$648 Miscellaneous – Magazines for the Nook ($25), Stock Music for videos ($70), Shipping charges for mailing random stuff ($72 – Don’t ask me what I mailed, but it added up), Movie Theater *we went to 2 movies in 5 months ($24), Home Improvement Stores ($173), REI Outdoor specialty items ($63), Parking and Tolls ($85), half day boat rental for the family in Lake Havasu ($136). Also I’ve stopped putting propane as a line item since we really don’t spend much on this; in fact we didn’t even fill our propane in this 5 month period.


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?


2017 Update – TOTALLY still agree with this. Although we’ve gotten used to our “beastly” size I still wish we were a tad smaller and we (still) dream about downsizing. 95% of our camping is on public land and if we were smaller and more nimble we’d have many more options open to us, especially for boondocking. 35-feet would be nice, 30-feet would be even sweeter, but hey we make do. Maybe one day….
$1264 Dining Out It’s beautiful to go back through and see where we spent our money eating out. The only chain is Chipotle which we ate at 4 times this quarter. The rest is made up of coffee shops, small restaurants, and different breweries. Of course this number is skewed a bit as 10% of these expenses likely belong in the grocery category because we purchase whole bean coffee and specialty beers from many of the coffee shops and breweries we visit.

I think school bus conversions are awesome! But, I’d just mention that you should decide what kind of life you want to have – one where you work to make money to pay for your RV’s monthly installments, and get one that’s in good enough shape that you don’t have to constantly be working on it, or a life where you can work less because you buy a cheaper / older rig, work on it yourself, but will likely work on it a LOT more often than a newer one. I have always chosen to work on cheaper things myself, but it’s a personal choice. Sounds like an exciting time in life for you, James!
Besides, since I’d been living in the mobile mansion full-time since the beginning of June, it had become my home, my space. Bought to house two people, a mid-sized dog, and a parrot, it was amazingly comfortable for one person and a tiny dog. After dealing with seemingly countless delays, I’d finally moved it to the piece of land I’d been dreaming about for over a year. I was in my home, on my home. I was loath to give that up, even for a few months.
When we started out we spent around $4,500 on initial start-up $$. That covered tow modifications, new sewer hose, extra water hoses, surge protector and power cords (30 to 50A cable, plus a 30A extension cable), Lynx leveling blocks, wheel covers, camping chairs and tables, outdoor grill and mat. We also spent smaller $ on various cheap plastic storage bins (for sorting our stuff in the downstairs bins). We didn’t initially buy a TPMS system, but that’s something I’d recommend for folks today and does add around another ~$500 to the total. All these start-up costs were easily covered by selling furniture and various “stuff” from our house.
If we really wanted to cut back to a minimalist lifestyle we could probably manage early retirement at this point. Instead, since we love what we do – we’ve opted to work a while longer and be a bit indulgent (like pursuing our boating dreams). Because life is short and we have a lot of things we want to do!   So, a lot of our income goes into a discretionary spending account for adventures, upgrades and fun. When that fund builds up, we go on a little spending spree.
I have homeschooled for a few years, and some of these things are already true for us (particularly the showing, dressing, and 24/7 with each other). But the others I am excited for for our own future. We have our house on the market, and are down to 2 travel trailers we may purchase. Reading your posts has made me even more excited to get started!

Make meal preparation a new shared activity. Shop local farmers markets for fresh in-season options, try new foods, and share meal preparation with campground neighbors. Cooked-by-you means healthier eating because you control the ingredients. Dining out is fun and convenient, but to save money, making your own meals will be the best decision for your budget.


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.

For toys/kids stuff we are building a special area for his clothing. Baby things are hard to hang up so I’d rather have drawers. Toys will have one area in the camper. That way it’s all contained in one spot, we can have minimal things, and there is always a place for the toys to go back to. I also plan on having a special area with learning things. Paper, markers, stickers, any activities that we will do together. We can think of this as our “school drawer.”


As for the budget discretion please note that we differentiate between fixed expenses and monthly expenses. To quote myself: “No matter what month it is the fixed travel costs remain virtually the same. They are primarily what the above budge is based on.” We pay our insurance in full every 6 months. We do not pay monthly so it doesn’t fall into our monthly expense category.

All of these things (and much more) happened to us on the road. We had to learn to be more flexible and, more importantly, to have a sense of humor about the inevitability of mistakes and mishaps. We got there in the end, but if I could go back to my first day, I’d tell myself to lighten up and roll with the punches. You have to learn how to adapt when things don’t go as planned. And, you have to be willing to laugh at the sheer absurdity of this crazy, wonderful life. If you can do that, then you’ll thrive on the road.
Renter’s Insurance provides tenants with a policy that is much like a homeowner’s policy, covering all the items in the home whether the loss occurrs in the home or somewhere else. These can be set up with small deductibles (like $50) that make sense for a $2,000 loss. However, you must be renting a stationary home and you must provide the address of the place you are renting. Unfortunately, your mail forwarding address or a relative’s address don’t count, and using an address where you are not living constitutes insurance fraud.

Then there are state parks, which run sometimes $15 / night, typically closer to $20 / night, and that often includes electric & water, but no sewage at your site (you have to drive over to the dump). They typically have a 2 week max stay at any given park, but are almost always more beautiful than private RV parks, with each site tending to have much more space.
$600 RV Camping – The largest savings compared to our 2011 expenses. The main reason for the change in camping fees: We’ve stayed at several parks that have comped our stay and paid us to shoot a video on their parks. It’s not great money, but it’s saving us money and helping us pay some bills while extending our travels on the road. We haven’t shared many of the campground videos on our site yet, but we’ve just launched a new tab aptly named campgrounds. You’ll find the videos to be pretty happy since we were paid to shoot the parks, but in the text you’ll find our personal take on these RV Resorts (not all the reviews are paid, and we won’t lie and tell you a place is great when clearly it’s a piece of crap). Also we’ve saved lots of money by Driveway Surfing at our follower’s homes; and special thanks to my mom for fitting the bill when she joined us in Montreal Canada.
This obviously depends on whether they’ve already established a location-independent reliable source of income, or if they plan to seek such an opportunity after they have launched their journey. For the former situation, an emergency fund of $10,000 would give them a good cushion and peace of mind, though this is with the caveat that the couple is debt free, including owing their home-on-wheels and vehicles out right. If the couple is considering finding employment opportunities on the road, then in my opinion, their savings should include one year of expenses and an emergency fund.
Having more than a Hobbit-sized refrigerator: If Hobbits had fridges, I'm sure it would be similar to the one we have in our RV. It's more like a dorm fridge with a small freezer on the top. Oh, and RV refrigerators don't operate like the one you buy down at Sears. Oh, no. These babies work by what's known as gas absorption, which entails heating ammonia that magically cools the fridge. I won't go into the gory details, mostly because I'm not too versed in the wizardry behind it. Just know that it is usually too cold (your veggies are going to freeze) or too warm (your veggies are going to rot) and you may have to fiddle with the buttons to keep things right. 
Always, always, always expect to incur maintenance charges each month. Expecting to pay each month for maintenance will save you many headaches and knots in your stomach when you inevitably break down, blow a tire, shatter a brake pad, or have a propane leak–all of which happened to us. You’ll need to be changing your oil and refilling on propane regularly anyway, so it’s best to just count this as a guaranteed expense.
Last but certainly not least, we no longer have the diesel 3500 Chevy dually to pull the RV. After some discussion we decided that we didn’t want to continue paying those expensive truck payments for a truck that our entire family couldn’t fit in. In hindsight, we should have bought a less expensive truck that seated six. Or maybe not. Six of us in a truck would have been tight especially with two car seats. So after a lot of research we decided to buy a diesel Ford Excursion. I’ll do another post on buying the new SUV because a lot of  research went into it but the short of it is that it can seat six people comfortably and it can haul a heavy load giving us more options for travel trailers, the point of this post.
Having never driven more than an SUV, I certainly didn’t feel equipped to pull a 30-foot trailer with a diesel pickup truck (our setup last year). But like riding a bike, practice makes perfect. A few hours maneuvering around a Walmart parking lot, getting a feel for turns and backing into empty spaces, and we felt comfortable enough to head out on the open road. It’s always necessary to do an appropriate amount of route scouting in advance to avoid low overpasses or the possible restricted roads, but within a few weeks’ time, pulling and parking the rig was second nature.
This is most helpful and informative! Can’t wait to see what you have in store for the next more specific $$ post. I noticed you didn’t really mention anything about if your still paying for the rv…making a monthly note. Obviously that would be in the fixed column of the budget. Was a rv payment figured into your mean average of $2500 to $3000 a month budget?
If you install solar power, a big battery bank, or upgrade your converter or inverter or have any kind of add-on that is pernamently attached to the rig, and you have an older rig that you are insuring for Actual Cash Value, that upgrade will be part of the Actual Cash Value figure that the insurance adjuster will be calculating at the time of a claim. If you are insuring for Replacement Value, check with your agent how best to cover major upgrades.
Looks like you gave a very solid plan! Kirk’s numbers are one of the budget references I plan to link to in my next post. And I totally agree that health care is the biggest single unknown in all this. It’s been (by far) the biggest impact we’ve had to our fixed expenses in the 7 years we’ve been on the road, and it’s one of the most difficult to predict. I have no idea what our costs are going to be next year.

Regular hose, however, was not recommended by the heat tape manufacturer, which clearly specified metal or plastic water pipe. A hose was not a water pipe. Perhaps it wouldn’t work as well. Or perhaps it would degrade the hose and cause problems. I could imagine being poisoned by the breakdown of chemicals in my hose. (Seriously: I have a pretty good imagination sometimes.)

I have left out some expenses as they might be comparable regardless of your situation. Those expenses are gasoline, home owner’s associations vs. RV clubs, phone and internet costs. While you may think the average RVers spends more on gas / year, we don’t. There is no daily commute, and no one said you have to, or even realistically will, drive hundreds of miles every day. Here are our findings on that (and all things environmentally friendly about living in an RV).

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, being able to “thrive” depends not on someone else’s description of the term, but on our own. Each of us, you and I both, need to decide what makes us happy in life. Deciding that you don’t need to be like everyone else is the first major hurdle jumped in living debt-free, and every person who decides to live without debt has their own reason for doing so.
In fact, we created Finance Your Detour, a 4-step budgeting program to help others implement a budget in order to afford to travel more, or really, do whatever it is that makes YOU feel more alive! The program includes a budgeting tool that we designed, video tutorials on how to use it, as well as video lessons and worksheets to help you understand how to budget successfully in order to reach your financial goals. You can check it out here.
If you are staying in a park or resort, find out who maintains, roads, parking, sidewalks, etc. and how often.  What amenities are available to you at the park; are there laundry facilities, showers, pools, exercise equipment, and so on?  What other forms of recreation are available in the local area?  Are there other people staying through the winter and do they get together to socialize?
When we first started RVing many years ago we had a pop-up trailer that we loved. We would park it under the shade of the Sequoia trees in the Sierra Nevada Mountains or along the California Coast. It was perfect for that time of our lives. Since then we’ve discovered we love winter RVing so a pop-up isn’t going to work. We’ve also grown a bit and were spoiled by our 41’ Gateway fifth wheel.
My husband realized that he doesn’t want to go back to work full-time, unless it is the perfect opportunity. I started focusing again on my writing career and am building a solid freelance business. I also volunteer with our local downtown revitalization association. Our kids are back in regular public school, doing sports and extracurricular activities and, slowly making friends outside the military.

Monthly & Weekly Rates: For staying in RV Parks, monthly rates are the best rates followed by weekly, and help balance out shorter stays while we’re in transit. Urban locations are typically more expensive – so if we need to be somewhere like San Francisco, Austin, St. Louis, etc. – monthly rates can be $500-1300. Some locations have seasonal rates too, so if we need to be in Florida during the winter (where our family is), it’s more expensive. If we don’t need to be near an urban area, the lowest we’ve paid so far is $300/month.
For the past year, we felt the wind shifting but we were in denial. We tried to continue on course against the wind hoping that things would return to what they were. However, in the quiet of night, I knew the change I was hoping for wasn’t going to happen. In those silent moments of raw honesty with myself what I wanted, as ridiculous as it sounds, was for the older boys to quit getting older. I wanted them to stay my babies forever and shelter them from life’s hardships. Living in the RV seemed to slow down time and kept them close. Kept them safe.
We miss home every now and then. Our kids have had to say goodbye to friends, and we don’t see family as much while on the road. It’s a little isolating. But I was a Navy brat growing up, and I had to say goodbye to many friends, too. I have a lot of empathy for our kids, but I also know how enriching this experience will be. (And, unlike me, they now have the ability to FaceTime, text and game with friends!)
We protected the water connection coming into the RV with heat tape, pipe insulation and wind barriers — and did not have a problem in that regard. However, we did have the water pump itself freeze. A light bulb in the plumbing bay solved that problem. We added a weather station inside the coach and put the thermostat that reads the external temperature in the plumbing bay. So from then on we could just look at the display to keep tabs on things.
For income, the pair relies on occasional real estate investments, though they are currently out of the real estate game and filling in as campground hosts in Florida in exchange for free rent. Their job entails greeting and assisting fellow RVers, keeping an eye on the campground and driving a tram that runs to the beach. They still look at potential real estate opportunities as they travel, but they’re not too eager to invest.
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.
Looks like you gave a very solid plan! Kirk’s numbers are one of the budget references I plan to link to in my next post. And I totally agree that health care is the biggest single unknown in all this. It’s been (by far) the biggest impact we’ve had to our fixed expenses in the 7 years we’ve been on the road, and it’s one of the most difficult to predict. I have no idea what our costs are going to be next year.
Seriously, we go 3 to 4 days in between showers now and it is all good. Ok, maybe we get a little stinky but it really isn’t that bad. It saves so much time when you don’t have to take a shower and get ready every day, but instead just get up, throw on your clothes from yesterday, brush your teeth, throw your hair in a ponytail and you are good to go.
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)?

For a period of time, we also had a gym membership to Planet Fitness. It cost $20/month and we had access to over 800 locations across the country. If you’re trying to stay in good shape while you’re traveling I would definitely suggest Planet Fitness. They typically have really nice facilities for showering and workouts, plus free massage chairs and tootsie rolls. Need I say more?
We know we changed as the years passed, but this was recently confirmed when we visited some friends from college. The last time we had visited was two years ago, only one year into traveling full-time. This visit, they couldn’t get over how much we’ve changed, especially Brandon. It helped us to see there were more changes than we realized happening and we knew it all stemmed from our experience on the road.
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