If you are seriously thinking about RVing full-time, you need to be aware of the basic costs associated with the full-time RV lifestyle. IS full-time RVing REALLY living on the cheap? Does RVing full-time cost less than owning or renting a house or condo?
RV Expenses for the Full-Time RV Lifestyle
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While each person, couple or family’s living standards, financial situations, geographical locations and RV choice differ, trying to present actual figures would be a challenge. But, this RV expenses listing should give you an idea of what you need to budget for.
To answer those questions above, we’ve broken down what costs are associated with RVing full-time and expenses you should expect with the RV lifestyle.
Unless you can afford to pay for an RV outright, you’ll have to finance your motorhome, fifth wheel, or camper. Depending on what type of RV you purchase will dictate what it’s going to cost.
Financing your RV will cost you a lot more over the life of the loan as opposed to paying for it outright. You’ll be subject to current interest rates. So, it’s not smart to overextend your budget by financing an RV that you really can’t afford.
2014 Heartland Landmark Fifth Wheel (10 year note): $800/month
Toad or Pull Vehicle
If you own a Class A motorhome or Class C motorhome, more than likely you’ll want to tow a vehicle (toad) behind for local transportation once you set up your campsite.
Fifth wheels and travel trailers require a safe, reliable tow vehicle that’s applicable to the fifth wheel or travel trailer you’re going to purchase. And, let’s just say trucks aren’t cheap. A brand new dual rear wheel diesel long bed truck can cost upwards to about $80,000 depending on whether you want the luxury package or just a basic edition.
2014 Dodge Ram 3500 DRW ‘Tradesman’ edition (6 year note purchased in 2014): $750/month
Initially, we had our fifth wheel hitch setup in our truck bed which cost approximately $1000 for hitch and installation. Of course, that isn’t added into our monthly budget but is worth noting for initial purchase and budget expectations.
More about our motorhome tow bar: CURT Q24 fifth wheel hitch
When we traded our fifth wheel for our Winnebago View Class C motorhome, we wanted to tow a Jeep.
2010 preowned Jeep JK bought outright for $12,000, so we have no monthly payments.
To set up our Jeep for towing cost approximately $3500. Again, this amount isn’t added into our monthly budget but is worth noting for initial purchase and budget expectations.
More about our motorhome tow bar: CURT Rambler Tow Bar for Motorhomes
RV Insurance and Vehicle Insurance
RV Insurance is requirement as well as your automobile insurance for your toad or tow vehicle. If you also have motorcycle(s), golf cart, or ATV, be prepared to add those to your registration fees.
First, prospective RVers must take into consideration of the State your RV, toad and tow vehicle is insured in. RV insurance rates as well as regular automobile insurance rates differ greatly from state to state. Also, personalized coverages vary as well. And, in some states, insurance is relatively inexpensive while others are more excessive due to high risk or casualty reports.
RV insurance will be based on RV type, size of RV, build model, age of RV, diesel vs. gas motor, motorized vs. towable, upgrades, etc. Other factors to consider are the state you’re insuring your RV and vehicles in, previous claims, driving record, miles driven, personalized coverages, etc.
In other words, it would be difficult for me to give a firm dollar amount of what to expect as part of your RV expenses.
If you’re contemplating the full-time RV lifestyle, we highly recommend doing your diligent research of the state you’re going to domicile in. Say you find an RV you really like, call your insurance agent for estimated rates to give you an idea of what to add to your RV expenses. You can ask for your premiums to paid annually, every 6 months or even monthly. Be aware, monthly premiums may cost a little more because of account maintenance fees.
Most importantly, make certain your agent is aware that you will be full-time RVing, because while your coverage will differ, so will your premiums. This is one particular area where you do not want to falsely report usage. If you are using your RV full-time but have a low(er) usage plan, you can and will be denied coverage and redemption.
Vehicle and RV Registration
Again, vehicle and RV registration is another must-have expense you can’t escape. If you have both a toad or tow vehicle and RV, you’ll have to register each separately. If you also have motorcycle(s), golf cart, or ATV, be prepared to add that to your registration fees.
In some States, registration is relatively inexpensive while others are more due to state tax structure. Also, your RV registration may differ based sized and worth. Some States (not all) may impose an annual excise tax on your vehicles.
So, it’s difficult to put down a single dollar amount of what RV registration and vehicle registration costs are.
Unless you still have a sticks and bricks home with a homeowner’s insurance policy, you’ll need to get a renter’s insurance policy to cover all of your personal contents inside your RV as well as property items kept in a storage facility or family/friend’s home base.
Most RV insurance policies only cover up to a certain amount which typically isn’t enough. Your renter’s insurance will cover your personal contents inside your toad and tow vehicle that your Vehicle Insurance won’t cover. Realize though, that your additional premiums reflect additional coverages (E.g. jewelry, firearms, furs, computers, etc.)
Renter’s Insurance Policy for $25,000 coverage (State of Kentucky): $200 year
Must Have RV Accessories and RV Gear
After you purchase your RV, you’re going to need to outfit it with necessary RV gear. Personally, I would designate about $2000-$5000 depending on how large your RV is. I know that sounds like a lot. However, once you get all of your gear, it’s a one time purchase unless you find down the road of better products.
So, to get your RV camp ready, you’re going to need a basic RV accessories kit. You’re also going to need to supply your RV with camping gear; camp chairs, grill, campsite rug or mat, etc.
You’re going to also need everything under the sun just like you would be outfitting a new small home from dishes, towels, linens (because RV beds are weird sizes).
Of course, how much you spend is based on what you want or need. You can certainly buy cheap dollar store items until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Or, you can buy everything first rate at the time of purchasing your RV.
For more information on RV Gear you’ll need now or later:
Must Have RV Emergency and Roadside Safety Gear
13 Must Have Camping and Outdoor RV Gear
Must-Have Boondocking Gear for Off Grid RV Camping
Outdoor Camping Gear for Small RVs and Campers
There’s a lot of variables when it comes to estimating what your fuel expenses will be. Depending on your travel locations, and how often and far you travel your fuel expenses will fluctuate. Obviously, if you’re driving more miles, your fuel expenses will be significantly higher. And, if you’re pulling some higher terrain, that too will decrease your fuel mileage. Pulling a fifth wheel in the Rocky Mountain passes will cost more than pulling through Kansas and Oklahoma.
Also, there may be differences between diesel and unleaded gasoline prices. So, if your RV is big a diesel pusher motorhome, know that your fuel expenses will be far greater than a mid-size truck pulling a small travel trailer.
So, as you see, your fuel expenses may differ greatly month to month. You can save a lot in your fuel expenses by staying in one location for longer periods of time. Common sense dictates the less you drive, the more you save.
Most RVs use propane as fuel to power appliances (refrigerator, cooktop or range, oven, etc.), furnace and/or water heater. Like your fuel expenses, propane costs differ throughout the Country as well as personal usage of propane in your motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer or other RV. Also, know that your RV furnace will use propane quickly. So, if you’re going to traveling or hunkered down in an RV park or campground in the winter, expect high propane costs.
So, to come up with a cost analysis of what propane would average per month would be difficult based on RV size, what propane is used for and usage amounts. But it is a line item you’ll need to add to your RV expenses budget. And to get a better feel of what an estimated propane amount would be is to ask those who have similar RVs with the same appliances and usage.
Nobody likes to pay at the tollbooth; especially RVers. Because highway tolls are based on how many axels your RV setup has. For example, a tag axel diesel pusher pulling a Jeep has five axels as opposed to a truck pulling a small trailer only having four axels. And truck campers and vans luck out with only paying a single car rate of 2 axels.
To save money, you can purchase an EZPass or other toll transponder. But if you’re like us who don’t traverse many toll roads, cash is the ticket. If you want to eliminate tolls completely, travel the backroads. This may be more difficult for big rig RVs with high profile because of low clearances or bridge weight restrictions.
But for the smaller RVs like shorter trailers, truck campers and vans, you may prefer staying off those toll roads.
For big rig RVs, consider getting a Motor Carriers’ Atlas AND an RV GPS so you can plug in your RV height, weight and length.
Read more about our RV GPS: Rand McNally OverDryve 7 RV GPS
RV Maintenance and Repairs
Even if you have a new(er) RV, we highly recommend setting aside a separate savings account for your RV and toad or tow vehicle’s maintenance and repair expenses. Because those indiscriminate repairs are going to happen when AND where you least expect them.
First, it’s incredibly important to keep up on your RV maintenance to begin with. This will help alleviate costly repairs down the road. Second, through time and usage, your RV and toad or tow vehicle is going to require regular service and replacements like oil changes, filter replacements, new tires, brake jobs, etc.
RV components are expensive to repair or replace. From your RV’s leveling system and suspension to your RV refrigerator or air conditioner are all big ticket costs. And especially if you have an older RV over five years, it’s imperative that you have enough money set aside as some RV components’ life-expectancy dwindles year to year. Eventually, you will have to replace them.
It’s always best to be prepared. We typically set aside at least $5000 for our RV repair and replacement budget. That amount would cover any tire replacements, fuel and oil changes and filters, professional RV washes, roof maintenance sealants and caulks, RV exterior care products, and any components that need replacement or repair.
And, an additional $4000 for our toad or tow vehicle budget for any tire replacements, fuel and oil changes and filters, and parts replacements.
For a good look at cost estimate of RV repairs, check out: Good Sam’s Common Repair Costs
RV Upgrades and Modifications
RV upgrades and modifications are things you can do to make full-time RV living more comfortable. But also, some upgrades will help make your RV systems more efficient. You’ll need to prioritize them to what we need vs. want.
Some major RV upgrades and modifications to budget for:
- RV Batteries
- Solar Panels
- Clothes Washer Dryer
Campground and RV Park Fees
Unless you plan to boondock 100% of the time, campground or RV park site fees are another RV expense to put into your budget. Campgrounds and RV parks can cost anywhere from $15 upwards to even $100 a night depending on location and amenities. While that sounds like it can be costly, there are a couple things to keep your costs low.
First, lengthen your stays for a week or even a month to get better rates. Also, you can buy camping memberships that come with awesome discounts like Thousand Trails.
You can also get Passport America that offers 50% off camping fees at participating campgrounds and RV parks. Good Sam also offers a membership program to get great discounts on campgrounds.
Check out how we How We Find RV Parks and Campgrounds
Also, check out
RV memberships are unique and can offer awesome discounts.
If we are just passing through and need a place just to lay our heads for the night, we rely on cool memberships like HipCamp, Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome. While they aren’t necessarily free, having those inexpensive RV memberships can save you money and provide you a safe place to park for an overnight.
Learn more about our Top Money-Saving RV Club Memberships
If we are boondocking, we still have to make a budget allowance for dump fees and water acquisition. Again, nothing is free. Usually, dump stations cost about $10-20 per dump and/or fill our water tank. If you’re filling up your RV water tank, consider also filling a water bladder to carry to your boondocking campsite.
You’ll need to also consider extra fuel and propane if you plan on using your motorhome or fifth wheel onboard generator or portable generator.
Also, you may run into boondocking sites that require a small fee or customary donation. Typically, those run up to about $15 per night.
If you find boondocking is one of your favorite camping options, look into upgrading your RV with solar panels and lithium batteries. Though the initial cost of installing solar panels, inverter, wiring and lithium batteries may be steep, once they’re bought and paid for in the clear, you can save a ton in campground fees you would otherwise have to fork over.
A great boondocking resource: Where to Find RV Dump Stations and Potable Water
WiFi and Cell Service
WiFi connectivity is an important expense; especially if you’re digital nomads working remotely. We’ve found that data coverage varies from place to place thus, needing two of the big WiFi providers. We have two data plans, AT&T and Verizon (truly unlimited) to facilitate our data requirements; costing $100 each.
Even if you’re retired and/or not working remotely, you’ll still want to get those unlimited WiFi plans so you can keep in touch with family and friends via social media, FaceTime or email, RV trip planning, research RV repair manuals, look up cool destinations, and of course, read your favorite blog, stream your favorite YouTube channel and movies.
We also have our two smartphones on two different cell service providers (AT&T and Verizon) for the same reasons.
Taxes is the most hated word in the dictionary. There’s no way of getting around them. It’s best to become acquainted with your state of domicile’s tax and vehicle and RV registration process and requirements.
At the point of sale, you will have to pay sales tax on your motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer or other recreational vehicle.
Interesting to note, if you are registering an RV (or any other vehicle) for the first time in your state but purchased in no-sales-tax state, you will have to pay your state the sales tax on that RV at the time of your initial registration. So, be prepared to write a bigger check when first registering your RV in a sales tax state.
Lastly, be aware some states also impose a personal property tax or excise tax on RVs, toad and tow vehicles.
Our friends at RVShare explain in detail what state has no sales tax on RVs.
Activities and Recreation
We saved the best for last. Because activities and recreation is the primary reason for you to live the RV lifestyle, right?
But these are part of your RV expenses and needs to be budgeted for. These include admission fees, parking passes, festival tickets, dining out, etc. Only you can designated how much to budget based on what you enjoy doing, where you’re going, your RV destinations and everything in between.
Our RV Expenses Wrap Up
So, there’s our RV expenses to include in your budget for not only full-time RVing but also if you’re a weekend camper, seasonal or part-time RVers. These should give you a basic idea of what to expect when hitting the road in your new motorhome, fifth wheel or camper.
We highly recommend that you evaluate your personal finances to see if you can live the RV life. We also encourage getting out of debt as much as possible. Because the last thing you need is to be sacked with existing mounds of debt while trying to enjoy this lifestyle on the road. Learn to budget, restrain from spending and always be prepared financially for whatever the road blocks ahead.
Some great resources on how to finance and budget the full-time RV lifestyle. Click on each image for more information:
But that advice isn’t just for RVing but living all LIFE!
10 Things we should have known before going full-time
Stationary RV Living: Why Full-Time RVers Live Long-Term in RV Parks
RV Lifestyle: What We’ve Learned as Full-Time RVers
RV Life: What to Expect as Full-Time RVers
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8 Replies to “RV Expenses for the Full-Time RV Lifestyle”
I have enjoyed reading your blog. My husband and I have lived in our RV, mostly for work, for the last few years. We eventually want to retire and find a small piece of land to put in a condo port. When we can stop work we still want to travel and have some much needed fun and downtime. Your cost list is helpful.
Hi Kim! We’re so glad our resources are helpful in getting out there to enjoy RV life. There’s so much more to it than hitching up our wagons and heading out to the great unknown. If you have all your ducks in a row like this, you’ll have a much better experience because you’re prepared. Anyway, stay safe on the road and enjoy the ride! -Lisa & Dan
I missed something, your total cost per month to full time r.v. ?
I understand the things that go into it, but you give the assumption that there is a dollar amount you will show.
Hi Kenneth, thank you for chiming in. We appreciate you taking the time to read our article. We have to say, because we move so often, we don’t really break it down month-to-month because it varies so much because of cost of living in different areas and tourism. And our standard of living compared to others may not apply – RV type (cost), Registration and Insurance based on domicile state, tourism entertainment and meals, area cost of living, etc. THAT SAID, we may rewrite or write another article giving a better assessment. But we have to say, our figures will be all over the place as we move often. Hope that helps. -Dan and Lisa
As a military retiree, I would need to earn about 3 times my present income to even to about living the RV lifestyle, judging from this example. It’s time I re-think my plans. Thanks for the information.
Hi Stephen, this is just a breakdown of what you should expect. There’s ways you can get your costs down. It all depends on what kind of RV you’re looking at, whether it’s preowned, new cash purchase or loan purchase. Also, though memberships help, it doesn’t mean you have to join them all. Insurance and repairs, there’s no way around those and we recommend having a separate savings account for emergencies. The other expenses are what you make of the full-time RV lifestyle. TBH, if we go over budget one month, we tighten our belts the next; just like living in a sticks and bricks. We’ve seen full-time RVers doing it in half-million dollar motorhomes to van builds. So don’t block out your dream because you may think it’s unreachable. It all depend on your needs, why you want to RV full-time and how you want to RV (purpose). We hope this helps. We realize this seems like a lot but if you budget your money wisely, you can do it. ALSO, realize there ARE work camping opportunities out there or you can find a side gig to work remotely to help fund your RV lifestyle. So many are doing that on the road. Don’t give up your dream. You CAN do it. -Dan and Lisa
I understand you want people to have a better idea money wise on camping but most of those expenses would be there even if you weren’t “camping” . What would be “extra “ or would be “cheaper” if you were camping? That I would be interested in. Not what’s already expected either way
Hi Donna, thanks for taking the time to read through our compilation on what it costs to RV full-time. Yes, there IS a difference in just camping at a campground and just sitting there. The extra camping or RV expenses would be RV and campground memberships, fuel, propane, dump stations and water (if you’re not at hookups), full-timer RV insurance (you must report your full-time status to your insurance company) and wear and tear on your vehicle and RV since you’ll be moving it more often. Also, different regions of the country may demand extra consideration because of cost of living $$; food, fuel and campground expenses all depend on what the local economy and tourism dictates. We hope this helps. -Dan and Lisa