Knowing how to budget for the RV Lifestyle is done when potential RVers understand why they want to become full timers and what they want to accomplish. It’s a lifestyle choice that should be carefully thought out and may take a great deal of discussion between a couple who are thinking of doing it. They should ask themselves what kind of traveling they plan to do—long distance, a slow ramble, or only move once or twice a year. Do they plan on working to subsidize their savings, or is this a once-in-a-lifetime trip? Be clear and understand the pros and cons. Understand what is required to enable you to make the decision of becoming full time RVers.
It can be a challenge to figure out what to bring for full time RV living. “Is one pair of sandals enough or do I need a second pair for campground showers?” We ended up having way too much stuff. After a month of RV living we decided to sell the bicycles because we never used them. A few months later, we performed a spring cleaning by re-evaluating everything in the RV. Many articles of clothing ended up in the donation pile because neither of us had touched them since we moved in.

It’s been just over a year since we moved out of the RV. Even though we knew our decision to stop full time RVing was the right one, moving out of the RV was easier said than done. With the help of some friends, it only took a few hours to get all our stuff out of the RV. The emotional “moving out” has taken much longer. For Brent and I, it’s been a surprisingly difficult painful new “road”.

Jill, we are early retirees and have been fulltiming for three years. We average about $600 a month in RV site expenses. We prefer state and national parks with electric but do a little boondocking and often in the winter stay longer, taking advantage of monthly rates. Escapees parks are the best for long term stays. We could lower this amount with some effort but it is still less than the taxes were on our home in Austin. Our most expensive stay was $85/night in Jersey City, in view of the Statue of Liberty. Considering hotels in the area are $3-400, we were ok with this in exchange for a short subway or water taxi ride to NYC.


The grand total for the fourth quarter (October 01 – December 31) of our 2013 RV Living Expenses: $11,971 Below is a breakdown of our expenses of full time living in our RV, if you want more details read the posts from 2011 and 2012. I’ve rounded the numbers to keep it simple.$2,014 Fuel – Gas for Smart Car and diesel for RV, we logged a ton of miles this quarter.
My bucket list included photographing eagles along the Mississippi River in winter. We arrived in Davenport, Iowa and were lucky enough to find a county park open with electric. No problem our basement was heated, so we thought. That plumbing bay has a plastic bottom with a hole for the sewer hose. Did you know plastic is a conductor of cold? We didn’t consider it util our water filter froze and the pump dumped 90 gallons of fresh water on the ground.
Track your expenses. I just recently started doing this, and it really puts things in perspective. I use this Google sheet to track all my income and expenses (just go to “File” -> “Make a copy” so you can edit it). Once you see where you’re spending too much, it’s easier to cut back! Plus, it makes you think twice before spending (do I really want to track this?).
b) You kindly share so very much about budgets and affordability on your web site but there is no mention of how you or others similar that can’t/don’t wish to work whilst travelling and aren’t of retirement age for pensions/SS etc fund this lifestyle for several years? I notice that you referenced more recently somewhere about generating a little income as affiliates for Amazon (by the way, we look forward to supporting that in due course), but assume that wouldn’t equate to your full months expenses?
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:
First up is getting space heaters for inside your RV. We used a combination of two space heaters, one being our fireplace and the other a small space heater we picked up. For those of you who winter camp you probably already know the cost of propane can add up quick if you are using it as your only source of heat. With space heaters you’re able to generate heat without burning propane. By using space heaters you’ll be able to go longer in between propane fill ups, saving you money and time.
Our boat has two diesel Cummins 370 engines, and we’re still tracking our burn rate (with a 440 gallon tank and our slow poke style, it takes a while to get numbers) – but we’re expecting it to be about 1.25 – 2 miles per gallon. A typical ‘driving day’ will likely be 15-30 nautical mile range at 7-8 knots.  While our fuel “economy” sucks in comparison to our RV, we anticipate we may cover a 1000 miles a year.  So thus our fuel costs boating will be similar to our RVing costs on a monthly basis.

We also keep the Careington Telemedicine plan offered by RVer Insurance that includes a telemedicine service, which gives us access to virtual doctors visits over phone/internet and a discount dental & vision network across the nation. The cost is $149/year for both of us – and we use this far more often than our insurance plan, as finding providers as we travel difficult.


Don, I liked your post. I like the idea of modifying an existing system to make it better. Another trick I discovered while boondocking for the past 6 months, I extended my furnace and generator exhaust to blow on my drain and tank outlets. These outlets are the first to freeze since they poke down from under the insulation. Just be sure your unit is sealed, and use a CO2 detector, as you should.

However, just because the tank has extra protection, the residual water in the pipes are still exposed. Unless you enjoy being sprayed with icy water in subzero temps, be sure to also cover the pipes with insulation. This way lingering water in the pipes will not freeze and potentially crack a pipe. This will also make the initial water that comes out less terrifying. It is unnecessary to keep the pipes hot, but be sure to keep them above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stainless Steel Wine Glasses – When we hit the road in our RV, we brought along our wine glasses. It didn’t take long until they all broke and we were drinking wine out of mugs. We put these stainless steel glasses on our wish list but ended up just drinking from mugs because we are classy like that. These are the only things on the list that we don’t own but wish we did. (Ahem) We think these would make a great gift for RVers even part-time ones. 😉

This discussion of condensation brings up a related subject… the method of heating that you use in your RV. When propane is burned, it releases combustion byproducts and one of those byproducts is a surprisingly large quantity of water vapor! Most standard RV furnaces are vented to the outside of the rig and will not add any moisture to the inside air. This is not true of any unvented propane heater, including popular catalytic heaters. Using your stovetop burners also adds moisture to the inside air. If you intend to heat your rig using an unvented propane heater, you will have to provide a larger amount of ventilation to remove the additional moisture added to your air. Most unvented heaters are pretty nice for milder climates and are great for taking that morning chill off. Using them as your primary source of heat in really cold weather can prove to be a challenge because of the potential for condensation problems.


Serge, thanks for sharing your experience / expenses. This is the great thing about travel, it can truly be done on any budget. It’s all about your personal style and what your travel goal is. We are living an affordable luxury lifestyle now but when we transfer to the sail boat in 2014 we are going to try out a super slim buget. It’s going to be all about living off the land (or mostly water). Thanks again for sharing!
Sewer Hose – Use a PVC pipe for your sewer line instead of the standard RV drain hose, it will hold up much better in the freezing temps.  If you have a constant water supply and you want to let your grey water drain the safest thing you can do is wrap the sewer pipe with additional insulation, if temps will be freezing for multiple days you may want to install heat tape around the PVC pipe.  I always recommend keeping the black tank closed off and dumping only when necessary, getting a #poopcicle stuck in the drain is not a good way to start the day.
I spent months trying to figure out what to take on the road before we started out. I already knew (instinctively) that we wouldn’t need much, but  I wanted to try to cover all the bases. The truth is that we needed even less than that. I took ~10% of my then-wardrobe with me, and I currently use about 10% of that. We brought along tents and other equipment we never use.  We ALSO ended up buying a bunch of nifty (so we thought) “RV stuff” before we’d really spent any time in the rig on the road, another thing I’d now consider a no-no. In retrospect spending some time on the road before loading up would have made alot more sense. We’re planning a major cleaning-out when we get back to our storage in San Diego this winter and will end up much lighter for it (no doubt). If we keep this up the storage might end up going too…
It’s a good tip. We used to have business cards and still exchange them on occasion, but I have to admit we’ve gone mostly online now. I connect with lots of folks through either Facebook or Instagram, and of course there’s also RVillage where you can check in and see where various folks and groups are on a map. Lots of good ways to stay connected.
It’s unseasonably cold this week so I’ll have a good chance to test my setup. I’m not too concerned. The other day, one of my neighbors, who is going away for the winter, kindly offered me his home. I’ll talk to him later today; that might make a Plan B for nights that are just too cold to stick around. But it shouldn’t get much colder than it is this week, so there’s a good chance I’ll be living in my own space all winter long.
I really appreciate it when you pointed out that being an owner of an RV means that I should learn a little about electrical, plumbing, and roofing work so that life on the road will be a little easier. Maybe it is time that I get myself a book and educate myself about the basics of troubleshooting. After all, I do intend to get an RV for myself soon since my dream job is to be a nature journalist. Thanks for the tips.
As for Thing 2, the goal has continued to be keep learning as fun and interesting as possible. He reads, reads, and reads. He isn’t crazy about math but I’ve insisted that he keep up with “requirements” because math is one subject that is hard to catch up should we decide to stop homeschooling. He, too, enrolled in a virtual school math class and also received an A both semesters. The biggest change for him was more independent learning. The previous 5 years I was more hands on but with Thing 3 in the picture it became increasingly difficult. Thing 2 really stepped up and took initiative to complete assignments on his own.
Sandra, you are not the first to think we spend too much or too little. Everyones lifestyles are different and we don’t live on a shoe string budget, nor do we post our expenses for any reason other than to help others get an idea of what it costs us, with our lifestyle to live on the road. We buy local, fresh and organic food as much as possible. We like good all natural food that doesn’t come in a box or can and that isn’t something we plan on changing if we don’t have to. We work from the road (not retired or independently wealthy) and our websites are not just your average wordpress sites and we do a lot to keep them secure, backed up and so on and so forth. Our phones are a huge part of our business and we have to have smart phones with internet and such. Sure, if we didn’t work and didn’t have to have solid internet, this would be a lot less. Just not an option for us right now.
14. Make a commitment to eating healthy. It can be all too easy to just stop in at the nearest fast food restaurant and grab something to go, but that certainly isn’t the healthiest option. You will need a well-rounded diet more on the road than anywhere else, so it would be best to make a plan for such a diet. There are many places where finding fresh fruits and veggies isn’t easy, so stock up when and where you can. Use stay-fresh bags to store these items in and learn to can these items as well for longer storage possibilities.

I really liked the couple I bought it from; they were only the second owners and had owned it for 5 years. They took it out a couple times a year. They smogged it (California) and put new front brakes on it before turning it over to me. I knew it needed new tires (the tread was good, but they were old an cracked) and they told me the truck A/C needed to be recharged.  They were asking $9,000, I paid $8,000.
The value of Personal Effects coverage available generally ranges from $2,000 (National Interstate) to $20,000 (National General), and the full amount is reimbursed in the event of the RV’s total loss. In the event of theft, there has to be proof of forcible entry and a police report must be filed (the time limits for filing the report vary). In case you disagree with the value the adjuster assigns to an item at the time of a claim, it helps to have dated photos of each item and receipts.
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.
There is only one of Brent and one of me and we couldn’t and didn’t want to be peers, piano teachers, math teachers, art teachers, spiritual mentors, and parents at the same time.  Not only did we feel that we needed more resources and consistency to help them grow into young men, RVing full time was losing some of its luster in their eyes. New places and new things had become mundane to them in a way. There were days they resented packing and days they rolled their eyes at the mention of visiting a national park. We tried to see our full time RV life from their perspective. They have visited every state except Hawaii, many of them multiple times. They have been to over one hundred national parks. I’ve lost count of how many museums they have visited. They’ve been to almost every major city and some of them more than once or twice or even three times. The third time to New Orleans Things 1 and 2 were leading us around the French Quarter! You might think the only thing to do in New Orleans is eat beignets. 😉 

In our case there are months we pay almost ZERO here (e.g. when we are sitting still in one place and either volunteering or boondocking) and there are months we chose to splurge. Either way we are able to completely manage how much we want to spend and can ramp it down (or up) as needed to match our income. Honestly if we’d fully understood the power of this flexibility we probably wouldn’t have fretted quite so much over costs before we got on the road. This is a BIG DEAL!
This is pretty personal, and it depends entirely on your financial situation. In our opinion, some people shouldn’t spend more than $5k, and others can afford whatever they want. We have a lot of friends who finance everything: TV, couch, vehicles, etc. We are not a fan of this mentality. We realize you can write off your interest as a second mortgage for your RV, but we don’t finance anything, including our RV. We’ve never had a car loan, and we have always paid cash for our vehicles (including our tow rig and our Airstream).
Then estimate your future lifestyle costs that you need to add in (the numbers we share below will help with that). These include your fuel costs and your vehicle insurance and registration fees for both vehicles that make up your rig, whether it is a motorhome/car combo or a truck/trailer combo. If you have chosen your domicile city/state, you can do very specific research to estimate your future vehicle insurance and registration fees. We have some notes on domicile selection on our full-time RVing page.
Sandra, you are not the first to think we spend too much or too little. Everyones lifestyles are different and we don’t live on a shoe string budget, nor do we post our expenses for any reason other than to help others get an idea of what it costs us, with our lifestyle to live on the road. We buy local, fresh and organic food as much as possible. We like good all natural food that doesn’t come in a box or can and that isn’t something we plan on changing if we don’t have to. We work from the road (not retired or independently wealthy) and our websites are not just your average wordpress sites and we do a lot to keep them secure, backed up and so on and so forth. Our phones are a huge part of our business and we have to have smart phones with internet and such. Sure, if we didn’t work and didn’t have to have solid internet, this would be a lot less. Just not an option for us right now.

I don’t know if a particular dollar amount works here, but the more you have on hand, the better. I think a couple needs to have a solid plan that will generate a steady monthly income while traveling and living in the RV. It would be wise to have money saved and set aside in the event of an injury or illness that could prevent you from working for a period of time. If I had to put a dollar figure on it, I would probably say a minimum of six months of income/expenses is a good place to start.


Our family of 6, RVing full-time since 2010, averages $3,000 per month. On months when we are staying still, capitalizing on RV parks’ discounted monthly rates, we spend about $2000. $700 in fixed bills include internet access, insurance (RV, Auto, and Personal), small business operating expenses, food, fuel, incidentals, and entertainment. Months when we are traveling more, our expenses rise to $4,000. This represents increased camping fees (daily and weekly rates are higher than monthly rates), increased fuel expenses, and any time your RV moves, there’s the potential for repair expenses.
I’m no hunter or fisher woman, but I’ve seen this discussed on RV threads quite a bit. License fees vary dramatically between states, so some can be very reasonable value depending on where you go. Also most states offer short-term fishing licenses that are not too expensive (most are less than a regular round of golf or a nice dinner out). Many fulltimers who love to fish either do the short-term licenses or stay for larger chunks of time in states where it is not overly expensive. I recommend searching the forum threads on iRV2 and RV.net for more info on this.
In addition, we get to utilize the mortgage interest off our RV payment as a tax deduction (it’s a second mortgage if you have a bathroom—see IRS laws). Besides the memories we make starting from the moment we drive out of our driveway, we are making our money go further. That means more money for more vacations! In addition you will save even more money making your own meals on your travels. Can you say “Ca-ching!”
Another great domestic and international networking site I’ve discovered is Meetup.com. It’s not a dating site, although some romance groups are available. All imaginable interests are covered and you can start your own if you don’t find what you’re looking for. This might be a good resource for those who wish to find compatible fellow travelers. For my part, I can’t wait to enjoy the company of fellow vegans throughout the continent, starting with Austin.

Ya’ll are killing me with these videos! Each one gets funnier and funnier! Super great info for people who might be dreaming about RV living! We have friends who lived in an RV with their 3 kids! Talk about space issues! Pretty sure they stuck to warm climate areas so they could utilize the outdoors! Here’s to warmer weather…and a house someday soon!
×