[Want to know what RV living costs? Check out this guest post from Bill Widmer of The Wandering RV for answers to all your burning questions about the RV lifestyle]
Living in an RV is a freaking blast! With RV travel, you get to see the world and experience true freedom.
But the living in an RV full time isn’t something most people are comfortable diving head-first into. After all, there are a lot of unknowns…What RV should I buy? Where should I stay? How will I get my mail?!
These are all valid questions. But there’s one question that’s even more important – what does RV living cost?
Once you know the costs of living in an RV full time, you can figure out whether you can afford it and set income goals to get there!
My girlfriend Kayla and I lived in an RV for over 6 months, and still frequently travel in one. So we’ve got a good idea of the costs. And in this article, we’ll break it all down for you!
RV living cost: A breakdown
I’ll keep this as simple as possible. This section will just list out all the RV travel costs we incurred in a bullet format, and their rough figures.
- RV Payment: Chances are, you have to take out a loan to purchase your RV. Depending on your rig, this could cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month to nothing at all (if you pay it off!). (Interested in a small RV? Check out this post: The best small RVs for living in)
- Campground Rent: This is another wildly varying cost, as campgrounds have different costs based on location, time of year, and length of your stay. It ranges from a few dollars a day all the way up to $60 per day or more.
- Gas: The third and final huge variable to RV travel. This could be your biggest expense at several hundred dollars a month, or nothing at all, depending on how much you like to travel.
- Insurance (Health & Vehicle): Health insurance, if you pay it out of pocket, is likely $100-$250 per person. RV insurance is fairly cheap, at around $550 per year (~$46 per month) for a motorhome or $250 per year (~$20/month) for a non-motorized trailer.
- Utilities: Depending on how much you cook and how cold the temperature is outside, you might need to fill up on propane once every month or two. A full 20-pound tank costs about $19 to fill, so let’s say $19/month for simplicity’s sake. Sometimes you have to pay extra for your electric, internet, etc. at your campground, but this is usually built into the rental cost. Finally, your phone bill is likely $75-$100 per person per month.
- Food/Groceries: Kayla and I LOVE to eat. And we eat lots of fresh produce and grass-fed meats. So our grocery bill runs about $800 per month. But you can definitely feed two people for a month (albeit not the greatest food in the world) for $400.
- Repairs/Maintenance: Build this cost into your budget!! You’ll have to make repairs eventually (like replacing your RV water pump when your water stops working mid-shower), so it’s better to have that money put away than pay with credit or dig a hole in your wallet. We’d budget about $100 per month for this.
- Fun! If you’re living in an RV, you want to enjoy it, right? Budget a few hundred dollars a month to do things like snorkeling, eating out at local amazing restaurants, trying out local attractions, or just going out to the movies.
- Miscellaneous: Add 10% to your monthly costs to cover security and miscellaneous purchases, like tools, souvenirs, a portable grill to make life soooo much easier, etc.
Total Monthly RV Living Costs: Ranges from $1,400 to $3,000 per month.
Obviously, that’s a big gap. But there are a lot of variables, like how much you travel, where you stay (and for how long), how much your rig costs, and how much you spend on groceries/eating out/fun.
So what if you want to spend the least amount possible on RV travel?
How to save money on RV travel
Here are our biggest tips for saving money while living in an RV:
- Stay on the west coast. For whatever reason, campgrounds on the west coast (assuming you’re RVing in the US) are way more affordable and abundant than campgrounds in the east. I’ve seen some for as cheap as $300 per month! Also, try boondocking as much as possible.
- Plan your route in advance. If you know where you’re going, you’ll tend to do less driving – which will save on gas.
Stay at campgrounds for long periods of time. Most campgrounds give discounts on longer stays. Plus, you won’t be driving, so you’ll save more money on gas!
- Avoid eating out. This is more of a general way to save money, but it still rings true. Eating out is expensive! Instead, cook some of Kayla’s delicious recipes.
- Set a budget! I can’t tell you how important this is. Set a budget for everything we talked about here, and stick to it!
- Track your expenses. I just recently started doing this, and it really puts things in perspective. I use this Google sheet to track all my income and expenses (just go to “File” -> “Make a copy” so you can edit it). Once you see where you’re spending too much, it’s easier to cut back! Plus, it makes you think twice before spending (do I really want to track this?).
Now you know how much it costs to live in an RV and some camper money-saving tips.
But we have one last important question to answer:
Need some help organizing your RV? Check this out: 16 Space-Saving RV Kitchen Storage Ideas You Can’t Miss
How can you make more money while living in an RV full time?
Here are some ideas on making money while reducing costs living in an RV.
- Try workamping. Workamping (aka “Work Camping”) simply means working for your campground host in exchange for free rent and/or an income when living in an RV. Personally, Kayla and I hated it, but we’re very entrepreneurial and hate being confined.
- Become a virtual assistant. Being a VA is an amazing way to make money from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection. In fact, Kayla and I just hired a VA to help us grow our business, and she lives in Madrid, Spain! (In case you didn’t know, a VA is basically someone who helps a business owner with various admin tasks from answering emails to gathering data, booking events, managing projects, and more. It’s very versatile!)
- Get a remote job. With remote work, you can do everything from acting to writing blog posts, creating online courses, consulting, and more!
Read this for even more remote work ideas: 40+ ways to make money from an RV
Saving money with free camping when RVing
One great way to save money while RVing is to try boondocking, also known as dry camping, free camping or dispersed camping.
But how in the world do you find free campsites?
RVer Marianne Edwards has come to the rescue. She’s written several different boondocking guides chock full of information on finding free campsites. She tells you exactly where the campsites are, what type of RV can park there, and what amenities you’ll find.
Marianne even tells you where dump stations are near the campsites and gives suggested itineraries. The books give details on the elevation, view, cell phone service and how to get there. Plus, they won’t cost you more than a single night in a campsite.
So far, Marianne has written six boondocking guides, which are all updated on a regular basis.
Here are the boondocking guides you can get:
- RV Boondocking in Arizona
- California Boondocking: The Sierra Nevada Mountains and Coast
- California Boondocking: The Desert and Eastern Sierra
- RV Boondocking in Southern Utah
- RV Boondocking in Southern Texas
- RV Boondocking in New Mexico
Marianne offers an amazing 60-day guarantee, and you’ll also get a free 23-page ebook about boondocking to go along with your purchase.
Here are two other really affordable ways to find cheap RV campsites:
- Harvest Hosts (a yearly membership fee for unlimited camping at wineries, golf courses, farms)
- Boondockers Welcome (very cheap yearly fee for unlimited parking on private property)
All these will save you money and significantly bring down your RV living cost.
And there you have it! How much it costs to live in an RV, how to save, and how to make more money from the road.
If you have any questions or other suggestions on how to save money, cut costs, or make a better income, drop them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.