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The Frugal RVer, part one: Save on food, fuel and fire

Over the past two years, many of us have experienced substantial changes in our lives – some voluntary, others forced upon us. One of the changes that has affected everyone in the RV life is rapidly escalating costs. Nearly everyone is becoming acutely aware of the need to economize. Some have had this imposed by changes in earning power or fixed income. Others have found that their style of travel and camping has changed and that they might enjoy the lifestyle more if it cost less. In any case, it’s always good to lower costs and save money, particularly in the RV lifestyle, where it just seems like everything is more expensive.

There will be an ongoing series of articles about how the frugal (or thrifty) RVer can save money. But let’s start with some of the things that no RVer can live without, i.e., fuel, food, and fire.

Page Contents

Fuel

The TSD Open Roads App displays fuel prices near you.

Food and fuel are two commodities on which we have all overspent at one time or another because it is so easy to do so. If your typical tendency is to stop at a gas station when your fuel gauge reads “E,” you’re spending too much money. We all suffer from fuel pump shock at today’s prices. One way to lower that unavoidable cost is to join a fuel discount program.

The TSD Open Roads Fuel Card

There are several fuel card programs for RVers. With consistently the most savings, one of the most popular is the TSD Logistics “Open Roads” program. Currently, the program is for diesel fuel only, but the company website indicates they are adding gasoline as well. A cardholder will save a minimum of 5 cents per gallon, and the discount is often more like 30 to 50 cents per gallon – and sometimes more. Why pay retail? You can apply for a TSD Open Roads Fuel card here. Of course, they have a phone app, which you can download and install here.

Food

For years, I was so excited to be on the road that I threw all caution, and thrift, to the wind when stocking my coach with food. I would typically pull into any store with wide-open parking and fill my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry with camp food and drink – all without regard to cost. That all changed with the recent dramatic increase in prices at the grocery store. I began to plan trips with savings in mind.

With meat at $10 a pound, I began to look for substitutes. Dry pinto, black turtle, and navy beans are good protein sources and can be bought in bulk quantities relatively cheaply. They also store well in an RV with the proper containers, but a quick online search for food-grade­ 5-gallon buckets with sealable lids indicated prices of from $8-$12 each.

I was thinking of this while researching food storage at one of the many excellent internet sites for preppers. I learned that any commercial business that processes or sells food is likely throwing away food-grade storage containers. A check with my local store’s bakery and deli departments quickly resulted in my having all the food-grade storage containers I could ever want or need – the cost: $0.00. You can get them in sizes from 1 to 5 gallons. You can use the containers to store all dry foods, grains, cornmeal, flour, etc. Unlike paper or plastic bags, the lids keep rodents, bugs, and moisture out of your supplies.

A five-gallon food-grade bucket with lid is a frugal way to go for bulk food storage

Fire

For years I would order boxes of “Fatwood” from L.L. Bean or Plow & Hearth to use for starting campfires . A 25-lb. box costs $50 and up – money literally up in smoke! So I made a switch – to lint. Yes, plain old common dryer lint that you remove from your dryer screen and throw away, anyway. It can be saved in a discarded plastic coffee can. Cost: $0. A pinch under your kindling will have a nice blaze going much faster than newspaper.

And on the subject of fire, how much do you spend on camp firewood? The amount spent on those $5 bundles of wood sold by camp hosts adds up to an additional $10-$20 a night in camp. I know, I know – You can’t bring firewood with you into many campgrounds, though many do. However, you can use the wood already on state and federal lands if camped there. Most states and the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management issue firewood permits. The permits are free and allow you to cut dead trees and windfalls. It helps the forest lands and promotes fire prevention and suppression to clear out the deadwood. Cost: $0.

Stay tuned for more ways to reduce your road and camping costs and make RV travel less expensive and more fun. Next, we’ll talk about free tires – and that’s something you’re going to want to know about!

##RVT1031

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Cecilia
7 months ago

I really don’t get this TSD card. What’s in it for them? Can you only use it at truck stops? There’s no way I’m giving them my SSN number and bank information. Plus, using my credit card, I get points to use elsewhere.

Michael Galvin, PhD
7 months ago
Reply to  Cecilia

What’s in it for them is more customers, better buying power. Mostly at truck stops, but not exclusively. Nobody has had any problem giving SSNumber and credit card info. We’ve had no problem for 5 years; saved MUCH money. The points you get with your credit card are not nearly as valuable as the TSC discount.

Sally
7 months ago

No longer full timers, but like to save on gas for RV trips!
Kroger family of stores (Frys in AZ) offers fuel points with each purchase, and have periodic specials offering 2x fuel points. Also 2x fuel pts on gift cards, and frequent digital coupons for 4x fuel points on gift cards. Safeway has the same kind of program, so probably other grocery chains do too.
These supermarkets sell gift cards for many retailers (Tractor Supply, Amazon, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Petsmart, Petco, Best Buy, restaurants, movie theatres) where we shop, so we buy gift cards from Frys to make purchases at these stores. 100 points = 10c off /gal of diesel or gas, up to 1000 points / $1.00 for up to 35 gal. We try to accumulate a few thousand points prior to long trips, and have ID’d gas stations that accept Frys points AND (with help of satellite image on google maps) can accommodate a 37ft Class A rig towing a truck. A saving of $35 per fill up is always welcome!
GasBuddy is also GREAT!

Beachcamper
7 months ago

I use TCS through my FMCA membership, we send the amount we want to use for our trip via ACH transfer. Did not want to give TSD my ss number or access to my checking account. It has saved us a lot of money while pulling the fifth wheel when accessing truck stops. For non pulling we refer to Gas Buddy for best prices in the area.

https://www.tcsfuel.com/

Traveler
7 months ago

5 gallons of beans? Winco ( and I’m sure other stores) have 2 gallon buckets with screw on lids that we use for Doggy water and food. You could get some variety in your legumes.

Mikey
7 months ago

Living in Canada, one thing that everyone who does an article on TSD fails to mention is that you are required to have a U.S. bank account for them to withdraw the funds. If you only have Canadian accounts at Canadian banks you cannot get set up for the program.

Ozzie
7 months ago

I use TSD with great success and their customer support is without equal! Those living in fear of being compromised just don’t realize that your information is already out there, it’s already too late to worry about.

Back to fuel savings, Escapees has just launched their own discount program for GAS and DIESEL! I plan to use both to increase my options on the road. You can find out about it at the Escapees website.

Firefly
7 months ago

I use TSD and always keep in mind three things when figuring out where the best deal is on fuel. You do need to do some math to figure it out.

  1. You may be saving $0.25 to 0.$50 a gallon off the price at the pump. However that pump price at the truck stop is generally higher than other stations. If you are towing, it’s generally worth it to go through the truck lanes. But if you are not towing, you may find a lower price at a nearby station.
  2. You pay 10% of the savings back to TSD plus a $0.60 swipe fee. So the discount price isn’t what you actually pay.
  3. Payment is made via bank transfer rather than credit card. My credit card gives me 2% cash back on fuel purchases. That is $0.08 savings per gallon on $4.00 per gallon fuel.

So I always check Gas Buddy to see what the general fuel price is in an area before deciding where to fuel up.

wanderer
7 months ago

Seriously, get 5 gallon buckets to fill with dry beans? Never mind that’s a good chunk of my RV’s storage space, do you really think you save fuel by boiling beans for a couple hours? Lint in lieu of a piece of cardboard? Oh, and carry a chain saw to cut firewood? Come on, let’s get real.

T Edwards
7 months ago

I signed up for TSD Logistics one year ago when I bought my Ram Diesel truck to haul our 5th wheel. Thought I was all set at my first refueling stop. The card was rejected. The attendant called TDS who said my account didn’t exist.

After several failed attempts to contact them by phone and email I finally reach a real person to speak to. She said she cleared up the account info and the card was ready to use. Nope. Same thing happened again.

So I called again. Card checked out. Tried it a third time and it failed again. Don’t know where to go from here. Right now I use GasBuddy save $.05 to $.28/gal

Herb
7 months ago

We have a gas coach, would love to find a card that would give 30 to 50 cents off on fuel and as a fulltimer, everything we own is in our RV, I don’t have storage room for 5 gallon buckets. Finally, we travel almost exclusively up and down the east coast. I have yet to find a state park that allows me to cut my own wood.

I know the answer, spend the money I don’t have, to buy a larger diesel pusher. Then I will be able to save on fuel and have room for those food storage containers. Then I can tell all my friends and family on the east coast we are going to start camping out west so I can save on firewood.

Ozzie
7 months ago
Reply to  Herb

Herb, if you’re an Escapees member they have started a discount program that includes gas.

Jesse Crouse
7 months ago

Still leary of giving private business and personal info out. I was a victim of bank fraud and was treated by my own bank as a thief. Waited a month to get my money back.

Ran
7 months ago
Reply to  Jesse Crouse

I agree! And they are asking for your Social Security number! YIKES! NO-WAY!

Bob M
7 months ago
Reply to  Ran

I don’t trust giving my bank information or Social Security Number out. My info was hacked from the federal government who has the best systems to stop hacking. But still got hacked.

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