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!

16 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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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’!

  11. Well heck, you’ll be ok no matter what you do if you give it a little thought. The hard part seems like getting it right, when its really just living inside your head and being happy with who you are.

  12. If any of my fellow R.V ers out there that know where I could Park and live full time , that has reasonable monthly rates between Salt Lake city, north to Ogden, weber county. Info is greatly appreciated ,, and will except an older R.V. 1986 34` …. retired

  13. Its all about planning and forethought.

    I have two friends right now who just “jumped into it” for their own reasons. One is hopelessly flundering as of current and finding herself in a dire situation of despair and disappointment-basically homeless w/no resources and no vehicle ect..lack of planning, the other I have not heard from in a while but she and her husband had quite alot of money to go on even if they are sqaundering it because they didnt know what they were doing to begin with.

    We, however have been steadily working on our transition for literally 5 years. We are at the 75% mark just this month with our addition of our Honda Gensets that are on the way as we speak.

    Tired of renting. And not willing to commit ourselves to a 30 year note to just say we are “homeowners”. Which at the time would have made us 67yo before we owned our home. Ridiculous. And thats if we made it that far and nothing happened that we had to sell or be forclosed on??? In which case we would have lost all the money we put into the house and be starting over-again renting. No thank you.

    However, with rvs you can be a homeowner in this lifetime. As long as you do it right.
    Dec 2011-The idea was born
    May 2014- We bought our Full Timers Rig. Cashed it out, 16K. The rig was in tip top shape. We bought out the note of a couple that bought it for the intent of retirement, however due to health issues had to sell and cash in their RV dream after 10 years of paying on it. When they bought their rig, they ordered it with ALL the options. I mean every single last one they had avail for 2004. It was like a gold mine when you are RV shopping , and know what you are looking at.
    Gen Prepped
    Heated tanks
    10 gallon duel water heater electric ignition
    piezo ignition stove
    Table and chairs instread of dinette
    washer dryer prepped
    heavy duty dexter axels, additionaly they had the axels flipped to help with clearance
    2nd AC prepped
    The list goes on…

    May 2014-Current we continue to work on the things that need to be tip top shap to live on the road.
    Buy and install the W/D 1200$. Learn how to use.

    Replace Primary AC with Atwood 15K AC,w/dehumidifier,w/heat pump for secondary heat source. Most efficent of its class. http://www.atwoodmobile.com/air-conditioners/rv-air-conditioners.asp

    Add second 13.5 AC, also Atwood w/dehumidifier. One word “Quiet”. wow.

    Add Genset, Choose Honda for the weight, portability, fuel savings, and reliability. And because it fits in the box that has already been made onboard that was prepped for an onan 5.5kw and insualted and vented, the works. 2300$ http://www.homedepot.com/p/Honda-2000-Watt-Super-Quiet-Gasoline-Powered-Portable-Companion-Inverter-Generator-with-Eco-Throttle-and-30A-Outlet-EU2000T1A3-Companion/206192105

    Add LED lights 20$ per light at Home Depot. we really like these.

    Add 3 central UPS Stattions, one for each section of the coach to use for safe electrical. 400$ per Setup for APC UPS 1500VA Pro + Backup Battery for Pro. Amazon.

    Add Whynter Fridge/Freezer. This unit is 3.4 cubic feet and runs on .9 of an amp due to being a Peltier Device. They are amazing, it will run 4.5 hours on a UPS designed to carry a computer station 20 minutes. 765$ Home Depot.

    Add Dedicated Dehumidifier Whynter 350$ w/4 year warranty-We really just dont want to ruin our coach w/showers and cooking. So in the interest of NOT making our coach a mold factory http://www.whynter.com/productdetail/air_comfort/dehumidifiers/400

    Add, New Tires all the way around Plus Spare. 800$ Discount Tire
    Hi Run, really the most horrible on the market from the reviews I have read but we didnt know at the time and the tires on the coach looked were splitting so we got these first thing when we brought home the rig. To counter this we will be adding a Tire Monitoring system that reads both temp and pressure in the future so we will see it before it happens.

    Add Full Timers Insurance Coverage w/20K personal effects coverage 600$ for the Year 2 drivers -Progressive. Not the best but quick and easy app online and does not require we talk to people or wait on hold.

    Add Coachnet towing 129$ Per Year. Have not used it yet but read good reviews. 2 drivers.

    Add Escapees Club 40$ Year

    Add Passports for all

    Max out our Truck Insurance 1mil/1mill to future proof our liability. Inc Towing for that what if situation. 85$ mo 2 drivers.

    Keep our AAA Coverage. We tinkered with letting it go, but dont know how things will play out if we just need to tow our truck so we keep it even if its redundant. 160$ year 2 person.

    Replaced the Leaking Grey Tank and Black tank cable valves with manual valves under the coach. Cabel vales were just sooo bad and eveen if we replaced them with new ones its the same issue. So we have the manual ones installed unde rthe rv and then a twist on manual on the exit pip where we dont have to climb under much to open or shut them. 10$ per valve.

    Sewer hose setup. We tried a few and ended up spending the money on RhinoFlex. Hard to beat. setup was under 100$ for everything you need and it does not leak. 6$ yearly cost to replace the rings in the hose so they continue to not leak.http://www.campingworld.com/shopping/item/rhinoflex-swivel-rv-sewer-kit/44151

    Honeywell Air Purifier 325$ X 2

    Digital Thermostats. We upgraded the Furnace Thermostate to a battery operated LUX digital Thermostate because the AC’s used the 12v wire for its thermostat. 50$
    The Atwood AC’s came with digital thermostats and remotes.

    Berkey Water Gravity Filter. Absolute best investment ever. 400$
    Skip the flouride filters. skip the black berkeys. Make sure you get the ceramic filters for these. We tried all of them and we wasted alot of money.

    We bought the stuff to redo our rubber roof but are waiting until spring to get on to doing that. 600$ EPDM Rubber Roof Maintenance eBay.

    5Vr-2004 AX6 Fleetwood Wilderness 365FLTS, 4 Slides, Dry weight 11,000 CCC 2500 GVWR 13,500
    TV-1996 7.3L D F350 LongBed CC running 4.10s(we bought in 2009 for 8K at 141,000 mi. Just under 200,000 now)

    We have had alot of upkeep work done to our truck to keep it up. Latest , We ordered a new set of Cooper STT Pros Yesterday, which just hit the shelves for retail in Dec 2015 as I understand it. Great sidewall Strength. We had a pair of Cooper STT MAxx’s studded prior and they were so good performance wise.
    However when we went back to street tires the bargain basement ones were all that was avail at the time and they have run their course now so we said when we upgraded , it would be a version of the MT Coopers for various reasons. They are due in This afternoon or tomorrow as per our Tire Guy.

    We still have a ways to go, but we are a good way there to getting it ready to go. It is not the sort of thing you just go and do. The result of just going and doing is disappointment in expectations, and frustration and expense. By doing it in increments, we do it at our time frames and by our own book not all at once. For us it is our new home, and will take some molding if we want it to work out, you cant slack far less when you Rv live than if you house live, and it takes alot longer to get truely ready because you are basically learning a new way of life from conventional housing. And if you leap to quick you may find yourself in a place worst than you came from.

    Its all about prep Work, just like any good job. take care be well.

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