This article we’ll discuss our Full Time RVing Expenses for our first year on the road.
Some of the most asked questions we get from people are about Full Time RVing Expenses and budgets. When we started dreaming about hitting the road full time the costs were our biggest concern. A lot of people think that living in an RV is inexpensive. While it can be fairly inexpensive some people actually think it is free or nearly free. It definitely isn’t that! And a more realistic expectation should be that it is going to cost similarly to living in a sticks and bricks home. There are many ways to save money along the way and our expenses may or may not be representative of yours. We’ll go into details below on our RVing expenses during the first year of our adventure.
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Just like having a mortgage and living in a home there are many fixed expenses associated with living in an RV. These include an RV payment (think of it as your mortgage) if you finance your RV, Insurance, Registration, Cell Phone, Internet/Streaming Service, and Mail Service.
Some of the variable expenses of Full Time RVing are the same expenses you’d have in your home but there are others that are definitely different. The main Variable Expenses of Full Time RVing include Campgrounds, Fuel, Food, Entertainment, RV Services/Repairs/Maintenance costs. Within the variable expenses there are many ways to cut costs to make things more affordable.
Camping costs are more than likely going to be your highest expense and can vary greatly depending on many factors.
Unlike a mortgage, when RVing you will usually have space rental costs of some kind. You can manage the camping costs by planning your trips finding lower priced campgrounds or go boondocking. The average campground will cost between $35-$45 per night for a 50 amp full hookup site. One campground we stayed at this past year was $80 per night and we’ve seen higher. We managed our camping costs by trying to stay in the average range and by buying a membership to Thousand Trails.
Our first choice when looking for a campground is to find a Thousand Trails near where we want to go. Once you’ve purchased a Thousand Trails membership you will be able to stay up to 14, 21, or 28 nights at their parks for free, depending on which membership option you buy. We purchased a used Elite Basic Membership through Campground Membership Outlet giving us up to 21 nights and park to park privileges at any of the Thousand Trails 90 campgrounds. In addition to our Thousand Trails Membership we purchased an upgrade they have called Trails Collection, this give us an additional 100 campgrounds in their system of Encore Parks. We can stay up to 14 nights at an Encore (Trails Collection) Park but then would have to move to a regular Thousand Trails Park or stay out of the system for 7 nights before going to another Encore property.
If you’re looking for a way to save money on your camping expeditions and would like to give Thousand Trails a try, click here to save $100 off of a Camping Pass.
Being retired military our second choice is to stay at Military Campgrounds. They are usually very reasonably priced and a good deal if you’re able to access them. You do need to be a DOD card holder to access the military installations.
Our third choice is to find a National Park, State Park or Corps of Engineers campground. If you are not able to access Military Campgrounds these are some to the cheapest campgrounds you can find for the price.
If we can’t find one of those near where we fall back on to one of our other memberships. We use Passport America which is a Discount Camping Club. With membership you receive 50% off participating campground’s regular nightly rate (some conditions apply). We also have a Good Sam membership. With Good Sam you receive 10% off the nightly rate at member campgrounds and also 10% discounts at Camping World, Gander RV and Gander Outdoor stores. One or two nights or purchases per year can pay for these memberships.
Fuel costs are going to vary also depending on the type/size of RV you have, the type of fuel it takes, and whether you’re towing something. We have a 38-foot Class A gas motorhome with a Ford V-10 engine and tow a two door Jeep Wrangler. It’s not fuel efficient to say the least. We managed to get about 6.5 miles per gallon over our first year of traveling around the country. Of course, fuel costs themselves vary around the country too so depending on where you go you will spend more or less.
RV Service/Repair/Maintenance costs are another item that depends on the type of RV you have. Do you have a motorhome or a trailer? Is it new or used? Newer models will have less work in the early years. This is where we are since we purchased a new 2019 motorhome. We don’t know what our numbers will be down the road yet since our motorhome is still fairly new. But with proper servicing and maintenance hopefully our costs will be kept reasonable. If you have an older model motorhome or trailer we’re sure you the numbers could be all over the board for repair/maintenance costs.
Food costs are going to vary depending on the types of foods you eat, if you eat at home or go out, and where you buy your groceries. You’ll definitely spend more eating out a lot or buying your groceries at Whole Foods vs Walmart. We will not cover our food costs in this article since there are too many variables to be useful to others. Just know your expenses will remain about the same as they are if you continue to eat in the same way you do now.
Entertainment costs are so variable we will not cover them here. We like a variety of entertainment options and some months will spend quite a bit of money on them, other months we won’t spend anything if we’re hiking, kayaking, or sightseeing.
Our Actual Expenses
March 30, 2020, was our one year anniversary of Full Time RVing. It was and exciting year and some things are just a blur. Traveling through 33 states over 12 months will do that. Like others before us, we hit the road hard during our first year. We plan on slowing down more this year… The pandemic is certainly helping with that for us now.
- Camping Expenses – During the year we stayed at 42 campgrounds spending a total of $7263. As I stated above we purchased a used Thousand Trails Elite Basic Membership through Campground Membership Outlet. New Elite memberships at Thousand Trails are in the $6000+ range and we were trying to save as much as possible. While Thousand Trails does have finance options we wanted to get in as cheaply as possible without taking on any added debt. Our used Elite Basic Membership cost us $4012 including adding on the Trails Collection and another campground club, RPI (Resort Parks International) to our portfolio. We spent 132 nights at Thousand Trails Campgrounds the past year. Total value of $7356. Our membership has more than paid for itself during the first year. For the year we paid $11275 total for camping divided by 365 nights, our average was about $31/night. We will have annual dues for our Thousand Trails Membership of $575 to pay later this year but all our stays continue to be free. So this year, is when we should really start seeing some great benefits of our membership.
- Fuel Expenses – Our travels over the past year took us 9800 miles through 33 states. We budgeted fuel costs at $3.00 per gallon. Our most expensive fuel stop was in Green River Utah at $3.30/gallon. The cheapest fuel stops on our trip were in Ruther Glen Virginia, Hurricane Mills Tennessee and Texarkana Arkansas at $2.10/gallon. During our trip we used 1504 gallons of fuel at an average cost of $2.77/gallon. Our total fuel costs were $3945. Or about $0.40 per mile.
- Propane Expenses – Our motorhome only uses propane for the water heater and furnace. Starting out we burned through more propane than we should have trying to heat our motorhome during the May cold spell in Colorado. After talking with friends we purchased a small ceramic heater and use our motorhome’s electric fireplace for heat. That slowed our usage considerably. We used 84.5 gallons of propane during the year. Average price for propane was $2.94/gallon. Our total propane costs were $249.
- RV Service/Repair/Maintenance Expenses – Being a 2019 motorhome we didn’t run into many issues that added to the repair costs. We had service performed in Williamsburg Virginia for a total of $127. Our motorhome being built on a Ford F53 Chassis we just took it into a Ford Dealership for service. We’ve found them the most economical. Call ahead or find a Ford Truck dealer to ensure they are able to accommodate your coach. Your Service/Repair/Maintenance cost as well as ours are likely to be more in the coming years.
- RV Insurance – Full Time RVer Full Coverage Insurance for our motorhome runs about $161/month for a total of $1933 for the year. Full coverage insurance on our Jeep toad runs $77/month.
- RV Loan – When deciding to go Full Time Rving we sold our primary home to get a good size down payment for our RV. There were many options we worked through in deciding what to purchase. Do we buy a used one and pay cash? Do we buy a more expensive one and finance a little? Do we buy new and have a bigger payment? In the end we decided to buy a new Thor Challenger 37YT Class A Motorhome. The floor plan sold us. We put a chunk down but still have an RV Loan payment of about $800/month. It’s our mortgage.
Our first year of Full Time RVing came and went so quickly. I’m sure yours will as well. We’re so happy we’ve had the opportunity to live this lifestyle. Seeing all the wonderful places that this country has to offer is still on our to do list and we’ll continue traveling while at a slower pace. We hope that our numbers will give you an idea of where to start on creating your own Full Time RVing Budget. If you have any questions on things we may not have covered please feel free to reach out to us below. Thanks for reading! Happy RVing!