RV Budget, Costs & Expenses – What does it cost to RV full-time?

The biggest question most people have before they run away to live in an RV full-time is: Can I afford it? To help you answer that question, this page outlines our living expenses for six months of RV travel in 2014, and it compares those costs to the costs we incurred during our first year of full-time RVing in 2007-08.

This is a long post. To read it in sections, the following links skip further down:

1. Is the Full-time RV Life Affordable?
2. Fixed Expenses
3. Variable Expenses
4. Cost Comparison: 2007 vs. 2014
5. Capital Costs & Depreciation


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People enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle on all kinds of budgets, and the money full-timers have to work with comes in all kinds of forms. Some retirees have big pensions but not a lot of savings. Others have a nest egg of savings but no pension. Many younger full-time RVers work while they travel, either to cover all of their living expenses or to supplement other income streams.

The form your money is in makes a difference in how you RV and what your expenses will be. If you have a big income that comes from a limitless source (a pension and/or Social Security), then a large loan on a new luxury Class A motorhome may be just fine and the nightly expense of high-end RV parks won’t be a problem. However, if you are trying to make a small nest egg last to your dying day, and you are not even retirement age yet, you may be best off spending a portion of it to purchase your RV outright, rather than paying interest on a loan, and you will also be looking to save money on camping and overnight parking.

If you are planning to work camp in exchange for an RV campsite, or if you will be working part-time jobs as you travel, or working via the internet from your RV, your choice of overnight parking spots may be based more on your job’s requirements than on the whims of your travel interests, and your camping costs and the kind of work you do will subsequently be tightly linked.

The bottom line, however, is that if you can afford your current lifestyle in a stick-built home, you will probably be able to afford a more mobile lifestyle in an RV.

Full-time RV Costs are Very Personal, including ours!

Everyone has different priorities and lives differently, making budgeting a highly personal project. My numbers here reflect who we are. We have been frugal in our choices, and we have adjusted to a simple life.

In my former corporate life, I hit Starbucks most mornings and ate dinner out almost every night. We owned and maintained two cars, and we each had significant commutes. Now we eat dinner out very infrequently, and we limit our coffee shop splurges. We own just one vehicle and drive much less. Where we used to have property taxes, utilities and HOA fees, we have none of those things in our RV lifestyle. All in all, we spend about $500 less per month in our RV than we did in our house. But that huge savings is entirely a function of what our old lifestyle used to be and what our current lifestyle is now. Other full-time RVers might not see those same savings.

To cut to the chase, our living expenses for our six months of summer travel in 2014 came to $2,090 per month. But that’s a meaningless number until we uncover where it came from…

How We Travel

We have a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single wheel diesel truck that we bought new one month into our full-time RV lifestyle. It now has 84,000 miles on it. This truck tows a 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 36′ fifth wheel trailer that we bought new at the end of our first year of full-timing in the spring of 2008.

We own our truck and trailer outright and do not carry any debt. This not only helps us keep our monthly expenses down but makes it easier to sleep at night. There is a lot to be said for the budget traveler’s creed: “Go cheap, go small, go now!”

To save money, we don’t have a cell phone. We estimate that since we started traveling this may have saved us about $50/month or as much as $4,500 all together. We have also equipped our trailer with solar panels and we camp for free virtually every night. These choices make us happy, but may not suit everyone. Here’s a description of our minimalist internet and communications solution and our tips for how to live off the grid in an RV.

What Will Your RV Budget Be?

Budgets for this lifestyle are both easy and difficult to anticipate. Your full-time RV lifestyle budget will be exactly what your stick-built-home budget is now, minus the expenses related to living in your current home, plus the expenses of living in your RV.

It’s that simple.

You already know what you typically spend at the supermarket, and that will stay the same when you travel in an RV. Look at your current bills and scratch off your mortgage/rent, utilities, property taxes, HOA, house maintenance costs and the gas/registration/insurance costs for your current vehicles that won’t be coming along on your adventure.

Then estimate your future lifestyle costs that you need to add in (the numbers we share below will help with that). These include your fuel costs and your vehicle insurance and registration fees for both vehicles that make up your rig, whether it is a motorhome/car combo or a truck/trailer combo. If you have chosen your domicile city/state, you can do very specific research to estimate your future vehicle insurance and registration fees. We have some notes on domicile selection on our full-time RVing page.

There are also maintenance, repair and upgrade costs for the rig and your own personal interests to consider as well.

Of course, the whims of the economy are beyond anyone’s control. In the spring of 2008 diesel fuel prices soared out of sight in just a few months. Half a year later the world economy fell apart. Yet, the full-time RVers that were on the road then just kept on going — like everyone else — finding ways to make the best of a grim situation. So, once you launch your full-time RV lifestyle, you will find yourself adapting as the world changes around you — just like you did at home.

A Look at our Expenses, Then and Now

Mickey Mouse Calculator

Mickey always makes this stuff more fun.

My plan before we started in 2007 was to spend about $1,800 per month. I estimated $500 per month for food and household items (which is what we had been spending at home); $500 per month for gas; $500 per month for campground fees; $100 per month for RV and truck insurance; and I left a slush of $200 per month for other things.

We ended up spending $1,672 per month during our first year on the road, beating our budget by a little. During those twelve months we saw diesel prices jump by almost 90% from $2.75 to $5.16 per gallon (in the places where we were buying diesel). At the same time, we also learned about boondocking and discovered that we didn’t need to spend anything on campgrounds. Those two unexpected events cancelled each other out!

Seven years later, we are now spending $2,090 a month. This is a 25% increase. Part of that is due to inflation which has raised consumer prices 14% between 2007 and 2014. The other reason for the increase is that we have changed our lifestyle a little bit, and we’ve become less stringent about splurging on things like eating out.


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RV Lifestyle expenses can be broken into “fixed costs” that you spend every month regardless of what happens worldwide or to you, and “variable costs” that depend on your activities.

FIXED COSTS – Six Months – May 1 to Oct 31, 2014

Our fixed costs for the six months between May and October of 2014 are shown in this chart. There is an explanation of what each category represents below that.

Expense Category Amount
Food & Household Items $582
Vehicle Insurance $135
Communications $88
Propane $50
Laundry $50
Miscellaneous $40
Mail & Postage $32
Vehicle Registration $29
Hair Care $15
RV Dumps $4
Health Insurance
Total $1,025

Food & Household Items – $582 / month
This item covers all supermarket purchases, including groceries, household cleansers, toiletries, laundry detergent, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and anything else that can be found at Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, Target and other places. Our rig is fully outfitted, but occasionally we get a small kitchen appliance or pick up a DVD. Those things get lumped into this number.

Vehicle Insurance – $135 / month
This includes both truck and full-time RV insurance for our 5th wheel trailer. We pay it annually, but the monthly cost is shown. If we had kept our Arizona home address, this line item would have been twice as much. There is more detailed info on the selection of a domicile (home address) and the implications that choice has on your vehicle insurance in the fulltiming section.

Communications – $88 / month
After five years of relying on free wifi signals for internet access and using pay phones for phone calls, we got a Verizon MiFi jetpack in 2012, and we now use it for all our communications, including phone calls. This figure includes both our Verizon account with 10 GB of data per month and our $2.99/month Skype account that lets us make unlimited phone calls to the US and Canada no matter where we are in the world (this was very helpful while we were on our sailboat in Mexico). We’ve gotten used to using the laptop as a phone on Skype. It’s a little weird because the person you are talking to ends up on speaker phone, which they may or may not appreciate, and some calls get dropped, but it works well enough.

Our complete communications strategy is described in detail HERE.

Propane – $50 / month
Prices for LP are all over the map, and we haven’t been very diligent about shopping around. We just buy it when we need it from whoever has it nearby. We’ve been paying anywhere from $2.59/gallon to a little over $4.00 a gallon in 2014. We use about 15 gallons per month: a little more in December/January/February when we use our vent-free propane heater to heat the trailer, and less in summer. RVers that stay in RV parks and campgrounds with electric hookups use a lot less propane than this, because they don’t run their refrigerator on propane 24/7. If you have hookups and don’t have metered electricity, you can save on propane costs in the winter by using an electric space heater.

Laundry – $50 / month
After a few years of messing with the little single-load washing machines at laundromats, we discovered that it is much better to use the biggest machines in the place because they are generally the newest machines, they do the best job, and they hold a heckuva lot. Dryers are usually 25 cents for a set period of time that ranges from 5 to 10 minutes, and we’ve found that most commercial dryers need about 35-40 minutes to get the job done. Washers and dryers at RV parks are usually much cheaper than those in the local laundromat.

Miscellaneous – $40 / month
My mom was a professional bookkeeper, and she taught me never to have a “miscellaneous” category because things get lost in there. However, I can’t ignore the $40 of cash we spend every month that is unaccounted for with receipts — little things like a coke and snacks from a convenience store on the road, or whatever.

Mail/Postage – $32 / month
This includes both our mail forwarding service and monthly mail delivery (discussed in more detail in the full-time RVing section) as well as postage we buy to send letters and packages.

Vehicle Registration – $29 / month
As with Vehicle Insurance, we pay this annually, but I show the monthly cost here. The cost is lessened by careful selection of a home address, discussed in more detail in the full-time RVing section.

Personal Care Services – $15 / month
For us, this is just hair cuts. Other full-timers may have other personal care services to consider like manicures, pedicures, massages, etc. (you never know!).

RV Dump – $4 / month
This item is here because it is a regular part of the boondocking lifestyle (you’ve gotta go every two to three weeks at a minimum). Many RV dump stations are free, but if you have to go to an RV park to dump the tanks because there aren’t any free ones nearby, it will generally cost anywhere from $5 to $15. Our RV dump station page has other tips and tricks related to managing the holding tanks.

Health Insurance —
Health insurance costs are totally individual, and the coverage for everyone is evolving. We do not have health insurance. Other younger full-time RVers have posted some terrific articles about health insurance and the impact on one’s choice of domicile state. Check out the excellent posts by Wheeling It and Interstellar Orchard. They both reference insurance agent Kyle Henson of RVer Health Insurance who is quickly becoming the go-to agent for all RVers’ health insurance needs.


VARIABLE COSTS – May 1 to Oct 31, 2014

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“Variable costs” are lifestyle expenses that are essentially optional — at least for a while. They can be deferred to a later month, foregone all together, or can make a fun splash in the current month. The great thing about these expenses is that they are controllable. If fuel costs skyrocket or you are short on funds, then stay put and save money! If you’ve got a more modest budget, consider staying in each location for a month or a full season to take advantage of the monthly or seasonal rates at RV parks. If you really want to skimp, boondock or at least stay in the dry camping sites at any RV park or campground that will allow it and has them available.

Expense Category Amount
Diesel $497
Upgrades* $163
Maintenance & Repair* $106
Restaurants $175
Entertainment $46
Clothes $37
Supplies & Tools $26
Memberships $15
Camping & Overnight Costs $0
Total $1,065
Grand Total Fixed + Variable $2,090

*These numbers are averaged since we started traveling. See descriptions below.

Diesel – $497 / month
Fuel costs are highly variable, both because they go up (and sometimes down) and also because you may drive more or less in any given month. Fuel can cost as little as $0 per month, if you stay in one place and ride your bike around town. Or fuel costs can dominate your budget if you decide to take your RV from Florida to Alaska and back via the scenic routes through New England and Southern California — in six months!

The figure here is our average monthly fuel cost for a six month summer season of travel. We drove a loop from Phoenix, Arizona through Nevada to Crater Lake in central Oregon and then went from northeastern Oregon to Sun Valley Idaho and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and finally dropping south through Ouray Colorado and into northern Arizona and back to Phoenix.

Our stats for this trip were as follow:

Total Driven: 9,092 miles Loop: AZ-OR-WY-AZ
Towing: 4,673 (47%)
Not Towing: 5,267 (53%)
Fuel Mileage: Towing: 10 mpg
Not Towing: 17 mpg
Gas Prices: Low: $3.59 (AZ)
High: $4.39 (NV)
Types of Roads: Interstates: 392 miles (3%)
State/Local: 9,573 miles (97%)
47 Stops Shortest Stay: 1 night (15 times)
Longest Stay: 22 nights
Average Stay: 4 nights

To show just how variable the fuel cost can be in the full-time RVing lifestyle, during the four months prior to this trip, from January to April of 2014, we stayed in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area and had dramatically lower fuel costs. We towed the trailer very short distances (20-40 miles) every few weeks as we explored different places in a 50 mile radius of downtown. We drove the truck on its own only once every few days. During that time our average monthly fuel bill was $195. Our lowest fuel bill was $112 (in January). Diesel prices during that time ranged from $3.59 to $3.79 per gallon.

Maintenance & Repair – $106 / month

This item is hard to predict, but now that we have owned our truck and trailer all these years, we can provide an average of what we’ve spent so far on maintenance and repairs since we started full-timing.

This figure is an average of all our truck and trailer maintenance costs from 2007 to 2014 rather than being just the expenses we incurred over our six months of summer travels in 2014. We did not use the trailer when we lived on our sailboat, although we did use our truck when our boat was in San Diego and Ensenada at the beginning and end of our cruise, and all that is factored into this average.

Mark is very handy, and he does a lot of the maintenance work himself (not the oil changes, though). He replaced both of the fifth wheel’s front landing jack legs and landing jack motor while we boondocked in Arizona (absolutely amazing to witness — I will write a post with step-by-step procedures and pics eventually!).

A summary of our maintenance and repair expenditures since we started (totaling $5,830) is the following:

  • Oil changes: $75 or so every ~5,000 miles on the truck
  • New Tires: 2 sets of new tires on the truck, one set on the trailer, $800 per set
  • New Brakes: Replaced front brakes on truck
  • 5th Wheel Landing Legs: Replaced the landing jacks and motor on the front of the 5th wheel
  • Engine Maintenance: We have performed all the maintenance (and minor repairs) required on the truck
  • Wash/Wax: We wash the rig regularly and wax once or twice a year

For budgeting reference, the maintenance and repairs on our rig have cost 0.128% of the purchase price of our truck and trailer per month since we bought them. That may be applicable to other truck/trailer combos. I am not sure it would be applicable to a motorhome/car combo, as motorhomes are inherently more complicated and expensive to maintain.

Note: In 2015, although all of our expenses were about the same as in 2014, we had several MAJOR and UNEXPECTED repairs as shown below. Luckily, our RV Extended Warranty covered the repairs:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over!
Confused about the nitty gritty fine print buried in RV Extended Warranties? Here's an excellent detailed explanation!!

Upgrades – $163 / month
Unlike Maintenance & Repair costs which must be done (although some can be put off until you have the funds to do them), upgrades to the rig are entirely optional. The figure here is the average of all our improvement and upgrade costs on our truck and trailer since we bought them rather than just the upgrade costs we incurred during our six months of summer travel in 2014.

The upgrades we have done total $8,235 and include the following:

Restaurants – $175 / month
This is a hugely variable cost that has changed a lot in our lives over the years. The figure for these six months of summer travel in 2014 is way higher than ever before. Our biggest “eating out” cost comes from getting coffee and muffins at coffee bistros (so nice!). The rest is a combination of beers at cute brewpubs and meals at Subway and other fast food joints. For comparison, in the first four months of 2014 before this trip, from January to April, our monthly restaurant bill was $70. In those months we weren’t camping near many inviting places!

Entertainment – $46 / month
We don’t pay for entertainment often because we find so much great entertainment that is free. However, we do miss out on some museums and events that charge an entrance fee.

Clothes – $37 / month
We have a two-week rotation of clothes for both warm and cold weather, and since we started traveling we have replaced almost all of these garments. Commercial washing machines are hard on clothes and they wear out. Our biggest clothing expense is shoes. We replace our hiking shoes and running shoes regularly, and we buy high quality, expensive shoes. As a side note, if you get a credit card from Cabellas, REI or another outdoors store, and put all your living expenses on it, and pay it off each month to avoid interest charges, you can use the points each year to get your hiking shoes or other camping gear for free.

Supplies & Tools – $26 / month
This category includes all the tools and supplies we use to keep the rig in good shape. Mark loves to try new products and has a growing collection of tools in his toolbox. Before we left, he made the mistake of selling almost all of his tools. If you are handy and can work on your rig, don’t make that mistake too! He tried to “make do” with the bare minimum of tools for the first year, which is why this category didn’t used to exist for us, but now he regularly buys little goodies that make his maintenance tasks easier.

Memberships – $15 / month
This includes both annual memberships and magazine subscriptions. We belong to Join Escapees RV Club and Good Sam Club and we purchase an America the Beautiful Federal Lands Pass to the national parks each year. We also subscribe to several magazines.

Camping – $0 / month
Camping fees and overnight costs are extremely variable from one RVer to the next, because this is the very essence of the lifestyle. In addition, full-time RVers are a broad mix of people with a wide variety of tastes and preferences.

From May to October, 2014, we did not pay for any overnight camping, and that is the norm for us. However, although we did not pay for camping over the summer season (or in January, 2014), the months of February, March and April, 2014, were unusually expensive for us. Those three months averaged $83/month because we spent time at three different campgrounds visiting friends and chasing wildflowers at a state park (we were a little late for the flowers — rats!).

Many people boondock to save money, and we started that way too. However, we have found that it is by far our preferred way to camp. If we couldn’t boondock, we wouldn’t live in an RV.

That said, it is not for everyone. We have met very few full-time RVers who boondock as much as we do. Most people who enjoy boondocking, or “free camping,” do it from 25% to 75% of the time, at most. For full-timers who work, it is hard to find a boondocking location near most jobs, and you have to pack up and go to the RV dump station every 10 days to 2 weeks, disrupting your life. Even if your work is location independent, and you work out of your RV, finding good boondocking locations that have adequate internet access to do that is not easy. During the summer of 2014 we spent 5 weeks camping in places that were 10 miles or more from the nearest internet access.

Overnight campsite and RV park fees with hookups typically range from $30 to $50 per night or more. That is $900 to $1,500 per month. However, a lot of full-timers avoid paying anywhere near that much and average closer to $500 to $900 per month. There are many ways to save money on overnight camping costs, and those are covered on our Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips page.

As a budget figure, if you are a future full-timer, and you are excited by the $0 figure here, and you plan to boondock a lot but haven’t don’t it much yet, include a “slush” camping fee figure of $350 per month in your budget until you find out if you really like it. Some folks plan to “free camp” all the time but find it isn’t practical for their lifestyle once they hit the road.

Hobbies —

An area I completely overlooked before we started full-timing was the cost of our personal interests and hobbies. This was an important oversight that we came to recognize only after we had been on the road for a few years.

Before starting a life of adventure, it may be hard to imagine that you will need or want to have any hobbies. Sightseeing ought to be enough! But it isn’t. After a while, you will want to have pursuits that complement your travels in one way or another or that perhaps are not even related to your travels at all. Our hobbies are photography, writing and mountain biking, and these all cost money.

Since we started full-timing, we have upgraded both of our DSLR cameras twice and upgraded both of our pocket cameras twice. As for biking, we started out with cyclo-cross bikes but sold those when we found we were almost always camped near very rugged dirt roads. We replaced them with mountain bikes in March, 2014. Bike maintenance isn’t a huge cost, but it’s there. We also upgraded our bike rack a few years ago. And back in 2008 we splurged on a fabulous Hobie inflatable kayak that we loved for several years but eventually sold because we needed more room in the basement.

Mountain BIking

All smiles mountain biking in Bend, Oregon

Even my writing has its expenses. Keeping a blog can be free, but hosting, backup services, firewall services and other things add up. Writing also requires a computer. When we started out, Mark and I shared a single MacBook Pro laptop. After four years, this became impossible because we always wanted to use it at the same time. So, we replaced that one MacBook Pro with two newer ones in 2011 and 2012. Then, in 2014 we replaced the older one of those with yet another newer one.

All of these expenses hit the bank account with a resounding thwang and can’t be ignored or wished away. You may not know exactly what your hobbies will be when you start full-timing, but put some kind of figure into your budget that allows for replacing your computer and phone as often as you have in the past (if you plan to use them as much) and for buying the various things that will make your favorite pastimes possible.


EVALUATION – COST COMPARISONS – Year 1 and Year 8 – Lifestyle Changes and Inflation

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Budgets and actual expenditures vary over time. Most fulltimers find that they spend a lot more in the first few months of travel than they do once they have been out for a while. It takes some time, and quite a few purchases, to make an RV a home, and most of those costs come at the beginning. These are things like patio mats, camping chairs and grills, tools your suddenly discover you need, area rugs, throw pillows, kitchen gadgets, campground directories, travel guide books, and all those funky gismos they sell at Camping World that are just so perfect for the RV lifestyle.

When budgeting for a fulltime RV lifestyle, it is probably wise to assume that the first three months will cost about 50% more than the target monthly figure. Make room in the budget for this, and you won’t panic when it happens.

5th wheel RV camper in the woods


Also, it takes a while to figure out how you want to live this lifestyle. What kinds of campgrounds do you like? Are you okay with overnighting in a parking lot? How much do you want to drive each day? How long do you want to stay put in one spot?

Most new fulltimers dash all over the country in the first year, and we were no exception. The exhilaration of having the whole continent to yourself, with no one tapping their watch and expecting you home, is such a thrill that we all run around and try to see as much as possible. Only when we are utterly exhausted do we start to slow down.

It also takes a long time to let go of old living patterns and establish new ones. When we first started fulltiming we were accustomed to one- and two-week vacations, and we lived as though we were on vacation. It was only after a few months on the road that we began to realize, deep inside, that we didn’t have to see all the sights in three days. We could stay three weeks and see them only when it was sunny and when we were in the mood for sightseeing.

This change in the rhythm of life ultimately affects how you spend your money. You begin to realize that this is not a vacation, so you can’t spend money as if it were. You begin to slow down and appreciate the truly priceless pleasures, like a quiet morning reading a book, or an afternoon hike that has no other purpose than to smell the fresh air.

Over time, both lifestyle changes and inflation have affected our monthly expenses. Inflation has hovered at around 2% a year (which compounds to a gross jump of 14% between 2007 and 2014 — here’s a graph showing inflation trends) and food prices have increased by 20% in the same time period.

FIXED COST Comparison

Studying the expenses we published on this page after our first year of RVing as compared to the costs for the current year (2014), it seems that, as expected, our fixed costs were most influenced by inflation.

Expense Category 2007-08 2014
Food & Household Items $477 $582
Vehicle Insurance $108 $135
Communications $88
Propane $42 $50
Laundry $40 $50
Miscellaneous $36 $42
Mail & Postage $30 $32
Vehicle Registration $15 $29
Hair Care $15
RV Dump Stations $4
Total $746 $1,025


Our variable costs have changed more due to changes in our lifestyle than anything else.

Expense Category 2007-08 2014
Diesel $482 $497
Upgrades $140 $163
Restaurants $175
Clothes $8 $37
Supplies & Tools $26
Memberships $15 $15
Camping $145 $0
Total $926 $1,065
Grand Total Fixed + Variable $1,672 $2,090

What’s amazing (and a big relief!) is that our “Upgrade” and “Maintenance” costs didn’t bring any unwanted or nasty surprises during the years we have been on the road, and they have remained much the same as they were in the first year, although there were plenty of years without any upgrades or big maintenance projects. As mentioned above, we barely ate out in the beginning and we splurged this past summer. We had mostly new clothes when we started and have replaced almost all of them, and we now see the importance of having the right tools and supplies for little “RV Owner” projects.


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The biggest difference in costs between living in an RV full-time and living in your own stick-built house is that the RV will depreciate very quickly while the house will appreciate over time. The recent real estate collapse notwithstanding, housing prices always increase as the decades go by. In contrast, RVs, cars and trucks quietly make their way to a value of $0 and eventually breathe their last breath in the crushing facility.

In a five year period, a brand new rig (that is, a motorhome/car combo or truck/trailer combo) will typically lose 30% to 50% of its value, and by the end of a decade it will be down to 25% to 40% of its original MSRP. The only way to know what the full-time RVing lifestyle really costs is to know both what you paid for your RV at the beginning and what you sold it for at the end. The difference, divided but the number of months you lived in it, is the true cost of ownership.

That figure doesn’t show up in a regular living expenses budget. However, for a brand new $150,000 rig that reaches the ripe old age of 10 years, you may be looking at “losing” around $75,000 or $625 a month while you own it. Of course, that doesn’t include the additional cost of interest on a loan if you have one.

I’ve had several eager 20-something future full-timers email me saying they wanted to live in an RV after college because they didn’t want to throw away money on rent and they didn’t think buying a house would be a good investment. Unfortunately, an RV involves “throwing away” lots of money too. In the end, the cost of owning an RV — from purchase to sale and through the thick and thin of all the maintenance and repairs in between, not to mention the cost of campgrounds and RV parks — probably adds up to the same amount as renting an apartment or paying a mortgage/taxes plus utilities.

No one should ever give up their dream of RVing full-time because an RV is a bad investment. At the same time, no one should go into RVing full-time because buying an RV is a good investment.


I hope all this info helps you out as you plan your full-time RV adventures. Despite all the words on this page, your future full-time RVing costs can be approximated fairly easily, and planning your budget involves just three steps:

  1. Write down all your expenses now
  2. Subtract the ones that won’t apply when you start full-timing
    (property taxes, utilities, car expenses for cars you won’t own and commutes you won’t make, HOA fees, etc.)
  3. Add the new expenses you’ll incur in your new lifestyle
    (motorhome/car or truck/trailer insurance and expenses, camping costs, “fun” – restaurants, hobbies, entertainment)

Quite a few RV bloggers share their budgets and their thoughts about the costs of the RV lifestyle on their blogs. The following links offer itemized expense lists and excellent insights into creating a full-time RVing budget:

  • WheelingIt – Personal budget and analysis
  • Technomadia – Personal budget and analysis
  • Gone with the Wynns – Personal budget and analysis (reported by quarter — divide by 3 for monthly!)
  • RV Dreams – Three tiers of hypothetical sample budgets

A final note — I posted this image in a Quick Pic post the other day, but I think it bears repeating here:

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life that you love, you have to find the courage to live it.

Words to live by.

Don’t stress out about the numbers too much.
Spice up your life, take the plunge, and go have an unforgettable RVing adventure!


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47 thoughts on “RV Budget, Costs & Expenses – What does it cost to RV full-time?

  1. Excellent data and analysis. With this write up, and all of the others, I feel a Beth Leonard-type compendium in your future. I’d certainly buy it before RVing.

    • That’s quite a compliment, Rob. Thanks!! I don’t know if I’ll ever write the RV Voyager’s Handbook like Beth did for sailing, but I do enjoy getting the word out about how fun and easy the RV lifestyle is!!

  2. Thanks for the great expenditure report. I am getting our home ready for sale and heading toward the full time lifestyle. It honestly scares me because I am on fixed income of much less than shown in your totals. I will find a way! You might check into a company called Bestmark. Having a Chevrolet you can sign up for oil changes, tires etc. And get paid plus reimbursement. All you have to do is tell them how your visit was. Basically gaining upwards of $75. Plus free service or parts. Just thought that may help you. Thanks again, looking forward to your next post.

    • Where there’s a will there’s a way, Susan, and there are many ways to make an income on the road. Thanks for the tip about Bestmark for Chevy trucks (ours is a Dodge), and good luck in your travels.

  3. Hi guys love your site. I was looking for a way to work and travel across Canada in May 2015. I want to travel with a companion. Im not interested in the dating scene, just meeting someone that would be interested in work and exploring their way through Canada. Do you have any advise on where I could locate this information? Thanks

    • I heard of a solo RVing woman who uses match.com when she gets to a new area to find local friends to hang with while she is there. Other than that, I would suggest you try joining various online travel and RVing groups and pose your question there. Forums RV.net, irv2.com, and groups on FB and G+ would be a good start!

  4. My wife and I are within shooting distance of retirement so I’ve been googling “full time RVing” and found you site. The first thing that caught my eye, other than how frugal you guys are, is the calculator. My late Dad had the exact same calculator. I mean he had that thing for as long as can remember, one day I came home went to the office to get his calculator and it was gone!!!! OH NO Mickey Mouse is gone, I guess after 25 years or so of use it finally died!

    So thanks for the wonderful reminder of my late Dad:)

    • How cool is that!! We love that calculator and hope it works forever. Mark got it when his kids were young (a long time ago!) and it has been with us since they grew out of it and gave it back to him as a hand-me-up. Enjoy your research into full-time RVing and have fun in your retirement when it comes!!!

  5. Recently my wife and I have been thinking that it would be really fun to RV full-time, since right now we just seem to sit at home. We have always loved traveling, so it would be perfect to have our own space. It sounds like it can be a fairly good idea for those with some good retirement set aside. First, we should probably start looking around at nice RVs to see if we can find anything that we like. I will also see if we need to get things like internet put in, as well as looking at any other features that we may need added. Thanks for the great post!

  6. The expense of traveling on the road, it’s actually not that bad at all. I feel like it is the same as having an apartment. The cost is gonna be around the same. Thanks for telling me this info on living in an RV.

  7. Emily, you have done an absolutely fabulous job of compiling tons of useful information and we avidly read your blog and go back over things as we prep to hit the road full-time. We love the way you think, your personality and just everything we read. You have been so kindly open with your budgets etc but there are two things we are just curious about being of similar ages and not able to get pensions or SS at this stage in our lives.

    a) We notice you didn’t sell your home, but decided to lease it out? Do you mind sharing what made you make that choice throughout your RVing, Cruising and now RVing again days? Just thinking it is added shackles that bind at times dealing with property and tenants. Was it because of negative equity situation? It generates positive cashflow so made sense that way? Or just psychologically having the security of still keeping a SnB?

    b) You kindly share so very much about budgets and affordability on your web site but there is no mention of how you or others similar that can’t/don’t wish to work whilst travelling and aren’t of retirement age for pensions/SS etc fund this lifestyle for several years? I notice that you referenced more recently somewhere about generating a little income as affiliates for Amazon (by the way, we look forward to supporting that in due course), but assume that wouldn’t equate to your full months expenses?

    Hope you don’t mind us asking but whilst we have amalgamated what we feel is a good nest egg, our concerns are what to do with it to generate enough income and hopefully enable it to grow somewhat more being in our early and late fifties. We’d hate to run out of monies and the ability to continue our travels due to jumping the gun without an adequate plan in this regards.

    Many thanks, and once again, your writings and photography are truly wonderful, as is the way you roll 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your enthusiasm for my blog and for reading what I’ve written. I really appreciate hearing that!

      We jumped the gun young with a modest nest egg and decided we’d rather be greeters at Walmart in old age if we blew through that nest egg than to wait for a bigger egg and possibly never get launched. Life is very short and missing out on living your dreams is truly tragic.

      Our house was sold 3 days after we decided to start full-timing, but the sale fell through 2 weeks later as we were wrapping things up to go. So we rented it (much easier to find tenants than buyers). It has worked out favorably financially, so we keep doing it. It is a burden, but if you hire a property manager you can lessen the burden significantly, you just give up some cash. I’ve written about the Sell vs. Lease decision here.

      The money we make from this blog is very modest and we don’t rely on it.

      Loads and loads of people work camp and are very happy doing it. If you are nervous about your nest egg, why not plan on doing some work camping for a few months a year? It’s very common for folks to work camp half the time and travel adn play the other half.

      A summary of our first 10 years on the road and how it has affected our lives is here in 2 parts:

    • 10 Years of Full-time Travel – Early Years
    • 10 Years of RVing and Sailing Full-time – 2nd Half
  8. i guess most of the expenses are same and would incur regardless of whether you live in an RV or in a real place. the key difference is the rent/ allowance and the utility expenditures. but it’s actually very nice of you to share your experience and estimations with me and the rest of us. kudos.

  9. Hey Emily & Mark!
    Just reviewing your sage wisdom once again as I make further preps. Got the truck, mail forwarding service (Dakota Post per your recommendations – they’re every bit as brilliant, friendly and economical as you said) and just this minute joined Escapees (also per your recommendations, of course – who else would I listen to?). I made sure to mention you as referrers in gratitude for your honest, spot-on advice.

    I paid cash on a used F250 and will do the same with the trailer, as well as making some changes upfront that you and Mark recently discovered made vast improvements in driving your rig. While my plan is to boondock more often than not (friends are already beckoning me to their driveways across the country!), there is the matter of being a tech nomad. However, I’ve been living in the country with a Virgin USB stick (and a looped slice of aluminum soda can attached w electrical tape as an additional antenna) about ten miles from the nearest tower for the last few years, so more of the same there. The main budget changes I’ll notice are the absence of an electric bill and addition of laundromats.

    Another great domestic and international networking site I’ve discovered is Meetup.com. It’s not a dating site, although some romance groups are available. All imaginable interests are covered and you can start your own if you don’t find what you’re looking for. This might be a good resource for those who wish to find compatible fellow travelers. For my part, I can’t wait to enjoy the company of fellow vegans throughout the continent, starting with Austin.
    Keep up the great work! 🙂

    • Sounds like you are well on your way, Belinda, congratulations!! You’ve done your research and planned carefully. All that’s left is to go out and have fun in your new lifestyle. How cool is that?! Best of luck and happy trails!!

  10. My wife and I are looking into the feasibility of buying an RV, selling our home and living all over America. We’ve always been the adventurous types. Sadly, our careers have kept us close to home for the better part of forty years. I think a RV will help us spread our wings and grasp adventure with both hands.

  11. Really impressed with your Blog … Great info! I am what you might call a week-end RV warrior …. I am retired but my wife has a few more years to work and that reduces my time on the road … But we love to get out there when time permits.

  12. Great article (and blog)! Many thanks for posting it so detailed.
    I really like this type of live (still not sure about my wife 🙂 ) and if we will get Green cards… ah, there are so many places that I want to see 🙂
    Hello from Ukraine!

  13. I find all of your material very insightful. We have just purchased a truck and rv and will be setting out soon for trial trips. I’m intrigued and very interested in your very low use of interstates. Some 3% you mentioned in one season. It may be already posted somewhere and if so please just point it out. If not can you expand on this a bit. Is it safer with less emphasis on the higher speeds? Easier to find a place to stop and camp? All of the above?

    • Thanks for letting me know that our info is helpful to you. The season we spent 3% of our travel miles on interstates was 2014, and we have a recap of that season here: 2014 – A Year of Beautiful RV Travels.

      We stay off the interstates for all the reasons you mention. As John Steinbeck said about the new interstate road system in his novel, Travels with Charley, “It will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

      It is not always possible to avoid the interstates, and in the eastern states sometimes they are preferable. In 2015 about 10% of our travel miles were on interstates. Our recap of that year’s travels is at this link: 2015 – A Thrilling Journey East.

  14. I am a teacher and there is a new trend for teachers now. Houston ISD has a new online charter school where I can be a teacher by internet.

    Why wait until I am 80 years old to enjoy life.

    I am scared. But…RVing seems to be for me.

  15. I really love that you address the cost of capital depreciation. As I do the research to find the right RV for me, I will definitely be keeping that in mind in my selection. Do you have a post where you discuss what had you choose your particular RV? I’m curious what are the important things to consider.

  16. Thanks for the blog. Do you have any suggested blogs on full time rving with kids? My wife and I have 4 kids and the thought of cutting the cord locally while I still have my sales job (I cover all of So Cal) so I can pretty much go wherever for the timing. Basically changing scenery weekly or monthly sounds fun. Just didn’t know if you had any details on doing it with 4 little ones. Thanks!

  17. I have spent the last 3 hours browsing many of your articles and have really appreciated your depth in explanations (from the dump station details, to which solar panel to buy to the realistic cost of repairs). My husband and I are in our mid-twenties and plan to move into an RV full time within the next few months (a cheap used one!) and then camp for free either by camp hosting or working for a free spot or most likely (for much of the year at least) living off the grid. While we won’t be traveling with it (when we travel we typically bike-tour) we will be living in it full time as we work (we work seasonally in two different locations) and plan to raise kids (at least while they are small) in it! Thanks for all the time and effort you have put into your blog and into the relevant information you share! Happy trails.

    • Thank YOU for the heartfelt appreciation of our efforts, Shirine. It means a lot to us to know we’ve given you some inspiration and food for thought.

      You and your husband and future toddlers will have a lot of fun with the RV lifestyle, and even if you transition into a more traditional lifestyle when the kids get a little older, your memories will be vivid and you will have set the groundwork for other exotic and exciting adventures as the years go by.

      One of the happiest couples we met when we were sailing in Mexico was a retired couple who had returned to cruising after raising their kids. They had sailed across to the South Pacific and beyond when they were in their twenties and had hilarious stories of what it was like to be a pair of inexperienced free spirits in a little, used, cheap boat on the big ol’ ocean as “kids,” and they were sooooo worldly wise and such seasoned travelers compared to the rest of us retirement aged newbie sailors. I recommend workamper.com and workingcouples.com to find interesting camp hosting and other jobs that are suitable for RVers where a free or inexpensive site is often part of the deal. Have a blast — and please come back and read some more!!

  18. Hello, We are finding your website very informative, but are curious about health care insurance. At time of writing you said you don’t have it. Is this still the case, and if so, what do you do if you have to visit a doctor or have an accident?

    • I was also wondering the same thing. You say he is on medicare dd he go with a policy that allows him to use his insurance in whatever state he happens to be in? I have medicare as well as I am disabled from working. Mine is currently only good in that state I am currently residing. When we sell our house and go full time rv’ing I know my insurance will cover emergencies but not for dr..visits etc.. I was wondering if he checked into the site that says it offers medicare for RV travelers?

  19. This is the single most useful write up anyone has done for those looking to try moving into an RV. You rock, thank you!

    • Thank YOU, Benjamin, for such a high compliment. There are tons of other articles about full-timing on this website, so if you have any other questions besides financial ones, hopefully you’ll poke around and do some more reading!


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