Exploring RV Living – Is It Expensive?

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

RVing is considered, by some, to be an expensive recreational hobby for those who have an adequate supply of disposable income. I suppose it could be, if you intend to buy a brand-new half-million dollar custom motorcoach which you’ll park in a $100 per night RV resort.  Even more costly if you do so while keeping and maintaining your conventional home as a primary residence.

In reality, full-time RV living, just like conventional housing, can fit almost any budget. When you’re full-timing, your RV is your home, so all the money you used to spend for rent or mortgage payments on a house or apartment is now available to spend on the RV. One way some home owners transition to full-timing, if they have sufficient equity in their homes, is to sell the house and use the proceeds of the sale to buy an RV, or at least make a sizable down payment if they choose to finance a larger or newer coach.

There’s really two different costs to consider: the initial cost of acquiring the RV and preparing it for full-time living, and then there’s the ongoing expenses.

Home On Wheels

Let your budget be your guide, along with your expectations and abilities. A shiny new class-A motorhome will easily set you back a couple hundred thousand or more. Go for something a few years old, but still nice, and you can do it for much less. If you don’t mind gambling on an older rig, and you’re a good shopper, you can probably find something decent for $10-20K.  If you’re on a tight budget, and a little handy, you can probably find something under ten thousand. If you’re like me — dirt poor, but very handy and resourceful, and don’t much care what the neighbors think —  you might get away for under five grand.

That range of prices would be for a motorhome. If you already own a decent pickup truck, you might look at trailers instead, for 1/4 – 1/2 the price of a similarly sized and equipped motorhome of the same age and condition. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and other options too. You might want to take a look at this post for more info on the different types of RVs.

Cost Of Living

Once you have your rig and it’s all set up to live in, you’ll only have your ongoing expenses to worry about. Once again, you have a lot of control over what you spend. There’s plenty of opportunity to spend money if you want, yet living can be really cheap, too.

You can stay in an RV park with full hook-ups and amenities similar to an apartment complex, and you can expect to pay about the same as you would to rent an apartment, and maybe a little less. You could instead choose to be adventurous, and camp on public land, parking lots, and other free places. You’ll save rent, but will have to move more often and will have the inconvenience and possible expense of finding a place to  refill your fresh water supply and dump your waste. Still, if you’re looking to save money, that’s the way to go. I discussed all the different options for different places to stay in this post.

Vehicle Expenses

You’ll have expenses related to your motorhome or your trailer and tow vehicle. There’s insurance, registration, maintenance and repair, and fuel. Various choices you make will affect these costs. For example, an older rig will cost less to register and insure, but might need more frequent or more costly repairs. A smaller rig will use less fuel than a larger one. You can also save fuel by travelling less frequently and/or shorter distances. Routine maintenance includes such things as fluids, filters, and tires.

Tired Tires

Tires are an expense you’ll have to plan on no matter how much or little you drive. While you’re not likely to wear out a set of tires on an RV, they will “age out.” As tires age, they become more prone to failure, no matter how much tread depth they have or how nice they might look. This is something that isn’t thought about much on a passenger car – it is usually driven enough that the tires wear out before they age out. RVs tend to be driven much less, so they can get too old for safety even while they look brand new.

Safety First

I learned that the hard way when I tried to take a trip on 12-year-old tires, and in Arizona in July, no less. So learn how to read the date codes on all your tires, and replace them when they get to be seven years old or so, no matter how good they look. And NEVER drive on a tire that’s over ten years old!

Same As It Ever Was

Of course you’ll also have the same sorts of living expenses that you always have, no matter how and where you live, so keep those in mind as you budget. Things like food, medical expenses, phone and internet.

The Bottom Line

While the sky’s the limit with luxury RVs and resorts, it’s also a great way to live a frugal minimalist lifestyle. If you own your RV outright, you could live on $500 a month without hardship.. You could live quite comfortably on $1000, with money to spare for the occasional splurge (or to stash away for a rainy day).

Living small and mobile is living cheap.  Living cheap opens the door to all kinds of creative ways to make an income, and frees up more time to do what you enjoy most. It can enable someone on a limited budget to live a decent life.  In the next installment of Exploring RV Living we’ll look at all sorts of ways you can earn an income while living in your RV.

Are you a full-timer, or have you been? I’d love to read your thoughts on how affordable RV living is. If you’re considering the lifestyle, but have questions, ask away. Comments are open!

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13 responses to “Exploring RV Living – Is It Expensive?

  1. Mike, are you parked in a permanent spot, , or do you move around? I ‘d love to have an RV and tour around to different clubs and play music, but it seems so expensive, except for that trailer idea…are there limitations where you can drive with an RV? With a trailer..?

  2. Hi, Denise! I’m mostly in one place, right now, but take occasional trips.

    That would be a great idea for you as a musician – you could probably stay the day(s) before and after your show right in the club’s parking lot (or not, if groupies are a problem). Mobility depends on the size of what you have and where you want to go. If you’re doing mostly urban or even suburban venues, then a van or small motorhome would be most convenient. A trailer just makes you that much longer and limits where you can park, especially in the city. As for cost, if you ditch your house/apartment and just live in the RV, all the money that you’re now paying for rent can go to pay for a decent camper van. An issue might be whether there will be room for your gear. If you want to test drive towing a trailer, you could rent a trailer of the size you’d be comfortable in, and then see how hard it is to get in and out of where you’d want to go. Something else to think about – a trailer isn’t very stealthy — a van might be a better choice for “urban camping” – they have ones not unlike a regular van, but with a raised roof so you can stand up inside, and, of course, all the conveniences – kitchen, toilet, bed, etc.

  3. Hi Mike! Love this post, especially the bottom line bit. Life is like that you live according to your means (hopefully) irrespective of your actual abode1

  4. I am SERIOUSLY considering selling my house and moving out to a Class B or Class C (depending on how much I’d get for the house). This is just in the early stages of planning since I found yours and a few other good blogs. I didn’t realize you could “stay” indefinitely at a RV park or campground….how does that work? As long as you pay for the lot? Cool.
    Thanks,
    Joni

    • Hi Joni. Yes, you can stay indefinitely at many (most?) RV parks and campgrounds. While some, typically those in popular touristy places, might impose time limits, the majority are more than willing to take your money for as long as you are willing to give it to them. Many offer monthly, seasonal, and even annual rates, if you can plan how long you will be staying. Thanks for commenting, Joni!

  5. Thanks for the reply. Been having computer trouble and have seriously missed my blogs for a month!! If you don’t mind me asking…how long do you usually stay in one place? Right now I’m living on disability. I’m concerned how I can sell my house and buy a Class C without Social Security thinking I’ve come into a ton of money by selling my house. Any money you get as gift or selling something is considered “income” to them altho the amount I get barely covers my essentials. I’ve pretty much decided on a Class C. I’ve noticed that the Class Bs are almost just as expensive and are smallers. A couple of more questions: Can you recommend some RV sites to look to buy? I’ve found Lazy and one other but there must be a lot more. Also, do you use the same RV repair place, etc or are there other Honest ones out there? Any info will help.
    Thanks,
    Joni

  6. My family (my husband and 2 kids) have been full-timers for about three years. We have traveled almost all of the US (can’t cross off Alaska or Hawaii yet) and a big chunk of Canada. I wanted to share this experience with my kids before they got to old. When we first started off our inexperience shone through…we spent way to much on campsites, sightseeing, etc. After about 6 months our budget numbers and our expenditures were nowhere close. We finally were able to rein them in by joining Passport America and staying away from popular areas during specific seasons. I feel blessed that our family was willing to take this risk and we have had such a great time…not saying it was always easy or that we didn’t have some repair issues. I hope that I have instilled in my children to “think out of the box and to enjoy life”. And yes…your point about tires is a great one. We had a blow-out on the road and did some damage to the underside of the trailer. We also had a second issue which affected our trailer brakes…not good.
    Lisa

  7. Pingback: Exploring RV Living – Supporting Your Lifestyle | Homeless On Wheels

  8. cool! I love the idea on having the home wheels.. what’s the advantage and disadvantage? any ideas… thanks

  9. I happened across your blog on the Republic Wireless sight and have been reading for over an hour. Great blog! I used to have a Class C Chevy HopCap and would use it for vacations when my daughter was young. I loved it! Then I spent an entire summer workamping in Pt. Orange Florida in a converted bus which was equipped with all the comforts of home and loved it as well (until the guy who I was buying it from on contract stole it and I lost over $14,000 but that’s another story). Had worked for the park owner for months with the promise of pay once Bike Week was over and never got a penny because she didnt make any money cuz it was rained out. Nevertheless it has not dampened my spirits on living in a Class C or trailer for summers in upstate NY as I begin to tiptoe into retirement. Currently looking for a trailer in upstate NY or Class C here in Florida at a very reasonable cost. Leaning toward Class C because of the portability but not sure with the money I can spend for it I wouldn’t be buying myself a problem. I might suggest you let people know there are a lot of “unscrupulous people” involved in this lifestyle who will be more than happy to take advantage of you if given the chance. I had contract and everything but never had the money to pursue either the guy who disappeared with my bus or the owner of the campground. Valuable lessons learned. I am a female travelling alone so there are safety issues to consider as well. It gets hot here in summer and is beautiful in upstate NY so hoping that I will have the nerve to cut the chord at work and become a real snowbird!

  10. Slobesky O'gorki

    As far as Workamping goes, I work in the oilpatch as a Heavy Duty Mechanic for various drilling and well service companies in Northern Alberta and British Columbia. My first real motorhome is a 40′ 1998 Allegro Bus diesel pusher with one LH livingroom super slide, bought for $40,000.00 CAD. This was a good deal as the coach had only 28,000 miles on it, but the unit had been lived in more than it was driven, and the
    interior could use a face lift. When I began living the oilfield workamping
    lifestyle, I began to resent and hate owning a regular house and being a slave, and overmortgaged no-lifer. My customers loved having me camp
    in their yard, amongst their trucks and other equipment, which made me readily available for any hydraulic work that they needed done. I had power, water, and internet all at no cost, plus 24 hr acess to thier shop.
    What’s not to like? I have everything in this RV that a regular house has, including a big shower, washer/dryer, hot running water, and 7.5KW diesel
    genset. I am looking to renovate the inside to make it more ‘cabinlike’, with
    hardwood flooring, new sofa beds, window valances/blinds, and maybe a
    big flatscreen tv that stores behind the RH sofa bed. I’m surprised that I never ever ran out of hot water, even with people taking consecutive showers, and the twin furnaces are great, in the winter. On-board propane was filled only once, at the beginning of workamping for $98.00 and lasted
    for more than six months with some left over.(140 liter hotdog tank) Aircond
    works great, although I could only run one of the two, on the 15 amp service, that I was hooked up to, which was fine, for the fwd living room.
    Since the RV has water saving features fitted to the shower and sinks, I just
    let the grey water drain onto the adjacent grass, with no problems or mess.
    Never used the toilet, as I always used the shop toilet, but use a 5 gal. pail
    for a piss pot. I lived like this for the better part of a year, and will be going back to it once I land another customer. In the meantime, I am working toward getting rid of the house and all the clutter that goes with it, but the way real estate prices are in Calgary, it really is a buyer’s market, right now.
    Nevertheless, I am determined to get rid of the house, even if I just break
    even, because life is too short to wait for ‘someday’!

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