The following article was published in the May/June, 2014 issue of Escapee's Magazine.

Full-Time RVing, What Does it Cost?

One of the most frequently asked questions by those who are considering RVing fulltime is what amount of income is required in order to live comfortably. Planning a budget is challenging but can be done.

There are many expenses which will remain the same when on the road as living in a stick house. It will be helpful if you keep detailed records of all expenses for a year or two before you make the change and examine each to see which will continue as currently, what will go away and which will increase. Things like life, health, and long term care insurance will not be changed by RV living, but may if you change domicile. Home owner’s insurance will go away if you sell the house, but your RV insurance will increase because most RV policies do not allow use of the RV as a home, unless you add full-timer coverage. Not all underwriters have this available and it will increase your premiums significantly. Health insurance can be a budget problem if not supplied by a former employer. Make sure that your coverage will continue when out of your home state. Some plans limit periods of “out of network” coverage. Utilities will only apply if in a monthly park where you must pay electricity, but you will buy propane.

Consider the cost of cell phone and internet services you will need. Some people find systems like Skype or prepaid phones work well. Internet access is vital to most people today. While most RV parks now have Wi-Fi available, it is often spotty at best. The satellite dish is still the most universally available access but it is also most expensive. Cellular internet has become very widespread, but there remain large undeveloped areas where it is not available.  Smart phones and phone hotspots may be a good answer but data service can be expensive. For the budget minded, it is possible to use free WiFi as long as you are willing to visit nearby businesses at times. You will find it available at most restaurants and chain stores.

You will need some type of mail service to provide a permanent address and to forward your mail to you. States require you to have an address in order to register vehicles, maintain a driving license and to vote. Make sure that the chosen address meets your state’s requirements.  There are a wide range of services and prices. You may consider using a family member to accept and forward mail but that can be an experience much like loaning relatives money. For most people a service such as Escapee’s provides will serve much better as a permanent address.

A major expense will be RV sites. You can decrease this cost by staying longer, paying for a site by the week or month, spending some nights in parking lots, dry camping, by working as an RV volunteer or campground host with RV site, buying a membership in one of the campground groups such as Thousand Trails or Coast to Coast, and there are discount park groups like Escapees and Passport America. To estimate the cost of RV parks purchase a copy of a major campground guide, checking prices in places you plan to travel. The cost is greatest in areas of major tourist attractions and less in rural areas. If you are past the age of 62, you can save at federal parks by purchasing a senior “America the Beautiful” card for $10. They are permanent, lower price by half in federal campgrounds and gain free admission to federal parks. State park campgrounds sometimes save money and may have an annual pass. Most people find that Corps of Engineer’s parks are nice and inexpensive. Others spend time in the Long Term Visitor areas of the BLM dry camping. There are also “Stoppin Spots” for members of Escapees RV club which have little or no cost.

Just as longer stays can save campground expense it saves on fuel. As you plan, think about the total mileage that you expect to travel each year and using the fuel consumption of your RV can give you a pretty good idea of what this expense will be. Always project fuel prices to rise over time. You can get price information from websites like “Gas Buddy.” Most RVs increase fuel consumption by about 10% for each five mph of speed increase. With careful planning you can spend summers north and winters south traveling 6-7,000 miles per year. Most RV’s will get between 6 & 10 mpg so be careful not to under estimate fuel cost.

If interested in work-camping, magazines like the Workamper News can provide leads to sources of income ranging from RV park positions to seasonal work such as beet harvests or fireworks stands and Christmas tree lots,  Amazon and volunteer locations. While it is difficult to make the wage most of us enjoy, it is very easy to find ways to supplement your income. Most positions have hourly pay rates ranging from $8 to $15 and most supply an RV site.

You should budget for maintenance and repairs to the RV and vehicles. This expense will be affected by travel distance and the age of the RV. Remember that RV appliances typically have a life expectancy of around 10-15 years, when in constant use. You need to allow money for replacing or repairing appliances as they fail. If you are able, doing your own repairs you can save about half. There are excellent RV repair & maintenance books which help. Routine maintenance for the RV, such as caulking and cleaning is inexpensive if done yourself, but expensive if you pay others to do it for you. Expect several hundred dollars each year in routine maintenance. Any leak is of major concern in an RV and must be corrected as soon as possible whether from weather or plumbing. If chosen wisely, an “extended warranty” can protect you from major repair expenses and allow you to budget more accurately, but shop very carefully.  An alternative is the setting aside some fixed amount for repairs at the beginning of your travels into a repair fund or self-insurance plan. Each year continue to add money to this repair fund, just as if it were required and by so doing when repairs are needed, there will be money to pay for them. Setting aside 10% of the cost of your RV and adding 5-10% each year should be sufficient. Another option is the use of money from savings, but be very cautious of depleting your nest egg too soon.

The activities and hobbies that we enjoy do not change much moving from a house to an RV, so build into your budget some provision for you to pursue them. RVing is a lifestyle and not simply an extended vacation, so there will be times when you want to busy yourself doing those things which you have always enjoyed. Budget based on what you spend today as this typically remains fairly constant once adjusted to the RV lifestyle.

Your plan should consider when or if you will wish to replace your RV, tow truck and/or car. Remember that these things will wear out. Consider what you will do when things need to be replaced. Also give thought to what happens at the end of the road, when health or age demand that you stop traveling. Each of us will reach that time eventually and preplanning will make it less stressful.

Sometimes folks look to RV living as a means of lowering living costs, but that is seldom true. Most people prefer a similar standard of living to what they have enjoyed in the past and day to day expenses change very little. Attempting to live as you would when vacationing will increase expenses, while if you live as you always have, but with changing scenery you should manage well. The lifestyle should be relaxed and enjoyable, without constant running about or worry about money. Adjust your budget much as you have while living in a conventional home. An advantage of RV life is that walking, taking pictures, and dozens of other things which do not cost are more attractive with the changing of locations.  Each budget is unique and personal. Budgets can range from as little as $1500 to more than $5000 per month.

What does it cost to live in an RV? For most of us it will cost however much we have available!