Dollars and cents…credit and debt: many people take to the open road for the freedom it affords, without realizing that there is a cost of living to nearly every lifestyle. Unless the motorhome or travel trailer is owned outright and you intend to live entirely off the grid, there are charges that may surprise you. For example, if you make payments on an RV, are you also considering campground rental fees as part of your monthly housing expense?
Andrew M. Odom, a traveling journalist and writer for the “Tiny House” blog, decided to shed some light on the real life expenses of RV living. With some work, his family eliminated all of their extraneous debts, such as credit cards. Many of their bills were consistent and their income was also predictable, so he was able to obtain a fairly accurate picture of how much money the family spent monthly. Below are his findings:
The Odom Family Budget
This is their budget for March 2015, from the 1st to the 31st.
• – Insurance (truck and trailer) – $ 196
• – Fuel – $ 396
• Camp Sites
• – Woodsmoke Camping Resort – $1050
• – Cody’s RV Park – $ 56
• – Reed Bingham State Park – $ 23
• – General – $ 63
• – Propane – $ 46
• – Laundry – $ 71
• – Mail – $ 17
• – Groceries – $ 375
• – Eating Out – $ 225
• – Various activities – $ 107
• Total = $2609
With the truck and trailer paid off, their costs are lower than what they would otherwise be. Furthermore, the company Mr. Odom works for provides the family’s healthcare and his cellphone service. Your budget may look different, but here are some things to consider with RV living:
Fixed Monthly Expenses
Fixed expenses are those that are nearly always the same amount, which make them the easiest to anticipate. Unless they are owned outright, vehicular expenses often comprise the most consistent, and largest, portion of the monthly budget. These charges include truck or car payment, RV payment, and insurance for both.
Other fixed expenses usually include health insurance and prescription medications. A basic cell phone plan would be an example of a fixed expense, as long as its use remains within the plan’s regular monthly charge.
Campground and Park Expenses
Although boondocking is an inexpensive–usually free–option, most full-timers park at campgrounds or RV parks. Depending on the amenities provided, as well as the location, these costs can vary widely.
Generally, state and national parks are the least expensive. They often, however, have restrictions regarding length of stay and have limited amenities. Water, electricity, and parking are usually provided, but many only offer a waste dump-station, rather than a hook-up to sewer at the site.
Utilities and Other Variable Expenses
Utilities are usually referred to as “variable expenses,” because the amount charged is determined by the amount used. When using shore power, the electricity is typically part of the site rent. If you are boondocking, however, it depends on your secondary source. With solar power and batteries, after the initial cost, it is free. With a generator, you would be investing in fuel, and the cost would be determined by how much you use.
Many motorhomes use propane for the furnace, water heater, and stove. The cost for this would depend not only on how much it is used–obviously the furnace would be used more in colder environments–but also on the cost of propane when you fill up. Some campgrounds have filling stations, and depending on the propane tank, you may be able to exchange tanks at a truck stop. By both staying in warmer climates and using a grill, the need for propane may be almost nonexistent.
Higher-end coaches often have in-home laundry capabilities. These typically require 50amp service and a good water supply. For others, most campgrounds list on-camp laundry facilities as one of their amenities. These charge about the same amount as a regular laundromat, with the added benefit of being located nearby.
As with any other living arrangement, food expenses consist of buying groceries and eating out. Buying groceries in bulk, from stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, allows you to get more for your money. To reduce the amount of weight while driving, it is a good idea to do this shopping when you will be stationary for a while.
Eating out can be a big expense when traveling. Checking “Yelp” for online reviews can provide information regarding what eateries you will be passing. This can help you adhere to your budgeted meal expenses.
When choosing a campground, picking one with a variety of amenities can reduce your recreation expenses. With options like clubhouses, swimming pools, jacuzzis, basketball or tennis courts, and playgrounds, you might not need much else.
Some RV parks offer Wi-Fi. This can minimize the amount of the personal data plan you use. Andrew Odom’s company provides his cellphone with an unlimited data plan. This is necessary for his work, and also allows the family to watch movies or television shows online, especially when the campground’s internet signal is weak.
Additionally, TV is another option. Cable is offered at various campgrounds, as a benefit. Many full-timers, though, bring a satellite dish with them. Although this ensures they can continue to watch what they want, it obviously adds to the monthly bills.
Many people enjoy living in their motorhomes for the opportunity to experience new places and to meet other like-minded folks. Depending on their personal needs and life-style choices, the costs are going to vary. It is better that a person, who is considering going full-time, know what they are getting into, rather than jumping in without enough information and a plan. If you have friends or family members who are interested in RV living, make sure to share this with them. This information could help them as they make decisions.
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