ABCs of Full-Time RV Living
We are full-time RVers, living our dream. We belong to that ever-growing group of adventurous people that have sold their sticks and bricks houses, gotten rid of almost all their belongings, and left friends and family to live the dream of RV living full-time.
What is Full-Time RV Living?
A full-time RVer has stopped vacationing in an RV and begun calling it home. Full-time RV living is taking all of the fun and excitement of an RV vacation and combining it with the everyday chores and sometimes mundane aspects of daily living. We are living in an RV full-time and living our dream, traveling this amazing country, but our lives are still filled with “To-do lists” and everyday chores.
Living in an RV Full-Time: Haven’t Made Up Your Mind Yet?
Full-time RV living is certainly a big decision. It is not one to make without careful informed consideration. There are a lot of things to think about, questions to ask and explore before taking the plunge:
- If in a relationship or are married, are both equally excited by the idea? If not, it is important to talk it through and set up some parameters both can agree to. Perhaps it is taking a test run for a few months and then deciding. It may be that one person is okay with a trial period but doesn’t want to change anything on the homefront yet.
- What is your risk tolerance? There is a certain amount of risk involved in any major change. Illness, money, accidents are all amplified when living in an RV full-time.
- What is your capacity for change? The first big change is changing everything, and the next one, particularly if traveling, is changing places, people and climates often.
- Try it out. Try living in an RV full-time for six months without making any major changes at home. That will help determine if it is right for you.
- Can you afford it? Make a realistic budget ahead of time. Living full-time in an RV is not necessarily cheaper than living in a house or apartment. Things break down, gas prices are high and campsites can run as much per day as an apartment.
Full-Time RVing Costs and Expenses
Figuring out a rough budget will help determine the next steps. Balancing costs against financial resources will determine what is essential and what is nice to have. There is not a set amount for full-time RVing costs. Each circumstance is different. Do your research for your specific state, vehicle and needs. These are the general costs to consider.
This is obviously the biggest investment. If towing an RV, you will need a vehicle to pull it. If you’ll be in a motorhome, you may want a tow car to give more flexibility when you arrive at your destination. Connecting and disconnecting an RV just to go to the grocery store gets old really quickly. Factor in interest payments, or long-term rental costs if not buying.
Campsites can range from $20 to more than $100 a night depending on the type of campsite or RV park. State, county and city parks are usually the cheapest but with limited hookups. RV resort camping is the highest.
Monthly RV park rental can be substantially less costly for the full-time RVer than are nightly rates, but they will usually charge separately for electricity. Work camping will reduce or eliminate campsite costs, while boondocking or dry camping is no cost but have no hookups.
Internet and Phones
Staying connected with friends and family or when working remotely is more important than ever. We keep two different cell providers to have service wherever we travel and have invested in Wi-Fi and cell booster systems. If you’ll be working from your RV, you will probably need to invest in equipment that allows access to enough data and bandwidth to work. We have invested more than $2,000 in equipment to keep ourselves connected because RV park Wi-Fi is notoriously slow and sometimes nonexistent.
Maintenance and Repairs
Repairs can take a huge chunk of your money. Even in the newest RVs, things can go wrong, very wrong, and it is expensive, particularly when out of warranty. Your tow vehicles, whether towing a trailer or being towed, will need servicing as well. When living full-time in an RV, maintenance and repairs become a major issue, particularly if you can’t stay in the RV during the repairs.
There may well be equipment you want to add to your RV. Things like satellite dishes, air compressors, tire minders, water filtration systems, antennas and boosters, tow bars or tow dollies all add additional expense.
Costs will be similar, if not higher, for the care of your pets when on the road. They are more prone to accidents while in new, unfamiliar areas, and not having a permanent vet may cause visits to be more expensive.
Costs can be similar to home if you plan to cook most of your meals in the RV. Food costs will be much higher if you decide to enjoy the local cuisine and want to eat out often.
Clothing is usually a minimal cost as there is not a lot of closet space and most of your clothing will be casual! Even if working from your RV you probably won’t need a suit and tie.
Will you subscribe to a mail service ($20 – $40 a month) or have someone forward your mail? Either way, there are costs to getting your mail.
Fuel costs are soaring. Full-time RV living implies that you will be moving, at least part of the time, and it can get expensive. If you want to cut fuel costs, staying in one place for a month or a season will significantly reduce those costs.
Many RVs heat and cook with propane. Like all fuels, the costs have risen. Because we generally use electric heaters and minimal propane, we can get by on about 80–100 gallons a year.
Most overnight or short-term RV parks don’t charge for electric use. If renting by the week or month, you will generally need to pay a separate charge for individual electric use. That can really add up in hot summer months or if you’ll be heating with electricity. We made a significant investment in solar power that is more than adequate when boondocking.
The amount of your vehicle registration and ongoing licensing will depend on the state you decide on for residency. If you’re buying a new or relatively new RV, expect a big chunk of sales tax in whatever state you have residency in.
You will need full-time RV insurance. Check with your agent. Progressive, GEICO, National General are all popular policies when living in an RV full-time. Just like a house, insurance can cover belongings in the event of a catastrophic loss.
Talk with your health insurance agent. Research is needed to make sure any existing policies will cover different states while traveling.
Recreation and Entertainment
Living in an RV full-time provides the opportunity to explore and see new things. There are admission, travel fees, and memberships to account for. If your bucket list contains the National Parks, buying an annual pass or senior lifetime pass can cut costs.
If you just couldn’t get rid of all your stuff, storage units are available for monthly or yearly rental. Storage units can run from $35 to well over $200 a month. Long-term storage can definitely eat into your bankroll. We paid for two years’ storage and realized we could buy the stuff for less than our storage fees. That being said, we did force our kids to hold on to a few things for us.
Establishing a Full-time RV Budget
When establishing a budget you will need some flexibility – things happen, plans change. A good starting point is to look at the current day-to-day expenses that you will still have when full-timing. As we put most of our expenses on a credit card or paid online I could get a rough idea of costs we would still have.
We already owned our house and our RV. It was easy to see that full-time RV living could be equal to or exceed our current monthly expenses. The highest costs would be gas, campsites and potential RV repairs.
- I created a rough spreadsheet and easily listed known costs, food, clothing, medical, medications, and subscriptions that we planned to keep.
- I then added those items that will be replacing those estimated costs. For example, existing home cable Wi-Fi would be exchanged for increasing data on existing and new cell plans. Cable TV would now be exchanged for Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Prime video.
- Gas was in the unknown category. Fuel costs were going to jump in an RV. How much depended on how much we planned to travel.
- Some RVers put aside money every month into an emergency fund to cover repairs, hotels, and airfares if needed.
Six years into living in an RV full-time, I have a good idea of costs. When we travel for the summer and I spend money with abandon, I can count on racking up thousands of dollars a month. When we hunker down for the winter and work camp, I still spend with abandon and our costs can be less than a thousand dollars a month. The advantage of an RV is that there is only so much room. Something in, something out. By now, we have all the major items purchased and no place for anything else.
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