Once we retire, my wife and I are planning on spending winters (at least) heading south from Chicago in an RV for maybe 3 months at a time. I’m an over-researcher according to her, but also an accountant. 🙂 I’d love to play with your budgeting worksheet. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link on your website. Is there a specific page where I can find it?
Many people think you have to make a lot of money to travel full-time, but that’s not the case. In fact, full-time RVing can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. It can all depend on the type and year of the RV you purchase, how often you travel, where you park, and the activities you do in the places you visit. But, here’s a general idea of items you can expect to pay for each month if you choose the full-time RV lifestyle.
Great article to read as we are well into our first Canadian winter in our 1991 21ft Toyota Winnebago- “ourmoonwarrior”. Many helpful hints we can use! Unfortunately the costs associated with propane heaters are too expensive for us and the electric heaters are not an option as we rarely have power hookup. We installed a small wood burning stove with a chimney out the roof to keep warm in the recent -40(Celsius) temperatures!
Hey there! We are Kelan & Brittany, high school sweethearts obsessed with personal finance and on a mission to help families learn how to budget their money, save like crazy, and find unique ways to make money from home. After Kelan quit his job to become a full-time personal finance blogger we have been featured on sites like USA Today, The Penny Hoarder, Bankrate, Credit Cards, Discover, Nerd Wallet, Rockstar Finance, Life Lock, Making Sense of Cents, Millennial Money Man, and many more.
The Boohers wanted to show their kids more of America and get closer as a family. Accumulating stuff stopped mattering to them. Instead, they wanted to accumulate experiences. Miranda teaches the kids and is a coach for a Christian organization called Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) that helps bring moms of young children together for support and fellowship. The Boohers get plugged into a church wherever they go and find lots of activities for the kids between church and the campsites. Teddy and Amy, 7, are eager to show off the Macarena dance skills they picked up at a recent kids party at a campsite.
So, we take our $7200 and leave on our new life of freedom until we need more money. Then, we choose a place we want to be for a while, stop there, and get a job paying as much as we can, but at least $7 per hour . For that month we take home about $1000. We spend half of that to live on, and now have $500 in savings. Actually, we should have more since we won’t be driving much (some of us will ride our bike, scooter or motorcycle which we are carrying on a bike rack or trailer). So we can take that $500 and are off again. Or we can spend several months at one place and then travel several months. Maybe you like to ski so you spend three months at a ski resort working and skiing on the weekends. Then you have the next three months off to do whatever and go wherever you want. When you need to work again, you drive up to Glacier National Park and get a job there doing dishes at the resort. You spend your summer weekends hiking and taking pictures. Three months later, you are free again. Or maybe you are a history buff. So you drive to Gettysburg and get a job there. You spend your weekends exploring the Amish country and Philadelphia. You then go to New England to photograph the fall colors and spend a month exploring Washington DC. When you need to work again you drive to Orlando or Miami, get a job, and explore Florida. If you are adventurous you can work your way down to a beach resort in Mexico where you work for the next three months and surf, fish and snorkel on your weekends. Working in the tourist industry you probably double your wage in tips and living in Mexico is very cheap so you save even more than usual. Now you can take the next six months off in the U.S., or maybe nine months off in Mexico. You keep doing this to your heart’s content!
If you are planning to work camp in exchange for an RV campsite, or if you will be working part-time jobs as you travel, or working via the internet from your RV, your choice of overnight parking spots may be based more on your job’s requirements than on the whims of your travel interests, and your camping costs and the kind of work you do will subsequently be tightly linked.
planned to try it out for a year, but we fell in love. (Read how it all started here.) Like all matters of the heart, what works for one person might not be the best situation for the next. RV living definitely isn’t for everyone, but if it piques your interest at all (I’m guessing it must or you wouldn’t be here), please keep reading our pros and cons of living full-time in 35 ft RV with three kids.
Very true, Eddie! Except when they don’t, also. But I agree that even with giant housing crashes like we’ve been dealing with the for the past ten years now, eventually home values go up. You can sell when you’re done, though you’re likely not going to get $1000 x 12 months x 30 years in profit (is your $300,000 house today going to be worth $660,000 in 30 years)?
If you’ve got the girl, what sounds like a relatively compatible possible future career path, and are willing to live minimally, this could certainly all work out for you. Getting a vanagon in Alabama or somewhere in the south would be likely cheaper, but your options will be much more vast in Washington and Oregon. Just watch for rust, the ocean isn’t kind to these old girls.
As I said before, our monthly lodging expense is 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 (THANK YOU!! We love you all!). 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 (perk from dealer), and 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, which brought our average cost per night staying at these (mostly) full hookup sites for less than $6/night.
Regular shower and/or bathroom: At first, a small bathroom seems just fine – until you've been in there a few times. The walls close in. The shower is smaller than most broom closets. Your elbows will touch both sides, as will a lot of the rest of your body at certain times. While it's totally doable to take a shower and still feel like you are OK to go out in public, it's certainly not luxurious.
The Wildcat also has you covered in the features department, having some pretty impressive offerings ranging from a booth dinette to dual marine-grade outdoor stereo speakers. Of course, all of these are just the ones present in the vanilla version. Those looking to change a few features here and there can consider a myriad of upgrade options available such as a 2nd 13,500 BTU air conditioner and a king size bed!
This category includes all the tools and supplies we use to keep the rig in good shape. Mark loves to try new products and has a growing collection of tools in his toolbox. Before we left, he made the mistake of selling almost all of his tools. If you are handy and can work on your rig, don’t make that mistake too! He tried to “make do” with the bare minimum of tools for the first year, which is why this category didn’t used to exist for us, but now he regularly buys little goodies that make his maintenance tasks easier.
Foldable Vases – Inexpensive and perfect for RVing, a foldable vase makes a great gift for your favorite RVer. Foldable vases allow you to bring the outdoors in without taking up space or adding weight. On top of that, they are unbreakable which is always good when your RV basically experiences a mini earthquake every time you move it. They come in multi-packs and as singles. The first time I saw one was when a friend brought me one as a hostess gift and I have been hooked since!
If you drove 12,000 miles / year, getting 7 mpg, which is pretty likely with a Class C or truck/trailer combo, I believe that would put you at around $500 / month in gas. Of course, this is the one area you have the most control over, because you can certainly drive less than that if you’d like. It all depends on how much commuting you do (drives to town for groceries, sightseeing, etc. still happen) and how far you travel each month.
Anyone considering the purchase of their first RV, in my humble opinion, should spend the least amount possible. They should make a cash purchase with an allotment for repairs and upgrades. Start small! You can always work up when you have a greater understanding for how you’ll use your RV and what your RVing needs will be. While it’s fun to shop the newest, largest models, there is a definite learning curve when you launch your RV adventures, so start cheap, start small, and enjoy the journey.
I’ll never regret our four years of full time RVing. The education and life experiences the boys received are priceless. The memories are too numerous to count. Our relationships grew in so many ways. We squeezed every last delicious drop out of full time RVing. So far they have been the best four years of our life but I’m hopeful we will seek out new adventures and the lessons we learned we will carry into our new chapter.
This is an important budget item. In our third year of fulltiming, we had huge repair expenses including the clutch and air conditioning going out in our tow car (2 year old Forester that just had engine replaced by Subaru because of oil consumption issues). We seem to go through tires quickly on the Subaru too even though we are religious about rotations and alignments. Our RV steps cost over $600 to get repaired (three different places over 2 states). We also had to have a $300 repair on the propane heater. Our Tiffen motorhome is 15 years old, has undergone major refurbishment and in great shape but you have to expect repairs, just like in an older home. Better than having a “house” payment to us. Our motto has become “Expect the unexpected”. If you are lucky and don’t have any problems, enjoy the “bonus” at the end of the year.
$1,600 Insurance – Covers the following: RV, Smart Car, SAAB SUV (we won this for Best of the Road, but it sold in July so we don’t have to pay insurance anymore), Renters Insurance Policy for general coverage, jewelry policy, rider for camera equipment, and probably some other stuff too. This also covers the yearly fee for the AAA RV program and the monthly fee for Chase Identity Protection (although I may cancel this as I spoke with a lawyer who said it’s a load of crap). For those of you wondering if we’ve purchased health insurance: I’m sorry to say we haven’t yet….we still can’t justify it. We have not paid for health insurance in almost 9 years because as self employed adults insurance is a joke and horribly expensive. Why start now? We have a nest egg saved for any medical emergencies.
But there was one more thing I needed: pipe insulation. I wanted to wrap the pipe with the heat tape on it to help keep it warm. I checked out my options and decided on an adhesive wrap. Although it came in 15-foot lengths, I wound up needing 7 rolls of it because it had to go around the pipe. (This, by the way, is also when I learned that when you buy stuff for a home project at a place like Home Depot, always buy more than you think you need. It really sucks to run out of something in the middle of a project and you can always return unused items later. Home Depot has an excellent return policy.)
Relax. Every second of every minute does not need to be planned out to make the most of your vacation. Instead enjoy laying in bed as a family for 2 hours in the morning. Spend hours swimming together in the pool or at the beach. Don’t worry there will still be time to do some activities. Some of the best moments are on the unscheduled and unplanned time you have together as a family.
In a few weeks I’ll be 27 years old, and my husband and I, with our four kids, are on our way to living debt-free. Before I tell you how we are making that happen, you should know what I am not going to share. I am not going to tell you how you can pay off your mortgage in two years, or quit your job and make money online. Our family has done neither of those things, and our journey to financial freedom has not been an easy one. Instead, we are among the rising number of families losing their homes to foreclosure.
Thank you for giving me some ideas. I am interested in going on long trips, and or living in an rv. Of course different lifestyles change the amounts of money. But, do you think a single person, in a realistically priced trailer, with a decent size truck, and doesn’t require a lot of entertainment and food, do you think I could make it? I am but a modest lady wanting to travel some. I appreciate your advice. Thank you.
We really appreciate the transparency you have provided in your blog posts, detailing expenses. We have found it useful for our own budget planning. Such a shame that some people find the need to project their own issues around how and where you spend your money and live your life. I totally understand why you are not sharing that detail anymore, but do appreciate what you are willing to share. I guess if people want more detail they can book an hour chat session with you! Anyway, it’s good to have this awareness as we might think twice about the level of detail we are willing to share in our posts too.
*European type all-year RV’s (like Exploryx/Bocklet/Unicats/Action Mobil//etc, as well as the winter versions of Hymers/Concorde/etc.), will have some or all of three items: a heated fuel pre-filter, a heated airbox, and a diesel engine heater (works down to -40 Celsius). This unclogs/loosens/melts any wax in the diesel lines on the way to the engine.
Anyway, we average about $120 a month in eating out, which is mostly restaurants and Starbucks, not any fast food. From people that I’ve talked to, this is extremely low. Many full-time travelers are super into trying local restaurants when they travel, so they obviously spend a lot more on restaurants. But if you’re moving into an RV to downsize, pay off debt, or build wealth, you’re in control of spending as little eating out as you want. If you’re moving into an RV because you want the full experience of all the places you visit, you’ll drop a few hundred on eating out each month. It’s your call.
My only issue with this article is the title “The real costs” which implies that you are about to tell us that full time RVing is not as cheap as some people might think. Instead you provided your expenses which I would speculate are much higher than the average. As a number of people mentioned your lot rent is perhaps two to three times higher than the typical rent.
4. Be comfortable with minimalist living. If ever there was a lifestyle that demanded a downsizing of material possessions, full time RV living is definitely it. You must be able to decide exactly which clothing items you can’t live without and get rid of the rest. The same goes for furniture, dishes, electronic gadgets, hobby items and a lot more. You could have a yard sale to get rid of the excess. You could sell on eBay or give items away to charity or friends and family. You might even decide that you’re not ready to completely rid yourself of everything and put some items in storage. However, if the latter holds true, then it could be possible that you aren’t truly ready for a full time RV lifestyle.
For the same length I do feel a Class A is more maneuverable than a 5th wheel, but it also depends a bit on the particular model. If you’re serious about boondocking look at clearance & back overhang on your rig. Both can make a huge difference as to how far you can go into the boonies. I think 25-30 is a good size for 5th wheels (decent compromise between living space & maneuverability).
Fuel – Before entering freezing temps make sure to add a Diesel Anti-Gel Supplement. Both Cummins and Freightliner recommend the Power Service brand of anti-gel claiming that it works best. After adding the supplement make sure you drive and run the Generator to get the additive inside the fuel lines. If possible fuel up with a winter blend fuel which can be found at many truck stops during the winter.
Great article, I’m hoping to travel in an RV full-time eventually. In the mean time, I’m still working to support my family and plan for the future. I sell land throughout the western U.S. (those great winter states you mentioned) if anybody wants to own a few acres to park their RV part or full time. See my website, http://www.landparker.com for more details. Thanks!
I drink wine. That and we try to take one day at a time and keep our focus on the fact that we want to deepen our family bond through travel. If a situation isn’t feeling right or if we aren’t getting along we stop to evaluate the situation and work through what is causing the disconnect in our family. Our family has to stay #1 in what we are doing.
hairyleggedjebjeb: Come back and talk to me about it when you've been doing it for more than 50 years (as I have). RVing can be a terrific lifestyle, but to think that it does not involve sacrifice is dreaming. There's plenty of that, and the longer you live this life, the more you will see that this is true. Far too many people jump into it thinking it will be all fun and freedom only to find that, just like anything else, it has its problems. The disappointment this brings often causes people to give it up, so to protect them a bit, I wanted them to see the realities.
Adding only that we also have 2 very beloved and very spoiled chihuahuas as well as a caged rabbit (free run abouts one hour a day in the camper). They are wonderful to have, they love the walks and the air and it is not much more to have pets with you. I have taken out the carpet and we are now redoing the floor to a wood vinyl as well as adding curtains and updating the camper with new wallpaper, etc. We have also added a top area for the cage that the rabbit can be in but out of the way. We had to update some things but this camper was really worth it-keeping anything that can attract more dust and fur out is helping a lot with the pets.
Depending on your RV's design, you may need to take extra steps to protect your fresh water and holding tanks from freezing. In milder climates, where the temperature routinely rises above freezing during the day, you can usually get by with draining your fresh tank and simply keeping both the gray and black tank valves closed until you need to dump them. If it gets down into the single digits at night and rarely rises above freezing during the day, then you will almost have to insulate and/or heat your tanks or use significant amounts of RV antifreeze in them to keep things flowing…. If you are parked for a while, tank insulation for exposed holding tanks can be fabricated from fiberglass insulation and light plywood… just build a small lightweight box around the tank and line it with fiberglass. A small electric light bulb can be used to provide a safe source of heat.
$2,500 Eating Out – Similar to 2011 we find ourselves eating out 2 nice meals per week. This amount also includes the local breweries we purchase beer from and the local coffee roasters we support along the way. This number is a little askew as we’ve had a few of our meals comped or discounted some of the time when the owners find out we’re blogging about them (approx. savings $500).
It’s a part of who he is and who he will be. You can’t tell me growing up and learning to run in sprawling national parks doesn’t leave an impression. We will likely end up in a traditional house again, and our children will likely go back to a traditional school. But travel will remain a priority for us, and we will design our future with that in mind.
People say to me all the time, “But how can I afford to live in a van and travel all the time?” My answer is aways, “How can you afford not to?!” Let me prove to you right off the bat that you can live the free life. Here is a budget showing just how little money you need to live and travel full time. One column is for a $500 a month and the other is for $1,000 a month.
There were also build sheets, diagrams for each fuse box and information on roadside assistance. We referenced all the information many times throughout our first year of RV living. When a fuse goes out at 1a.m., you’ll want to know which fuse box to check. Our first RV had four fuse/breaker boxes and two of them were outside. When it’s pouring rain outside, it’s not fun to run around wondering which breaker box to check.
I was wondering what your thoughts are on a woman (myself) doing this alone? In two years my teenage son will be 18 and my plan is to sell the one bedroom condo we live in and hit the road. You are actually the first site/blog I read when I googled how to rv? I am a very adventurous person and have always wanted to travel. I desperately need so peace and relaxation in my life and love nature. I will continue to research and read your blogs to get as much info as possible. I haven’t even checked pricing yet but I was think buying an rv and living in it and traveling full time makes a lot more sense then putting my money right back in a condo. I want to feel free and I always feel that way when I get out of town. Any advice or direction as to where I should start would be very much appreciated.
I plan on full-timing well into the winter if I am able to. All of this is very valuable information as I will be new at this RV adventure. I’ve been wondering about how to prevent my pipes from freezing. would it be unrealistic just to hook up a hose to the kitchen and bathroom sinks, let the water drip and run the hose back into the freshwater tank?
This comes with the territory as we are always exploring, but there are some places that just sneak up on you. Case in point is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in Wall, South Dakota. We stopped in Wall to see the Badlands and visit Wall Drug, but ended up being blown away by the beauty of the grasslands. We were able to wild camp on the edge of the Badlands for free (thank you USDA Forest Service!) and witnessed some of the most beautiful skies and scenery. This beautiful and peaceful site is easily one of our favorite places we have camped so far!