Of all the questions we have received over the past 10 years of RVing, the topic of RVing on Social Security has been a very common theme.
During boom times, economic downturns, and a two-plus-year pandemic, the idea of selling the sticks-and-bricks house, getting an RV, and going full-time while on Social Security is perhaps the most frequent topic our followers want to know about.
Is it possible? How much will it take? Where do we start? Where do we go? Will we need supplemental income?
Those are the many subthemes the question brings up. And, as you can imagine, the answers are as varied as the people asking the questions. Let’s start trying to unpack the most common question.
Can You RV On Social Security?
The basic black and white answer is YES! In our travels, we have met a lot of people who do this, both solo travelers and couples. But black and white answers don’t account for the specifics. And to get specific, you need to know just how much Social Security income you have. As inflation rises and everything from fuel to camping fees keep increasing, there is a certain basic monthly income below which – in today’s economy – is not workable.
How To RV on Social Security: How Much Income Will You Need?
The absolute first thing that needs to be done is to know exactly how much Social Security you will be working with. If you are not already on Social Security and thus already know, you can get a rough idea using the social security calculator. This tool does not access your earnings record. It will estimate your income based on the information you provide. So don’t fudge. Be as accurate as you can inputting the information requested. But from this calculator, you will have a pretty good estimate of what will be coming.
How much will we need for full-time RV living on social security?
I’m going to level with you. Based on our experience, interviews with experts we have interviewed over the years, and from people we know who are RVing on Social Security, the absolute minimum someone should attempt to full-time RV on Social Security is $1,500. If that’s all you have and you are okay living extremely frugal, not traveling a lot, boondocking, and seeking free or low-cost campgrounds pretty much all the time, you can scrape by.
I’m more comfortable recommending a minimum of $2,000 a month, though $2,500 is better yet. And if you have a modest nest egg from the sale of your house or savings that you can tap into if emergencies happen, you can breathe a little easier. Because you can be sure that the following events will happen on the road.
Emergencies WILL Happen
Your RV will break down (check out these basic maintenance tips to avoid breakdowns) and will need expensive repairs. That’s just a given and this is not meant to be a critique of RV manufacturers or quality, it’s just a fact of life. Driving an RV down the road is like subjecting your house to a small earthquake. But real earthquakes only last a minute or less. Your RV is subject to that shaking and rolling for hours on end as you drive from place to place. If you’re worried about serious out-of-pocket expenses, make sure you have a great RV specific insurance plan.
It’s inevitable that things will break. Parts will fail. Appliances will stop working. Engines develop problems. Tires blow. If you are mechanically skilled, so much the better. If not, you can make an appointment at Camping World Service Center for repairs and routine maintenance tasks.
My point here is that since the RV is your home and if something major breaks and it is unusable until it is repaired, where will you stay? If your fixed income is so strapped it’s just meeting the costs of fuel and food, that nest egg is pretty important.
So, before setting off, our suggestion is to have a safe sum of money set aside equal to at least one month’s expenses.
Make and Stick to a Budget
Here are the costs you need to know so you can know just how far your Social Security will go.
- RV Payment – Hopefully, you own your RV free and clear. If you have to make a payment on your RV, factor this payment into your monthly budget.
- RV Insurance – This is a must-have. Shop around for the best rates.
- Fuel Costs – This is controllable by staying put in one place longer. Campground fees are cheaper the longer you book a stay. Plan out your travels, calculating the distance and your miles per gallon.
- Maintenance and Repairs – Many RVing Social Security retirees budget a certain amount for this, say $100-$150. You know your RV. Better to budget too much rather than too little. If your RV is old, it may need more repairs than a new RV.
- Food – Prepare your meals as much as possible in the RV.
- Camping Fees – Boondocking and dispersed camping in state and national forests are a great way to stretch this budget item. But booking a month-long stay at a campground is often more cost-effective than just a week or two.
- Cell Phone Service – You certainly need one. Shop and compare the different plans between the different carriers.
- Internet Service – How will you access the Internet? How much data do you consume? Be sure to include any streaming video subscriptions you have in this category.
- Medical Expenses – Take what you spent last year for doctor and dentist visits, co-pays, medicines, etc. and divide by 12.
- Clothing – Everyone needs some new duds from time to time, particularly as the seasons change.
- Entertainment – Budget for an occasional night out, restaurant meals, museum, and tour fees. Remember you are RVing to enjoy your retirement. Entertainment and fun should be a part of this budget!
How to Stretch Your Social Security Budget for RV Living
Many RVers we have met in our travels have told us how finding work on the road has both enriched them and helped them stretch their budgets.
Here are just three ideas:
- Campground Hosts and Work Camping – Almost all state, national and commercial parks and campgrounds hire work campers for short-term and seasonal jobs. In exchange for a set number of hours of work each week, the RVers typically get a free campsite with hookups and, often, some money. Check out Workamper News for an idea of what’s available. Another site worth checking is WorkampingJobs.com.
- Amazon CamperForce – The Amazon CamperForce program provides seasonal jobs in Amazon warehouses, often with free camping and hookups.
- The Sugar Beet Harvest – Another popular and paying job for RVers looking to pick up some extra cash and have a free campsite is working the annual sugar beet harvests in the north each fall. RVers can make as much as $2,500 for two weeks of work.
Ready? Now get out there and enjoy your RV life!
We hope we’ve given you a strong realization on how to RV on Social Security and that it is not just a possibility but truly an exciting and fulfilling way to enjoy your retirement.
Make your plans and get out there. The open road awaits and it is filled with adventure. You CAN do this!
Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, reporting about the people, places, joys, and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 21 books on RV travel.