We’ve never claimed to be experts in RVing, but what we can say is that we’ve got a fair amount of experience behind us. We’ve been living, working, and traveling full time in our RV for right around 20 years now. By now, we’re pretty clear on what it takes to live and work full time on the road, and we’ve got a darned good idea of full-time RV living expenses.
Since lots of people are either curious about what it costs to live in an RV full time or are interested because they’re considering the full-time RV lifestyle, we thought we’d invest some time in writing a post laying out some of the categories of expenses you should budget for when planning to live full time in an RV.
Because so many of the costs vary dramatically depending on your RVing style, we can’t give you the actual numbers you should plan for. But, hopefully, this list of the types of expenses you should expect to have will help you to put together your specific budget, so you won’t be caught off guard.
Let’s dig in!
- 1) What Is Full-Time RV Living?
- 2) Common Fixed Expenses for Full-Time RVers
Common Variable Expenses for Full-Time RVers
- 3.1) Fuel (Gas or Diesel)
- 3.2) Propane (LP Gas)
- 3.3) Maintenance
- 3.4) Repairs
- 3.5) Groceries and Household Needs
- 3.6) Dining Out
- 3.7) Campground/RV Park Fees
- 3.8) Tank Dumping Fees
- 3.9) Business Expenses
- 3.10) Laundry
- 3.11) Miscellaneous Spending (Gifts/Fees/Ice Cream 🍦😋, etc.)
- 3.12) Entertainment
- 3.13) Recreati0nal Fees
- 3.14) RV Storage
- 3.15) Typical Healthcare
- 3.16) Pet Typical Healthcare
- 4) Potential Unexpected Expenses for Full-Time RVers
How to Save Money as a Full-Time RVer
- 5.1) Manage Debt Prior to Embarking as a Full-Timer (If Possible)
- 5.2) Cook/Eat at Home/Healthy Meals
- 5.3) Frequently Opt for Free Experiences Instead of Expensive Attractions
- 5.4) Opt for Nature Instead of Cities
- 5.5) Take Advantage of Memberships
- 5.6) Search for Cheap Fuel
- 5.7) Invest in Solar When Possible
- 5.8) DIY/Do-It-Yourself as Much as Possible
- 5.9) Boondocking, Boondocking, and More Boondocking!
- 6) BONUS:
- 7) Are You a Full-Time RVer? What Full-Time RV Living Expenses Surprised You?
What Is Full-Time RV Living?
Well, full-time RV living is just what it sounds like – living full time (24/7/365) in an RV. However, full-timers can live in an RV in a couple of different ways.
Some people choose to be stationary for all or most of the time. They may live in an RV park or on a piece of private property.
Other full-timers choose to travel from place to place, staying in various places along the way… for varying amounts of time. Some full-time RVers, like us, even do a combination of both. They move during the year, but are stationary for months at a time, at different places depending on the time of year, usually in accordance with the weather.
So, with this in mind, it’s important to note that full-time RV living expenses do vary depending on a variety of factors such as how much you travel, where you stay, whether or not you pay “rent” at long-term parks or travel from park to park, or whether, like us, there’s a whole lot of boondocking going on!
With that said, let’s take a look at common RV living expenses for full-time RVers.
Common Fixed Expenses for Full-Time RVers
Following are common fixed expenses for full-time RVers, meaning that they’re expenses that recur regularly, generally every month.
Car and/or RV Payment
If you have a car payment, an RV payment, or both – you’ll have to add these to the list of your fixed expenses.
If you’ve fully paid for your RV (and any other vehicle(s) you have), then you’re free of this monthly expense, though you may have to figure in some repair/maintenance/upgrade bills – more on that in a minute.
Auto and/or RV Insurance
If you have an RV, you’ll need RV insurance. If you tow your RV with a vehicle, or you tow another vehicle with your RV, you’ll also need insurance on that vehicle.
You may choose to pay your insurance premiums monthly, every six months, or even annually.
For more information on what you might expect to pay for RV insurance and what it covers, have a look at our post on motorhome insurance cost and our post answering the question “What does RV insurance cover?”
Annual Auto and/or RV Registration
The annual registration of any vehicle you own and take on the road is another fixed expense, though this one is generally paid annually when you register your vehicles in your domicile state.
Roadside Assistance Plan
Your roadside assistance plan may be part of your RV insurance plan, or you may opt to buy a separate roadside assistance plan. Either way, it’s a good idea to have coverage, unless you live full time in an RV in a single stationary location and, therefore, won’t ever need to take advantage of it.
If you’d like information related to the best RV roadside assistance plans, check out our post on the topic.
It’s important to also budget for health insurance premiums related to everyone in the family as part of your full-time RV living expenses. Even if you’re an American who’s achieved the senior status that makes you eligible for Medicare, you should plan to budget for Medigap coverage (for the remaining 20% Medicare doesn’t cover) and/or secondary prescription drug coverage to consider.
Canadian full-timers who plan to snowbird out of the country (or spend any significant time out of their home province) will similarly need to budget for travel medical insurance.
This is a fixed expense which, again, you’ll need to plan to pay monthly.
Cell Phones & Mobile Internet
Also in the category of “fixed expenses” are cell phones and mobile internet. This would include any monthly payments you make for your cellular talk/text/data and wireless internet, including hotspots.
We not only live on the road – we run three businesses from the road. So, we’ve got a hefty need for highly consistent and reliable internet access. If you’re interested in knowing how we stay connected, check out our post on our RV internet solutions for 2021, and watch our YouTube video on our RV internet connectivity:
Just be aware… if you have a need for large amounts of reliable connectivity, it can get expensive. Fast.
Membership & Subscription Fees
Monthly membership fees also fall into the “fixed expenses” category. Remember to include all memberships when you’re planning your RV living expenses for full-time travel, including RV-related memberships that allow you to save money on campgrounds and other memberships that aren’t specifically related to RVing but are part of your lifestyle.
These might include memberships in organizations such as AARP, and streaming services like Apple Music/TV, Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, etc. – or however you watch your favorite television show, The RVers! 😉
If you or any member of your family takes medication regularly, you’ll want to include any monthly expenses for medications in with your fixed expenses.
While we’re on the subject, before heading out in your RV full-time, part-time, or for an extended vacation, be sure to learn how to get prescriptions when traveling. This is very important to take care of before you set out because you don’t want to encounter a situation where you’re unable to fill a prescription that gets lost or that needs to be refilled.
All of the above goes for pet medications as well! If Fido or Fluffy takes medication regularly, figure out the logistics ahead of your travels, and remember to add all pet medication costs to the fixed expenses portion of your budget.
If you have credit card debt, student loan debt, or any other expenses that recur monthly, be sure to include them when you’re calculating the RV living expenses to include in your budget.
Common Variable Expenses for Full-Time RVers
Following are many variable expenses that full-time RVers need to budget for when planning for full-time (or part-time) RV living.
Fuel (Gas or Diesel)
One of the biggest expenses faced by full-time RVers who travel is fuel.
RVs are heavy and aren’t known for sipping fuel. (For example, see our post on the typical fuel economy of a Class A motorhome.) And, of course, the more you travel, the larger this chunk of your budget will be.
When fuel prices are high, full-time RVers often travel less or offset the increased fuel expenses in other areas. See our post on gas prices affecting RVers’ travel plans for reference.
And be sure to check out our post on apps to find cheap gas, because every bit of savings helps when you’re filling a fuel tank with 100+ gallons!
Propane (LP Gas)
If your RV uses propane for refrigeration, heat, and/or cooking, you’ll need to plan on replenishing your LP supply regularly.
As a rough guideline, we refill our 35-gallon onboard propane tank roughly 2-3 times a year (at roughly $75-$100 per fill, depending on propane prices which vary with the time of year and location). We use propane for cooking (including grilling, since we have our BBQ grill connected to our onboard propane supply), heating water, and for heat… though the heating is a minor component of our usage, since (1) we snowbird and (2) we don’t use our furnace very often since we have a small propane heater that keeps us warm.
Differences in travel style may require you to budget more.
RV maintenance is critical to the health of your RV and to keeping significant repair bills at bay due to neglect of common maintenance tasks.
As many of you know, we’re big DIYers, and we prefer to do our own maintenance to every degree possible. We’ve got lots of experience under our belts at this point, but we were once new to RVing, too.
What we’ve found is that learning to do as much of your own maintenance, repair, and upgrade projects as possible is a fantastic way to get to know your RV and how every system within it functions. In fact, it’s the very best way – there’s no question.
We invite you to subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel if you’re not already a subscriber because there are many tasks we walk you through step-by-step.
In fact, we’ll start you off right here with 7 RV maintenance tasks you can easily do yourself!
The same is true for repairs…do what you can, within your means. (For example, if you can’t get up on the roof of your RV, don’t do roof-related tasks yourself.)
And there are RV maintenance and repair tasks that we absolutely leave to the pros. See “RV Maintenance and Repair – Who Do The RVgeeks Call?”
Know also that you might be able to get certain RV repairs done by mobile RV repair techs who’ll come right to you!
Groceries and Household Needs
Groceries and household needs belong in the “variable expenses”, though it’s possible that they’ll not vary a whole lot from month to month.
Dining out represents a fairly significant expense that many full-time RVers try to forego as much as possible, dining out more as a treat than as a regular occurrence.
While you might be inclined to dine out more frequently when you’re on a very short-term vacation when you live full-time in your RV, it’s your home – and it makes financial sense to eat at home much of the time.
Campground/RV Park Fees
If you tend to stay at campgrounds and RV parks most of the time, this is going to be a significant expense for you. Campground and RV park fees add up quickly. Though one great way to help cut that down is if you spend longer amounts of time in one spot… monthly rates at RV parks can offer big savings over the nightly rate.
While we all need to stay at campgrounds and RV parks some of the time, it’s important to understand that there are also many ways to save money on campgrounds, including many free alternatives.
When we first hit the road full-time in 2003, we were able to keep our nightly campground expenses at around $14/night with a combination of free camping and some longer-term monthly stays. Even though campground rates have increased in the intervening years, by improving our boondocking ability, we’ve been able to bring that amount down!
Tank Dumping Fees
There’s no doubt about it, tank dumping is among the least favorite aspects of full-time RV living, but it’s gotta be done, and it’s gotta be done regularly. If you plan to spend a lot of time boondocking/dry camping, you’ll need to account for how you plan to dump… and, likely, wherever that is… you’ll pay a fee (like at an RV park without full hookups, at a truck stop, or elsewhere).
For starters, see our post on 5 places to dump your RV black water.
Or, you can plan to alternate your boondocking with stays at full-service RV parks, where you can dump and refresh your tanks. But, of course, that will need to be accounted for in your campground/RV park budget.
If you’re working while you’re living in your RV, you may have business expenses to consider. Be sure to add those to your budget as well.
No matter where you live, you’ve gotta do laundry. If you’re like us and you have a washer & dryer on board, you’ll probably need to hook up to a city water service at a campground to do your laundry.
If you don’t have a washer & dryer onboard, you’ll either need to get creative or take yourself to a laundromat. Either way, RV laundry is an expense to consider.
Miscellaneous Spending (Gifts/Fees/Ice Cream 🍦😋, etc.)
Anytime you buy gifts, pay a fee to enter an attraction or event, go out for ice cream, or pay $8 for gourmet coffee, you’re indulging in miscellaneous spending. Put it all in this category – and be honest! 😜
Tickets to concerts or plays and money spent going to the movies, etc. all fall into the “entertainment” category. This is likely to vary widely from month to month, so planning an annual amount may be easier… and adjust as you get some experience once you’re on the road.
This would include things like entry fees for State and Nat’l Parks, hiking trails, and various experiences including things like renting kayaks and other boats, paddleboards, bicycles, etc., or activities such as taking hot air balloon rides or bungee jumping. Ask us how we know!
Remember that what you spend on recreational fees can be as high or as low as you want, because there’s no shortage of wonderful things to do and see for free when you’re RVing.
There may be times when you have to store your RV while you travel to another location… such as to visit or care for family. And there also may be certain times of the year when you choose to store your rig so you can travel “traditionally” to visit other places you can’t get to in your RV. This is an expense you’ll need to consider as necessary.
For some ideas, see our post, “What Are the Best Motorhome Storage Options?”
Regular medical needs for everyone in your family fall into this area of the budget. Even when you’re living on the road, you need to tend to typical medical needs that are planned or that arise as you go.
Pet Typical Healthcare
And the same is true for your pet’s regular healthcare.
Potential Unexpected Expenses for Full-Time RVers
Here’s a list of some potential unexpected expenses full-time RVers could encounter:
- Vehicle and/or RV Repair
- Emergency/Unexpected Healthcare
- Emergency/Unexpected Pet Healthcare
- Dental Care
- Emergency Travel
(Emergency travel might include flights, hotels, car rental, and temporary RV storage should you or a friend or family member have an emergency that requires your attention… or a return to your domicile location for longer-term medical care.)
How to Save Money as a Full-Time RVer
Here are some ways that you can save money as a full-time RVer to make the lifestyle more affordable.
Manage Debt Prior to Embarking as a Full-Timer (If Possible)
Before becoming a full-time RVer, try to get your debt under control to the greatest degree possible so that you’ll have fewer monthly expenses.
Cook/Eat at Home/Healthy Meals
Cook as many meals as possible at home. Not only does this save money on food, it generally enables you to eat healthier meals, which (long-term) can contribute to fewer medical needs and general health-related issues.
Enjoy eating outside when possible. We use our BBQ grill connection all the time!
Frequently Opt for Free Experiences Instead of Expensive Attractions
As we noted earlier, there’s no dearth of things to see and do that are absolutely fabulous and absolutely free! Take advantage of these whenever possible.
Opt for Nature Instead of Cities
Cities tend to be expensive. Nature is often free!
Take Advantage of Memberships
Memberships can save you money on everything from tires to groceries (Costco!), and can also help you to save money on campgrounds.
Take full advantage of your memberships.
Search for Cheap Fuel
Again, we encourage you to use an app to find cheap gas.
Invest in Solar When Possible
If you’re planning to spend a good amount of time boondocking, and you’re able to invest in solar, do it.
Don’t be paralyzed by the thought that you need to start with the ultimate RV solar panel system. We didn’t start that way, and you don’t need to either. You can start with a small system and add to it when you’re able.
But in the end, the more you can live off the grid, the more money you’ll save as a full-time RVer.
A great (and FREE!) place to start is to educate yourself about RV solar. Have a look through our posts on RV solar panels to start, and then learn about the difference between flexible solar panels vs rigid. If you’re not at all familiar with flexible solar panels, also read our post on flexible solar panels for RVs.
Don’t want to install solar panels on your RV? No problem! That’s why there are portable solar panels, which can be a great way to get started without the added cost/complication of permanent installation (and the added advantage of being able to be placed in the sun, even when the RV is parked in shade)!
For a long list of posts about all things RV solar and batteries, click here.
DIY/Do-It-Yourself as Much as Possible
And we’ll say it again – DIY what you can and you’ll save yourself a hefty sum of cash.
Boondocking, Boondocking, and More Boondocking!
And here’s one of our absolute favorite ways to save money as full-time RVers – BOONDOCKING!
With all of that laid out, we do understand that the concept of boondocking can be a little intimidating to those who’ve only camped with full hookups at campgrounds and RV parks to date.
But hey – check this out – we’ll get you started slowly and gently. We made this video because we loved boondocking so much and we wanted to be able to encourage others to give it a try because we really believe you’ll love it almost as much as we do. AND you’ll save a LOT of money!
Budget Travel Tips for RVers:
As a bonus tip, we’re throwing in our budget travel tips for a little extra boost!
Are You a Full-Time RVer? What Full-Time RV Living Expenses Surprised You?
We’ve tried to be as thorough as we could, but if you’re a full-time RVer, we’d love to hear about any expenses we missed… or ones that surprised you when you got started. Drop us a comment!
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