How to Create a Budget for RV Life 94

With the growing number of people entering the RV life, many forget to budget for the new lifestyle. If you don’t have a plan or budget yet, this article will help you map out a realistic budget for an RV trip, or even living on the road full time.

My family and I have been living in an RV for over a year now, and with lots of trial and error, we have come up with a budget that works for us and can work for anyone, too. Prior to RVing, we had no idea what to expect, so we just took things one step at a time until we figured it out. So I hope this guide helps give you an idea of what to expect from RVing full time and helps you keep unnecessary costs down.

RV budgeting as a family
Set a budget as a family, and account for everyone’s needs. Image by Karen Akpan.

Monthly Budget Breakdown for RV Specific Expenses

It is important to make a list of all the expenses you’re likely to have, from biggest to smallest. These expenses will vary from one family to another. For example, some Rvers spend more time in one place, while others will spend more time traveling. Each has its own cost benefits. One of the other variables that make a huge difference is having a payment on your RV or car versus not having one. Did you finance your RV? After car payments and RV payments, the next biggest monthly expenses are campsite fees and fuel. Below I am going to break down each possible expense to give you a better idea of what to expect.

Car and RV Payments

This is usually the first thing that people think about and add to their budget when deciding to live in an RV full time. Having a home to sell and put towards a new RV makes a huge difference and really helps lower payments a lot. This is what we did when we started full-time RV living. We sold our home and took some of the profits and purchased an RV outright from Facebook Marketplace. This helped us a lot because we started off with no monthly payment. If you financed your RV and/or tow vehicle you will need to include these payments as part of your monthly RV living budget.

Campgrounds and RV Park Fees

It is important to think about where you’ll be spending most of your time.

Will you be visiting several different RV parks all over the country? Or will you be staying in one place for a longer amount of time?

Campsites can be very expensive and cost anywhere from $30 a night at state parks, to up to $100 a night (or more) at really nice RV resorts with lots of amenities. Nightly rates come down significantly when you stay at one place for a longer amount of time as RV parks offer weekly and monthly discounts—even long-term seasonal stay discounts. You can also get discounts by being a KOA and/or Good Sam member. Also, various camping memberships exist and can come in handy, allowing you to stay at RV parks for up to three weeks before moving to the next. We have a camping membership and spent the winter in Florida and paid zero dollars for RV parks. We were able to save up a lot of money. Try to stay at least a month at most destinations to take advantage of better monthly rates, which can be around $800/month +/- depending on the location.

Other ways to save money on camping fees include checking out RV Parks, State Parks, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Forest Service land, free boondocking land, and RV host websites. If you’re in a city, head for a big Walmart—many accept RVs overnight. Always check with the store manager before camping the night. It’s not likely to be the most beautiful place to stay, but it’s free. Make use of apps to help you find places to stay. Boondocking is camping at free spots that don’t have hookups.

RV fuel costs
Fuel costs can add up, but membership programs like Good Sam Club can save you money. Image by Karen Akpan.

Fuel

If you’re driving cross country often you’ll need to make sure to consider your gas costs. Also, it’s important to note that gas prices vary widely all over the country. When we are on the West Coast we tend to spend a lot more on gas than we do when we are in the South. You can use apps to find the least expensive gas station in your area. Costco’s all around the nation tend to offer really good rates for fuel, so consider getting a Costco card if you don’t have one. A Good Sam membership garners you discounts at Pilot gas centers. You can keep fuel consumption to a minimum by ensuring that your tires are properly inflated. Also, the heavier your rig, the higher the fuel consumption. RV life encourages a degree of minimalism anyway so don’t carry anything you don’t need because you’ll pay for it every time you feel up your tank.

Vehicle Insurance

I suggest you really shop around before choosing an insurance plan for new coverage needs. If you have a Class A or Class C RV and plan to tow a car, it is important to look into insurance for your Class A or C and your tow vehicle as well. If you have a travel trailer or fifth wheel, then you’ll need insurance for both too. Look carefully at the policy details – it’s not just about getting the cheapest option. Think about what you need it to cover. For instance, would you pay extra for collision insurance on the trailer? If you plan to live on the road full-time, you’ll need a full-time RV insurance policy.

family camping myrtle beach
No matter where you travel, it’s handy to have roadside assistance so your trip goes smoothly. Image by Karen Akpan.

RV / Tow Vehicle registration

These are unavoidable costs, but the good thing is that they vary widely from state to state. You can always change your domicile state to one that is cheaper. We changed our domicile from California to Florida.

Vehicle Maintenance

Sooner or later, you’ll need to do some upkeep on your RV or tow vehicle – whether it be new tires, mechanical work, or changing the filters. Newer RVs will likely need less work on them than older ones, and the need for new tires depends on your mileage. This is a cost that will vary from one person to another. Just don’t forget to factor maintenance it in. Find Camping World Service Centers near you throughout the country.

Roadside Assistance

You might think you can get away without this cost, but sooner or later, you may need to pay for roadside assistance. Some insurance policies include breakdown cover, so see if you can work this into your policy. We recently had to call roadside assistance to help with a tire change and that cost us almost $500. Our tire blew out on the freeway and we were not in the position to change it ourselves so we didn’t have much of a choice here. A Good Sam Roadside Assistance Plan can help you get out of unfortunate breakdown situations.

Propane

When you’re on a site with a hookup, save on your propane costs by using electricity for space heating/cooling, cooking, and water heating. Use the campsite showers to reduce your propane usage even further. Your propane costs will vary according to the weather (you’ll need more heating in winter or cold climates), and how much you cook. Save 15 percent on propane at Camping World and Gander RV with a Good Sam Membership.

Good Sam roadside assistance
Good Sam Roadside Assistance in action.

Monthly Budget Breakdown For Other Expenses

Your RV is your home, and like with any home, you’re going to spend money on everyday expenses. You’d have these monthly costs whether you’re in a house or an RV, but they still need to be added to your budget.

Groceries and Eating Out

You might find that there’s no change in your grocery spending. For some people, there’s a tendency to spend more on eating out when living the RV life, especially because of all the cool restaurants in different states. Eating out can be expensive, so make sure to set a budget for eating out to keep costs down. Each time we are in New Orleans, our eating out budget goes up because the food there is just so good! If you’re out for the day, prepare packed lunches to take with you or leave a slow-cooking meal in your crockpot so that it will be ready by the time you get back after a day of exploring. Both of these ideas will help keep your grocery budget as small as possible.

Health Insurance

You probably already have health insurance. Just like the RV registration, you might find that you can get a health insurance plan for less in certain states. So keep this in mind when choosing the state you’d like to domicile in. If you don’t have health insurance, there are tons of plans that you can get. Make sure to find someone knowledgeable in this area to help with this. This is what I did, and it helped a lot because I didn’t have to spend hours looking through insurance plans.

Laundry

Laundry costs can be a big expense for those living in an RV, especially if you have a large family and do laundry often. RV parks usually have laundry on-site, or you can get your laundry done at the laundromat. Either way, this will add up depending on how often you do laundry, If you are staying at an RV park, always check to see if they have a laundry room, sometimes it’s much cheaper to do it there versus the laundromat. Thankfully, our fifth wheel has a washer and dryer so it saves us a lot of money by not needing to go to the laundromat. This was a major requirement for me when we were RV shopping.

RV laundry
Don’t forget about doing laundry on the road. Always have quarters on hand. Image by Karen Akpan.

Phone and Internet

Having a phone is essential. This is a bill that most people are paying for prior to RVing full time. However, not everyone has an internet bill so it is important to budget for it. Depending on your lifestyle and what you do for work, you may or may not need to have to budget for Wi-Fi. Some people can get away with using their cellphone service data plan and heading to a coffee shop to work. For others, having consistent Wi-Fi is a must-have. The cost of a data plan will depend on the carrier, and whether you need a separate internet provision or not. We work from our RV, so having Wi-Fi is an absolute must-have for us. We have Verizon phones and can use our phones as a hotspot, however, we also have an AT&T Mifi that we use as a hotspot as well. Having two carriers is important because one complements the other in an instance where one signal works better.

Entertainment

One of the benefits of an RV life is the chance to see new places. Set a monthly budget for entry fees to local museums and parks, movie tickets, sports activities, and excursions. What about your hobbies or interests? Will you be spending money on golf, fishing, or skiing for instance? You have to plan this into your budget as well. Do you plan to have TV, Netflix, or any other subscription services? If so, then you’ll need to factor this into your monthly budget plan.

Kids watching shows on laptops in RV
A stable internet connection is essential for schooling, work, and entertainment purposes. Image by Karen Akpan.

Animals

If you have pets or plan to take your pets on the road, don’t forget to budget in costs for your pet’s upkeep such as food, vet bills, grooming, toys, etc. Note that some RV parks have pet restrictions, so it is important to check with the RV park before planning your stay there. Check out these 20 incredibly pet-friendly campgrounds.

Personal costs

This will vary widely for each person. What do you expect to spend on haircuts, beauty treatments, and clothes each month? These are things to factor in too.

Happy Campers in a Hammock
Don’t forget about budgeting for date nights and gifts. These costs are essential to happy travels too. Image by Karen Akpan.

Education

If you plan to RV as a family and will be homeschooling your children, then you should factor in roadschooling costs: books, subscriptions, tutoring, etc.

Emergency Fund

Planning for emergencies is also important regardless of where you live. So make sure to set aside a monthly budget to cover some of the unexpected things that will inevitably pop up.

Once you’ve calculated each of the different monthly costs, you’ll have a clear budget to help you stay on track financially in your new RV life. I hope this comprehensive list helps. We’ve been RVing full-time and love it so much. It has allowed us to be able to save more money than when we lived in a stationary home and we did it by sticking to a budget.

Karen created The Mom Trotter to share budget travel tips, homeschooling life, parenting and to connect with families following the same path as her. She and her family are traveling the country full-time in an RV.
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