How Much Does It Cost To Live In An RV Full-Time?Anthony Day
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While most people use their recreational vehicles for camping, some folks have decided to live in their RVs full-time, but how much does it cost?
Whether you are a long-term traveler or want to curb rising rent prices, living in a camper is a great way to save money and enjoy an alternative lifestyle. However, the amount of money that you spend on your living expenses can greatly vary depending on a number of different factors.
It cost roughly $2,000 to 2,500 to live in an RV full-time. However, this figure can fluctuate depending on your lifestyle and how you want to use your rig - with some people paying as little as $1,600 per month and others spending upwards of $5,000 per month.
There is no better way to travel than to hit the open road in your RV. These vehicles provide you with all of the comforts one could ask for and they enable you to take your home with your wherever you go. With that said, there are a lot of people that decide to make their RV their permanent residence. This is a growing trend across the country and it is particularly popular among retirees, van life travelers, as well as anyone that wants to avoid paying outrageous amounts of money on rent. When you decide to set your RV up as a full-time home, you get to experience an alternative way of living, which comes with a lot of perks. However, before you go out on and buy a camper, it would be wise to understand the expenses that come with living in an RV full-time.
After extensively researching RV expenses, I have been able to gather enough information to determine the average costs of living in a recreational vehicle. My research has indicated that the biggest factors that influence your living expenses are where you want to live, the kind of vehicle you own, and how much you travel.
There are a lot of costs that need to be weighed out for RV living, but the one that tends to be unavoidable is gas. Each RV traveler has a different lifestyle and you may be a more stationary camper or you might enjoy hitting the road frequently.
The bottom line is that the more you travel and use your rig, the higher you can expect your monthly costs to be. Gas is not cheap and prices continue to rise throughout the country, which is making RV living all the more complicated and expensive.
On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $750 per month on gas alone. Let’s explore the different factors that affect your monthly gas expenses.
A gallon of gas can cost $3.50 to $5.50 depending on where you live in the country. This is a huge expense and how much you spend per month can be greatly influenced simply by your location.
The good thing about living in an RV is that relocating your rig is second nature. A lot of RVers that live in their campers tend to bounce around and change up their location. This enables you to move to a part of the country that has cheaper gas prices, which is a great tactic to utilize if you want to save money.
Aside from the cost of gas, how much you want to travel is going to affect your monthly expenses more than anything. The majority of people sold on living in an RV are often hooked on the idea of living on the road and traveling for life.
While this is understandably the highlight of life in a camper, it is also what can make RV living very pricey. When you factor in the current price of gas, you could be paying $750 to $1,000+ on fuel costs alone to travel regularly.
It’s also important to note that a lot of RV travel costs are seasonal. The warmest months of the year tend to be a calling for a lot of people to hit the road - with winter generally being a more stationary period. With that said, summer is also the season when gas prices are the highest, which are all factors to keep in mind when calculating expenses.
Given the flexibility you have as someone living in an RV, you can mitigate your travel expenses by moving around during the off-season. Alternatively, you may enjoy being stationary throughout most of the year. If that is the case, you can significantly cut your travel costs by avoiding unnecessary travel.
Each RV is different and depending on the type of rig that you own, you can pay a lot more on your gas prices. The amount of money that you need to spend on fuel will be higher if you are operating a large RV.
A Class A RV can cost as much as $600 for a single fill-up - with a 10-20mpg rating and upwards of 150 gallons to refuel, your expenses can quickly add up. The same principle applies to other large RVs such as Fifth-Wheels, as well as Class Bs and Cs.
On the other hand, if you have a small RV such as a pop-up camper or a sprinter van, your gas expenses are going to be minor by comparison. You can fill up an entire tank on a sprinter van for as little as $60. This enables you to not only save on gas but also travel more without breaking the bank.
2. Campground Fees
While a lot of people think that living in an RV implies that you are rent-free, that is not always the case. You have to park your rig somewhere and the most common place to do it is at a campground.
When you live in an RV full-time, you are going to want to have basic comforts in your daily routine, which is why campgrounds are an excellent and often essential part of this lifestyle. RV hookups and utility connections are mandatory from time to time and most people require power, water, and sewage hookups every day.
Camp fees can vary depending on location, as well as the types of services that they offer. In general, camp fees should cost around $25 to $80 per night, which includes full or partial hookups. However, if you are staying long-term, campground owners will often give you a better rate - with some RVers paying as little as $500 to $1,200 per month.
While utilities and hookups are a must for some, they are certainly not mandatory for all. A lot of folks living in their RVs enjoy this lifestyle because they get to wake up in nature every day.
While this does imply that you often have a less cushy experience, you get to enjoy staying off-grid, which is generally cheaper. Most RVers that take this approach tend to do it at official parks such as:
- National Parks
- State Parks
These places usually offer campgrounds and they charge you a lot less than official RV parks - with some locations charging as little as $18 per night. If you factor this into your monthly budget, you could be spending less than $600 per month on your camp fees.
With that said, there are options out there that are even cheaper than this. If you enjoy boondocking and truly getting off-grid, there are tons of places around the country that are actually free for RV camping such as:
- National Forest
- BLM Lands
These places have strict rules for RV travelers and they often limit you on how long you can stay - with 14 days being the average. However, these are excellent resources to keep in mind if you want to live in an RV full-time, as they are the most reliable way to live rent-free while on the road.
If you want to eat homecooked meals regularly, keeping your rig’s propane tank full is going to be a necessity. Just about every RV on the market relies on propane for cooking, which is another cost that you need to consider for your monthly expenses.
The amount of money that you spend on propane will be nothing compared to what you pay for fuel, but nonetheless, everything adds up when you calculate it over a long period of time. Most people that live in an RV full-time pay around $50 to $60 per month on propane.
However, these costs can fluctuate depending on how much you use. Keep in mind that you rely on propane for a number of different things for your RV to stay operational.
- Water Heater
If you can get by on a single tank of propane for all of your essential needs, then you could be spending as little as $30 per month. With that said, this is rarely the case for RVers and you may end up paying upwards of $90 per month if you use a lot of propane.
These costs can vary depending on the price of propane in your area, but also the climate of where you are living. If you are stationed in a part of the country that has stable temperatures throughout the year, you can cut down on a lot of your heating costs.
Whereas if you live somewhere that has very cold winters, your expenses could be considerably higher. There are some ways to combat the price of propane such as relying on solar for part (or all) of your power needs.
No matter how you live, food is going to be an unavoidable expenditure. This is a cost that you can mitigate by choosing certain items vs others, but ultimately, you should have a budget of $300 to $450 per month for your food.
Each person has their own dietary preferences and restrictions, which can make pinpointing a monthly food budget a bit trickier than other expenses. If you are able to make solid homecooked meals, you can save yourself a lot of money in the long run.
On the other hand, if you like to eat out frequently and rely on restaurants for the bulk of your diet, your monthly food expenses can skyrocket. Naturally, this is not the case if you are hitting the fast food driveway for every meal, but this is not always the best option for most people.
There are some great strategies that you can implement to save money on your food if you want to keep costs low.
An important factor that can make a huge difference in how much you spend on food is how well you can store it. If you have to buy single-item groceries every day, your costs are going to be higher and you will ultimately end up wasting more time driving to the store.
A great way to avoid unnecessary costs is to store the food that you buy. When you go to the store try to buy groceries for the week and buy in bulk, as this is often cheaper. If you want to store food, you must have a decent fridge in your camper.
Sales & Location
When you go out shopping for food, always keep an eye out for items that are on sale. Each store has different deals that you can take advantage of and if you are a flexible eater, you can save yourself a lot of money throughout the year on your food costs.
In addition, keep in mind that food is priced differently in each store and in each region. Find store options that have better prices and stick with them for your grocery runs. Lastly, buy food in urban areas whenever possible. If you are out in the middle of nowhere and grocery options are limited, supply and demand will often dictate price increases.
5. RV Insurance
Much like with any vehicle, you need to have your rig insured before you hit the open road. This is a legal obligation and it is mandatory for anyone operating an RV.
Each state has different prices for insurance and each RV gets a different quote based on the driver, rig size, and vehicle age. Some folks pay as little as $42 per month for their RV insurance - whereas others might end up spending $150+.
There are a lot of insurance companies out there and the best way to find out what you will have to pay is to reach out and ask for a quote. You will also be offered a number of different insurance packages that give you different levels of protection.
While it may seem financially beneficial to opt for the cheapest insurance plan available, this is short-term thinking and you may want to consider something that is going to give you legitimate coverage in case of an accident. This is particularly the case for RVers operating expensive rigs.
6. RV Maintenance
One of the downsides of living in an RV is that you have to make vehicle maintenance a regular part of your routine. The best way to maximize the lifespan of your investment (and home) is to take good care of your RV.
While regular maintenance may seem like a chore, it is the best way to prevent serious issues and repairs down the line. If you are versed in mechanics and are comfortable getting under the hood of a rig, you can save yourself thousands of dollars over the years.
However, if you are like most of us, you probably need to rely on the help of a mechanic from time to time. How much you ultimately spend on your RV maintenance will vary based on the shop that you deal with and how you treat your rig.
Brand new RVs that are serviced routinely experience far fewer issues over the years. Used RVs that have not been treated well can break down at any minute and may be more trouble to repair than they are worth.
Given how unpredictable RV repairs can often be, it is hard to give an exact estimate of what your monthly expenses will be to maintain your vehicle. A good figure to keep in mind is roughly $800 to $1,000 per year. If you want to avoid a $5,000 engine repair bill out of nowhere, I would recommend getting your RV serviced regularly instead of putting it off until it's too late.
7. Hidden Expenses
Although we have covered the essential expenses that every RVer has to deal with when living in their rig full-time, it is important to recognize that there are a lot of hidden costs as well.
Whether you live in an apartment, house, or an RV, bills still need to be payed which are simply unavoidable. While these can vary from person to person, keep the following hidden expenses in mind:
- Phone bill
- TV packages
- Streaming services
- Gym memberships
- Health insurance
Just because you live in an RV does not mean that all of your normal bills disappear. You should consider all of your current monthly expenses and weigh out what you will need when living in an RV and what you can cut out.