The Money Post

19 11 2010

Here are two comments about our RVing that I heard in the last week:

  • “Wow, I wish I could do that!”
  • (Discreetly) “It must be tough. You can stay with us until you’re back on your feet”

Each of these statements reflects not only a view of RVing, but also an idea of its associated costs. The latter is what I want to clear up in this post. As with non-RVing life, living on the road can cost anywhere between next to nothing and a crapload. Many RVers at Slab City live on welfare checks, while the authors of Live Your Road Trip Dream pegged their budget at $76,000. Assuming you own your RV outright, let’s first take a look at the basic costs:

  • Food
    • If we only ate in, our food costs would be around $400 each month. And that’s with us somewhat ignoring price tags and allowing for fun impulse purchases. I know of RVing couples who are very content spending less than $200 per month on food.
  • Propane
    • You would be amazed at how RVs sip propane. (And I’m constantly amazed that a small blue flame somehow keeps our food cold.) The big propane suck in an RV is the furnace. With minimal furnace use, a $30 propane fill-up can easily last a month.
  • Fuel
    • Assuming you drive your RV around town, tack on $100 per month for gas. (Yes, I made up that number.)
  • Vehicle insurance
    • This varies by state and driving history, but let’s peg this at around $50 per month. Don’t forget to get fulltiming RV insurance, which is a hybrid of homeowner and vehicle insurance.
  • Registration
    • This also varies by state, but most RVs can be registered in South Dakota for under $100 per year, or $8 each month.
  • Laundry
    • Depending on how clean you like to feel, peg this at around $20 per month.
  • Maintenance
    • We assume that over time we’ll end up having to make some repairs and perform regular maintenance, so pulling a number out of a hat let’s liberally call this $150 per month.

Now where are we? We’ve covered the essentials for, on the higher end, under $800 per month (though we’ve opted for some extras – see below). That’s under $10,000 per year. What do you live on back home? 🙂

Let’s mix things up a bit and add some more categories.

  • Parking / campground fees
    • There is no reason to pay for parking! In the last three months we have paid $7.50 for parking. Five dollars was for two nights at a gorgeous forest service campground in the Mojave Desert, and $2.50 paid for a night right at the base of Mount Whitney. Google around and you’ll find plenty of parking ideas: government land, churches, the street right on the beach, parks, casinos, parking lots — the list goes on. If you decide to pay for ‘camping’, beware that you’ll (a) pay a bunch, and (b) will get less space. Chris and Cherie of Technomadia have a general rule that the classier the RV “resort” and the more money you pay to park there, the more tightly packed in you’ll be. (Caveat: If you have a monster RV, it’ll probably be a toss-up between paying for a campground and using government land.)
  • Fuel
    • This one is a legit expense. For a lot of people, RVing is about seeing the country, driving its backroads and racking up serious mileage. We like to mix things up, but mentally balance out our expenditures. In months that we drive more, we can lower our “free money to do whatever we want with” expenses. When we’re more stationary, more money from that fun account magically appears.
  • Technology
    • While equipment costs are upfront, ongoing costs like cell phone data service or satellite internet are recurring. (Our mobile wireless internet comes free with our cell phone data plan.)
  • Entertainment / miscellaneous
    • As you probably guessed, this is a big bucket category. It can include things like shopping, movies, entry fees, dance classes, and massages. Of course, the expenses associated with this category vary widely person-to-person.
  • Food (out)
    • Who doesn’t like trying out new restaurants? (And returning to old ones!) Whatever your answer, we like it. Again, a totally variable category.
  • Capital improvements
    • Things like solar panels, new batteries, an upgraded hitch, snow tires, tank heating pads and whatever else you can think of. Some of these could conceivably add value to the RV, but don’t count on it. Treat them like expenses.
  • Charity
    • Self-explanatory.

Ayo and I take somewhat different approaches to budgeting. In a nutshell, she likes to keep expenses low and I like to see what we can afford and live as best we can within that amount. (We’ve ended up somewhere in the middle.)

Our original estimate of our annual costs on the road was around $30,000. We’re not super rich, but we could have kept that up for a good amount of time. But it quickly became obvious that we could eat out frequently, drive around a lot, and pretty much do whatever we want for a lot less. What that allows for is the occasional mega-expense, like dropping ten grand on circus school. (Something we actually thought about, though have temporarily put on hold.)

But then again, there are creative solutions for everything. We try to barter our skills and find ways to save without pinching pennies. For example, this February we’ll be co-leading a Birthright trip to Israel. While the trip and our role is about the participants, it’s still a free round-trip flight, ten days of touring, and free lodging and meals. We’ll likely be extending our ticket and staying an extra week or two as well. Price if we paid for it: ~$4000. Price being only a little bit creative: closer to a few hundred dollars.

posted by jay




One response

20 11 2010
Freely Living Life

Hey you two!! =0)

To answer your question:

“So where are you heading to escape the winter?”

The answer is….right here! Well we are in Southern Alabama right now (Gulf Shores) but we will eventually be making our way down to Southern Florida (East Coast somewhere).

Thanks for stopping by! I have finally had a chance to catch up on a few of your blog posts. Happy and safe travels! {{hugs}}

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