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Full TIme RVing - Budget Considerations

Updated on November 13, 2011

Interested in full time RVing? Establish a budget…

So, you’ve purchased your motorhome or fifth wheel trailer; sold your house and stored or sold all of your lifelong belongings and are ready to hit the road.  Even if you have an excellent retirement portfolio; won the lottery, or maintain a successful online business…you will still need to establish a budget for travel along with daily living expenses.

Obviously your two greatest expenses will be your RV and your tow or towed vehicle.  Those who wish to be extremely frugal may have picked up an old pop-up camper and will tow it with a ten year old fishin’ car.  If that’ll work for you…great.  Full time RVs take more of a beating than those used for the occasional weekend or the two-week family vacation.  They are on the road or in route to new and exciting venues more often and generally need to be better built for that kind of wear and tear.  Additionally, they need to have room to store your worldly possessions and for that kind of storage…generally full timers look to the Class A motorhome or a fifth wheel travel trailer; both of which usually have more generous storage compartments.  There are hundreds of price levels for either option.

The ideal truck for towing a large fifth wheel trailer is a ¾ or 1 ton diesel since some of the trailers can reach lengths exceeding 35 feet and weigh in at 12,000 pounds or more.  A new quad-cab 2500 or 3500 Dodge for example with some of the more popular option packages can easily cost $45,000 and the fifth wheel trailers can easily exceed the $50,000 mark.  Used is getting more popular all the time!

Class A motorhomes can be either gasoline or diesel powered.  Usually, diesel powered units are larger and afford greater towing capabilities which offers a wider selection of vehicles which can be towed behind.  Gasoline powered units are usually less expensive but limit towing capability to around five thousand pounds which tends to limit what can be towed.   A small compact car, mini-truck or a Jeep Wrangler are good choices for the gasoline powered Class A or an enclosed trailer hauling a Harley or Goldwing would work, as well.  Want to tow your Dodge 1500 behind a Class A…better get a diesel powered one.

New Class A motorhomes can range from the mid $60,000s to millions of dollars for bus conversions.  Again, used is a good way to go to help stretch the budget.  Whether gas or diesel powered, fuel consumption while towing will not be all that different.  Though the diesel powered motorhome may get better fuel economy while traveling down the highway without a tow vehicle…one of the reasons you may opt for that extra power is to tow a heavier vehicle thus reducing overall economy compared to a gasoline powered unit.  Seven to ten miles per gallon pretty much covers the spectrum for both types.  Those figures are pretty much what folks pulling fifth wheel trailers seem to get, as well.

So, whether you purchased a Class A motorhome or a fifth wheel trailer and have spent anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 or more…you can check your living quarters and daily transportation requirements off of your budget…unless you financed your purchase.

If you had to borrow money to pay for your RV and/or your tow/towed vehicle, you might want to close one of those retirement accounts and pay off those loans.  Liens totaling $1700 or more hardly help with the full time RVing budget.  That’s the mortgage we all are trying to escape from paying!  Sure, you can get a long term loan and may be able to use the motorhome payment as a tax write-off but even at zero interest, a $250,000 note is over $1300 per month on a fifteen year note.  And a $25000 Jeep at no interest is over $400 on a five year note if you could find that kind of deal… If you can swing it, pay for your RV and tow in full even if it means lowering your standards or purchasing used equipment.  Used motorhomes are a great deal.  There are a lot of them available and often they will have fairly low mileage because traveling around the U.S. might cover 12,000 miles but how often will that occur? 

Assuming your RV and tow/towed vehicle is paid in full…what are some other budget considerations?  Fuel mileage was mentioned and that is easy to figure into your budget depending on your itinerary.  Once you have established your average fuel mileage; 8mpg for example you can determine fuel cost per mile by dividing the price of a gallon of fuel by 8 or whatever is your mileage per gallon.  At $3.50 per gallon that figure is approximately $.44 per mile.  Therefore for every 100 miles of your journey, you need to budget $44 for fuel based on the above example.  Additionally, you will be using your tow/towed vehicle for daily errands and sight-seeing.  In the past year, I have driven my TOAD about 10,000 miles and it averages 15 mpg on a good day.  That equates to about $200 monthly.  Depending on where you travel to and how often you hit the road along with your daily driving excursions…fuel can easily be your second greatest expense while living on the road full time!

When you are not on the road…your monthly budget entry can be as little as free…to outrageously expensive for RV parks that are situated near popular and crowded tourist venues.  Most RV parks offer sizeable discounts to their monthly tenants.  Unless in route to a particular destination; I seldom stay anywhere for less than a month at a time to take advantage of the price breaks.  Boondocking or free camping aside; my monthly park budget is $450 all inclusive.  I have spent more and have spent less but that is an average.  For example, my current site is $285 per month plus twelve cents per kWh for electric.  Due to unseasonably cold weather and running my electric heat…my electric bill has been high but still far below the targeted budget amount.

Vehicle and medical insurance, prescriptions and over-the-counter meds are an unpleasant but necessary expense especially for those of us not yet on Medicare/Medicaid.   All together this entry is way too high and comes in a whopping $600 per month on my budget!  Stay healthy and don’t have any wrecks along the way…

Although food prices at grocery stores seems to be skyrocketing, eating meals prepared at home is still a lot less expensive than dining out.  Whatever you were spending before you hit the road…it is a good bet there will be little or no change to your budget once you hit the road full time.  For some reason full time RVers tend to grill out more…makes for lower food bills and is also great entertainment!

And speaking of entertainment.  Our country has a wonderful National Parks System.  Entry fees are generally low and often free.  Many museums and other tourists’ attractions are often the same, as well.  RV parks often have fish ponds, swimming pools, hot tubs, pool tables and other amenities for their tenants and their guests at no or low additional fees.  Some RV parks offer free cable TV and internet connections.  And many have community potluck suppers and other special events.  Finding low cost entertainment on the road is often as easy as stepping out your door and enjoying your ever-changing landscape.

Maintenance; whether for your vehicles or your person has to be included in any budget.  In time, most full time RVers learn to make many repairs on their own.  Thankfully, with the use of the Internet, many of those chores are made easier with online tutorials.  Cleaning supplies, laundry chores and regular home maintenance budget considerations are varied and can easily be adjusted.

Though the Internet has helped to make living on the road much easier than decades past, and has eliminated many communications problems, you still have to tell Uncle Sam where you live.  On the road isn’t the right answer even though it is true.  You have to register your vehicles.  You have a lot of choices but the top three states for full timers are South Dakota, Texas and Florida.  These three are the most RV-friendly states due to lower property taxes and/or other considerations.  Mail forwarding services abound in each and usually run a couple of hundred dollars per year to get your bills to you regardless where you call home.

These are the basics and are based on my first year of full-time RVing in a gasoline powered Class A motorhome towing a Jeep Wrangler and traveling through nine states thus far…

Budget summary:

·        The purchase and upkeep of your RV and your tow/towed vehicle.

·        Fuel

·        Park and/or parking (often including hookups/utilities/cable/Internet)

·        Insurance/Prescriptions/Meds

·        Food

·        Entertainment

·        Maintenance

·        Mail forwarding

·        Emergencies

·        Miscellaneous

In Louisiana along the banks of the mighty Mississippi...
In Louisiana along the banks of the mighty Mississippi... | Source


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    • The RV Guy profile image

      The RV Guy 6 years ago from Somewhere In America

      Thanks for the comments. There will always be more line items that can be added to any budget. Satellite radio/TV services, cell phone, etc...

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 6 years ago

      Wonderful hub..still counting down..uh..the years but it will happen..Thank you for the great tips..they make a lot of sense..Thanks again