One of our most frequently asked questions about being on the road full-time in an RV is how do we plan our budget and how different is it from when we lived in a stick ‘n bricks house.
I recently did a video for Campers Inn RV to get you started on this topic, but I’ve included even more details about each item I discuss in the video (and more) below.
To start, when we decided to hit the road, we had 3 cars, one for each of us. We sold the two vehicles that we didn’t need, one of which was completely paid off and the other which was not. So we immediately went down to just the truck payment there. We do have a monthly payment for our RV as well, but we essentially replaced the mortgage payment on the house after we sold it with an RV payment that was about 1/3 the cost of our monthly mortgage payment.
When looking at budgets, you need to decide if you’ll be paying for RV sites or if you’ll be boondocking. This is a huge part of your monthly budget and a big thing to consider when deciding to go full-time.
RV site fees are different that a house because we don’t have to pay electric and water. If you stay at long-term rates (monthly, seasonal, etc.), you do typically have to pay electric so keep that in mind when looking at options. The campgrounds will meter your electric and you pay for what you use. Obviously with boondocking, your fees are much different. Campground fees go away, but depending on how you get electricity, you have different costs associated with things like running a generator. I’m not an expert on boondocking since we arent’ boondockers; however, it is significantly less expensive if you’re able to take advantage of that lifestyle. Our jobs require constant connectivity to electricity, internet, and cell phone service so boondocking would be really difficult for us. Something to keep in mind when you’re budgeting for campground is travel memberships. We’re members of quite a few RV club because they offer discounted site rates. See if any of them are right for you. Depending on how often you plan to move around, some of the clubs may work better for you and some may not work at all. Evaluate the costs vs the savings and you’ll be surprised how much you can save with RV clubs for shorter term stays. Keep in mind, these discounts don’t apply for monthly or long-term rates since those are usually already so deeply discounted.
One high dollar item for us is gas for the truck. Diesel is expensive and our truck sucks up a lot of gas, especially on travel days. With a heavy fifth wheel like ours, we get down to about 5-7 miles per gallon while we’re towing. On a normal day when we arent’ towing, we still only get about 15 miles per gallon. To put this in perspective, when we winter in Gila Bend, Arizona, the grocery store is about 45 miles away so roundtrip costs in gas just to get groceries is about $20. When planning our travels, I use RV Trip Wizard to help me estimate the total cost of gas for each leg of our trip. It tells me not only how far it will be from campground to campground but how much it will cost in gas for each leg of the trip and the trip as a whole. I’ve plugged in our average miles per gallon while we’re towing and it takes that into account and estimates our total gas costs for us. This has been a huge help when we’re deciding whether certain adventures are worth it or not. If we go out of our way for a few days, we know exactly how much it will cost in gas so we can evaluate the value of the trip.
Our grocery shopping is a bit different from when we lived in a sticks ‘n bricks house as well. We don’t eat out nearly as much as we did when we lived in a home. We cook a lot more and I think that is mostly attributed to the healthier lifestyle we’re living – and I’ve been learning to cook and LOVE it. Certain towns we’re in don’t have many options for eating out which makes it easier to cook and eat in – I mentioned our winter location of Gila Bend and there’s a couple restaurants and a couple of gas stations that make up the town and that’s about it. We like the restaurants, but we eat at them maybe twice a month. This makes our grocery bill significantly higher – especially with the healthier, fresher foods we buy – but it also means our eating out bill is way lower as well. We end up on the positive side of this cost even with the healthier, more expensive grocery choices.
One major thing to be aware of when budgeting is RV insurance. This is one of the most important things when you’re living full-time in an RV. Even if it is more expensive, you need to make sure your insurance covers full-time RVing. If it doesn’t, then your insurance company likely won’t cover your belongings inside the RV if something happens. If you haven’t looked into whether or not your RV insurance covers full-time RVing, stop everything you’re doing and call your insurance company.
One thing we didn’t have when we lived in a house was a storage unit. We’ve down-sized it several times since we left, but when we first hit the road, we didn’t know how permanent this would be for us. We sold most of our furniture when we left, but there were some more expensive things that we didn’t want to part with in the beginning. Once we realized we were in this for the long-haul, we decided to purge our things again and moved to a smaller unit. Then we purged again and now we’re in the smallest unit they offer with just some family heirloom type items like the bookcase my Papa built for me and mom’s piano she played growing up. Beyond that, all that’s left is our photo albums and sentimental items that we just can’t part with. Storage units range in cost quite a bit and we likely pay more for this than we should be since it’s in a higher income area, but it’s too difficult to move to a different location at this point so we’ve come to terms with the monthly cost of this one.
RV Maintenance is something else to take into account when setting your budget. Any mishaps you may run into along the way will be unexpected – your house is on wheels, something will always go wrong when you least expect it. Our convection oven went out 2 days after its warranty ended and we’re still working on trying to get a new one. We’re hopeful, we’ll be able to get it covered under warranty still, but there’s no guarantee even when things are still covered. I recommend opening a separate savings account of money that you just don’t touch and it’s there for when something goes wrong with your RV – whether you use that to pay for a couple of nights in a hotel while you’re getting repairs or you have a tire blow out and you need to replace them – having that money set aside will be a huge relief when these mishaps happen.
My final recommendation is to splurge on AAA for your tow vehicle. Whether you’re towing a trailer or fifth wheel or you’re towing a vehicle behind an A or C class, always have AAA for when you’re out and about. I recommend the upgraded plan (AAA PREMIER) rather than the basic because often times in this lifestyle you might be driving your tow vehicle and be nowhere near your RV or an auto repair shop when something happens to your vehicle. The upgraded Premier plan is the highest level, but the only level of AAA that also provides some coverage for your RV as well. The upgraded plan covers towing at a further distance than the Basic and Plus plans which really helped us out while we were in the Florida Keys. In the 2 years we’ve been on the road, we’ve had to replace tires on the RV, replace tires on the truck, replace a truck battery, and have our truck jumped. This lifestyle puts a lot of strain and pressure on your vehicle so just be prepared
And last but certainly not least, the tool I use for budgeting is the free version of Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar budget tool. It is online and has an app for your phone as well. It’s super easy to use and best of all it’s free. They do have a paid version if you’re interested in syncing your bank accounts to the app, but I don’t use that.
If you have any questions about budgeting for the full-time RV lifestyle, just let me know! Happy to answer any questions you may have!