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Living in an RV is a flexible lifestyle that can easily be tailored to your finances, and there are many simple ways to lower the cost from month to month. Full-time RV life is considerably cheaper than typical ‘house life’ as you don’t need to worry about rent or a mortgage, utility bills, or house insurance, but that doesn’t mean RV life is completely free!
When you’re considering moving into an RV full-time, you may be wondering how much it will cost and the typical expenses you will encounter each month. The joy of RV living is that it can be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it! Budgeting is a surefire way of making sure you don’t overspend and will help get you prepared for full-time RVing.
So, let’s go ahead and answer the popular question, what is the cost of full-time RV living?
The cost of full-time RV living includes expenses such as gas, campgrounds, laundry, food, propane, RV maintenance, insurance, and entertainment such as internet, TV, and phones. Monthly full-time RVing costs can be as low as $1000 by sticking to a budget but can raise to as much as $5000 per month and more.
On the road, there are regular expenses you’ll have to budget for and if you are traveling as a family, these will naturally be higher than if you are living the RV life solo. So, let’s take it one step at a time, and see the potential or average cost of living full-time in your RV, and whether it’s actually cheaper than living in a house!
How Much Does Full-Time RVing Cost?
Full-time RVing costs can vary depending on several factors such as how far you are traveling each month, whether you’re boondocking and wild camping, or if you’re staying on campgrounds most of the time. Let’s look at a breakdown of the typical RVing costs you’ll have to budget for every month.
Often seen as RVers ‘rent’, gas will likely be one of your biggest expenses when you transition to full-time RV life. Your RV won’t take you very far if you don’t keep it fueled up, so if you’re hoping to travel far and wide in your RV, get ready to hit plenty of gas stations along the way!
If you’re sticking to a tight budget, you can keep gas costs down by setting yourself a limit on how far you will drive each month.
This means you won’t be tempted to spontaneously complete mammoth 6-hour drives to go here, there, and everywhere. Instead, you’ll have a plan and a route to follow so you can limit the need for regular gas fill-ups.
Campground fees are another big one to consider when it comes to the cost of full-time RV living. Typically, campgrounds and state parks charge a fee of between $15 and $40 per night, and this varies dramatically due to the location and the facilities available.
Some campgrounds may be kitted out with laundry, a dishwashing area, and hook-up, whilst others may simply be a safe and level place to park your RV for the night.
Wild camping and boondocking are easy ways to cut down on the cost of campground fees, and you can save visits to campgrounds for when you need some clean clothes, and water, and to dump your gray and black waste.
Wild camping is an exciting, authentic way to experience some nights in your RV, and if your rig has off-grid capability, you can stay at idyllic spots for a few days without spending a cent.
Full-time RV living often involves spending plenty of time outdoors and enjoying activities like hiking, surfing, and biking. This also means that you’ll still need to go somewhere to clean your clothes, and if no nearby campgrounds have self-service laundry, you’ll likely need to go to a local laundromat.
Rinsing clothes through with water when they get dirty can help make them go a bit further before you need to get them properly washed. It can also be useful to hand-wash small items so you can spend less at the laundromat.
4. Food and Drink
One of the costs that won’t change too much from living in a house to living full-time in an RV is food and drink. Most RVs have fridges and lots of kitchen space to keep a good balance of fresh and dried food on board. Keeping stocked up in your RV with healthy things to eat will make trips to get take-out less likely, helping keep overall costs down.
Eating out at restaurants and cafes is a nice treat, but doing this often can quickly amount to a big monthly spend. Buying and cooking most of your meals yourself in the RV is a healthier and cheaper option.
There’s no use in having an RV stocked up with food if you have no means of cooking it! Propane is a common way of fuelling cooking burners in RVs, and making sure you have gas on board means you won’t run out, halfway through making dinner. Cooking meals on a BBQ can surprisingly help keep costs down, as your propane inside the RV will be used less and in turn, will last longer.
Many RVers also use propane for heating, so you will use more of it during the winter to help keep your RV toasty and warm. The amount of propane you’ll need will depend on the season, your usage, and how much propane your hot water heater will use.
6. RV Maintenance
No one wants to think about doing RV repairs, but unfortunately, living in an RV full-time will likely mean you’ll have to consider repairs in the future, along with regular maintenance. It’s crucial to keep your RV in the best shape possible, and as you’ll be racking up miles in your rig, you’ll want it running as well as it can.
Keeping on top of maintenance and doing things like changing the oil when needed and topping up antifreeze will help keep your RV happy. Carrying basic tools in your RV means you’ll be in a better position to fix things if they go wrong, but if you’re not sure about a repair, it’s best to look at your owner’s manual or call the professionals for some help.
7. RV and Health Insurance
Vehicle and health insurance are two things you don’t want to cut back on when you move into your RV full-time. Insuring both the RV and those traveling on board will keep you covered if you ever have any issues, and will give you the peace of mind that everything and everyone is insured.
RV insurance is an expense that will vary depending on several things, including the type of RV you own. Similarly, health insurance will be unique to each person, but it’s useful to do some research and compare different companies as prices can vary drastically.
8. Internet, TV, and Phone
Living in an RV full-time and staying connected, will mean a monthly bill for internet, and the cost will depend on the type of internet you have in your RV. It is possible to rely on free WI-FI at campgrounds, but as you’ll have to pay a campground fee every time, it isn’t that cost-effective in the long run.
With many RVs fitted out with a TV, you may also want to consider additional subscriptions for watching movies and shows you enjoy. If you’re not much of a TV watcher, you can save money, and power, by not using the one in your RV very often. Optional costs like TV subscriptions can add up to a lot at the end of the month, and you may be surprised at how much money you can save by cutting down from several subscriptions to one, or simply not using one at all.
Your phone bill is an expense that likely won’t change too much when you move into an RV full-time. Having a phone is helpful in emergencies, but many RVers also use apps on their phones for GPS to navigate from location to location.
It’s simple to manage these costs and tailor them to your specific budget, and remember not to be too hard on yourself, as the first month or two will involve a lot of routine building and getting used to full-time life on the road in your RV.
If you’re completely new to RVing but want to jump into living full-time in an RV, it can be hard to know what to budget and how much to budget for. The video below is a great example of how much life on the road can cost, and in the video, the RV owners break down their expenses over a year.
Talking to other RVers about costs and monthly expenses can help you gauge how much things might cost when you’re living in your RV full-time. You may even learn about potential costs you hadn’t even considered before!
What Is the Average Cost of Full-Time RVing?
The average cost of full-time RVing will be different for everyone, and the best way to keep costs down is to create and stick to a budget. Generally, the cost of living in an RV is substantially cheaper than in a traditional home, and the RV lifestyle has the opportunity to be very cheap if needed.
The cost of gas for your RV will depend on the area you’re traveling in and how far you are traveling throughout the month. Many RVers set a limit of traveling 1000 miles per month, and as the national average gas price is currently around $3.29, this will add up to a substantial amount.
To get an accurate breakdown of how much you’ll be spending on gas, you need to work out your MPG or use an online gas calculator, but around $500 a month is the average for many RVers.
Campgrounds can be expensive, and it’s not surprising some RVers spend upwards of $1000 a month on campgrounds alone. To keep costs down, I prefer to reserve campground visits for when I need to empty my tanks, fill up with water, and have a general refresh and rest before I hit the road again. Therefore, I manage to only spend around $200 a month on campgrounds, and the rest of the time I either wild camp or boondock.
Budgeting for laundry costs can be tricky as you can’t predict when clothes are going to get dirty! You can, however, set aside funds for washing clothes weekly, or as I prefer, bi-weekly, so you’re not spending lots on laundromats throughout the month.
Campgrounds may have coin laundry that might be cheaper than a laundromat, and doing laundry a maximum of 2-3 times a month shouldn’t cost more than around $100.
4. Food and Drink
The number of mouths you’re feeding in your RV will impact your total monthly expenditure on food and drink. This can also be impacted by the number of times you eat out throughout the month, along with trips to get takeout.
If you’re able to get savvy with your food shopping and dedicate one day a week to hitting the stores with the best deals, average monthly food costs for two people in an RV could be as low as $550.
Depending on how much propane you use to cook with and heat your RV, a 30-pound tank should last quite some time. If you’re traveling in winter and cooking lots of meals on the stovetop, you will likely need to spend more on propane, but a 30-pound tank shouldn’t cost much more than $30. It may be wise to budget for more than one tank per month if you know your usage will be high.
6. RV Maintenance and Repairs
Something that I find keeps stress levels to a minimum when living full-time in an RV, is keeping some money aside for maintenance and emergency repairs. You’ll likely need to keep hoses, chocks, and tools in your RV, for times when your rig needs a helping hand, and carrying them onboard will help you be prepared if you need to do a bit of work on your rig.
Winterizing your RV is something not to be forgotten about too, as this can create issues that quickly snowball into a big problem such as pipes freezing and bursting.
Having a pot to be used for RV maintenance is useful, but the amount you need will depend on the type of RV you have, its condition, and the age of the vehicle. Setting aside a fund of $2000 as an emergency amount is a good idea and will help get you towed if the worst happens and your camper breaks down.
7. RV and Health Insurance
Hunting around for the best insurance prices might not be an exciting activity, but it will help you find the best deal so you don’t spend any more than you have to. RV insurance premiums can vary dramatically, starting anywhere from $200 and rising to $3000 with some insurers. Health insurance can start from $400 per person, but this will depend on the individual and the type of health insurance desired so it’s always best to shop around.
8. Internet, TV, and Phone
It can be easy to forget about the total combined costs of Internet, TV, and phone bills, but these can add up to $400 or $500 per month, especially if you are signed up for subscriptions too. To stay connected whilst wild camping and boondocking, you might need a hotspot device to boost the signal, and these often run on a monthly contract basis.
9. Other Costs
You may need to consider other costs when living in an RV full-time such as activities, national park entry, parking, tolls, pets, and washing your RV. Once you’ve completed a couple of months in your RV, you’ll get to grips with budgeting and keeping costs down, and you’ll likely find ways to save more too as you venture further into the RV lifestyle.
Is It Cheaper to Live Full-time in an RV?
It can be tempting to look at the RV lifestyle and assume costs are next to nothing, but in fact, there are plenty of things to consider when living full-time on the road. Similar to house life, you’ll need to budget for food, gas, insurance, and many other things to keep happy and healthy in your RV.
With the average house price in the US rising to over $400,000 in 2021, it’s no surprise more people are turning to alternative ways of living. After the initial investment of purchasing an RV, monthly living costs can be as low as $1000, which is considerably lower than the average living costs in a house.
Although it may be cheaper to live full-time in an RV, it’s essential to remember it’s a very different way of life to living in a house or apartment, and you won’t be able to sit back and relax all the time! RVs, like any other vehicle, need to be looked after to function at their best, and living in an RV full-time means wear and tear will happen at a faster rate.
There are many costs to consider with full-time RV living, but it’s not too hard to budget and only spend money where it needs to go. One of the big benefits of RVing is the flexibility you have in deciding where you go, and how long it takes to get there. If there is a big expense one month for something out of your control like a pet getting ill, you can drive less the following month and spend less money.
It’s hard to beat waking up to enchanting forest and mountain views, or hiking to the beach for sunset, and RVing is the lifestyle that brings all of these things to life and makes them less of a dream and more of a reality.