Cost of RV Living Full-Time on a Budget

Apr 22, 2024 | RV, Travel, Van Life, Vehicle Living | 0 comments

The full-time RV lifestyle ignites your soul with a sense of adventure that’s hard to find elsewhere.

It’s waking up to a sunrise on a mountainside, coffee in hand, with your home tag-along for every escapade.

For the budget-conscious wanderers among us, full-time RV living offers the priceless appeal of an ever-changing backyard without the hefty price tag of traditional homeownership. With locational freedom, you can save money and travel the world with a home on wheels.

But before we delve into this whimsical nomadic existence, let’s address camper and RV living costs.

Your bank account needn’t be a bottomless pit, nor should your travels drain it.

With a little know-how and a dash of creativity, the thrifty traveler can thrive in the expansive world of recreational vehicles, and I’m here to guide you through.

As your trusty companion through this journey, I’ll share the lessons and insights spoonful by spoonful, all personally road-tested.

We’ll navigate the nuances of simple living – because when your living room views are as vast as the Grand Canyon, less definitely equates to more.

Our goal? To marry frugality with fun, to blend saving with savoring, and to teach you the art of economizing without compromising the richness of your travels.

It’s a delicate dance between cost and comfort, and I’ve laced up my dancing shoes to help you find that rhythm. So, buckle up, we’re about to steer through the financials of full-time RV living—your ticket to tranquility without the terror of towering costs.

So, how much does RV living cost?

Simple answer: $1,600/month+

Of course, it goes without saying that this number is so incredibly flexible depending on each person’s situation but it is a good place to start. Here is the breakdown.



Setting Up Your RV: Initial Setup and Maintenance Costs

 Before you bask in the glory of a home that hugs every curve of the open road, let’s chat about the initial setup and maintenance costs of an RV.

I’ll share insights into navigating this phase without draining your adventure fund.

Imagine finding your perfect RV—the dreamy exterior, the cozy interior, all beckoning you to an endless horizon. Yet, before you leap into this nomadic nirvana, consider some of the initial expenses that may not be immediately apparent.

First up, outfitting your new home.

building out RV

We’re not just talking about hanging a few pictures; it’s the practical bits like sewer hoses, leveling blocks, and water filters. They aren’t the most glamorous purchases, but believe me, they are essential for a smooth journey.

Now, onto maintenance, the guardian of your on-the-go lifestyle. Like any home, upkeep is key, and in an RV, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Regularly scheduled oil changes, brake inspections, and tire rotations are the trifecta of road-worthiness.

And let’s not forget those home systems: the fridge, air conditioner, heater, and water heater all require love and attention. Your future self will thank you for timely tune-ups that dodge hefty repair bills down the road.

Investing a little time and money into understanding your RV’s needs can pay off immensely. Even simple tasks like resealing the roof annually can prevent water damage, which is both a literal and figurative headache.

Always remember that starting with a well-maintained RV can make the world of difference in your travel experience. So, budget accordingly for these initial outlays—your bank account will stay as resilient as your wanderlust.


RV Full-Time Setup Budget (all the extra gadgets to get you on the road):


Full Timer RVers may spend much more than this to have all the essential items but this is one area you do not want to skimp on. Being prepared is key and will ensure you have a smooth journey without unexpected expenses.


Gas Budget: Fuel Efficiency and Travel Planning

 Oh, the open road!

It evokes a sense of freedom, doesn’t it? But when you’re living that coveted RV life full-time on a shoestring, every mile can potentially pinch your wallet.

You’ve fastidiously equipped your home-on-wheels and, with a map sprawling across your table, you’re almost set to roam. But wait—have you contemplated the cost of the great motorist’s fuel: gas?

I’ve come to regard this not as a hindrance but as a piece of the puzzle to slot into my budget with careful consideration.

After all, what’s a home that moves if you can’t afford to make it go places? Fuel efficiency becomes your new best friend on this vehicular adventure. You’ll start talking about miles per gallon like it’s an old college buddy you’ve reconnected with.

And here’s the thing: not all RVs guzzle gas at the same rate, so choosing an RV that sips rather than chugs can save you a bundle over time.

Here’s where travel planning meshes with budgeting.

Charting your course isn’t only about pinning locations on your wish list; it’s about strategizing your driving to fit your fiscal frame.

You’ll find me pondering over maps, not just for the scenic routes, but to calculate estimated fuel costs between stops. This aids in catching savings on the wing—opting for shorter journeys and efficient routes cuts down on the gas bills.

Let me share a tip: keep a lookout for gas price apps and discount programs; they’re lifesavers.

Sometimes, you might even adjust your journey based on where the gas prices are friendliest. And while I can’t influence the market prices, I sure can outsmart them with a bit of savvy route optimization and judicious travel timing.

In the end, it’s about fueling not just your RV, but your dreams, without letting expenses become a roadblock. You’ll come to revel in the hum of your engine, not in fear of the fuel gauge. Because with prudence, the journey really does become as delightful as the destination.


Monthly Budget for Gas

~$200/month +

This is all dependent on how often you plan on moving around and type of vehicle but we feel $200 is a good overall starting point.



Campground Fees: How to Save on Overnight Parking

 When you’re carving out a life on the open road, every penny counts. The price of a peaceful night under the stars can quickly add up, so let’s talk campgrounds.

Think of campgrounds as your ever-changing front yard—some with all the trimmings, others just a patch of ground to call your own for a night. Here’s my take on trimming those campground costs without sacrificing the joy of the journey.

First up, consider memberships and passes that offer discounts at campgrounds and RV parks. Organizations like Passport America can slash your stay rate by 50%, and let’s not forget America the Beautiful Pass for savings at national parks. Investing a bit upfront can lead to substantial savings as you traverse the country.

Keep an eagle eye on off-peak pricing for RV parks. Rates often dip during quieter times such as mid-week days and shoulder seasons. These periods offer a double win: lighter on the wallet and more solitude to enjoy your surroundings. I’ve found some of my most serene spots during these less crowded times.

Loyalty can have its perks! Frequenting the same campground chain or location might brew up some benefits or discounts. A chat with the friendly faces at reception can often uncover some budget-friendly gems or even a free-night stay after a number of visits.

But here’s the scoop, folks: Finding city or county parks for overnight stays can be an absolute game-changer. They might not offer the luxury of resort-like amenities, but they do offer a safe place to settle down, usually at a fraction of the cost. Let’s not forget the local charm these parks often possess!

Lastly, be resourceful! Harness online resources and apps to spot those deals. Websites like Campendium or AllStays are my personal travel companions, constantly pointing me to budget-friendly sites that still offer a delightful rest for the night.

Remember, saving on campground fees means more in the kitty for adventures. And take it from me, the richness of RV living isn’t measured in what you spend, but in the experiences you gather along the way.


Monthly Budget for Campgrounds

~$750/month +

While I personally avoid campgrounds and go the boondocking route – that is not always the case if you have a family and want the comforts offered by a campground or RV park. Choosing to boondock in BLM land can significantly cut your RV living expenses.


Boondocking: Free Camping and How to Do It Safely

 I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the art of boondocking while meandering through the rugged landscapes of the Southwest.

Picture this: a serene, untouched spot in nature, far from the hustle and bustle of crowded campgrounds, and best of all, it doesn’t cost a dime. This, my fellow explorers, is the essence of boondocking—or free camping—and with the right approach, it can be done both safely and respectfully.

Boondocking is camping without hookups, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s about self-sufficiency and a connection with the wild. To do it safely and sustainably, consider these guidelines:

  • Always find legal spots to camp. Public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or National Forests are generally safe bets, but always check local regulations.
  • Be self-contained: your RV should be equipped with ample water storage, waste disposal options, and enough power—think solar—without needing external sources.
  • Pack out what you pack in. The ethos here is simple: leave no trace. Your campsite should look as if you were never there when you leave.
  • Prepare for emergencies. When you’re off the grid, help is not around the corner. Ensure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, a reliable means of communication, and a plan for unexpected events.

The allure of boondocking lies in its simplicity and the unspoken promise of peace. From waking up to the symphony of nature to stargazing without a speck of light pollution, it’s a frugal traveler’s dream.

But it’s not just about saving money. Boondocking has taught me the value of minimalism, the importance of our natural environments, and the irreplaceable feeling of true freedom on the road.

With careful planning and a responsible mindset, this could be the budget-savvy secret that transforms your full-time RV lifestyle into an adventure of a lifetime.

One thing to keep in mind is that boondocking is not offered within state and national parks. An app like iOverlander will provide an amazing list of free places to camp from other users (and the app is completely free).


Budget for Boondocking



boondocking RV


Managing Utilities: Water, Electricity, and Internet on the Road

 When embracing the nomadic charm of full-time RV living, managing utilities becomes an essential aspect of the lifestyle, especially when you’re keeping an eye on the budget.

As you rumble down the open road, water, electricity, and internet are the three utilities that will consistently factor into your daily life.

First, let’s talk about water. It’s the lifeblood of our existence and for an RV dweller, conserving this precious commodity can become second nature.

I’ve found that investing in a good water filtration system and sizable water storage tanks can save you from the frequent campground hookup fees. Plus, many public lands offer free potable water—just don’t forget to fill up before you set up camp!

Electricity can be quite the expenditure, but I’ve seen how fellow travelers harness the sun’s power by outfitting their moving homes with solar panels.

Not only does it cut down on generator fuel costs, but it’s also a silent companion that respects the serenity of your natural surroundings. And for those cloudy days, public libraries and cafes often welcome remote workers with open arms and open outlets.

And then there’s the internet—a modern-day necessity, especially for those who work remotely. While mobile hotspots offer the most convenience, they can be pricey.

I’ve learned to be savvy by boosting free Wi-Fi signals with an extender or frequenting places with free Wi-Fi. Bonus tip: Many campgrounds include this in their fee, so it’s worth scouting out those spots!

Adapting to this sustainable utility trio of water, power, and connection is a transformative experience. It nudges us towards a lifestyle that’s not only budget-friendly but also environmentally conscious.

It teaches us the importance of every drop, every watt, and every byte in our wonderfully wandering world.


Budget for Utilities

~$120/month +


Obtaining a cheap phone plan like Visible can help with internet and cell phone costs as it is a good option for unlimited data (although, does not work well in cities or congested areas). Perfect for camping!


Food and Living Expenses: Meal Planning and Smart Shopping

 As a full-time RVer, it’s crucial to talk turkey about one of the most significant aspects of the lifestyle: grub and the greenbacks it takes to get it—that’s food and living expenses to you and me.

When your kitchen is as mobile as your bedroom, meal planning becomes an art form, one that balances nutrition, cost-effectiveness, and the sheer pleasure of eating.

First things first, let’s chat about meal planning. In the cozy confines of an RV, space is king and that goes double for pantry and fridge space.

So, strategic grocery shopping is a must. I always aim to buy versatile ingredients that can be mixed and matched to create multiple meals, reducing waste and keeping things fresh. Think pasta that works for a dinner, then doubles up for a salad lunch the next day.

Another nugget of wisdom is to shop local. Farmers markets can be your wallet’s best friend, offering fresh produce at a fraction of supermarket prices, and you get the added joy of sampling the local fare and supporting small businesses.

Plus, there’s something wonderfully grounding about cooking meals with ingredients grown in the very environment you’re exploring.

Smart shopping extends to non-perishables too. Stocking up on items like rice, beans, and canned goods when they’re on sale can be a boon for your budget. Just remember the golden rule: never buy more than you can store!

For times I feel like treating myself, I’ve found a riveting read can turn a basic meal into a sumptuous feast. It’s all about ambiance.

Eating out is a tempting convenience, but the cost can gnaw away at your budget, a reality any savvy traveler would dodge. I limit myself to the occasional local eatery, opting for places off the beaten path that offer authentic, reasonably priced dishes.

In the end, the business of eating on the road is much like any other aspect of RV living—infused with a pinch of creativity, a dash of discipline, and a generous dollop of enjoyment of the moment.

After all, there’s something uniquely satisfying about tucking into a meal with a view that’s constantly changing.


Budget for Food

~$400/month + per person


Alcohol might just double that number though…


cooking food in RV


RV Maintenance and Repairs: Keeping Costs Down

 Alright, let’s break down the nuts and bolts of RV maintenance and repairs, because keeping your rig rolling without breaking the bank is an art in itself. When you live full-time in your RV, it becomes your home and your vehicle, which means maintenance can’t take a backseat.

First up, I recommend getting to grips with your RV’s basic needs; understanding its inner workings can save you a bundle in labor costs. Tackling simple tasks like checking tire pressure, changing the oil, and replacing air filters can be done without a trip to the mechanic. There are plenty of tutorials online that can guide you through these processes – think of it as a DIY project that keeps you road-ready.

Preventative maintenance is your best friend here. It’s about catching issues before they blossom into pricey repairs. Keep an eye out for signs of wear and tear, and address them promptly. This includes things like sealing leaks, monitoring your battery’s health, and ensuring brakes are in top shape. Routine checks could be the difference between a smooth cruise and being stuck in Nowheresville with a hefty tow bill.

And let’s talk about service records. Keeping meticulous notes on what you’ve done and when can help you track upcoming needs and prevent redundant servicing. Plus, should you ever sell your RV, those records are gold for increasing resale value.

But sometimes, you’ll need to bring in the professionals. When selecting a service center, don’t just look at the price. Consider their expertise with RVs and read reviews from other full-timers. A knowledgeable mechanic might cost more upfront but can save you money by doing the job right the first time.

Remember, stinginess can backfire. Invest wisely in your rolling abode’s health, and it’ll take care of you on every mile of your budget-friendly adventure.


RV Repair Budget

~$300/month +


It may not be needed but when it does hit, it can hit hard. Budgeting out a minimum of $300/month can help if something happens every few months.


broken down RV


Entertainment and Leisure: Enjoying Life on the Road for Less

 As someone who’s embraced the enchanting lifestyle of full-time RV living, I can tell you that the richness of this life doesn’t rest solely on where you park each night or the miles you’ve roamed—it thrives in the joy of everyday adventures, even those that cost you little to nothing. Let’s dive into the art of infusing entertainment and leisure into your nomadic life, without draining the wallet.

First off, nature is your grand stage and it roams free from entrance fees. National parks pass, local hiking trails, and serene beaches become your playground. I’ve often found that my most treasured memories came from simple stargazing nights or the unexpected encounters with wildlife on a quiet morning walk.

For those cultural cravings, smaller local museums, art galleries, and historical sites typically have modest fees or suggested donations. And don’t overlook the charm of community events—farmers markets, free concerts, and festivals can offer a wealth of local flavor for pennies on the dollar.

To keep leisure affordable, I also recommend socializing with fellow RVers. Pool resources for a group barbeque, game nights, or maybe even a skill-swap gathering where learning a new craft can be both free and fabulous. Books, e-books from public libraries, and podcasts can be great companions—and they weight nothing in your mobile abode!

Always keep an eye out for discounts and memberships for RVers. Organizations like Passport America can offer significant savings on attractions and excursions. Just remember, life on the road isn’t about the flash; it’s about those unexpected bursts of joy—a child’s laughter at birdsong, the sharing of stories under an awning, and the collective appreciation of a sunset painting the sky.

Living a rich, leisure-filled life on the road isn’t reserved for those with hefty budgets; it’s readily available to those who are rich in spirit and savvy in their pursuits for joy. With an open mind and an open road, every turn can be a treasure trove of memories that cost you not much more than your time and a smile.


Budget for Entertainment

~$200/month +


Health Insurance and Medical Care While Traveling

 Embarking on a full-time RV journey doesn’t mean you have to leave behind the peace of mind that comes with having reliable health insurance. As my own journey has shown me, navigating medical care while traversing the open road requires forethought and flexibility. Here are some tips on how to handle health insurance and medical care while embracing the RV lifestyle without breaking the bank.

First and foremost, finding a health insurance plan that matches your nomadic lifestyle is crucial. Traditional plans may not cover out-of-state care, so looking into options like nationwide PPO plans can be a wise move. These plans often have a broader network, which means you can access care across states without incurring exorbitant out-of-network fees.

Another alternative is joining a health care sharing program, which can be more budget-friendly and offers a sense of community support. However, as I discovered through chatting with fellow RVers, it’s essential to understand the limitations and requirements of these plans.

For minor ailments or immediate non-emergency care, retail clinics or urgent care centers are economical choices. They offer standardized prices for basic services, which I’ve found advantageous for keeping my medical expenses predictable.

Telemedicine services have been my lifeline for dealing with non-urgent medical issues. They’ve allowed me to consult with a healthcare professional without needing to visit a clinic or hospital physically. Not only is it cost-effective, but it is also incredibly convenient.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep a well-stocked first aid kit and any necessary prescriptions up to date. Many pharmacists will work with you to supply a more extended period’s worth of medication, knowing you’ll be on the road for longer stretches. 

In conclusion, maintaining robust health care while exploring the great outdoors might seem daunting, but with careful planning, it’s quite achievable. By selecting the right insurance plan, using alternative care options, and planning ahead for prescriptions and emergencies, you can protect your health without draining your wallet.


Health Insurance Budget

~$200/month +


I like to keep it simple with a specific nomad insurance plan.


RV Insurance and Registration Expenses

 Embarking on a full-time RV adventure, it’s imperative to understand the nitty-gritty of insurance and registration costs, as these are the protective umbrellas that shelter your nomadic abode on wheels. When I first looked into RV insurance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was akin to getting a cup of specialty coffee every day—affordable if you budget right, but still, a cost that needs consideration.

Your RV isn’t just a vehicle—it’s your home. Hence, insurance premiums will vary based on factors such as the RV’s value, size, and age, as well as your driving history and intended use. Typically, a basic liability insurance might cost as little as $200 annually, while full coverage could climb into the thousands. The trick lies in comparison shopping—I can’t emphasize enough how much this step saved me!

Registration fees, on the other hand, are dictated by your home state and the RV’s weight and type. In my experience, these fees can range anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars per year. It’s much like paying a subscription to the great outdoors; each state with its own pricing structure.

Mind the extras, like roadside assistance and total loss replacement coverage. They could be a lifesaver on a deserted mountain pass or a flooded bayou. I recall a fellow traveler whose transmission gave out in the wilds of Montana—thank goodness for that extra towing coverage!

Remember, the peace of mind you’ll gain from having your home-on-wheels insured and legally recognized is priceless. It’s the sturdy foundation beneath the freedom of the open road. And while these expenses might seem a tad tedious amidst the lure of adventure, they are, without a doubt, the essentials that keep your journey safe and sound.


Budget for Insurance

~$120/month +


It usually is not nearly as expensive to have insurance for an RV as opposed to a “daily driver” car. They don’t have to know you’re living in it full-time.


Seasonal Considerations: Saving Money in Different Climates

 In my time rolling through the seasons in my trusty RV, one thing I’ve learned is the art of adapting to Mother Nature’s fickle moods while keeping my wallet as full as possible. So, let’s dive into the seasonal considerations to keep your budget in check as the scenery changes outside your window.

As you head north or south chasing the perfect weather, remember, each season brings its own set of expenses. In the sunny embrace of summer, you might be reaching for the air conditioning more often, so plan your stays at campgrounds with electricity hookups included to avoid extra costs. Always aim for the shade, as it’s not only splendid for afternoon naps but it’ll keep your cooling needs down.

Come winter, if the snowbird life is for you, heading to warmer climates can cut down on heating costs. But if you’re braving the chill, insulation becomes your best friend.

Investing in quality thermal curtains and sealing up drafts can keep you cozy without the continuous hum of a heater. Trust me, the initial outlay pays off when you see the reduced need for propane or electricity.

Spring and fall, while often mild, can throw curveballs with unexpected cold snaps or heat waves. My advice? Layer up or down and use natural ventilation as much as possible. Keep a close eye on local forecasts and be ready to move if Mother Nature suggests a more budget-friendly climate is just a short drive away.

Remember, every region has its peak and off-peak seasons. Travel against the tourist tide, and you’ll find not only quieter spots but also reduced rates at campgrounds. Flexibility is key in full-time RV living, so embrace the seasonal shifts and make them work for your budget. It’s a thrilling challenge that I assure you adds spice to the adventure of life on the road.


Final Tips: Maximizing Savings and Enjoying the Full-Time RV Lifestyle

 As we find ourselves winding down the open road of our thrifty RV living guide, let’s park by the campfire of wisdom to glean those final nuggets of advice. Full-time RV living on a budget is not just about pinching pennies; it’s a savvy dance of economics and enjoying the sprawling vistas this lifestyle offers.

My own journey has led me to uncover that the key to maximizing savings is a mix of foresight, flexibility, and a sprinkle of creativity. For instance, I’ve learned that embracing the off-season not only saves me a bundle in campground fees but also often gifts me a quieter, more serene experience. There’s a certain charm to having a popular park nearly all to oneself that’s priceless in itself.

Here’s another trick from my travel hat: loyalty programs offered by RV-related companies can be your golden ticket. By accumulating points or taking advantage of discounts provided by these programs, I’ve shaved dollars off essential RV needs. It’s like a little reward for the miles I treasure.

Let’s not forget about community. Engaging with other RVers through forums or clubs isn’t just a way to forge friendships; it’s a treasure trove of shared knowledge and tips that can save you in a pinch. Why learn the hard way when a fellow traveler can guide you through their own experiences?

Lastly, savor the journey. Streamlining your expenses doesn’t mean cutting the fun out of your travels. I’m a firm believer in balancing cost-saving measures with memorable escapades. Whether it’s a serene hike, a free local concert, or simply basking in the glow of the sunset from your ‘mobile porch’, it’s these priceless experiences that truly enrich the full-time RV lifestyle on a budget.

So keep your wheels spinning and your budget in check, and you’ll find that the open road is not only filled with adventure but is also an affordable pathway to a rich and fulfilling life.

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