The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on your RV lifestyle and choices. It really is a highly individual thing. We like full hook-up campsites which cost a bit more. On the other hand, we like to travel slowly staying in an area for at least a month, which costs quite a bit less. In this article, we discuss the typical budget line items. Also at the bottom of the article, we’ll share our average monthly budget expenses.
Click here to get our free budgeting worksheets.
Monthly Budgets and Less Frequent Expenses
We create a monthly budget. While many expenses are not monthly in nature (registration, insurance, maintenance, etc.), we choose to break them up into monthly line items for our budget, and put that amount into savings each month. This ensures we don’t come up short when the expense is due. For example, our RV and truck insurance is due twice a year. We divide the amount into six and that is what we put into savings each month.
RV (Travel Trailer, Fifth Wheel, Class A or C Motorhome)
- RV payment (if financed)
- RV maintenance and repairs – Even if you have a warranty on your RV, you should save some money each month for things that may not be covered like oil changes, water filters, wiper blades, generator maintenance, etc.
- Gear / Modifications – Your RV dealership may or may not provide some of the basic “gear” that is needed to live and travel in an RV (see our Gear Guide here). You may also want to complete certain upgrades for safety or convenience. For example, we were not happy with the tires that came on the Fifth Wheel, and purchased all new tires (at our own expense). Many RVers like to boondock, or camp off-grid, and outfit their RV with solar. Others remodel and paint, change flooring or fabric to make it their own. This is often an ongoing expense that you should budget for as just like in a sticks and bricks home, people like to upgrade and make changes to improve their daily lives.
- RV insurance – It is important if you are living in your RV full-time to specify this to your insurance company so you are covered not only for the RV, but your contents as well. If your RV is financed, you will want to be sure that it is insured for the full payoff value. If it is not, you will have to decide the replacement value. Just like car insurance, you will choose your deductible level as well.
- Fuel – If you have a motorhome, you will need to budget for fuel. This can vary greatly depending on how often and how far you move. Our first year we came up with a rough itinerary with total mileage and an average cost of fuel per mile.
- Tolls – Toll roads are becoming very commonplace in the US. In many areas, like around Orlando, it is difficult to go anywhere without using toll roads. Plan ahead and try to determine if there are ways to minimize costs and simplify payments. For example, on the northeast coast, you can purchase an EZ pass for tolls at grocery stores. The same applies for the SunPass in Florida.
- Annual registration fees – This will vary based on your legal state of residence. In some states it is a set fee, and in others it is a property tax based on the value of your RV.
- Propane – If you have propane appliances (stove top, oven, refrigerator, or heater), you will need to budget for propane. This varies depending on usage. We don’t RV in cold climates, but we do use our propane stove top and oven daily. We have 2 propane tanks on our Fifth Wheel, and only need to refill about 2-3 times per year. Still, we average the cost and budget for it monthly.
- Generator Fuel – If you have a generator, you will need to assess how often you use it and budget for fuel. For example, we typically stay at full hook up campgrounds, but use the generator to run the air conditioners when we are moving between locations in the summer.
This refers to the vehicle that tows your travel trailer or fifth wheel, or the vehicle you tow behind your motorized RV.
- Vehicle payment – Same notes as the RV above.
- Vehicle maintenance and repairs – Same notes as the RV above.
- Vehicle gear / modifications – You may need to install a towing package on your vehicle, have it modified so that it can be towed, and purchase the necessary equipment.
- Vehicle insurance – Same notes as the RV above.
- Vehicle fuel – If you have a towable, you will need to estimate fuel for “moving days.” This can vary greatly depending on how often and how far you move. Our first year we came up with a rough itinerary with total mileage and an average cost of fuel per mile. In addition, for both tow and towed vehicles, you will need to budget for fuel in the local area.
- Tolls – Same notes as the RV above. Remember to add in tolls for local travel too. There are some parts of the country it seems like you can’t get anywhere, even locally, without toll roads!
Many RVers, ourselves included, keep a storage unit with some items we want to save for future use. If this is the case, don’t forget your monthly rental fee in the budget.
This can be one of the biggest recurring expenses, but varies greatly depending on your “style” of RVing. Below are general categories, but there are variables in each as well. To learn more about saving money on campgrounds, see our video here.
- Resort Campgrounds – Typical RV resort style campgrounds offer full hook ups, meaning water, sewer, and power. They also typically include amentias like swimming pools, mini golf, and organized activities. The cost for these will vary by amenities, location, and season. They can range from $30 to $100 per night.
- National and State Parks – These are often “no frills,” but found in amazing natural locations. We’ve stayed at some rather rustic ones with power, water, and maybe one old bathhouse, as well as some with full hook ups, large sites, and recreation areas with tons of activities. The cost for these will also vary, but are typically much lower than the resort campgrounds. Some can be very difficult to get a reservation because they are in such high demand. For example, Florida State Parks allow you to reserve up to 11 months in advance and many book as soon as that window opens. They can range from $15 to $48 per night.
- Boondocking – This is a term that essentially means camping without hookups typically in dispersed locations for free (or less than $15 per night). There are many places to camp for free in an RV or tent in the United States. RV boondocking locations include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and National Forests. Free boondocking sites are plentiful out west, but significantly limited in states east of the Mississippi. To read a terrific review of boondocking sites in Florida, click here.
This figure often stays the same for most full-time RVers. If you are the type that likes to eat out a lot now, you likely will want to continue that as you travel. We break this category into two different budget line items for monthly food expenses:
- Groceries – This figure can vary based on location as the cost of living fluctuates by region and if you are near metropolitan areas or tourist attractions. In addition, taxes can vary. Note: You may choose to put household items like cleaners, shampoo, dish soap, etc. as a separate line item. Since we purchase them with our groceries, we just include them here.
- Eating out – Many people like to sample local eateries when traveling. This is the one area that you have the greatest control over. The great thing about living and traveling in an RV is that you can always prepare your own meals. You have refrigeration and cooking appliances. I even prepare our own meals on travel days, and appreciate stopping at rest areas to eat in the comfort of our RV, rather than at fast food establishments.
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- Health – There is such a wide range of insurance costs because it varies by state, size of family, and even employer contributions. Just know that this is something you will need to research if you are changing your state of residence or employment when you begin your full-time RV journey.
- Life – This is an area than many people leave out to cut costs. However, if you are relatively healthy, it is pretty inexpensive and can significantly help your family in the event something happens. Any adult who contributes to income should have enough life insurance to help cover the loss of that as well particularly if you have any outstanding debts, like the mortgage, credit cards and car loans. In addition, all family members (including children) should have enough life insurance to cover expenses like funeral and burial costs that can overwhelm a grieving family.
While most full-time RVers change as much as they can to electronic, there are still some things that will be mailed. Many full-time RVers use a family member’s address, and still others use mailing services. Even if you use the former, you’ll need to include a budget to reimburse them if you need something forwarded to you. If you use a mailing service like the one offered by Escapees, you may have a monthly expense of $16.25 to $19.50 depending on the package you choose.
If you don’t have a washer and dryer in your RV, be sure to include a budget for laundry. Just pay attention to how many loads you wash per week and multiply that by $3.00 to $5.00 per load.
I know you’re thinking you will never need to buy clothes again. Your new lifestyle will be shorts and t-shirts every day. While that may be true, clothes and shoes wear out. While this isn’t a monthly expense, it’s a good idea to put a little away each month for the occasions when you do need to replenish the wardrobe.
There are several items you may consider under electronics to include internet devices, cell phones, satellite television, and streaming subscriptions like Netflix or Hulu.
- Cell phone – Cell phone service can vary across the country. Before you take your current plan with you, we recommend you read reviews or check coverage apps like Coverage to determine if that carrier is suited for your travels.
- Internet devices – Many full-time RVers, especially those working remotely, purchase hotspots or other devices with monthly plans to provide internet access. While many of the resort type campgrounds offer WiFi, we don’t find it reliable. For more information to help you make an informed decision, the Mobile Internet Resource Center provides a wealth of mobile internet information.
- Satellite television – Many resort type campgrounds offer cable television, but if you choose state/national parks or boondocking sites you may want a satellite option to keep up with your favorite sports team. Both Dish and DirectTV have packages for RVers.
- Streaming subscriptions – There are also many streaming services that many continue as they transition to RV life. So if you need your Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, or Starz subscription, don’t forget to include them in the budget.
Anyone with pets can tell you they come with their own expenses. From food to veterinarians, they can be quite costly. This expense will likely be very similar to what you pay now, so be sure to include it in the budget.
Don’t forget to have fun! When traveling to new places it is very tempting to want to go everywhere and see everything. You will have to assess how much of your budget you want to go to entertainment such as amusement parks, museums, movies, national/ state park passes, and other activities.
This line item will also likely remain the same. When asking yourself how much you should save each month, just remember: the more money you have saved, the more you control your own destiny.
- Emergency Fund – The most important part of savings is your emergency fund. Conventional wisdom suggests you should have at least six months of expenses in a savings account. I know a lot of people scoff at the idea of a traditional savings account where you might only earn 1% interest annually. However, if you think about it anything is better than earning 0%, or not having savings and going into credit card debt for emergencies, which will cost you 10% in interest or more.
- Retirement – Once you have an adequate emergency fund, and are debt free, the next component of savings is your retirement savings. We follow Dave Ramsey’s plan which suggests putting 15% of your gross income into tax-favored plans such as your company’s 401(k) and Roth IRAs. Don’t wait until later to start saving for retirement. You just never know what may happen in the future!
- Other Savings Goals – Some people identify other savings goals to include in the budget. Here are a few examples:
- Special Occasions – If you don’t plan ahead birthday’s, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Anniversaries, and other special occasions can bust the budget. Put a little aside each month for gifts, cards, flowers, and special dinners out.
- Christmas – This tends to be the most expensive holiday of the year for many and can easily sneak up on you. Once again, plan ahead by saving each month for gifts, cards, decoration, and even extra groceries if you are cooking a feast.
- Vacation – Yes, even RVers take vacations and save for airline tickets, hotels, etc.
The first step to saving money is to budget. Click here to get our free budgeting worksheets.
|Truck & RV Repair Fund||$200|
(FL Full-Timer policy)
(Hulu, Netflix, Starz)
|Internet (2 Hot Spots)||$172|
Note: After these expenses the remainder of our income goes into savings. We have our savings broken into several different subcategories to include retirement, vacation, plane tickets for our sons to come visit us, holiday gifts, etc.
To see a more thrifty budget with a smaller RV and plenty of boondocking, check out Drivin’ and Vibin’ who posted their expenses throughout 2016. The average was around $1,500 per month.
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