How much does it cost to live in an RV?
We get this question. A LOT.
To answer the question you really have to go back and think about how you’re not just adding the expense of living in an RV to all your other expenses, but that you’re totally changing your lifestyle to live and travel in an RV.
In that sense, the cost of living in an RV can vary wildly depending on your spending habits and choices.
The beauty of living an in RV is you have much greater control over your expenses and you can choose to spend as little or as much as you want.
Luckily many full-timers have shared their expenses openly and show what it costs them to live like this.
Is full time RVing affordable?
Absolutely. Most likely, if you can afford your current lifestyle, then you can afford living in an RV.
A really simple way of calculating your RV monthly budget is your current lifestyle cost – your home expenses(rent/payments/taxes/HOA fees/utilities) + your RV-specific expenses(mandated insurance, fuel, maintenance, parking, and other expenses).
The beauty of RVing is that there are a lot of variables that are totally in your control, and this will really influence how much or how little you spend. Living full time in an RV is as much roaming around as it is lifestyle design.
In certain ways, RVing full time will force you to become a minimalist since you have much less space to put things, so your shopping expenses will certainly go down.
Here are some other ways you can control your expenses(just few of many)
- If you’re not up for driving too much, you can save on fuel(but potentially incur parking/RV camp costs)
- If you had a long commute and had multiple cars, you’ll save on fuel and car maintenance
- If you frequented coffee shops and ate out a lot, you can save on that by doing so less(sometimes by design, other times by necessity when you’re far away from a large city)
I think the total expenditures will ultimately boil down to why you want to RV full time, and the hobbies you want to maintain on the road.
Photography buffs will naturally have the expense of maintaining their cameras
Bikers will have the expense of maintaining their bikes
…and so on.
If you really want to become a boondocker, then you’ll certainly save a lot since the amount you’ll spend will only be the bare minimum.
If you’ve been researching rv budgets for very long, you have probably come across one or two tables full of expenses.
How do the numbers look to you?
When we first started researching it, I thought we’d have to keep track of every little expense, and that worried me a little.
I hate keeping track of my expenses.
But, you know what?
I realized I can make sure all the bills are paid. Then whatever amount we budget for spending is thrown into one lump sum, and I don’t have to detail those unless I want to.
Below I outline many of the main expenses you’ll come across while on the road. As you go through the list also keep in mind the cost of the rv itself.
We purchased a used RV outright, but many people take on a loan for their rig which increases the rv cost of ownership, and can increase the rv living costs.
In the beginning, you’ll travel faster and do more because you still have the 2 week vacation mentality.
Your mentality will change after 3-4 months. After that you’ll stop racing to your next destination, and realize that the journey is the destination and not the points of interest on the map. There will be some early months adjustments you’ll want to make.
You will also realize rv living full time can cost less, depending on how you downsize from your current living situation.
You can consider RV living to incur fixed expenses and variable expenses(much like living in a stick house!)
Cost of RV Living(What you’ll be spending on – necessities)
1) Your Motorhome
For some people, having the newest motorhome is a must so they incur the monthly payment to get a newer model. The range for a new one is huge, anywhere from $350-900/month.
Whether you buy a motorhome outright or choose to get one on installments will be determined by your current financial situation. If you have the cash lying around you may wish to spend it to buy a motorhome upfront and not have to deal with an additional overhead.
If you have a regular, recurring source of income like an investment portfolio or Social Security, then you may be able to take on the overhead since you’re not worried about the income diminishing at any point.
Like we mentioned in the start of the post, costs here will vary wildly depending on what you choose, but assuming you have bought a new RV and are making payments on it, let’s average it out to $500/month.
Average cost: $500/month (or $0 if you have bought your RV outright)
2) Motorhome Insurance
Motorhome insurance is usually a combination homeowners and vehicle and can range from $50-150/month. Aside from insurance, you’ll want to get roadside assistance. With many major insurance providers, you can add this to your coverage.
Average cost: $100/month
Having a high deductible health insurance premiums works for many and can run from $150-250/month per person.
Average cost: $400/month for two people
4) Internet/Cell Phone/TV – General communcations
Getting things like internet on the road is a big deal to a lot of RV’ers, and they are willing to pay to make sure they can surf the web or watch their favorite show.
I think that internet and communications is a high priority expense much like gas or food. Today’s life is connected 24/7/365, and even if you choose not to use the internet every single day, it’s certainly a facility that you want to have easy access to whenever you want, and forgoing this expense is not a good idea.
There are loads of ways you can stay in touch – but an internet connection is critical since it enables all other forms of communication.
The best bet is to use a cellular service like Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile. Verizon has the best nationwide coverage, but their data plans can be expensive and slightly restrictive on data transfer.
Of course, you don’t always need to have WiFi on. You can choose to use it only when you need to in order to save your data usage, and whenever possible and fast enough, use free WiFi(many RV parks offer free WiFi).
Average cost: $150/month
5) Registration costs
Yearly cost to register your RV and car if you tow one. $35-115/year per vehicle.
6) Mail Service
There are several mail forwarding services just for RV’ers and it usually runs from $25-50/month
7) RV Campground Fees
This can vary depending on how you’re traveling. Are you boondock camping a lot or are you staying in an RV Park every night? $0-1000. On average it’s about $300 to 500/month to stay at an RV Site.
If you are looking for frugal rv living, then you’ll want to search out free rv parks, frugal rv camping, and cheap rv parks. To help with offset the cost of living in a rv park, you can use the Free Campsites website.
You can also stay the night in a Walmart or similar parking lot. Another option is to look for BLM land and go ahead and park there for the night.
The best kind of BLM land to look for is land that is near to a town with a sizeable population, at least 2000 or so. With a big enough population, you know that there will be good cellular coverage and most important facilities and amenities are easily available.
8) Propane Fees
For many this can be an average of $15-50/month, depending on your setup. If you are constantly stopping in RV parks or places you have access to electricity, you can save on propane costs. Your main propane cost will be running the refrigerator, and if you travel around colder areas, heating.
You can save on propane by using electricity wherever available for both your refrigerator and using an electric space heater during the winter.
Another way to cut back on propane costs is to try and use as much solar power as possible. Of course, this will incur a larger setup cost of getting solar power into your RV – which may end up being quite steep.
9) RV Maintenance
This is your home, and it’s on wheels so things will likely happen. During our first 3 weeks on the road, our starter went out inside Big Bend National Park and we had to be towed 50 miles to the nearest town.
Luckily we had insurance. After a weekend stay and $500 repair bill, we were back on the road. Most people sock away $50-150/month to handle these kinds of incidences.
Aside from sudden expenses, there are some regular maintenance expenses as well:
- Oil changes
- Engine maintenance
These are expenses that are recurring every so often.
Maintenance is probably the hardest thing about living in an RV, since you’ll be alone(as in you and whoever you are living with) and there may be a situation where help is not immediately available. In such a case, you’ll need to know how to do necessary repairs on the fly.
Not to mention that your set of wheels is also your home, and the things that can go bad in a home can also go bad in your RV. An appliance may break down, your windows may start leaking air, you may have toilet or plumbing issues.
These things don’t really count as an extra cost of living in an RV since you would incur these expenses at some point in a stick home anyway, but you need to be aware that they will probably come up.
This is a huge variant for many. We enjoy cooking in the RV when we can and we love trying new restaurants in different towns. On average, we have $400/month groceries and $250/month for eating out.
Of course, this will vary for you depending on your lifestyle choices. You may wish to not eat outside and save on that expenditure, or you may have a taste for more expensive home cooking and end up spending a little more even though you don’t eat outside.
Again this is more to your personal needs, but haircuts, clothing, grooming can all be lumped in here. It can vary widely depending on your personal needs.
We use laundry facilities in cities and typically our laundry bill runs about $40-60/month. You can either go to a laundromat, or some RV parks do have washing machines and dryers available.
If you want to travel a lot then this fee can be your largest expense.
With the average price for a gallon at $2.50 (in 2018) and the average mile/gallon is 8-12, this likely will contribute to you slowing down and taking a more leisurely approach to the new full time living.
14) Toad Payment
If you plan on towing a vehicle, you might have a payment on that so figure the range of $200-600/month depending on what you have.
Entertainment is an important thing no matter whether you live in a stick house or an RV – it’s a need of human nature. However, where and how you get your entertainment fix is certainly variable and limited only by your own mentality and ingenuity.
There are plenty of ways to find free forms of entertainment, such as free museums, parks, and the like, though there are certain museums and parks that will charge.
You may wish to catch a movie, go for a night on the town – if you are near one – or just head over for a cup of coffee or a beverage, and these things will cost money.
However, as I added in maintenance, they may not really apply to specifically RV costs since you would end up incurring entertainment costs anywhere.
How much you spend of course is up to you.
I could have paired this with entertainment, but hobbies are a more regular expenditure than entertainment so I have kept this as a separate section.
Some people love photography, other people love mountain biking, and the list goes on – and the beautiful thing about living in an RV is that the mobility you get is incredibly enabling for outdoor hobbies.
How your expenses may change over time
When you first set out on your RV adventure you’ll need to invest a larger chunk of money into initial set up costs(aside from the RV purchase itself).
This will be things like buying furniture, appliances, accessories, and all those good things that you’ll need to, well, survive and live comfortably.
Another thing you may go through(quite like most people taking the full time plunge do) is that in your first few months, you’ll be on “vacation mode” and will be whirlwinding from place to place.
As you get more and more used to the RV lifestyle, you’ll start to take things a little slower, and as you slow down, your fuel and other expenses will get less and less.
Will RV living always cost less than house living?
This is a tough question.
Certainly, if you choose to live a frugal(but smart) lifestyle and limit your movement, you can save a significant amount of money from what you would have spent living in a stick house.
But you can also be a fan of glamping and choose to go the luxury route, splurging here and there and you may end up spending more than you would have normally – but in this case, that was really the point, wasn’t it 🙂
Finally, as far as how much you actually spend, you can only see that once you take the dive and start living in an RV. The most that I or any other RV blogger can do to help is give you an estimate or show you a spreadsheet, but your numbers will almost certainly be different.
Like I said in the beginning of the post, you’ll have to keep track of expenses and budget, but that’s a good habit to have anyway.
What Others Say About the Cost of RV Living
We’ve also rounded up the information from other full time RV’ers to show you how they calculate their full time expenses: