Can the RV lifestyle be more affordable than house-living? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Cheap RV living is more idealistic than reality. Here’s why…
Many people assume you can save a lot of money living in an RV or even traveling by RV compared to a sticks and bricks house or other travel means.
The truth is you can save money but it entirely depends on the situation. Your living expenses and alternate travel expenses have to be rather high to save substantial money by RVing instead.
Between purchasing an RV, insurance, fuel, campsite fees, maintenance, and more, the costs of RV living add up quickly. Plus, you have to factor in the emotional costs!
So, before you assume cheap RV living is the norm, read the following…
What is Considered Cheap RV Living?
The trickiest part about this whole idea of cheap RV living is that everyone’s definition of cheap is different. $2,000 a month might be cheap for one and $3,000 cheap for another. Shoot, I’ve met Californians who think $4,000 a month is cheap.
So, we have to approach this with a relative mindset.
The only way to do this is to compare your “foundation-living” expenses to RV living expenses. The same goes for traveling, too, if you’re not living part- or full-time in your RV. You need to compare alternate travel expenses to RV travel.
I recommend creating a budget spreadsheet for each!
What Does It Cost to Live the RV Lifestyle?
It’s impossible to tell you how much it costs to live the RV lifestyle because every lifestyle is different. After all, the biggest appeal of the RV lifestyle is the flexibility and freedom it gives you!
But I can tell you the biggest expenses you need to factor into your budget.
RV Purchase Cost
After a house, an RV is probably the second most expensive purchase you’ll make in your lifetime. In most cases, it’s well over $100,00 if not significantly more.
I’m sure there are many of us who didn’t pay that for our first home!
There’s so much to discuss regarding buying an RV that Jennifer and I created a complete guide. Here’s more information on it if you think you need it…
But the point in this article is to really do your homework in finding the right RV for you at the right price. It’s going to be your largest single expense in joining the RV lifestyle.
RV insurance can be quite costly, too. Depending on how often you use your RV, annual insurance premiums can range from $200 to $3,000.
Yes, you read that right. RV insurance can potentially be $250 per month! If you have a mack daddy Class A, it could be even more.
Fuel & Campsite Fees
The cost of fuel is perhaps one of the most variable costs in people’s budgets. Some RVers enjoy expensive stays not far from home. While others like to hop from campground to campground on long-distance trips.
Current fuel prices, for both gas and diesel, are quite staggering. Just like the stock market, gas prices rise and fall all of the time.
So, the current fuel price can be a gauge but be sure to consider the average price over the past couple of years and the average increase over time. You need to have wiggle room in your budget for fuel.
Campsite fees also have a huge range in price. You can find free and cheap rv campsites to help your budget. You can also choose to stay longer, as many campgrounds offer extended-stay discounts for a week, two weeks, or even a month.
You can also calculate if RV clubs and memberships are worth it for you.
You’ll need to spend significant time researching and crunching numbers on these factors to determine what is within your budget.
RV Maintenance and Repair (& Temporary Stay)
RVs break… a lot. No matter how good the engineering and craftsmanship are, driving a house on wheels around puts it under a lot of stress. Driving from one state to another is like a 1,000-mile earthquake!
So be ready for a lot of repairs. It’s just the reality of the RV lifestyle. But on top of that, be ready for the waiting game until an RV mechanic is available. We did a deep dive into these expenses in a recent podcast.
If you plan to live in your RV, you need to factor in the very real possibility of having to pay for hotels or short-term rental while your RV gets repaired. Some insurances may cover these temporary stay costs, which is well worth looking into.
It’s also incredibly important to stay on top of maintenance. As I said, RVs are under constant pressure from driving and even being exposed to nature. So, you have to give it a lot of TLC. If you can’t or don’t want to maintain it yourself, having someone else do it gets pricey quickly.
The cost people talk about or consider the least is perhaps the most important, and that’s the emotional cost. Switching to the RV lifestyle can really take a toll on your mental and emotional health.
For one, you have to deal with homesickness and possibly even guilt for leaving your family and friends “behind.” (The truth is, you usually end up with more quality time with family, even if the quantity is less.)
Plus, you have to adjust to an entirely new way to live. Showering or cooking meals or even watching TV is different in an RV. There’s a lot you have to adapt to and, frankly, it can be overwhelming.
Even going to a new grocery store can turn a simple task into a frustration mission.
Another big emotional challenge is decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is a mental overload from having to make countless small decisions every day. The RV lifestyle is full of making small decisions.
And on top of those million little decisions, you have to figure out how and where and what in whatever new place you are!
The point is, the RV lifestyle has its costs just like any other lifestyle. In no way do we want to deter you from the RV lifestyle that we love so much. But we do want you to enter it as prepared as possible.
So, be sure to spend the time drafting a budget and preparing for the mental and emotional strains that come with it.
Is Cheap RV Living a Reality for You?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Is cheap RV living a reality for you? Is RVing more expensive than you expected? Were there unexpected costs that hit you hard?
Save Money by Boondocking:
Want to learn how to boondock?
We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more.
Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking!
You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?
You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?