I ran across your post during my search for RV cost of living. I just recently semi-retired at 48 and was wondering what this lifestyle would cost. I’m always amused (read frustrated) by how many readers make critical comments about other people’s decisions on how to spend their money. “You pay $1100 for space rent? I boondock in a slaughter house parking lot with a view of a brick wall for free!” or “You spend money on fancy craft beer? I only drink grain alcohol mixed with Capri Sun, or I’ve sober since 1989, you need to meet Bill W.” Myself, I want freedom that’s why I chose to change my lifestyle. That said, I like being near a beach. I like “resort” style living with a pool and a jacuzzi. I love eating in great restaurants. I appreciate you breaking this down in a realistic way, its given me some food for thought.
Why we recommend the Coachmen Chaparral fifth wheel: There are few fifth wheels which can offer the level of flexibility within 11 floorplans as the Coachmen Chaparral can. If tow weight is an issue for you due to fifth wheels being on the heavier side, the Chaparral 298RLS has got you covered.  This RV weighs 9575 pounds (dry weight) which is actually quite impressive. Of course, if weight isn’t an issue and you’re having a lot of people living in the same RV, the Chaparral 371MBRB spans 41 feet and can house 11 people in it. Like we said, flexibility!

Great info, We have been agonizing over what size rig to go with for over a year now. We have bounced back and forth between a 40′ Legacy and a 5th wheel but now after reading so many blogs as well as yours, to more than likely go with a Class C Itasca Navion which is 25’8″ and is built on the Sprinter chassis. Your blog really used us over the edge with your hindsight on smaller size. I always thought that a bigger rig would be better but now I am comfortable making that leap with a smaller rig. Thanks for the great info and Go Gators!!! Class of 85′

I was about to say the same thing. 2,500 is way too much. I was hoping with discount plans to be able to hit the road with about $400k, paid for Truck and 5th wheel and spend about $1000 a month. Just leaving the cash in a normal retirement plan which would return about $700 a month (grandpa is on something similar at the moment) and Social Security (if still available) should be a couple hundred more. Figured out of my pocket I would be spending about $300 – $400 of my own money per month. That would last me pretty much forever and a lot left over for nephews and nieces.
In South Dakota, one of the largest mail forwarding services is America’s Mailbox just outside of Rapid City in Box Elder near the Black Hills in the western part of the state. We have the Platinum plan with them and have been absolutely delighted with their service. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail. Mail forwarding providers in South Dakota include:
A suggestions to lower your costs. 1. Passport America 50% camping and/or America the Beautiful Pass. We average about $8-$10 a night camping at these parks, while camping in some of the most beautiful locations. As well as hitting many free camping locations. State parks can be obscenely cheap and nice. 2. Plenty of farmers markets on the east coast, you just have to look for them as many of them are in small towns outside the cities you have traveled to. 3. I forget the name right now, maybe one of the other Rvers can chime in, but there is an alternative to Verizon that uses Verizon infrastructure that gives you unlimited phone and internet. We don’t full time right now so it’s not a concern. 4. Stay longer which lowers your fuel and camping fees. 5. REWARD POINTS, pay with everything with a rewards credit card.
Just as a mortgage might be this is the largest expense we incur. It is also the most important though. The biggest difference is that we don’t pay rent on our land in North Carolina. It is paid for and other than a very small yearly, personal property tax, is little liability. Lot rent is the payment we make to a campground, state park, city park, etc. to park our travel trailer, have access to water, electricity, and (more times than not) sewage, and parking for our truck. Most spots we choose also come with room for our daughter to play, us to have a small patio area, WiFi, and access to a number of campground amenities including a swimming pool, jacuzzi, shuffleboard, basketball court, playground, etc. So unlike personal home rent or mortgage payments our lot rent gives us exposure to a community of people who are like minded and love to live life to the fullest!
Boondocking is basically camping at free spots without hook-ups. Several State Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) locations have free dispersed camping. Typically, you can stay in one location for a maximum of 14 days. We have also found a few state parks have free campsites. While this option is free, you do have to find and pay for dump stations.

When you live in an RV, you adopt a mantra: one in, one out. There just isn’t the room to collect things. We started paring down our collection of stuff in preparation for living in an RV, but once you're in it, the lack of extra storage space really helps to curtail any retail therapy you may employ. The fact that we no longer watch much TV and even fewer commercials means we're not as bombarded by messaging to buy, buy, buy and have less impulse to go shopping. We now collect memories and sunsets with a few smashed pennies and stickers thrown in for good measure.
My wife and I enjoyed your website originally as a passing entertainment phenomenon. Then we decided it made a lot of sense for us. We are in our late 60’s, have a huge old house filled with antiques that the kids either don’t want or cannot handle. So we are following your suggestion. We are selling it all ourselves; dividing the spoils, and buying an Excursion (a light color combination we think) then hitting the road.
Note that the cheaper you go, the more likely you’ll need to put work into it. You’ll want to get the Bentley Guide to Vanagons which will give you a good amount of the info you need to work on it yourself. It will break down, eventually, and maybe often, depending on how well cared for it was in the past and how well you continue to care for it. Our 78 Bus requires near daily attention, though certainly other people get better rigs and don’t have quite so much work on their hands.
Some like the national parks offer you not only all the hook ups which include water/sewer/ele/free fills for your propane, but also pay you for every hour you work, and the national parks like workampers to ‘work’. Not hard or back breaking but they like you to work 4 or 5 days a week. It’s fun though. You can learn to be an interpreter and give trail walks with the public and explain the park and it’s historical significance, or if they have horses and you have experience with them they may put you in the equine area and you groom or saddle up horses or even end up leading or trailing the horse ride.
Even for the rare folks who RV full-time with unlimited cash, getting by on less money becomes ingrained in the RV lifestyle. Tracking spending and working from a budget becomes second nature on the road. Before you head out get in the habit of logging daily spending on everything to learn where money goes. And check in with experienced RVers for advice – and get ready to write down ideas fast because every RVer has favorite tips to stretch dollars on the road.
If you’re looking for physical jobs some Workamping positions do offer pay (check out Workampers.com), plus there are seasonal jobs such as Amazon and See’s Candy (both hire seasonally for Christmas), gate keeping (in Texas for oil companies), and the Dakota Beet Harvest (in late fall). We also know folks who work at fairs or sell their wares at markets.
On our current Class A motorhome, we spend an average of about $600.00 per year on maintenance, but that is because I do a lot of the routine maintenance and repairs myself. Annual maintenance on an RV varies by type. A Class A or C motorhome will cost more annually than a Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer, because they have engines to maintain. But even with the trailers, you have to include the maintenance cost of your tow vehicle.
Thanks for your kind words Ree! Our goal with our writing/blog is to show the real deal and let people know it isn’t a full time vacation but is still life – with all the ups and downs. That is awesome to hear that you already live in a small house and have the RV! Yes – having a strong why is key to making your dreams a reality. On the other hand it may never be 100% defined so don’t wait for that – just go for it – and figure the rest out on the way. Happy Travels!
For example if you’re buying an older RV, you’ll want to plan for some initial $$ to fix the things that will undoubtedly need to be fixed before you can get on the road (e.g. new tires? oil changes? new hoses? new suspension? broken appliances?). Also you’ll want to buy some basic stuff (e.g. sewer hose, camping chairs, surge protector, TPMS) to set yourself up for starting on the road. Lastly, if you plan to do some upgrades (e.g. buy a cellular booster, install a solar system) you’ll want to plan for those too. These one-time expenses can easily cost $5,000-$20,000 depending on what the condition of your rig is and what you’re planning to do. Some of of them (e.g. upgrades) will likely spread across multiple years too, so include some extra $$ for these in your yearly plan as well.
Although some people cover their windows with Reflectix, I have to have light in winter, so last year we covered our windows with a combination of bubble wrap and shrink plastic, and this year I made storm windows out of plexiglass and removable Velcro covers for the screens from clear vinyl.  I wrote a separate blog post about my experiences with various cold weather window protection methods; you can read it here.
Great article! We have 2 young boys (4 and 8 month) and we are strongly considering this full-time. Working in a downtown setting feels like my soul is being sucked out of me everyday. We were originally inspired by the documentary Surfwise. Must be great to sit around a fire every night or lay under the stars with your kids instead of staring at a TV. Im in the middle of launching 2 online businesses and planning on quitting job in July. Maybe we’ll see you out there!
That’s a pretty big size nut for living in an RV. $1100 for the month for lot rent seems rather against the tenets of tiny house living which seeks to reduce your overhead. Throw in laundry and utils cost and you’re about $1300/month. I can lease a darn nice house around here for a lot less. One other thing I’m confused about is you say you pay $600/year for auto/trailer insurance and then your monthly budget is $196. That doesn’t add up.
State Income Tax – Texas doesn’t have State income taxes. There are other states out there like South Dakota, Florida, and others that many RV’ers claim residence to save on insurance, income tax, and vehicle registration. We are actually from Texas so I cannot help you with this info, but I do know there are several locations to find it…you can start with searching the escapees program.

As a budget figure, if you are a future full-timer, and you are excited by the $0 figure here, and you plan to boondock a lot but haven’t don’t it much yet, include a “slush” camping fee figure of $350 per month in your budget until you find out if you really like it. Some folks plan to “free camp” all the time but find it isn’t practical for their lifestyle once they hit the road.
Curtis, thanks for the tips. We don’t spend much on campgrounds now and have not signed up for Passport America becuase the campgrounds have not been on our route yet. And we do shop at farmers markets frequently and love them! We have been looking into some alternatives for phone plans. If you run across something that looks great, let us know. And as for the reward points we use the heck out of those things! We agree they are super awesome and we almost never pay cash for anything.

I can go on for hours, but ultimately I can’t wrap my head around the fact I am going to pay rent for another year and get nothing in return in the long run. It seems like a waste of money. What are your thoughts? Is it possible to find a van in that state? Any aspect of van dwelling that you think might not mix well with the college environment? Am I a crazy 21 year old with far off ambitions?
Our situation is fairly unique (I think) because I work away from my family for 2 weeks and then i’m back with them for two weeks. I work in northern Alberta ( we are Canadian) and for the 6 really cold month of winter we could be anywhere in the US or Canada. For the 6 not so cold months she wants to set up camp in northern Alberta. near where I work. Our family is very concerned for the safety of my wife and kids while I am gone away at work for two weeks. do you have any advice on this or know any other fulltime families that have a similar situation?
Groceries – This figure can vary based on location as the cost of living fluctuates by region and if you are near metropolitan areas or tourist attractions. In addition, taxes can vary. Note: You may choose to put household items like cleaners, shampoo, dish soap, etc. as a separate line item. Since we purchase them with our groceries, we just include them here.
From our research Verizon is the only network that offers such great coverage across the USA. There are 1 or 2 other budget pay as you go plans that sometimes share Verizon’s network however the speeds are throttled back for those customers (i.e. the cheap phone plans you buy at Wal-Mart, Target, etc). We’ve made it work for 2 years now, and let’s just say we’re happy to be joining the rest of the 4G world.
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
Enjoy your thoughts and insight. BUT…..(yes, I’m a BUT gal), you obviously have plenty of finances w/cushion should you have unexpected expenses on the road. It is not so “go for it” when one is a BABYBOOMER, widowed Gal, whose main income is Social Security ($1500). It gets tricky. I’ve lived from Tokyo to Stockholm and all over the USA. Full timed a while crossing the country 12 times. Currently stuck in South Texas and loathe it. (formerly resided in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Miami, Honolulu, Tokyo and Palm Springs – the total opposite of anything in Texas. It’s a long sstory.) So, tell me where should I begin? I’m thinking New Mexico or north Arizona. Avoid DRUG TRAFFIC is an obvious concern; yet, too isolated places are risky ALONE for a petite gal. Not interested in mid-west/east coast: been there done that. Need SUN. That limits much of the US. Any advice or introspection welcome. Guess it’s a future choice of in the “rocking chair or on the road”.
Okay, so I hope that in Part One I convinced you that you want a site with a sewer hook up.  Now, about that hook up, you want to keep the dump valve closed until you have at least three-quarters of a tank so that you get a clean dump.  You need the force of moving liquid to move the solids.  That's as nice a way of saying as I could think of.  .  It is critical that the sewer hose has a constant decline to the sewer.  If it does not have enough of a drop, waste will collect and freeze in the hose.  Many people (myself included) run the hose into or through a PVC pipe to make sure that there is no ‘sag’ in the line.  Other folks use a section of rain gutter as a bridge that holds the hose.  Either of these systems will work.
Luckily, Birgit & Greg, whose site we're using, were nice enough to let us tap into their super-size external propane tank (we'll be paying for the propane we use, of course). So propane shouldn't be a problem, but we'll still want to keep our usage to a minimum, since it's expensive, and propane use can cause excess moisture to build up in the rig.
I believe the owners told me everything they new about the RV and weren’t trying to pull the wool over my eyes in any way. They just didn’t know. They only drove it a few hundred miles a couple times a year and  probably figured they didn’t need to do a bunch of maintenance on it.   Had I known ahead of time all that it needed, I could have offered less or continued looking. – Lesson learned.

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. I'd suggest checking out Mr. Money Mustache for some good financial tips and tricks if you're really looking to make some changes in your pocketbook. 

That said, it is not for everyone. We have met very few full-time RVers who boondock as much as we do. Most people who enjoy boondocking, or “free camping,” do it from 25% to 75% of the time, at most. For full-timers who work, it is hard to find a boondocking location near most jobs, and you have to pack up and go to the RV dump station every 10 days to 2 weeks, disrupting your life. Even if your work is location independent, and you work out of your RV, finding good boondocking locations that have adequate internet access to do that is not easy. During the summer of 2014 we spent 5 weeks camping in places that were 10 miles or more from the nearest internet access.


Heat pads and ceramic heaters: Heat pads are a great way to directly heat your holding tanks and keep them from freezing. Holiday Rv sells heat pads that can run off 12volt or 110volt electricity. These heat pads can be glued to your tanks to secure them in place. Another great idea is to put a small ceramic heater under your trailer in the skirted in area, this will take the chill off the floor in your trailer because heat rises!
Since we rarely move more than two or three times a year, we are huge fans of plywood skirting, most of which we can pick up for next to nothing at building sites and dumps. We tape fiberglass panels, sealed in Mylar. to the wood and it works extremely well. We haven’t found we’ve needed any additional heating under the rig, but then we don’t leave a lot of space for air to accumulate.

These were all things we did before we hit the road. But the costs are different now – as we’re frequently finding out about events fairly last minute and sometimes paying late entry rates and sometimes able to pay less for a last minute ticket to an unsold out event. And, sometimes we end up needing to forfeit event fees that we had to sign up for in advance, but routing plans changing to make it unrealistic to attend. Be sure to know the ticket transfer/re-sell policy before you buy.
Very informative site, thank you for all the work putting it together. My wife and I have a small rv and are intending traveling from Fl. to the Jackson Hole/Yellowstone area and would like to know how much hard cash we should carry. We are not trying to skimp, we don’t need to(thank God) and besides we want to enjoy ourselves, but feel we should have some cash with us but not too much.
Even though our current income is more than what unemployment insurance pays, that experience helped to change my attitude and taught me how to be content with what I had. I decided I had a choice – since I couldn’t change how much money we had I could be thankful for what we did have and be creative in learning how to manage, or I could become depressed and have a sour attitude about life in general. The choice seemed clear.

Lovely to “meet” you on the blog! You know regarding safety the *only* time I’ve ever felt even close to unsafe is in the center of big cities. We had one incident (in San Antonio) a few years back that sent us running, but other than that I’ve never felt unsafe. Whenever we’re in smaller cities or the boonies I’ve always felt perfectly fine. So, I guess I’d recommend getting out of the bigger spots and into some more rural areas…more space for the boys too?
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The most popular inexpensive campground membership is offered by Passport America. They charge an annual fee of $44 ($79 for 2 years, $399 for lifetime) and offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the 1,900 member RV parks. Another similar membership program is Happy Camper which costs $40 per year and also offers 50% off at their 1,200 member RV parks.
I’m a little late to be answering this, but you are so right about the floor plan needing to be functional with the slides in. We were careful about that when we bought our 5er, because we had lived in a short Class C for a year and knew what we wanted. Some of the floor plans look great with the slides out, but then you can’t get to the fridge or bathroom with the slides in, especially the kitchen island set-ups. Our fifth wheel may be a little cramped with the slides retracted, but it is completely usable.
Over the past few years we’ve received too many questions and demands from rude people in regards to our spending; so this will likely be the last time we post any business expenses or personal expenses that are not related to RV Travel. Our monthly expenses seem to be pretty similar so if you need to know our expenses in more detail scroll down to the toggles for 2013 and older.Below is a breakdown of our travel costs and expenses from January 01, 2014 to March 28, 2014. In future Full Time RV Expense posts you’ll only see these categories.
Our situation is fairly unique (I think) because I work away from my family for 2 weeks and then i’m back with them for two weeks. I work in northern Alberta ( we are Canadian) and for the 6 really cold month of winter we could be anywhere in the US or Canada. For the 6 not so cold months she wants to set up camp in northern Alberta. near where I work. Our family is very concerned for the safety of my wife and kids while I am gone away at work for two weeks. do you have any advice on this or know any other fulltime families that have a similar situation?
You got it, those should be included in everyone’s budget, but there are a ton of variables. Some people go for a trailer or van they pick up for $1000 while others could go for a brand new motorhome at $300K. No matter what our expenses are, yours will be different. We decided to share our general monthly expenses to help others. If you think its gibberish (poo on you), fine but there are plenty of others who appreciate the information.
I need your advice if you don’t mind. My wife and I saved about $25k and we thinking about quit the jobs and travel around US next year. We thinking about buying an used trailer and a reliable (used) truck to tow. I want to buy (used)class C rv and a (used)small car but we have limited budget. What will be the best choice for us you think? Thanks for your help in advance!

* Safety: Do not make alterations or heat an RV in any way that could create a safety hazard. This includes using unvented heaters, such as space heaters or the gas stove/oven, in the living space. Unvented combustion heaters produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal, and almost ½ gallon of water per gallon of fuel. Any heaters that burn a fuel source inside the living compartment must be vented properly to remove poisonous gases. Make sure to have a fire extinguisher and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.


First of all, I had to do a lot of research to better understand the difference between fifth wheels, motorhomes, truck campers, pull-behinds, etc. Ultimately, we made our choice on motorhome because we liked the idea of having our vehicle and home be all in one. We enjoy being able to walk to the back and use the restroom or make food, without having to leave our vehicle while we’re traveling.
I’ve been traveling since then, staying exclusively at spots where I can spend the night for free — Walmart parking lots for the most part. They have all welcomed me warmly when I ask at customer service if RVs are allowed to spend the night. It helps that I use a smartphone app to find Walmarts that do allow you to stay ahead of time, but I always confirm when I get there regardless.
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