People frequently shrink away from conversations about money and finances. I’ve never quite understood this, considering that after almost 20 years of schooling, I never encountered a single class on financial literacy or loans or how many arms-and-legs worth of dollars you’ll waste on rent after college.
When Heath and I moved into our RV, we had no clue how much campsites would cost, how high our Verizon bill for Internet would get, or just how many thousands of dollars it would take to visit all 50 states (learn our exact finances from visiting all 50 states here).
We moved into an RV because we wanted to travel across the country for our honeymoon, but we’ve continued to full-time RV for the past two years, because it’s a cheaper, more freeing way to live. In fact, I recently that over a million Americans full timeRV. That’s crazy!
So exactly how much does it cost to live in an RV? Let’s break it down:
RVs aren’t cheap. Well, new ones aren’t at least. We bought our 1994 Coachmen Leprechaun in 2014 and sold him 48 states and 22K miles later. After buying an renovating “Franklin” for 12K and selling him for almost 10K, we really only spend $2,000 for our home. This is the definition of a steal and probably the main reason why I highly recommend buying used. We lived in Franklin full-time for 18 months before upgrading to our new RV. If you’re worried about buying a used rig off of Craigslist, I can tell you that we only broke down once when in 20,000miles. So I’m very pro-Craigslist purchases.
Our 2016 Winnebago Brave (MSRP 123K) required a 10K downpayment, which selling Franklin covered for us. We pay $600 a month for our RV, which is fairly high considering what I’ve heard from others who have bought new RVs. Most people I know who are financing rigs pay between $400-$600 a month.
I’ve been RVing enough to know what you’re about to think. Before even hearing how much we’ve spent in gas over the past two years, let me tell you: I cannot tell you what the gas mileage is for RVs. It’s different on all of them, but you’re looking at no more than 10 mpg, unless you go with a small Class B. Gas will always be your biggest expense.
Over the past two years, we’ve spent $10,496.29 on gas for both our RV and our tow car (a Honda CR-V). Our most expensive month of gas rang up to a whopping $1200, which is when we traveled through California when prices soared to $4/gallon in 2014. It was terrible.
Overall, we spend less in gas each month than we expect to. Our entire road trip through the lower 48 cost less than 7K in gas, so no matter how long you’re planning on hitting the road, trust me, gas really isn’t that expensive. Expect a few hundred dollars a month, depending on how many miles you’re covering.
Lodging, Rent, and Campsite Costs
After two years living in our RV full-time (meaning our RV is our one and only home), we’ve spent $9,527.08 on lodging* costs. That breaks down to $396.96 a month to live in an RV. That’s roughly $13 a night.
Since I’ve stayed in RVs parks in 48 out of 50 states (not in Hawaii obviously and there was absolutely no good reason to stay in North Dakota a minute longer), I can tell you that most RV parks average $35 a night. The most expensive park I’ve seen and actually stayed at was Liberty Harbor, where you camp with a view of the Manhattan skyline + the Statue of Liberty for $80 a night.
We use Good Sam and Passport America for camping discounts–I highly recommend both. But if you really want to save money camping, Passport America offers 50% off participating campgrounds and it costs you less than $50/year for a membership. You would be stupid to not buy this membership. It pays for itself in two nights! Plus they have an app, which is very unlike RV companies, which tend to not know what apps are.
Now if you’re really looking to save money, you can join Boondockers Welcome, which shows you free places to dry camp**.
*Note: This also includes our electric costs for two years, which are only incurred at certain RV parks.
**Dry camping is when you camp without electric, water, or sewer hook ups. Heath loves it. I miss air conditioning.
A photo posted by Alyssa Padgett (@alyssapadge) on
This number will stay roughly the same as what you spend wherever you’re living now. We spend up to $400 a month in groceries for our family of two. We buy mostly fresh foods and shop 1-2 times a week since there is limited cabinet space in RVs.
Other Food Costs (Restaurants, Fast Food, etc.)
I do not eat out often. If it were up to Heath, we’d eat out every day. Probably for breakfast. He is a sucker for pancakes and since I am gluten-free, we almost never have pancakes in the house.
Anyway, we average about $120 a month in eating out, which is mostly restaurants and Starbucks, not any fast food. From people that I’ve talked to, this is extremely low. Many full-time travelers are super into trying local restaurants when they travel, so they obviously spend a lot more on restaurants. But if you’re moving into an RV to downsize, pay off debt, or build wealth, you’re in control of spending as little eating out as you want. If you’re moving into an RV because you want the full experience of all the places you visit, you’ll drop a few hundred on eating out each month. It’s your call.
Phone & Internet
Ah, Verizon. I have a love/hate relationship with Verizon. I pay them nearly $250 a month for two smartphones and a jetpack (a wi-fi hotspot) with 20 GBs of data. Verizon is great because they have reliable service across the country, so we can always trust in Verizon when it comes to needing Internet for work on the road. I recommend Verizon because it’s what I use, and from the people I’ve talked to, most everyone relies heavily on their network.
A little more on Internet: If you’re planning on working on the road, never plan on “just using the RV park wifi” to accomplish anything. They are notoriously slow or non-existent. You cannot RV full-time with purchasing a jetpack or planning on using your phone’s hot spot. You can also buy wifi boosters and other expensive techie products, but a jetpack is going to be your most affordable, easy-to-use option.
Always, always, always expect to incur maintenance charges each month. Expecting to pay each month for maintenance will save you may headaches and knots in your stomach when you inevitably break down, blow a tire, shatter a brake pad, or have a propane leak–all of which happened to us. You’ll need to be changing your oil and refilling on propane regularly anyway, so it’s best to just count this as a guaranteed expense.
Our biggest maintenance occurred when our fuel pump gave up just south of the Grand Canyon. We paid $500 to get it replaced and get back on the road. We are probably pretty lucky that our biggest maintenance expense was that low, but I’ll take it! Based on our experience over the past two years, I’d budget $100 a month for this.
For our 1994 Coachmen RV, we paid between $700-$800 a year for RV insurance.
For our 2016 Winnebago Brave, we pay just shy of $2000 a year for RV insurance. And for the record, my husband is the guy who is on the phone with the insurance agent always saying, “Oh yeah, I want that covered. An extra $200 dollars? Sure no problem!” We are ridiculously over-insured, I’m sure.
Our car insurance is closer to $500 a year, since we pay for the lowest possible package and have an old car. Plus, our RV insurance should also cover our tow car in case of an accident. I say “should” since insurance companies have terrible reputations for telling you things that aren’t true.
We found our car + RV insurance through Good Sam, which connected us with National General and Allied, respectively.
Pro Tip: Even if you don’t insure your RV through Good Sam, you should definitely spring for their Roadside Assistance service. It’s $80 a year and completely worth it. Plus, if they can’t get to you in time for roadside assistance, they will pay for whoever does end up coming out to save you from the side of the Interstate. After getting a blown tire outside of Coalinga, California, I’m a HUGE fan of Good Sam’s Roadside service. Getting our tow dolly tire replaced billed us $150, which Good Sam promptly reimbursed us for. I’m a huge fan of any service that pays for itself. (PS They don’t pay me to say nice things about them, but they should.)
Those will be all of your big ticket expenses. There are always other random expenses: Spotify, Netflix, taxes, fees, movies, books, clothes, health insurance. But you’re completely in control of how much you’ll spend on those categories. Well, except for health insurance.
So let’s see, for two people living full time in an RV, that gives you a monthly breakdown of that looks like this:
The Rig: $600 (or less!)
Gas: $500 (I’m shooting high here, for dramatic effect)
Eating Out: $100
RV Insurance: $2000 for the year, or probably $150 a month
That rings up to $2,500 a month, living comfortably. In our ’94 rig, we paid as low as $1,400 one month. If you don’t finance an RV like we currently are, you can save a lot of money while traveling.
These numbers are all approximations based on our two years of experience. Every RVer is different, but if you’re planning to start full timing in the future, keep these numbers in mind as you budget.