Monday, January 7, 2019

The Cost of RV Living

We often get asked what it costs to RV full-time. Now that a complete calendar year has gone by in our life as full-timers, I have gathered some real numbers.

As our regular readers know, our rig is a 34' 1996 Tiffin Allegro Bus and it hauls a trailer with motorcycles and we take turns driving a separate chase car. We became full-timers in July 2017. I am a professional bookkeeper by trade and these figures reflect our real figures for the year of 2018.

RV Parking/Resort Fees: just under $1000/mo
Important to note: this includes an annual prepaid camping contract at Thousand Trails parks which we purchased in July 2018; we broke even on the purchase price within the first month of purchase. We will continue to reap the rewards of free (well prepaid anyway) camping through July 2019.

Fuel for the RV: $255/mo
Fuel for the Subaru chase car: $180/mo
Our diesel pusher always gets around 10mpg, regardless of whether it's pulling the trailer or not, city streets or freeway, hills or plains, rain or shine. When it's parked at camp we hop in the Subaru for most of our exploring and photography errands.

Maintenance for the RV: Annual Grand Total of $10,500
Very Important to Note: $4000 of this was for an engine exhaust manifold replacement (part value was only $350, the rest was labor and assorted related parts), the unexpected kicker was another $4000 to repair subsequent damages to the engine caused BY the repair shop when they went in to remove/replace the engine exhaust manifold. So if we exclude the $8000 for the whole Rocky Mountains Cummins Albuquerque fiasco, the figure is closer to $210/month of normal maintenance, which is consistent with our figures for the first half year as full-timers Jul-Dec 2017. Realistically though, our rig is older, and so maybe this $10.5k/yr figure reflects our upcoming reality too, time will tell. In any case it's still thousands less per year than we spent maintaining our house.

Dues/Subscriptions: $57/month
You name it, we are members of it: CoachNet, AAA, KOA, GoodSam, Elks, Escapees, Harvest Hosts, Rever, FMCA, Cummins Club, Costco, the list goes on and on. As each comes up for renewal this year we'll be considering its value to us carefully before committing to another year. So far we know for sure we will absolutely renew Elks and Harvest Hosts because we use these all the time, and CoachNet because although we have only used their services once they were so impressive we became lifelong fans.

Propane: less than $20/month
We didn't do as much boondocking as we'd expected in 2018, this figure will probably go up in 2019 in direct correlation to RV park costs going down.

Internet/phone: $264/month
Yes it is a ridiculous amount of money, but a constant internet connection is mandatory to keep my business running smoothly and we have found wifi at parks to be unreliable. Lance has a Verizon phone and the bus has a Verizon Jetpack which are both unlimited but get throttled. I have an AT&T phone with tethering capability, which is not throttled but running over the allowance means additional $ so we keep a very close eye on the usage, and the bus has a Calyx Institute puck which is truly unlimited and lightning fast when we can get a Sprint signal (mostly guaranteed if in a sizable town, unlikely to get any signal at all in the countryside). We have found that we can almost always get a Verizon signal of some sort but the throttling makes us crazy, so although it is the most reliable provider it's also the plan that causes the most bouts of spontaneous cursing in our otherwise peaceful home. We are definitely looking to make a change here to bring down costs while still maintaining constant connectivity at a workable speed.

Other travel/entertainment expenses: $466/month
This includes hotel stays while the RV was in the shop here and there, a total of four flights throughout the year, planned meals out and entrance fees to events, museums, etc.

Television: $0/month
Totally don't miss it. Not even a little bit. If we want to watch a football game we check ourselves in to an Elks Lodge or a sports bar.

In looking at the coming year, we will likely be making some changes to our traveling style. Like most full-timers we covered a lot of ground in our first year, and while I don't regret any of it we already plan to slow our roll quite a bit in the coming year. This will help in two ways: we will save on RV park fees because monthly rates tend to be cheaper and we'll spend less on fuel with less running amuck.

The bottom line is this: whatever your style of living before becoming a full-timer, it isn't likely to change if YOU don't change. If you are the type who enjoys hiking or paddling in your kayak and pack yourself a lunch, that is likely to stay the same - entertainment dollars spent=near zero. If you enjoy buying new things to fill your closet or are constantly upgrading your home, those habits are likely to remain the same, albeit on a smaller scale. If you enjoy top-notch dining experiences and high-end hotels there are RV resorts that will cater you, too. If you prefer to eschew all of this and live alone on the open range far from human interaction there's a beautiful life for you out here, too. Your monthly budget will follow along accordingly.

We find that we are a little bit of all the above. In fact one of my favorite parts of being a full-timer is that we can change our lifestyle as we feel like it. And take our own bed with us.

****EDITED 1/10/19 to include spreadsheet


  1. Great article. Would love to see your spreadsheet. Should have posted it at the end. Great lessons, so what was the bottom line? See you on the road.

    1. Bottom line was $40,943. We're hoping to have less mechanical drama and more adventures in 2019 and expect to land 2019 closer to $30k. You saw the breakdown on the Facebook conversation on this subject, right? I'll amend the post if I can figure it out.

  2. Terrific commentary along with the numbers.

  3. Thanks for sharing this - it'll be a huge help to those who are preparing to go full-time for the first time! We also encountered the challenge of internet connectivity, and decided to create our own solution specifically for full-time RVers - $99/mo for an unlimited encrypted connection, at speeds up to 10Mbps and streaming in SD. Plus it comes with your own "IT guy" on call to assist with personal tech support. If interested, check us out at!

    1. Interesting. This might be what we've been looking for. We'll call you.