Budgeting The RV Lifestyle

IMG_2059Let me begin by saying that our RV story is not the typical one. In fact, you can read what brought us to this point through these entries.

A quick rundown though would remind you that this is our first full-time RV excursion, we are living in a borrowed fifth wheel camper (so no payment or loan to service), we chose to come to highly seasonal park IN-SEASON in an effort to escape the cold, snow, and ice of our eastern North Carolina home, and we had no prior expectations to what our budget would look like. As many r(E)volutionaries know I am a tele-commuter (and therefore am location-independent so long as there is high speed Internet), we budget wisely (lessons learned from a tiny house lifestyle, we don’t have a retirement, pension, or 401k to live off, and we certainly are not independently wealthy.

We saved for five months prior to our departure to have our rent money in cash, a modest grocery budget in cash, and gas for the two vehicle in cash. I might also add we saved EVERY quarter we got our hands on for those five months so we could do laundry at a rate of 2 loads per week (with 1 additional load every 3 weeks for bed linens) without having to pull from our budget or rob Peter to pay Paul, as it were.

From January 15, 2014 (our check-in date) to February 15, 2014 these were our average monthly fixed costs:

Lot Rent $1,015
Auto Insurance $67
Propane $60
Utilities $41.12
Auto Fuel $110
Tolls $6
Laundry $23
Mail/Postage $9
Groceries $400
Eating Out $200
Recreation $13
TOTAL     $1,944.12


Lot Rent. This is obviously the largest expense we incur. It is also the most important though. The biggest difference is that we don’t pay rent on our land in NC. It is paid for and therefore does not effect our monthly overhead. However, it is equally important to note that this cost includes our water, a generous spot for our fifth wheel as well as a concrete patio for outdoor living, access to a large, heated pool with jacuzzi, access to a full recreation calendar including shuffleboard, weekly dances, Wednesday morning breakfasts, poker games, etc. Most importantly though it gives us access to a community of people we have found to be loving, genuine, and quite friendly. That is worth its weight in gold!

Auto Insurance. We maintain our 2007 Dodge Caliber while we are here as the city is not completely pedestrian-friendly, has only a mediocre mass transit system, and is quite spread out. Our insurance policy covers us while out of state and because we pay up front for a 6-month policy this expense was not one we had to pay during the month but one that ultimately took away from our pre-trip savings.

Propane. Our fifth wheel comes equipped with 2-30lb. propane tanks. Our furnace, hot water heater, and stove run off propane. When we arrived we had to use the furnace for almost three weeks as – like the rest of the nation – unseasonably cold weather had gripped South Florida. Coupled with cooking and daily showers the propane went a little quicker than we had hoped. However, the RV park offers on-site propane service so we only have to sign up for a Tuesday or Thursday delivery, leave the tank at the edge of our lot, and pay our money at the front office. It is quite convenient and the price per pound is comparable to any we have seen outside of the park.

Utilities. This expense covers electricity. We have interior lights, a “porch light” which burns all night, the electrical outlets to keep our devices charged, a toaster oven, and a fan when needed. Compared to our rates back in NC it is cheaper here per KwH than there.

Laundry. There are 2 laundry rooms on site and there is never a wait for a machine. A wash load costs $1.75 and a dry load is $1.00. The dyers are pretty awesome and I have not had to restart the dryer for any load yet. I am very pleased with this aspect of living here.

Mail/Postage. This expense really just covers sending in some tax documents a week or so ago and sending out some very kitschy postcards I couldn’t resist.

Groceries. As with most things groceries are more expensive down here because this is a tourist area for the most part (and especially this time of year). Milk is $3.99/gallon and nasty beer (sorry Bud Light people) is almost $8 for a six-pack. We admittedly have splurged some in this area as the citrus is hard to resist and we have had to pay more for meat than we usually do. The budget for groceries could easily be reduced but we save specifically for this adventure so we haven’t felt the need to pull back quite yet.

Recreation. Right now this is fairly limited to a few iTunes rentals. There is so much to do right here at the park that we haven’t fully explored the area around us. However, we just finished a planning calendar and next month our rec budget is sure to be considerably higher.

I do want to add that the above budget doesn’t include anything work related (office supplies, postage, travel, memberships, etc). Most of those are provided by my company and so therefore have no bearing on our income. The budget also doesn’t include personal effects like clothing and/or gifts. You may also notice there is no line item for hygiene products. We take advantage of coupons and specials (and even hotel “gimmees”) during the year so we rarely have to purchase these items when one before it runs out. I didn’t include them because they aren’t necessary for life on the road. Shampoo, toothpaste, etc? Sure. In the past though we have lumped that in with our grocery budget.

Likewise, the above budget doesn’t include personal insurance coverage such as life, health and disability. We carry all three of these types of insurances through my company and recommend you do the same. Your costs will vary greatly though based on age, health, and value of coverage.

What we have found this first month is that traveling and living in an RV is a very affordable endeavor. Based on this budget a family of 3 could live comfortably for as little as $25,000/year if you make fiscally responsible decisions, work to pay cash-on-the-barrel as much as possible, and control your spending.


  1. Linda J says

    I find it rather misleading that you claim your budget is $1914 per month when there are so many things that you didn’t include. (Personal insurance, personal effects). And what about the insurance on the RV?

    We have lived in our motorhome for 9 years and love the lifestyle, but you are leading people down the garden path unless you are honest about the costs of RV living.

    • says

      Hi there Linda. I don’t know if I would say misleading. My insurance is paid for before I get a gross income (read: paycheck) so there is no reason to post it. Our monthly budget is based on net income. So the $1914 comes from our net. I understand what you are saying though. Insurance on the RV is not something we pay as we are borrowing it (as stated in paragraph 2) so it is not factored into our personal budget. Please keep in mind that this is not a budget for all people and is not intended to be a guide for people to leave everything behind and hit the road. If you would like to post your budget and put all expenses including the mornings newspaper and cup of coffee I am more than happy to give you that space. However, this blog is about our family and our expenses and covers such.

  2. says

    When we were on the road, I was always surprised at how much more it cost than normal stick-house-living. Most of our cost happened with food though. It was probably double what we normally spent. With 2 kids in an RV, mama didn’t want to cook every night :) But, our fuel was free. So it evened out.

    Even if you are parked at a resort style park, your lot rent seems reallllly high to me. We stayed at an amazing kid-friendly park in Texas for 2 1/2 months at $300 a month. The most we’ve ever spent per month was $565 and that was on the ocean in California. If you can stay in one spot for awhile, workamping would be one way to get that cost down. But either way, it seems high.

    I will agree with Linda though…many people jump into full-timing thinking it will be WAY less than a house and much of the time, it’s not. You have to be extremely careful not to let all the little things eat your budget.

    Great write up!!

    • says

      Hey there Sara. Our rent IS really high and we have found that out. However, it is completely comparable considering the amenities for this area. When we started this adventure we weren’t connected at all to the great RV and family groups we are now so we had little to go on other than website, some YELP reviews, and photos. This park caters to the retiree so the rent is geared to that fixed income bracket. We love it here and are now probably spoiled. However, we are happy to take heed to suggestions from now on. So much has to do with the season and our location. To be totally transparent, to see my wife’s smile everyday knowing she can go to the beach in the middle of winter? Well, right now it is totally worth it and while we wouldn’t enjoy this sort of extravagant budget all year round we would make exceptions.

      I do want to mention that one of the HUGE perks is the Internet here. There is fiber optic with 9 boosters making for super fast ‘net which is imperative to our survival since I work full-time as a telecommuter. Due to my job we will have to be a bit more picky about our locations because I can’t afford to be offline for more than a day or so. It is just one of those factors that each family has to take heed to.

      Linda raises good points. However, I really wrote this post to keep folks informed of our latest adventure and what it is costing us. I am by no means a seasoned veteran nor do I have much advice (yet) for those looking to live on the road.

      • says

        YES! And you’ve nailed it. It is DIFFERENT for each family. One of the many reasons we ended up coming off the road was the horrible internet situation. We used air cards because the RV park wi-fi (everywhere) was such a joke. So I can appreciate your loving the fast internet. Heck, I can appreciate it right now…because out home internet is slower than dial-up! Gah!

        Each family will have different priorities. One might boondock every night because they can be closer to the ocean. One might choose a park with internet for work. Or close to a playground for kids.

        Just know that there are definitely cheaper options close to the ocean! We parked at an organic farm in Florida for a few days and worked in exchange for parking. Lots of opportunities like that!

  3. Rachel Rowell says

    Your list looks about on target! Everything is about as cheap as you can get! Although we’ve never paid more than $500 a month for rent, you ARE in FL in peak season so that accounts for much of why your rent is so darn high. We are also fortunate in that RV parks usually give us a “worker rate” because my husband is usually at the particular places we are in for plant contract work. We got to FL in November our rent was $400 a month plus electric. It helps A LOT to get to places before peak season hits to lock in a lower rate if possible.

    • says

      Indeed. When we take to the road full time in our own motorhome we will not at all be as luxurious. This started out as a bit of a whim vacation/escape and has quickly become something we feel drawn to and feel is an open door for our next adventure. However, with all the winter weather I might be apt to pay for Florida in February again! HAHAHAH

  4. Linda J says

    I didn’t mean to sound as harsh as I did and I am delighted that your plan is working for you. When we first started full timing I read everything I could get my hands on, from books by experts to every day blogs and forums. So much of the advice was spot-on but the budgeting usually left many things out. That was the point where we were blindsided. Living in an RV costs about the same as living in a house.

    I realize you did not intend this to be a guide to RV living but because you have an extensive following it could easily be taken that way. Best of luck on your adventures!

    • says

      Are you kidding Linda? I didn’t take it harshly at all. I am an outspoken guy and a bit of a protective one so it is only natural that I respond to almost every comment. I take nothing personally though. No worries.

      Our RV life right now costs exceedingly more than our life “back home.” We knew it would though. We are well aware that our lot rent is high. We are paying premium though to sit outside in 80º weather watching the sunset and listening to the news of people digging themselves out of snow banks. We had planned for this sort of initial cost.

      You are right in that I do have a big following and the budget could be looked at as gospel. When I do this again in a month I will clarify why we pay what we pay and how that figures in to our monthly income (although I don’t anticipate disclosing that totally!)

      Thank you so much for sticking with us.

      • Andy Schneider says

        Ten hours per week per parent. Five hours on Saturday, and five hours on Sunday, Or. one and a half hours each day. Pretty easy and well worth the $1,000.00 savings.

  5. Robyn Dolan says

    We went full-time in December, and I have to say, overall, your budget looks about right. Adjusting for personal differences, what other lifestyle can a family of 3 live on $25K a year? C’mon, folks, I think most of us will find living in our stix n brix costs us substantially more.

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