How Much Does It Cost To Live in an RV?

1322 shares Van life and full-time RVing have grown immensely in popularity in recent years. But if you’re toying with the idea of downsizing into…

smoky sunlite classic in truckee

Van life and full-time RVing have grown immensely in popularity in recent years. But if you’re toying with the idea of downsizing into an RV, there’s an all-important question: how much does it cost to live in an RV?

Of course, there’s a lot of variability to that answer. Are you staying in one place or moving around frequently? What kind of RV or camper van are you interested in? Are you buying outright or financing? 

Those are just a few of many questions to ponder, so let’s explore the real costs of RV life to help you decide if it’s right for your budget. 

How Much Does it Cost to Live in an RV?

sunlite classic on the beach
Photo by Tucker Ballister

We found an RV owner willing to share their financials with us. This RV owner financed a 2021 Sunset Park RV Sunlite Classic 18RD that is towed behind a 2014 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport. Here are the owner’s estimated monthly costs: 

  • RV Payment: $300
  • Vehicle Payment: $500
  • RV Insurance: $100
  • Vehicle Insurance: $188

Total Monthly RV Living Cost before additional expenses = about $1,188

Remember that your baseline will vary based on the type of RV you buy, terms of financing on both truck and trailer (if pulling a towable RV), and your choice of RV insurance provider. 

We all know that’s just a baseline. There are additional costs to the RV lifestyle that must be factored in, such as:

  • Campsite Fees
  • Gas
  • Food
  • Propane
  • RV Repairs and Maintenance
  • Recreation
  • Miscellaneous

Let’s dive into each of these additional factors more deeply. 

How to Budget for the Additional Costs of Living in an RV

rv maintenance costs
Photo by Tucker Ballister

It’s time to talk turkey on how much you can expect to spend on the following RV-related expenses if you want to RV full time: 

Camping Fees

Once you have your motorhome or a towable camper with a tow vehicle, you still need a place to park. In many cases, camping fees can be the biggest major expense of RV living, especially if you require full hookups – water, sewer, and electric. 

The average RV park campsite costs between $25 and $60 per night. Luxury sites cost somewhere between $60 and $100 per night, but there are upscale RV resorts with higher nightly costs. 

On average, the monthly cost of an RV site rental is between $500 and $1,200. 

Of course, there are ways to save money on campsite fees. Here are some ideas: 

  • Invest in a portable generator. Choosing the right portable generator allows you to camp off-grid without paying for hookups. 
  • Upgrade your RV with solar. Outfitting your RV with solar panels and a charge controller keeps your batteries charged so you can go longer between plugging into a power pedestal or firing up your generator.
  • Find free places to stay. There are numerous sites to help RVers find free camping. Some of our favorites include The Dyrt, iOverlander, and Harvest Hosts.

Another good tip to help you minimize campsite reservation fees is to find friends or family to camp with. You don’t need a 30 or 50-amp hookup to make a short-term stay happen with friends or family. You simply need the willingness and a relatively flat place to park. 

Here’s what our RV owner has to say about the benefits of arranging visits as a full-time RVer: 

“The ability to spend quality time with friends and/or family is one of my favorite parts of being a full-time RVer. I have a network from coast-to-coast and I love exploring opportunities to stay with folks if they’re mutually beneficial. I’ve helped cousins with home renovations from San Diego to Tennessee in exchange for a free place to camp. Sometimes, they even offered a roomy shower or a night in a non-RV bed!”

Additionally, the west coast always seems to offer a higher concentration of free campsites than the Eastern states. There’s also more land managed by the National Forest Service (NFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

This means more boondocking opportunities where you only have to pay to get there and to keep your generator running for as long as you’d like to stay. Here’s our boondocking guide to help you find free campsites. 

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Gas

How much you spend on fuel can vary dramatically. Your monthly cost for fuel can range from thousands of dollars to next to nothing, depending on your travel style and gas prices where you travel.

If you’re driving daily to explore, you better be using an app like GasBuddy to help you find affordable gas and earn benefits on each purchase. 

Learn about our 14 favorite apps for RV living and travel.

Fuel expenses can also be very low for full time RV living if you camp in a permanent site in an RV park, especially if you work remotely. Here’s our RVer’s advice on fuel expenses: 

“I’d recommend overestimating how much you might spend on a road trip. When I plan long trips, I always round up to the nearest dollar when estimating fuel costs, primarily because they fluctuate so much from state to state. If gas costs near me in central Texas are $2.59, for example, I might round up to $3 or even $3.50 when estimating road trip fuel costs, especially if I’m heading west.”

Planning your route in advance is also a great way to save on fuel expenses. Even if a route is slightly longer, you may save money by avoiding steep mountain passes where your fuel economy takes a major hit and gas prices tend to be higher.

Food

What you spend on personal nutrition doesn’t usually vary as much as fuel expenses. Even if you’re not driving very much each month (or you’re driving a lot), you still need to keep your body fueled up. 

Our anonymous RV owner estimates their monthly food budget between $300 and $400. Of course, keep in mind that this is the budget for a single RV owner traveling with a dog. Your food expenses will be much higher if you’re traveling with a partner or family. 

It’ll also vary based on whether you’re okay to shop at large chain grocery stores or you’re looking for fresh produce and grass-fed meats at smaller grocers or farmer’s markets. 

Utilities

If you’re staying at an RV park with full hookups, electricity may or may not be included. Some long-term RV resorts charge for electricity based on usage, which will be an added cost beyond the site rental fee. 

Additional utilities include propane, internet, and phone expenses. You may have other utilities, but these are the most common. So let’s discuss each: 

  • Propane: Costs will vary depending on how much you cook, how much you run your water heater on propane, and how much you run your furnace. Our anonymous RVer says they spend around $50 per month on propane during the summer and between $150 and $200 if camping during the winter months.
  • Internet: Internet access may be included at your campsite. If not, you’ll need to pay for a Wi-Fi hotspot, access to the web at coffee shops, or a solution like Starlink Internet. Factoring in this cost is especially important if you need Internet for work.
  • Phone: These expenses should largely carry over from your existing phone plan, but you may need to upgrade to a plan with unlimited data if you need to utilize a mobile hotspot for remote work.

“Adding everything up, I spend between $150 and $200 on utilities each month. Most of that is my phone plan and propane, as I tend to utilize free Internet at campsites or coffee shops as much as possible. Of course, that number goes up in the winter as I use more propane.”  

RV Repairs and Maintenance

The average RVer spends anywhere from $100 to $200 per month on general RV maintenance and upkeep. This includes seasonal and annual maintenance that simply comes with the territory of owning an RV. 

But it’s also important to have an emergency budget for unexpected repairs. Take it from our full time RVer:

“Within the first six months of towing my single-axle trailer, I had both tires blowout on the interstate. Luckily, the blowouts didn’t cause any additional structural damage, and replacement tires for my small camper aren’t expensive. But it was still a cost I didn’t expect when leaving Texas in mid-July. Pro tip: don’t over-inflate your tires when it’s 95+ degrees outside!”

The good news is that there are many great resources out there to help you complete RV maintenance on your own. Things like inspecting roof seams and window seals, checking tire pressures, and keeping your A/C filter clean may not require paying labor hours to a certified technician if you learn how to do them on your own. 

However, it’s a smart practice to take your RV to a service center for a regular annual inspection. It’ll help you identify essential repairs and create a priority list of non-essential items you can repair or upgrade when your budget allows for it. 

Recreation

Don’t forget to budget to have some fun once in a while too! That might include things like kayak rentals, guided adventures, and national park entrance fees (we recommend just getting the annual pass!). 

When you’re on the road full-time, or even if you’re parked in a permanent RV site, set aside a few hundred dollars as a monthly recreation fund. Here’s a tip from our full-time RVer: 

“I usually spend anywhere from $150 to $300 on recreation in a given month. When I’m on the road, it’s nice to know I have money set aside to use whenever another roadside attraction sparks my curiosity.”

Health Insurance

If you’re lucky enough to work remotely for a company that provides medical insurance, you won’t have to factor this into your RV living budget. However, freelancers and others have to worry about finding health insurance as a nomad.

Fortunately, there are options and the best for you will depend on where you decide to set up your RV base camp. Check out our epic guide to health insurance for full-time RV living.

Miscellaneous

It’s smart to add roughly 10% to your other costs to account for unforeseeable needs. These costs can manifest in the form of purchases made for souvenirs, tools, and camping supplies, to name a few possibilities.

The Bottom Line

So, now that you have an idea of the additional expenses that come with full time RV living, here’s a range of what you might expect to spend. 

Total Monthly RV Living Cost after additional expenses = roughly $1,600 up to $4,000

As you can see, living in an RV can be comparable to renting an apartment in many cities in America. However, there’s a lot more flexibility to keep your budget towards the lower end of this range. 

And don’t forget the freedom that comes with RVing! Sure, you may spend just as much as you’d spend to rent an apartment, but your RV can have a new backyard whenever you please and you won’t be stuck in one place until your lease agreement ends.

Tips for Managing Your RV Living Budget

sunlite classic at bucees
Photo by Tucker Ballister

There’s obviously a lot of variability in how much you can spend to live in an RV. So here are a few RV budget management tips: 

  • Set a monthly budget. Seems simple right? Well, many folks don’t take this crucial step to lay everything out so they have documentation of how much they spend on the essentials and how much can go towards other expenses.
  • Track your other expenses. Nobody likes getting to tax time to find out they haven’t been saving enough all year. Use this Google Sheet (Navigate to File > Make a Copy in order to edit) to track your monthly expenses so you know when and where to cut back before it’s too late. 
  • Avoid takeout food. Eating junk food on a road trip is a regular practice for some, and we acknowledge that it can be tough to avoid eating takeout or at restaurants while traveling. But you do have an RV with a kitchen after all! Using it is one of the best ways to keep your food expenses down.

Please share your RV budget management tips with your fellow readers in the comments below!

How to Make Money While Living in an RV

sunlite trailer with marley
Photo by Tucker Ballister

RV life has become more realistic with the number of companies that now offer employees the chance to work remotely. If you already have a remote job, your task is simply to decide whether that job can support an RV lifestyle. 

If you don’t, here are a few creative ways to make money as a full-time RVer: 

Freelance Writing or Photography

The odds are good that if you’re a full-time RVer, you’ve been bitten by the adventure bug. So what better way to share your adventures and get paid for it than to sell your services as a freelance writer or photographer?

Many outdoor magazines and websites (like this one!) love to see story submissions from aspiring writers. There are also numerous platforms where you can upload and sell photos to advertisers and others online. 

Working as a Campground Host

Another way to make money, or at least save money, when traveling in an RV is to find jobs as a campground host at RV parks. Most states offer campground host jobs in their state RV parks, and the National Park Service also occasionally seeks hosts for campgrounds in the national parks. 

Private RV parks aren’t out of the question either, but you may have to contact them directly to inquire about host openings. Not all host jobs will pay, but most offer a free place to stay for the season, which offers significant savings that can lower your overall RV living cost compared to paying for sites. 

Serving as a Virtual Assistant

One of the fringe benefits of the increase in people working remotely has been the rising need for virtual assistants. Many digital entrepreneurs and nomads running their businesses remotely can’t do everything on their own. 

Virtual assistants typically help with answering emails, gathering data, managing projects, and completing other administrative tasks. If you’re interested, learn more about how to become a virtual assistant so you can RV full time.

Recording a Travel Podcast

Has someone ever told you that your voice is tailor-made for the radio? Maybe your avenue for sharing your travel experiences lies in recording your own travel podcast. Other RVers, and those that aspire to this lifestyle, love to listen to stories from the road. 

They could be stories of misadventure, tales of the kindness of strangers, or recollections of your experience with a new RV-related product. The possibilities are endless, and you can even consider outsourcing the audio editing if you just want to be the storyteller. 

Travel Nursing

Travel nursing is one of the best location-based jobs for RVers. Because assignments can rotate every few months, sometimes the easiest way to relocate and live as a travel nurse is in an RV. 

Of course, this isn’t a job that you can start while you’re on the road. But if you’re looking for a career change, travel nursing can provide financial stability while also satisfying your wanderlust. 

Read this for even more remote work ideas: 40+ ways to make money from an RV

Conclusion on Budgeting for RV Living Costs

sunlite classic trailer with steps down
Photo by Tucker Ballister

From the perspective of real-life RVers, the benefits of living in an RV exceed the costs that the lifestyle requires. Many of these costs don’t differ from those you’d have to budget for whether you own or rent a home, and that kind of residence can’t go anywhere with you. 

Still, we know that money can be the final factor in your decision to live in an RV full time or not. So here are a few stories about how RVers created different businesses to sustain their adventurous lifestyles: 

What questions do you have about creating an RV budget or making money on the road? Let us know in the comments below.

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9 Comments

  1. I have one problem with the monthly budget Google sheet. Savings is not income unless it is interest generated from savings. Putting money into savings is an expense from your paycheck that helps that asset grow.

    1. Bill Widmer says:

      You can always customize the sheet to change that! 🙂

  2. Kairi Gainsborough says:

    Thanks for discussing the cost of living in an RV. I love the breakdown of the typical budget for an RV owner. It is smart to factor in the cost of repairs and maintenance. You made a good example when you mentioned replacing the pump that makes your shower run. You couldn’t live too long without that! My husband and I have been considering buying my uncle’s old RV, so repairs are something we would need to think about!

    1. Totally – thanks for reading!

  3. When “on the road”, I have a membership through my medical insurance to 2 national physical fitness centers to shower, use the pool, etc..
    Also, I camp in the national forests a lot, as they are free to stay in.
    When I go to national parks that charge, I stay in the wooded surrounding areas for free at night and then visit them during the day.
    An annual park pass is the cheapest way to go, as far as admission fees.

    1. Those are great budget tips, Douglas! Thanks for sharing!

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  16. Hi guys. I love the living cost breakdown . I especially like that you put a “Fun” section in here. One other thing that some may not account for is mail service. For example, having a P.O Box and having your mail forwarded to where you are currently at.

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