How do you set up the RV Budget? How much do you have? That’s really not too funny. No matter how you live the RV lifestyle, you will need money on a regular basis to continue to enjoy it. This isn’t much fun to deal with, but it must be done to ensure you are able to continue this lifestyle. You have to decide how much you are willing to spend in order to maintain whatever level of RV lifestyle you desire. We have talked to folks that said they had to spend over five thousand dollars a month to be happy. Wow! We have discussed this issue with others that boon-dock in one place for long periods that can do it on as little as several hundred dollars a month. We fall in between someplace.
There are numerous variables that have to be considered to come to a reliable figure for the RV budget. To start off, you need to determine all your fixed monthly costs such as insurance, rig and car payments, phone, internet, television, and other communications expenses, and any others you may have. See the budget section for more ideas. Now we’ll add in the variable expenses. You must decide on your basic lifestyle. Will you eat out in restaurants, or will you make most of your meals, or something in between? Will you boondock, or live off the grid, or will you stay in campgrounds and resorts? Will you travel a certain range of miles every month, or will you stay put for a season? Will you work while out on the road, and if so how much money do you expect to make? These and many other questions must be answered in order to come to a realistic dollar figure.
Once you have arrived at a monthly income requirement, subtract that from the total of your actual available income. Anything that is a positive number is great and can be put into savings. If you have a negative total, then you must reconsider your lifestyle desires. You may have to work to supplement income, or travel less to reduce fuel expense, or make other accommodations. In our case, workamping has brought us lifelong friends and some wonderful experiences. Check out our working on the road section for more information.
How much does it really cost to live the RV lifestyle? It can be as much as $150K or less than $10K a year. It all depends on how you want to live. With a larger income, you can live a more elaborate lifestyle by staying in more expensive campgrounds and resorts, eating out at restaurants, and driving a lot of miles. Smaller incomes may require more frugal living such as discount campgrounds, cooking meals on board and staying longer to enjoying the free activities offered at campgrounds and in nearby cities. Average full-timers we have talked with will spend about $25K to $35K a year. We take advantage of campground memberships, shopping at WalMart Supercenters, military commissaries, thrift shops, and yard sales. There are many ways to cut expenses so you can enjoy the things that mean the most to you. Just decide where you want to spend your money and adjust the budget accordingly.
Fixed Costs in the RV Budget
Fixed costs are those that recur on a regular basis either annually, quarterly, or monthly. These are the must-pay items that you can’t easily change in the RV budget.
If you do not pay cash for your RV this will be one of your biggest recurring expenses. Whether you choose a class A, B, or C motor home, 5th wheel, travel trailer or pop-up, you will have payments to make that will affect the RV budget. We choose a Class A diesel motor home and to tow a small car. The best advice we have heard is to buy you third vehicle first. Full-timing is hard on a rig so try and buy the very best you can comfortably afford.
Towed or Towing Vehicle
If you have a motor home you will probably need a towed vehicle. It is easy to park the rig and hop in the car and off you go for another adventure. Be sure and find out if the car is flat towable, that means 4 wheels down. You can modify your tow like we did because our car was paid for and it was less expensive to modify the car than buy a new one. If you have a 5th wheel or travel trailer you will need a tow vehicle. Make sure you check the towing specifications for your tow vehicle and match it to the weights of your trailer.
By registering in a less populated state, your insurance costs can be lower and you will improve the RV budget situation. We were in Florida when we first bought our rig, but decided on South Dakota as out state of domicile. Not many people live in South Dakota and our auto and motor home insurance cost went down by a third. Your car and RV will both need to be covered and not all insurance companies will cover for full time use of the RV. Be honest when you fill out the application. The insurance company could cancel your coverage or deny a claim if they discover you were untruthful on the application.
If your RV is motorized, you should really consider putting it and your towed car on the same policy. In case of an accident, both will usually be damaged. If you have two companies, you will pay two deductibles.
Extended Warranty and Towing Insurance
Since we bought a used motor home, we also carry Extended Warranty and it has paid for its cost several times. The cooling unit for an RV refrigerator can cost more than $3000. Imagine the cost of a heavy duty transmission. A towing service is also quite important. We use Coach-Net and they have been great. The first question they ask when we call is always “are you in a safe place”. That is a great comfort and peace of mind. This is a fixed expense that directly affects the RV budget on the variable expense side.
Every year your car or truck and rig will need to be registered. Don’t forget to plan for this expense and adjust the RV budget.
Health Insurance and the RV Budget
Health insurance can be your largest fixed expense, and is a key to being able to enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle. If you don’t have coverage from prior employment or Medicare, it is available for purchase from many companies. Make sure your healthcare is available across the country. Some plans are only good in the original state of purchase. This may be the largest hit to the RV budget.
Cell phones and internet are so important to keep in contact with family and friends. We have all three major networks. Most campgrounds will have some form of WI-FI; however it is not always good. Some use Tengo Internet which is a service available in most states at a cost. Almost all public libraries have free internet service and many fast food places offer it free. Just remember that public Wi-Fi is not secure. I would never do my banking or post credit card information using public Wi-Fi unless you use a VPN service like Surfshark.
Some parks have cable TV and will charge extra (up to $3.00 a day) for its use. If you will be in a park for an extended period and the park has cable services, most satellite TV companies will allow you to put the service to “sleep” for six months. This feature can improve the RV budget.
Mail Forwarding Service
How do I get my mail? This is the first question we hear. You will need to get a mail forwarding service which will assign you an address at their office. This is one area of the budget that is often overlooked. All of your mail will be sent to this address and then they will forward it to you. There are several companies that provide this service and are listed in the “How Do You Get Your Mail” section. They usually charge a yearly fee and then you will pay the postage to forward the mail to wherever you are located. We have cut way back on our mail. Getting rid of flyers and magazines we do not read cuts the weight of the shipped mail. We do everything we can by internet. Many magazines are available in an on-line version, and generally at a lower cost than the newsstand version.
RV Club and Camping Club Dues
We have memberships in a number of camping clubs in order to lower our camping costs. These can be in the hundreds of dollars so must be planned for in the RV budget. RV Club dues keep up our memberships and their associated magazines. Look here to cut costs. If you have a membership you don’t use very often, consider dropping it to save money.
Variable or Controllable Costs
Variable expenses are those that you have some control over. This is the first place to look when you need to cut back.
Fuel is probably the biggest variable expense that will hit the RV budget. So, consider your travel distance and the average price for fuel where you are traveling; add a few cents to the calculation of the expense and travel accordingly. We plan out 2-3 months in advance and figure out the miles and the cost. To find out how much it will cost for fuel in the different states you will be traveling thru, go on the internet and look at the Pilot/Flying J http://www.pilotflyingj.com/ or Loves http://www.loves.com/ websites. They list the current prices for fuel on a daily bases at all of their stations. There can be as much as ten cents per gallon or more difference between one state and another. Plan your trip based on these variable expenses. Sometimes we stay longer, and sometimes we will do fewer miles. There is no rush to get anywhere, so just enjoy the place you are now for a few more weeks. Don’t forget the LP tank. We use liquid propane for heating water, the stove top, and the furnaces in cold weather, our outside barbeque grill, and the refrigerator if needed. With the motor home’s built-in propane tank, we fill up wherever we find the best price; but except for colder winters, it is usually only two or three times a year. Most of our propane use is for the stove. Because we tend to grill a lot, we have a small LP tank just for the barbeque grill.
Parks range in price from zero dollars to over one hundred dollars a night and more. It all depends on the kind of park you like to stay in. Boondocking (camping without hook-ups) is using the self-contained features of your RV such as water holding tanks, generator or solar panels for electricity, etc. Boondocking is great fun and quite easy on the budget. We have done it several times and enjoyed it. We don’t do a lot, but there are those who will park for months at a time with no camping fees. Staying longer at the campground will give you a better price, and you will have more time to explore the area. Some campers think it is okay to stay at WalMart or other store parking lots for free for an extended period of time. Please don’t do this. It isn’t fair to the store or the local campgrounds. Belonging to a camping club like Escapees, Good Sam, FMCA, Thousand Trails, RPI or Passport America will give you a discount of some type; usually between ten and fifty percent. We have used them all.
Passport America advertises itself as half-price camping and is more cost effective, but there are restrictions to the length of stay and the time of year. You need to read the fine print.
Camping Clubs like Thousand Trails, Outdoor World, AOR, Western Horizons, and Coast to Coast have an initial cost that can be a high, then there is an annual fee, but the only extra you will pay would be for fifty amp electrical service. All of these clubs can be found online for resale. Be sure to check it out.
Then there are the individual private membership parks that are affiliated with the big clubs. There are many throughout the US. We have been able to camp in many of them to check them out thru our RPI membership. These are great for a home park near the grand kids or to visit each year for your annual check-up. Again, there is an annual maintenance fee. Also check out if there are reserve funds for any major repairs. You don’t want to have a huge unexpected assessment fee that will bust the RV budget.
National and State Parks are a great option. They are beautiful and not too expensive. The only thing we have found is that the do not always accommodate larger rigs. Again, call or go on the internet to check out the restrictions.
The Escapees RV Club has nineteen parks in their system for the use of club members at rates below twenty dollars per night.
It is your choice whether you eat out a lot or cook in your rig. This is a major expense that you have control over. It’s good to have a nice grill and a portable LP tank, this will help keep the heat out of the rig during those long summer days, and there is nothing finer than a hamburger grilled outside. There are grocery stores everywhere and something is always on sale. Planning out meals for a week at a time and taking a list to the store saves a lot of money as well as clipping coupons that can be very friendly to the RV budget.
Maintenance and Repair
Just like your stick built house there are regular maintenance and repairs that will need to be done. Getting these done and keeping a record will help to prevent major breakdowns in the future. About every five to seven years you will need new tires on the motor home. 5th wheels and travel trailers seem to need tires a lot. If you have a diesel engine the yearly oil change and lube can cost as much as $500.00.This is a big expense; plan to put aside a small amount monthly so you are ready.
Consider buying an extended warranty (such as Good Sam Extended Warranty);
If you do not have a washer in the rig, this is another expense. It runs about $10 to $15 a week or more depending on how much the campground or Laundromat is charging.
We do all of our banking on the internet. Most banks and credit unions have websites for on-line banking. Bills and payments are scheduled and controlled through this system. Let your bank know that you will be full timing so they will not be alarmed by charges from all over the country. However, it is your job to check your accounts constantly and keep track of the charges. We have had no problems as of yet. Be careful of public Wi-Fi hotspots for internet connection when banking. These sites are not secure and you don’t want your information to be made public. Be especially aware of ATM charges that can be as much as $4 per use. These charges add up. If you need cash, get cash back at the check-out counter and there is no charge.
This category includes the things we do for fun. It includes trips to the movies or movie rentals. If you are touring and want to visit a museum or other attraction that charges a fee, that will be included. Do you or your spouse play golf? That can be a big one if you play regularly. Often campgrounds charge for special meals or parties. If you are in Florida and want your grand kids to see Disney World, plan a large expense for that. This is a tough category to plan for, but necessary.
These are just some of the examples of the expenses you will have to track for the RV budget. You may have credit card and car payments to handle. If possible try to pay off everything but the most important and low interest item. Carrying heavy debt can make RVing a nightmare. Unfortunately, many people use credit cards to adjust for shortfalls in the budget. Be wise and realistic in your finances. Always figure on the high side and you will not run short.
As with everything we have talked about, do your research and talk with others; they have to deal with the RV budget as well. Talk to your bank or credit union, phone service, TV service and take names for later reference. If possible, get written confirmation of issues you have discussed.