math, reading and writing, there are some great on-the-road learning activities you can do with your kids. See Fulltime Families for some great examples of fun DIY activities.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time skimming through forums and have found some overall themes on types of rigs. My only concern with my current is size. When I purchased it with the purpose of a few months at a time it was perfect but full-time is another matter. Most blogs on the subject say- stay small as possible but then focus on Class A or 5th Wheels- not so small. Other concerns are roof construction, slide out reliability, moving versus squatting, etc. I am single so that cuts down on size requirements but again, how much space is too little? Doing research on parks in my state (FL) most public parks become site limited past 36 feet with the most sites rated for 20-35 foot rigs- easier to get and make reservations.
Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.
Below is the breakdown of costs, if you want more details read the posts from 2012 and 2011 as we pretty much spend the same way each year. As usual I’ve rounded the numbers to keep it simple, and this time I decided to list in order of most expensive (hey great idea right?).$1,567 Mostly Costco for groceries; also includes Target, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Wal-Mart, etc for clothing, housewares, and such.
Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books? I’ve been been wishing I could read ahead and see how different choices would affect the boys. Would they end up angry at us always wishing they had a chance to experience “normal” teenage life if we kept full timing in our RV? Or would they look back and say, “Man, my parents were great and knew what was best. I spent most of my life living in an RV seeing all these cool places!”
I did not intend to insult but after reading my e-mail It did sound a little rough. I love to see that people are “successfully” doing something that I dream of doing in the near future and I want to ensure I got as many tools and tricks of the trade when I make that leap. I have checked off the debt free box which everyone recommends but it is the other stuff that still has me nervous about this adventure. Trust me, from what I have read about I wouldn’t be amazed if you and a few others see us at your events so that we can keep on learning from the folks that have been there and done it. I look forward to watching your blog for updates and new tricks as we get prepared to change our life for the better. I hope!
All our Fifth Wheels and Travel Trailers are “Extended Stay Approved”. This means that we have engineered them with many of the residential-style qualities found in a fine home. To this end, we have created spacious open living areas and appointed them with extra large windows, large refrigerators, walk in closets, large queen/king beds and many other home-like amenities.
how workable do you think it is to slowly accumulate a group of websites of whom you’re an affiliate (rv’ing stuff?) to help or maybe even completely pay your RV’ing costs as you traverse the country (sounds like a doable niche in itself to me) ? I’m a retired programmer and on SS now, but would like the security of knowing I wasn’t completely dependent on SS while travelling. I love your site, BTW. Thanks – Bob
Hi, I came across your blog and have so many questions for you! I think its amazing that your living in an RV with a kid and lately have been thinking how amazing the simple life would be to do that myself! I have two little ones, ages 4 and 2 and want to know what the real cost is for buying an RV, what do real monthly payments look like for you, water, gas, electric, RV site rental or camp ground? How did you get a custom RV or where? What about kids schooling? I would like to stay where we are state and city wise but want a more affordable option for living. Do you have a post where you address all these questions? I would truly love to hear more about this! Thanks
When asked what advice she’d give to anyone considering RVing full-time, she mentions the word balance. In the life of a full-time RVer, balance means a number of things. It means researching and planning, but it also means driving west with no other goal than to see the surf of the Pacific. It means camping in cities and drinking beer in crowded breweries, but it also means spending weeks alone in Montana, camping on the outskirts of Glacier National Park amongst the fields of beargrass and turquoise lakes. Mostly, it means embracing a life defined by travel, even if other real-world problems like finding a doctor and sticking to a budget do arise.
9. Technological connections can be very important. This is especially true if you are leaving behind friends or family that you really want to stay in touch with. Luckily, WiFi is becoming more and more prevalent all around the country, so it’s never been easier to connect. There are many other options to consider as well, including getting your very own wifi hotspot to carry with you. Many full time RVers also have satellite dishes hardwired right into their rig for easy access. Another important topic to research before deciding to leave, so you don’t wind up being stuck with no way to connect.
We were city dwellers before heading out on this never-ending trip. We drove daily to work in big cities like Dallas and the area around New York City (for her part, Kerensa will readily admit she took public transportation daily in NYC and was already out of practice). Doing it in a car is one thing, but in a motorhome is an altogether different experience. Cars tend to zip around you and most people don't realize how long it takes for an RV to stop. It can be a little nervewracking. To combat this, we try to avoid rush hour and may take alternate routes. PSA: Don't cut off an RV in traffic. You may think you're jumping ahead, but you may be dooming yourself to being rear-ended by something 5 times your size.
27. The RV lifestyle reinforces not living a “comfortable life.” Things are always breaking, life is hectic, and you always have a GPS running cause you never know where you are. It helps you grow as a person, like when the slides on your RV won’t let you reach all of your underwear or the tow car nearly crushes you to death, all in a 24-hour period.
This includes both truck and full-time RV insurance for our 5th wheel trailer. We pay it annually, but the monthly cost is shown. If we had kept our Arizona home address, this line item would have been twice as much. There is more detailed info on the selection of a domicile (home address) and the implications that choice has on your vehicle insurance in the fulltiming section.
Connectivity is a big topic for full time travel, and we’ve managed to keep ours down. We used cheap pre-paid cell phone plans and use older phones. We are on cheap 15GB/month Total Wireless from Walmart for our phones and were able to get our hands on a AT&T Mobley this past summer (now unavailable) that keeps our internet cost down. Total we spend less than $100/month on this category.
It’s hard to make a “firm” assessment on the size issue. A lot of times it depends on where you camp. For example State Parks in CA are notoriously old/small and being 40-foot or larger rules out almost 85% of them. Same thing in the National Forest campsites in the CO mountains (we’ve camped there, but it’s often a struggle to find sites that fit us). On the other hand State Parks in CO are usually quite spacious as are State Parks in OR (we’ve been able to take our 40-footer just about everywhere in OR) and throughout the Mid-West. Also if you like boondocking smaller is always better. So, just depends.
Boy, do I know just what you are talking about, been there done that! We did just what you two are doing in Alaska. We bought property, cleared an area for driveway and cabin, then built the shell of the cabin – all while living in a 21 ft RV over a 2 yr period. But life threw us a curve, and we became full time caretakers of my in-laws….in Oregon. When we started over again, we knew what floor plan to look for. The 2nd RV was 36 ft with a 12 ft slide-out and a separate bedroom with a folding door, big difference. As we bought it 2nd hand, it needed a little work. Yes, the cushions and mattress upgrade is a must for full-time living. And again….life threw a curve. I am in Nevada now with the 2nd RV and have not given up on the dream completely. Still looking for the right piece of land to accomplish the goal. I so enjoy watching your videos and reading your posts about your progress. Brings back good memories of better times, thank you.
Hey Timmy. Thanks for the article. I moved in a 1954 Fleet Aire slide in pkup camper mounted on a 1978 GMC 4 by 4 last summer and put in my first Mt. winter. Did really we all things considered. Got to do some upgrades though. New thermal pane windows top the list, along with better insulation along the bottom side of the camper. My outfit is strictly run off of propane which mostly is good, although I do wish I could put in a wood stove – but no room. My heat source is a Little Buddy catalitic heater, and it kept up very well at 25 below with a strong wind. And yes, condensation is also my biggest problem.
Capital depreciation is an important consideration because the years go by and you eventually pay for the value in your RV that has been lost over time. That shouldn’t keep you from getting a brand new rig if you can afford it, but it does have to be part of the overall financial assessment of the costs of going full-time. You can see the rigs we chose here. I’ve written an outline of things to take into account when choosing an RV for full-timing here. I recommend starting with a cheap and small RV to practice and learn on here. I’ve got some notes about the thing I think is most important in a full-time RV — the carrying capacity — here.
Now… we aren’t full time RV living like most people – we are completely stationary and have no intentions of touring around the United States in our RV! That said, if that’s what you ARE interested, here are some quality blogs, YouTube channels and Facebook groups of folks that are doing such thing… hopefully they’ll be a great additional source of inspiration to you!
I am the author of two RV books, one of which is published by Woodalls and hundreds of RV articles. My husband and I have been fulltiming for ten years. I have to say that this is the best article that I have EVER read on full-timing. We have come to the same conclusions that you have…even after 10 years. Great job! I will be sharing with my group of 5000+ Rvers.
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.
Hi-just wanted to update here for some real experience and family life. First, THANK YOU MERISSA for your invaluable advice on the choice of camper. We chose a 29′ fifth wheel-1990 model. We have a 14 and 17 year old with us. We have been here for over a month now in our camper and couldnt be happier. We camped for months on end before so the teens were used to it but I can safely say my 17 year old was not too thrilled at first. Over the past weeks however, we have actually gotten him to say that he has adjusted and is really happy here. We are in Fl so the days are perfect really while the nights are still fairly cool. We have used our heat occasionaly but prefer to bundle with blankets if we need to. Downsizing was a little difficult for a few items but actually all of us did fine. There is also plenty of storage room in this camper. The kids, whom lived in theirs rooms on x box or with cable, or both, are now together without problems most of the day and much, much less fighting (mostly about items they had anyhow….). My daughter has been home schooled so this is no change while my son has been enrolled in the local high school. He has recently, however switched half of his classes to at home online with the school (an option here) and only attends now part time. He drives himself now so it is simple. He actually did this because he began to enjoy more time here with us at the camper. Much else has changed and wanted to really put out there. I am in my mid forties- I have suffered severe migraines for the past 6 years now. My husband and I noticed when we were camping last year that they were more manageable. I was getting to be completely unable to function without days of crying and constant pain. The kids didnt have a great mom for that. Stress was another large factor, even maintenance of the house besides costs.Cleaning on top of that was just so stressful as I am leaning on OCD as a personality. I dont know which helped but I am almost certain it is being able to keep air flowing, even in the bedroom. My migraines are less frequent and when they hit I can manage them so much better. I have not slept this well in years in all honesty. I am better for the kids and we are able to do more as a family. At the house I would try to make a day to force seeing each other at least once a week. My very great kids would look forward to it and then I would be down with a migraine and not even nice to be around. We play games together a lot (our christmas was gifts for the camper such as boardgames, karaoke machine, new thick roll up comforters, more pjs and activities with books) and they read more. We do have internet but opted to not have cable. Ours comes off of a dish so that we can move next year without being tied to this spot. There are also other very nice rv parks around here within a few miles and we would like to be free to do that. Our plans have solidified more this past month; we would like to travel more when our son graduates. He would like to go to NY state next year so we are planning to head there for the nicer months. I do work now and we do get monthly rental payments from renting the house out. We would like to follow parks that need local help as part time work to add to savings but it’s not something that is a necessity for us; our expenses are much lower now for sure and we are able to save for the first time in a very long time. No taxes to pay anymore (our yearly taxes on our house actually could pay half of the monthly rent we pay here yearly including our utilities). The downside is you have to be more patient with everything; I have a 30 second rule with the kids, putting something back or washing one of our 5 plates, 5 bowls, 5 cups etc, takes 30 seconds, opening a cupboard or putting something back under your bed takes this time or less. It has worked for all of us so there is minimal cleaning now. I have help for the first time in ages as well! My son is actually saying he is happy to have a nerdy but great mom and pop (smile) and they are both now happy with the smaller things (a barbecue, extra weekly ice cream, a walk to the state park, even a new local baseball hat or even a dvd for the family we can watch together). I am very proud of my kids really. While this cant work for everyone it has been fantastic for us. I am better for my family and they are happy for that; couldnt be more proud of them. Our homeschool schedule is very strict right now and we spend a lot of time at the local library as well. I am in one area but can say for anyone travelling that anywhere you visit for some months, there is a library close enough with guest passes that can be used. Some have options even for a local monthly card for guests that will expire 30 days from the date purchased. It is very inexpensive. We have a state forest pass that will get us into any park here in Fl; there are many other memberships that can be used for full time on the road rvers. We do laundry at the local laundromat once a week-cost runs 5 to $7 depending. We have our showers here in the camper and they are not long-also not every day but every other day on a schedule. The space really is not a problem with the bunks (something I now tell anyone to get with or without kids if they want space or some privacy. This was the largest concern for my son but, with the curtain he feels he can go there for privacy). We are planning to take out the sofa and put a daybed there for my daughter then add curtains along the divider of the slideouts for night privacy. There is a shelf and other areas she puts her books and stuffed toys there behind where she sleeps so she is very happy.
We both identify as introverts and only keep a few close friends. But living in an RV has made us more social than ever. We are usually up for any kind of RVer meet-up and we've made so many friends this way. Connections are made quick, but deep. Never before have we felt such a strong sense of community while living in a fixed location. We keep up with our friends digitally when not together, but we will go out of our way to meet-up when possible. We plan gatherings in the winter and try to attend Xscapers convergences when we'll be in the area. We have more friends in our circle now than all our years before! We wrote more about how we stay in touch in Staying Social on the Road.