Why the RV Lifestyle Might Be More Affordable Than You Think

The RV lifestyle does not have to cost a fortune.

Family enjoying the RV lifestyle.
••• Digital Vision/Getty Images

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 an expensive lifestyle.

Let me create an accurate picture for you. The house that has been like a stone around your neck is finally sold. All the “stuff” of many years, sold or stored. The household utilities, canceled. The extra commuter car, sold. All the old toys, sold. This leaves you with a fat wallet and ready to hit the road full-time. New friends and adventures await!

In this example, you do not run to the nearest RV lot and roll out with the first RV the salesperson shows. Six months before the house is sold, you start a campaign to find the perfect RV, just like you did when you bought the house (at least I hope so).

Choosing the right RV: There is a huge savings right from the start if you choose a used RV. There are 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. Always hire an independent RV inspector to check it out before you sign on the dotted line, no exceptions. This is $100 well spent.

Do your research on this. 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 pay cash, you start with a huge savings.

Housing and utilities: Chances are good that the RV you choose costs less than the house you sold. On the road, all utilities are paid by 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. I have many friends that boondock (primitive parking without utilities) half the year. What a savings!

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 like Passport America and/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 Walmart parking lots or volunteer/work where you stay in order to receive a free or low-cost RV site. 

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: Food is a controllable expense if you use your RV's microwave oven. Eat out less.

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, photography and exploring.

Clothing: Clothing is the smallest expense. The RV lifestyle is casual to the extreme. 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: The best use of space limits acquiring "stuff." There is simply no place to put it! Limit gifts to inexpensive but unique items picked up in your travels.

Staying in touch: If you need a second cell phone, a prepaid cell allows you to budget your calls. 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 use Skype or Facetime to 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 like Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, or Florida. If you live on retirement income or income earned in one of these states, you do not pay state income tax on it.

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 awhile 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.

Join me in the RV lifestyle! You too will find you can save a bundle living in your RV.

This article comes to us courtesy of Margo Armstrong. Margo spent most of her professional life writing documentation for high-tech corporations. Now semi-retired, she continues to travel the USA in her motorhome (19 years full-time, the last 5 years solo) exploring, writing eBooks, and sometimes workamping for a season to get the true flavor of a locale. She loves sharing this wonderful lifestyle with others planning to travel the same path. 

Margo’s blog, MovingOnWithMargo.com, follows all things related to the RV lifestyle. For more information on saving money and the RV lifestyle, see her eBook, How to Save Money While Enjoying the RV Lifestyle.