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How Much Does It Cost to Live in an RV Full Time

Do you want to live in an RV full time but don’t know how to work out the financials? 

A study by the RV Industry Association revealed that there are 1 million Americans living in an RV full time. Among the myriad uncertainties bothering you about living in an RV full time, perhaps the most important one is living in an RV full-time and the cost that comes with it.

Although RVs bring in cost-saving benefits, it’s crucial to know certain expenses that crop up along the way so you can prepare your budget accordingly.

So let’s go through the various costs you might encounter while living in an RV full time.

Living in an RV full-time cost

Living in an RV full-time cost varies according to your lifestyle. Some like to eat out often while others like to cook at home. Some prefer going to a laundromat, while others can’t do without an RV washer and RV dryer. Some devote much of their time to the Internet, while others prefer offline life.

The total cost varies for each person or each family. Some people live in an RV full time while traveling from one place to another. Others like to settle down in an RV just to save money.

If you want to live a luxurious life while on the road, you may have to pay more than you would’ve for a house. A frugal lifestyle can reduce your expenses to a fraction of what you would have to pay otherwise.

Below is a breakdown of the fixed and variable expenses.

RV types and their costs

The type of RV you want determines your fixed cost. 

Motorcoaches are characterized by class. Class A, which is 20-45 feet long, starts at $40,000 for low-end models and up to $500,000 for top-of-the-line ones. However, these vehicles usually come with complex maneuverability and poor gas mileage. 

Class B is smaller in size, but it offers the best gas mileage. Its price ranges from as low as $5,000 to $200,000. Class C provides good gas mileage and comfortable medium size. Its cost varies between $12,000 for second-hand models up to $150,000 for new ones.

There are also converted passenger vehicles like remodeled buses or vans that you have to register and license in your state officially. Check out your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for particular guidelines on licensing them. The cost would depend on who licenses the vehicle and renovates it.

Trailers, unlike motorcoaches, don’t have an engine and have to be towed using another vehicle. Big trailers need heavy-duty trucks that can cost around $8,000 on the low-end. You can find smaller, less costly trucks to tow midsize trailers.

Pop-up trailers are often small enough to be towed by a sedan but they’re impractical for full-timers because they fold down on top of themselves. Starting at $10,000, they can cost as high as $40,000.

Travel trailers are midsize, between 12 and 35 feet, with hard walls. They cost between $11,000 and $35,000.

Fifth-wheel trailers, on the other hand, are the largest ones, about 25-35 feet – and also the most expensive. Based on the available amenities, their prices range from $25,000 to $150,000. 

Outstanding debts or loans

You can eliminate any outstanding debt or loan by purchasing your RV with cash. If you have a house in your name, you can sell it for cash. So, you have to select an RV that costs less than or equal to the amount of money you’ve gathered.

If you don’t have enough equity to purchase an RV, you have to finance it by taking an RV loan. Most RV loans are secured, where your RV is used as collateral if you can’t make payments.

The loan terms vary between 1 and 20 years. You can save money on interest payment by selecting a shorter term, but your monthly payments would be higher.

You can also purchase an RV using an unsecured loan with good enough credit. Personal loans are quicker to fund and don’t need collateral, but they often charge higher interest rates and have shorter repayment periods.

The interest rates for both unsecured and secured RV loans are greater than home mortgage interest rates. However, because the average RV is less expensive than the average house, you won’t have to borrow as much.

Plus, whether the monthly RV payment is less than the mortgage one depends on the amount you borrow.

Moreover, some states require you to pay annual property taxes on the RV. Most states don’t, but a few, such as Virginia, charge as high as 4.05%.

Household items

Most furniture, such as tables, sofas, and cabinets, is likely to be a one-time expense. You may choose to change them after some years if you want.

Your lifestyle would determine what type of fridge you need, the utensils and cutlery you buy, the number of cabinets you need, and whether you need a dishwasher or not.

If you have a large enough RV, you may even be able to fit in a bed and a bathroom with a shower.

You may already have these from your previous home. In that case, you won’t have to buy anything new.

Bathroom & Shower

Some RVs don’t have space for a bathroom and, shower in which case people have to rely on public and ‘natural’ restrooms.

If your RV doesn’t have a bathroom, but you later decide to get a toilet, you can add it yourself. There are 4 options.

  • Cassette toilet: A permanently attached toilet that costs below $600 and comes with a portable external blackwater tank.
  • Porta Potti toilet: Has a built-in tank that flushes and costs below $200.
  • Compost toilet: Breaks down solid waste into compost and costs below $1,000.
  • Portable camping toilet: A collapsible toilet-shaped bucket that you need to fill with toilet bags. It costs below $50, excluding the cost of each toilet bag, which is below $1 each.

An RV with a toilet and shower will create logistical problems while parking in areas without any hookups for water.

Although parks without hookups are cheaper, you have to buy a water-holding tank that varies between 25 and 100 gallons. The larger your family size, the bigger the tank you need.

Some dump stations can be free, but most cost about $10 per dump. You need to dump more often with smaller tanks, so you have to pay more.

Gas and propane

The prices for gas and propane differ significantly from one state to another. Plus, political and economic conditions can cause prices to fluctuate in either direction. 

Your gas and propane expenses will decrease if you don’t travel much in your RV. But you may still end up paying $30-100 a month on propane to run your water heater, stove, central heating, and oven. 

Insurance

You need to estimate your insurance expense by yourself since insurance needs vary from person to person. Insurance depends on your rig, insurance policy, and state of residence. 

You can finance your insurance out of your pocket or find a company to insure your RV full-time living, which can be tricky. You should contact your present insurance agent to check whether they’ll cover for you.

Check other agents as well to ensure you get the best insurance rate for your preferred policy. You may even get lucky enough to get a job where your employer pays your life and health insurance.

Food

Different RVs have different food storage and cooking capabilities. If you want to rely on home cooked meals often, you might want an RV with a spacious kitchen with a fridge. 

Smaller RVs make it harder to cook and store food. You can still cook all your meals in an RV kitchen, but you’ll have to adjust certain recipes and frequently stock up on raw food.

Your food cost will depend on your family size, diet (meat would cost more than groceries), and your preference (or lack thereof) for home cooked and outdoor meals.

If you love eating meat and vegetables at home, it can cost you about $800 a month for two people.

Mobile RV living

Campsite fees depend on location, season, length of stay, size of the RV, and amenities. For living in an RV park long-term, you may need to pay anywhere from $200 to above $1,000 a month.

You’ll get the lower range mostly for cheap trailer parks, and the higher range can get you a luxurious zone in a waterpark or a beach.

Many parks provide discounts for senior citizens and veterans. For instance, in Idaho, people 62 or older get a 50% discount on campsites, while disabled veterans can camp for free.

State park campgrounds usually charge $20-45 per night. They often come with water and electrical hook-ups, provide more space between neighbors, and take you close to beautiful rivers, lakes, or trails.

Boondocking, otherwise known as dry camping, refers to free camping on public property. The most common locations are on properties managed by the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

These campgrounds rarely have bathrooms or water nearby, but solar setup and water holding tanks can let you live off-grid for about 15-20 days in a row. 

RV clubs are a great way to save. For instance, many campsites provide a 10% discount to members of AAA, and Passport America can qualify you for 50% discounts at more than 1,450 campsites. 

Rig repair and maintenance

Rig repair and maintenance expenses are the hardest to predict. Most months, they are $0, but sometimes they can shoot to above $1,000.

You can keep a budget of $200 a month and learn some of the repair and maintenance work yourself to cut costs.

Full-timers should keep $5,000 in reserve in case of RV breakdown. Regularly replace fuel and brakes for your RV to prevent expensive mechanic charges. Invest in a good-quality air compressor and tire pressure monitoring system to save money and avoid getting stranded. 

Utilities

Living in an RV full-time cost includes some utility bills, although you don’t have to pay water, sewer, and trash bills anymore.

Most campgrounds include internet and electricity bills into the rental cost, but some may charge them separately. You also need to pay dump fees while dry camping.

Most full-timers use AT&T or Verizon for the internet because they provide the best shot at receiving service in remote areas and small towns. Verizon is the most costly at $150 per month for 2 lines.

While selecting a phone plan, one of the most important considerations is hotspot allowance. It’s very rare to stay stationary at a campground with strong WiFi, so you need to depend on your phone’s hotspot to connect the internet to your devices. 

It’ll cost below $4 to use a washing and drying combo for a load in case you use an interdependent washing service such as Launderama.

Most camping sites offer washing and drying services, but they may not allow you to hang clotheslines. You can even buy an RV washer dryer combo to save more money.

Fun & Entertainment

Keep a few hundred dollars per month for some fun and entertainment. You might go out to eat at some amazing local restaurants or go to attractive tourist destinations.

Climate

If you want to live in very hot or cold regions, you need an RV that has facilities to protect you accordingly.

You may have to add in insulation with your money if you plan to convert a vehicle or buy an old camper. For a class B motorcoach, a spray foam insulation kit would cost about $400.

The bigger the RV, the greater the cost of insulation. You also need to consider the additional cost of running an air conditioner or a furnace in extreme climates.

Some models are built particularly for cold weather. There’s no universal standard since every RV company markets them differently. For example, Keystone RVs offer a Four Seasons Living Package, while Heartland RVs have an Extreme Weather Package.

Final Words

Living in an RV full time is worth it only if you’re willing to downsize and simplify your life. If you choose an affordable, comfortable RV and take advantage of free water, electricity, campgrounds, and entertainment, living in an RV full time costs only a fraction of life at a house.

One more important thing – RV life is not for everyone just because it’s financially appealing. It’s not as comfortable as living in a house, and simplifying your life can seem a big convenience to you. That said, it’s up to you to decide whether the savings are worth downsizing your lifestyle.

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