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Around the Campfire: The true cost of RVing

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Newer RVers joined the campfire recently. While still enthused about their RV journey, they were also a bit disillusioned about the true cost of RVing. I’ll let them explain.

A big lie?

Tom began, “Purchasing an RV seemed like a no-brainer. Both Angie and I work remotely. And we love to travel. We bought into the lie that RVing is a cheaper way to live. So, we went looking for an RV.”

“That was a little over a year-and-a-half ago,” Angie continued. “The pandemic was winding down and RV dealers were short on inventory, but we found a new 2021 model that we just loved. It seemed perfect for us.”

Not so perfect

“Our salesman, Chet, seemed knowledgeable,” Tom went on. “Now I realize that he highlighted the glitz and neglected to inform us about more crucial matters.”

The “crucial matters” turned out to be the weight of the RV. While Tom and Angie did own a newer truck, there was no way that their truck could pull the newly purchased (and quite heavy) RV. “Long story short, we had to buy a different truck,” Tom shook his head. “But the spending didn’t end there. Not by a long shot!”

Warranty woes

“I’ll admit it,” Tom continued. “We bought a warranty. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Now I’m not so sure. I didn’t realize that not all RV places will honor our warranty. What are the chances that our RV breaks down anywhere near a place that accepts our warranty?”

Hitch miss

The couple’s new-to-them truck required a fifth-wheel hitch—an additional expense they overlooked when budgeting. “We were so dumb,” Angie admits. “If we’d done just a little independent research before buying the RV, we could have saved ourselves a lot of money and worry, too!”

Fuel woes

At the same time this young couple hit the road, gas prices began to soar. “We blew through our monthly fuel budget in about two weeks,” Tom lamented. “And prices everywhere went up, up, up!”

Additional camping fees

Tom and Angie went on to explain that costs for campground stays increased as time went on. They hadn’t counted on local fees being tacked on to their online reservation cost either. When making a reservation online, these additional costs were not figured into the campground’s overnight rate. “So,” Angie explained, “in some places, we ended up spending more per stay than we’d budgeted for.”

Note: Local municipalities, in an effort to generate more money, often add resort fees, temporary housing fees, etc., which are then added to the campground’s overnight rate.

Go small?

“We’ve discovered that smaller campgrounds, away from cities, charge less,” Angle said. “The downside is that groceries and fuel in smaller towns often cost more than in metropolitan areas.”

Wi-Fi add-ons

Because both Tom and Angie work from their RV, they require a strong Wi-Fi signal. “Getting the extra Wi-Fi boosting equipment we needed was another thing we failed to budget for,” Angie said with a sigh.

Part-timers chime in

“Well, we aren’t on the road full-time,” Don said. “But even sitting still our RV costs us. We pay almost $2,500 a year just to store our RV. Talk about cost! We’re looking for a different storage option, but they all charge about the same in our area.”

Upkeep costs

Many folks also mentioned RV maintenance costs, which have also increased along with everything else. “It’s not uncommon for RV service folks near me to charge $175 and more per hour,” Bret added.

Helpful suggestions

Sensing that the conversation had been spiraling downward, a few campers offered some cost-saving suggestions:

  • Join Harvest Hosts or other clubs that will enable you to stay for free, aside from the moderate membership fee. Remember that these local farms or wineries hope you’ll support their efforts by purchasing something before you leave.
  • Learn to boondock. You may need to buy a few initial items, like a portable waste wagon, solar panels, or a generator, but they may save you money in the long run.
  • Don’t live like you’re on vacation. Your RV is your home, so don’t act like a vacationer by eating out, paying to see expensive attractions, etc.
  • Consider staying in state parks, city parks, and COE locations. You’ll save money and see great scenery.
  • Learn to do RV maintenance and repairs yourself. Check out online RV blogs, YouTube videos, RV owners’ groups, and more.
  • Make a budget and stick to it. Revisit and revise it regularly.

Do you think RVing is a less expensive way to live? What helpful money-saving advice would you offer to new RVers? Tell us in the comments below.

Previously in Around the Campfire:

##RVT1079

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21 Comments
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captain gort
12 days ago

Glad to see this “flash mob” RV craze melting down. All the greed it precipitated. All the damage it has caused to the whole camping experience. And all of the lost money it will cost those who got sucked into it in these past few years.

SDW
19 days ago

RVing is not cheap at all. We’ve been doing it for 15 years, and back when I was still running my business we weren’t ready to buy one yet. So I researched for 7 years and that was back in the late 90s before the internet had much information on RVing. We went to the RV show in Dallas every year and went to dealerships to look at them as far away as 80 miles. And RVing was much cheaper back then. We bought a 2007 37 ft. 5th wheel model that was a demo at an RV company because it was $10,000 off. It just set on the lot for a year to be looked at. RV campgrounds were $25 to $35 a night back then. Everything has gone sky high since. In 09 we got a solar sys. of 7 panels and 4 AGM batteries that ran $7200 and now with lithium it’s way higher. Do a lot of research before you buy, and plan on keeping your house not moving out of it to be full-timers. Most people when they reach a certain age will develop some kind of medical issue sooner or later like driving an RV at 85 years old.

Mary Davidson
20 days ago

#1. Buy used, especially the first one.
#2. Volunteer at state parks. Most require very little easy work for a free full hookup site. Be sure to ask about cell service if that is your internet connection.
3. You can live in a smaller space than you think you can.

Bwodom
19 days ago
Reply to  Mary Davidson

Please don’t lead folks into thinking that work camping is a free ride. It can be very enjoyable which is why we did it for 10 years. BUT…

Your site is not free…you EARN every day of it! Parks don’t need workers motivated by the free site. They need those who are willing to work hard, enjoy helping others, and are motivated by contributing to a positive camping experiences for others.

A few realities:

  1. Full hookups? Not always. Some parks offer FHU only to camp hosts. Retail hosts, park hosts, maintenance, et al. get E/W sites.

2. Sites are variable. Hosts may be in a volunteer village, near the maintenance
area, or even in a cleared opening at the back of the campground. Ask.

  1. Work on site? Not always. We drove 20 miles to our work station every day. We did get mileage.

3 Weekends off? LOL. Read the job description carefully. Most require Sat/Sun
work.

4 Finally: If you need a raised garden at home, you won’t like emptying fire pits.

Todd Schock
16 days ago
Reply to  Bwodom

You can’t say it enough! Do the research. Know your cost up front. That is the most important thing for any RV-er starting off! Know your tow or motorized vehicle for safety and maintenance. Use apps like gas buddy or upside, to help trim the cost on food to gas. Cost saving money is the only way to go.

Gary
20 days ago

I don’t find much of that “hidden” costs.
Clueless…party of 2…your RV is ready.
Prior planning prevents {bleeped} poor performance.

classBcitizens
20 days ago

My wife and I are retiring near the end of December 2022 and will start traveling in our Class B RV (Pleasure Way Plateau TS) on January 2, 2023 for one year. We sold our house and will sell both cars and put any remaining furniture and housewares into storage. We paid for our RV so there are no payments BUT we estimate that our one year of travel will cost at least $60K. When you figure in health insurance, fuel, campgrounds, food, RV insurance, etc. it adds up fast.

captain gort
12 days ago
Reply to  classBcitizens

You will likely regret this. Life (health) can turn on a dime. And there you are…living in a glorified and grossly overpriced Amazon delivery van. Buying back into a house is often impossible.

Wayne Caldwell
20 days ago

Yet another option is to ‘Thoroughly Research’ a used trailer. We bought our 2001 Crossroads almost seven years ago from the original purchasers. They had babied it and gave it almost anything it needed or wanted. We got it, along with a Hensley Arrow and Honda generator, for $5k and have invested maybe another$1,500 since then. These deals are out there, but you must be patient and persistent.

Richard Norman
20 days ago

Every new RVer faces a learning process that can be expensive, confusing and at times, even downright dangerous. Educate yourself BEFORE breaking out the checkbook.

There is plenty of good information out there if you look for it – RV user groups can be very helpful for both general and specific situations, repairs and pitfalls. Educate yourself!

RVs require continual attention – if you don’t have limitless funds, Educate yourself! You can do most of the maintenance yourself. You’ll save money and protect yourself by knowing that the maintenance was actually done and correct procedures followed. Educate yourself!

You can have a relatively inexpensive, comfortable and safe experience while RVing
or you can have a very expensive stressful and possible dangerous experience.

The responsibility is yours and the solution is always Educate yourself.

Have fun.

Spike
20 days ago

We just finished a month long trip of 2800 miles with Texas’ I35/I37 corridor consuming the vast majority of our time. 43′ Motorhome towing. Only considering the OOP costs of the trip (fuel, RV Parks, food, admissions, etc.) we averaged $151 a day spent (approx $4500.)

That might seem cheap compared to other forms of travel for a month, but of course ignores the cost of depreciation and lost earnings on a huge purchase price as well as annual insurance and maintenance. When sales people and the RV media proclaim it costs less they are in NO WAY considering total cost of ownership! Call it deception or a lie…it’s not the whole truth.

To me, RVing is a travel choice…something a person just wants to do. It’s not a lowest-total cost way to travel. Go in eyes wide open.

Richard
20 days ago

BOAT,, Bring Out Another Thousand…

Traveler
20 days ago

What “big lie”?

to spend that kind of money without scenario-ing through lots of eventualities ( or not expecting fuel prices to fluctuate wildly), and then act like someone lied to you?

wanderer
20 days ago
Reply to  Traveler

People who aren’t gearheads or experienced RVers assume any truck or SUV will pull a camper. Many salesman are either clueless about towing capacities, or just don’t care.

For a salesman–who earns his living by answering customer questions–to knowingly sell them a trailer their truck couldn’t pull was, well you can describe it in many, ways, some would call it lying, and they wouldn’t be wrong.

Traveler
20 days ago
Reply to  wanderer

Personal responsibility is a lost trait.

Big Bill
20 days ago

Wow. First in LINE! Here is my take. Do not buy an rv thinking it will save you money! Especially anything bigger than a small tow behind. The bigger the rv the bigger the expense. If you want to travel really cheap get a nice L L Bean tent with standup head room. I still have mine but rarely use it except to visit remote places that an rv cannot go to. A big rv is an apartment on wheels that costs you money even when stored and rapidly looses value in a few years beginning the day you drive it off the dealers lot. The costs of rv travel , gas, parks, repairs, etc have had huge increases over the years. So for potential newbies, keep your eyes wide open before you take the plunge. If you still work full time and can only use it on your annual vacation and on the occasional weekend, stay at a nice resort instead. Or before you make the plunge, rent an rv and get a taste of rv life reality. I have owned live aboard boats and they are even worse on the pocket book.

Cathleen Bond
20 days ago
Reply to  Big Bill

Great advice. I always owned pop-ups and I thought I wanted to buy a motor home. I rented one this summer, to see if I felt comfortable driving one. I still work, but I am a teacher with a lot of summer time off. My twin sister and I are doing the National Parks every summer. Although I love the idea of a motor home, after renting I felt like I was better off with a small A-Frame, as I didn’t have a car and bringing the MH everywhere in the Smoky Mts was a PIA. So I purchased a little A-Frame for our adventures. The A-Frame is a cinch to drive and I have a vehicle to explore the parks, win-win. I have 8 more years before I retire, then I will buy an MH, as I will have 12 months a year to explore this beautiful country.

Bob p
20 days ago
Reply to  Big Bill

Best definition of a boat, “A hole in the water you throw money into.”

Gary Bate
20 days ago
Reply to  Big Bill

I’m amazed that anyone could be so shortsighted as the aforementioned couple. Sure it cost money to own and operate an RV. It’s also expensive to buy a second home which also requires maintenance. We purchased a used 2009 Winnebago View with 40k miles for $40k several years ago. It was immaculately maintained in mint condition. We’ve driven around 25k miles in it and there’s constant maintenance. I do all that myself, including replacing the AC and upgrading to lithium battery system (Yay YouTube). We camp at everything from harvest hosts to RV resorts and (our favorite) state parks. We have to gladly pay $250 a month to store it but at least there’s a dump there. Despite all the van life videos suggesting a carefree no worries no work lifestyle we love to travel in our RV we don’t consider it “camping” we are “travelers in luxury” and that comes at a price. Couldn’t be more pleased. We felt extremely lucky during covid to be able to get out and see this great country of ours, you know America, land of the free, land of the brave. Please don’t be political and divisive on this site or on the road, we’re all Americans….