The answer to the question, “How much does it cost to RV full-time?” will vary greatly depending on your RV lifestyle and choices. For example, if you want to stay in RV resorts, you will obviously have to allocate more money towards the campground portion of your budget. In this article, we discuss the typical budget line items.
We based this information on our six years worth of experience as full-time RVers. We also used that knowledge to create a program called Full-Time RV Finance where we cover the entire RV budget — there are so many more expenses than you might think — as well as methods for making money & saving money on the road.
Monthly Budgets and Less Frequent Expenses
We create a monthly budget. While many expenses are not monthly in nature (registration, insurance, 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.
These expenses will occur even if you live stationary in your RV and never travel anywhere.
Note: Replicate these expenses for all of your vehicles (motorhome, tow or towed vehicle).
- Payments – If any of your vehicles are financed, include your monthly payments.
- 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.
- Registration – This will vary based on your legal state of residence (also known as domicile). In some states it is a set fee, and in others it is a property tax based on the value of your RV.
- Maintenance and repairs – Even if you have a warranty, 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.
There are 3 main type of fuel costs associated with RV travel.
- Gas / Diesel – This expense can vary greatly depending on how often and how far you travel. If you plan to travel around the entire 48 contiguous states in one year, you’ll need a fairly sizable budget for gas or diesel fuel.
- 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. However, if you plan to dry camp or boondock a lot, you’ll use the generator often if you don’t have a solar power set up.
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 more than $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.
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.
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.
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 – If you aren’t retired yet, please don’t forget this important line item in your budget. 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! Click here to read 34 Expert’s Tips to Save for Retirement.
- 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.
And Many More…
There are many other expenses that vary when you make the switch from a traditional home to an RV. That’s why we created a 4-part program called Full-Time RV Finance where we cover every expense in detail and explain how the budget fits into your entire Full-Time RV Financial Plan.
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