In 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 detail 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 going 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 gives 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 cardholder 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 of the cheapest campgrounds you can find for the price.
If we can’t find one of those near us where we fall back onto 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 manage to average about 6 miles per gallon over our first three years 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 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 an 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 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. The 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. The 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 is built on a Ford F53 Chassis we just took it to 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 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!
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14 thoughts on “Full Time RVing Expenses – Our First Year”
Rob & Lisa,
Thank you for the informative article on full-time RV living expenses. I am curious, what is workamping? We have been dreaming of making the leap to fulltime rv living, and started with your article on expenses. I would like to learn how fulltime rvers supplement their income.
Thank you for your comments. I’m retired military so our primary income is from my military retirement income. We supplement that income with a rental property that is our fallback if we need to move back into a sticks and bricks home down the road. With Covid ruining so many of our plans this year we started Workamping. Workamping is doing a job for an RV site or money or both. We were lucky and found a great gig in South Lake Tahoe where we worked at the beach kiosks made an income and got a free full hookup site at a Forest Service Campground. If you are looking for more info on Workamping check out workamping.com. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Wow, one of the places that I enjoyed my stay most is the time I spent staying in the RV..staying as a different world for me as I had issues with my house at that time and only resort I had was to switch to my dads old RV. After the switch it took time for me to blend in as you know it a confined space so it would take some time to get used to it…but when it comes to expenses the rv is very costless as apart from feeding there is not much you can do.
Thank you for your comments. It does take some time to get used to living in an RV. We went from a 2100 SqFt home to about a 300 SqFt motorhome so that much downsizing does take some getting used to. We love it thought it has been a blast so far.
Wow, thanks for such a awesome and informative article on Rving. I have always dreamed of Rving but thought it would be way too expensive. After reading this post I have come to realize Rving can be attainable. Rob I am so happy you and Lisa are able to live a lifestyle that many can only dream of. Happy Rving and I wish you guys the best of luck! Thanks again for such an insightful post.
Hi CeCemorgan, Thank you so much for your kind comments. Yes RVing is very attainable if you’re able to budget well. We see so many people finding different ways to make money on the road while RVing. Everything from online stuff to workamping. It has just become a simple way of life for us.
Hi Rob / Lisa; I Just finished reading. You have done a good job here. I’ve reviewed a few posts today that have been a bit much if I’m being honest. Anyway, really enjoyed reading this you must be having the time of your life. It’s interesting how you describe the costs and how people can save money. I’ve never heard of the camping membership you mention but it seems worth the money if people are traveling for this long.
Are you doing much to fund your travel or have you saved up? Would be interesting to read something about money making ideas for on the road. I see a post earlier about selling photos online this is a good idea I think? I read another post earlier and I was thinking of doing the same myself with the pictures I take traveling but you must see all sorts. Will look forward to reading more in the future. Best regards; Alex
Hi Alex, Thank you for your great comments. We are having a great time. Even with the Coronavirus stuff going on now we still try and enjoy as much as we can. The camping memberships are definitely one of the best ways to save money on the road.
To fund our travels we sold one of our homes to purchase our motorhome so we have some savings from that. I have retired military income and we also have a rental that brings in some income. We have thought about possibly doing some workamping in the future.
I will probably be doing some articles on making money on the road in the future. I have seen some of the posts about selling photos online also. I love taking photos during our travels so to have some that could make money would be amazing.
Thanks again for your comments,
I didn’t see anything about food in your actual expenses. You did eat, I assume. That and entertainment are missing from your actual expenses. Otherwise, a well-written article. I thought you did a great job of explaining about the cost of running an RV the whole year. I wasn’t aware, Im not a camper, really, that you could buy a membership to different campgrounds. I think it’s great that you got your membership at a discount, as well.
Altogether, a well-written article! I am impressed!
Good luck to you!
Thank you for taking the time to read our article. One thing I did mention in the article was that I would not cover our food and entertainment costs as these costs are so varied and personal that what we spent would be greatly different from others.
We have found that what we spent on food before hitting the road has not changed to what we spend now.
As for entertainment while we still enjoy the same types of things we don’t have access to a lot of things like we did when we lived in Vegas so our entertainment has changed from paid events to free things like hiking, kayaking and sightseeing. Our entertainment expenses would have been no value for others since we went from seeing over 100 shows a year to around ten this past year. We think if your entertainment choices don’t change from what you are already doing then the expenses would remain the same.
Thank you for your comments
Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. I’ve been trying to replace go RVing for a whole year since 2015, but guess what, our daughters came along (Thank god!). This experience with the Coronavirus quarantine has made my wife and myself to think if we could get in charge of their education for a month, why wouldn’t we be able to do that for a complete year?
The main disadvantage we have, we plan to keep our home to get back to it, which means that our adventure is intended to double up our cost of living. $7,263.00 is an insane amount and this article is making me believe in the feasibility of our project. Fuel shouldn’t be our greatest expense as we expect to expend some time on each destiny. I love the idea of getting a membership from the MembershipOutlet (good idea to save some money!).
Thank you for your comments. There are a lot of people we see in our travels that are raising their kids on the road. I think with people having to basically home school their kids right now with the pandemic more and more of them may hit the road with their kids.
We sold our main home and kept our second home we use as a rental, so that brings in a bit of income to help supplement us. There are definite ways to save money on camping. A lot of people do what is called workamping, where you work a certain amount of hours for your site. The memberships has been our main way to save so far but will possibly workamp down the road.
Sounds like an amazing lifestyle. I’d love to get some kind of ride, smaller that an RV and just go on loads of different road trips. The Thousand Trails membership seems to have saved you a lot. Yeah, you’re right about food and entertainment, the expense on that is the same whether you were in a house or the RV. The great thing you mention is the hiking, sight seeing and being out and about. If you do that you make your own entertainment and it’s healthy. I wish you continued enjoyment in your wonderful dream, thank you for sharing.
It has been an amazing trip so far. Thank you for reading our article.