Why the RV Lifestyle Might Be More Affordable Than You Think

Freedom does not have to cost a fortune

Family posing together over breakfast outside an RV
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Somewhere, perhaps through magazine articles and online photos depicting luxurious RV resorts, a picture of the RV lifestyle has emerged—a picture rimmed with dollar signs. Add to that picture the high cost of gas or diesel, and it looks like a lifestyle out of reach for most.

But consider this picture. The house that has been like a stone around your neck is finally sold. All the stuff you've accumulated over the years is sold or stored. The household utilities are canceled. The extra commuter car is sold. All the old toys are gone. This leaves you with a fat wallet and ready to hit the road full time.

That doesn't mean you should just run to the nearest RV lot and roll out with the first RV the salesperson shows. Six months before the house is sold, you should start a campaign to find the perfect RV, just like you did when you bought the house. This will ensure you keep costs under control and make the most of this new investment.

Choosing the Right RV

There is a huge savings right from the start if you choose a used RV, plus additional savings down the road if you choose the type of RV that most suits your travel plans. Pick a motorhome for adventure or a fifth-wheel for resting a season in one location—it all depends on how you want to live in this new chapter. Always hire an independent RV inspector to check it out before you sign on the dotted line, no exceptions. This is $100 well spent.

Take your time and do your research. If you choose correctly, there is no need to start again with another vehicle a few years later (and pay the tax and interest again).

If you can pay for your RV in cash, you'll save a lot of money that would have gone toward interest.

RV Parks and Camping

While the average price for a camping spot has gone up, you can lower your costs by joining a half-price RV club such as Passport America or a membership park system. (Some RV clubs have members who offer travelers a place to stay.) You can also boondock on public lands or overnight at big-box parking lots, volunteer, or work where you stay in order to receive a free or low-cost RV site. 

Housing and Utilities

Chances are good that the RV you choose costs less than the house you sold. That goes for the cost of utilities, too. On the road, all utilities are usually included in the RV park except electricity if you stay 30 days or more in one place. That means typically no bills for electricity and no bills for garbage, water, or sewer come due. And if you decide to park on public land and enjoy nature at its finest, it is free.

Other Costs of the RV Lifestyle

There are a few other costs to consider before you commit to the RV lifestyle.

Fuel

Save money on fuel by traveling shorter distances and staying longer in one place. Take advantage of weekly and monthly rates and explore an area. You'll enjoy it more and spend less money.

Food

If you're eating out on the road all the time, then food costs will add up. But food is a controllable expense if you use your RV's stove and microwave to prepare meals as you would in your own home.

Entertainment

Park your RV where you like to play. If you enjoy the outdoors, camping in national parks or forests allows you to open your door and step out for hiking, taking pictures, and exploring.

Clothing

Given that the RV lifestyle is casual to the extreme, clothing does not have to be a significant expense. Space is limited so the quantity of clothing is limited, one item in, one item out. The budget-conscious can pick up nice jeans, shorts, and shirts at used clothing stores, saving even more.

Gifts and Purchases

Although it's tempting to pick up gifts and mementos from every national park and attraction you visit, the limited space of your RV naturally limits how much stuff you can accumulate. Restrict gifts to inexpensive but unique items picked up in your travels.

Staying in Touch

You'll need a way to stay in touch with people, and that means cell phone and internet access. Because you're on the road, it can be easy to go over your minutes, so a pre-paid cell phone plan might be a good option. For internet, you can often find a free Wi-Fi signal at an RV park, library, or coffee shop. Use the built-in webcam in your computer to make video calls and stay in contact for free.

Taxes

Choosing the full-time RV lifestyle allows you to choose the place to call home. Many RVers choose a no-income-tax state such as Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, or Florida. If you live on retirement income or income earned in one of these states, you won't have to pay state income tax on it.

Adjust Spending as You Go

Since you can adjust your spending on most of the categories above as needed, it allows you to live on any budget. If you overspend in one area, you can cut back for in another. Visit RV Lifestyle Expert’s budgeting tool for more budget information and a sample worksheet.

How might you adjust your spending as needed? Suppose you have costly repairs—then stay in one place for a while, reducing your fuel costs. Or you might boondock on public lands for a few days, greatly reducing or eliminating your camping costs while doing so. If needed, you could even add to your income by working at a short-term or temporary job.

Article Sources

  1. TurboTax. "States with the Highest and Lowest Taxes." Accessed June 4, 2020.