How To Budget For RV Life

Budget for RV Life

Let’s talk budget. Yes. I said the dreaded “b” word.

Living as a full-time RVer without a budget is like traveling without a map or, if you’re like me, Google Maps and my trusted truck atlas. While you can do both, the result would be difficult and probably wasteful.

With a little time and planning, you, too, can have an easy to follow budget to keep you on track financially. Hopefully, it takes some of the stress of travel and a nomadic lifestyle off the table as well.

Primary Expenses In RV Life

Let’s consider the big expenses when it comes to RV life. Remember these can vary greatly as they are an individual preference and also can be adjusted for your income and needs.

For example, if you plan on boondocking most of the time, then you can remove campground fees from the financial roadmap. If you don’t have a TV service, then wipe that off as well. That’s what I like about creating a budget. It’s YOUR budget and you can customize as needed.

Fixed RVing Expenses

How To Budget For RV Life 1

So, let’s not delay any longer. Here are the top considerations when planning your RV budget.

Let’s start with fixed expenses. These include things like RV insurance, health insurance, TV service, phone & internet, etc. I call these fixed expenses because they are a fixed amount each month that you need to leave room for in the budget. While there might be some room for variation, in general, they will be pretty even month-to-month.

RV Registration: Can’t really avoid this. It’s part of owning a vehicle. However, you can choose your domicile state to see if things are less expensive for different locations.

Tow/Towed Vehicle Registration: Same your RV registration. An unavoidable expense unless you only have one vehicle and don’t have a towed. Examples of this would be a van or possibly a Class A or C without a car or extra vehicle for getting around town, etc.

Roadside Assistance: I think this is important to have since all moving vehicles eventually will have a problem whether it’s a flat tire, running out of gas, failing to start or some other myriad of options when it comes to vehicle trouble. This can be built into your insurance or you can purchase a separate policy. Escapees offers a roadside assistance program as do other companies. Click here to read more about why RV roadside assistance is a wise choice.

RV Insurance: Again, an unavoidable expense of owning a vehicle. However, you choose how much insurance you want/need which will impact the cost of your policy. Also, be aware you need to purchase a full-timer’s RV insurance policy if you plan on being full-time on the road. There are only a few different companies that offer this and it’s an extremely important question to ask when purchasing insurance.

Tow/Towed Vehicle Insurance: This is similar to registration costs. If you don’t have a 2nd vehicle, then you’ll avoid this expense.

Health Insurance: This is a huge variable that depends on which plan you purchase and also the geographic location of your domicile and your age. Whatever you buy it’s important to make sure you feel comfortable with the financial responsibility of the plan should something happen.

Mail Service: A necessity to living full-time on the road. Your mail needs to go somewhere, and you also need an address for your domicile, register your vehicles, get insurance and vote. However, there are varying plans so pick whichever option fits within your budget.

Laundry: The cost of doing laundry can change according to geographic location so be prepared for this to fluctuate a bit. It also can change depending on how often you wash your clothes, sheets, towels and whether or not you have a washer/dryer in your RV.

Cell Phone: I feel like this is a necessity for life today. We use our phones for everything from actual calls to texts to banking to maps and so much more. You decide which plan fits your budget as the costs do vary.

TV: I don’t see this is a necessity personally, but I know many full-time travelers like to have access to TV. Research your options which are most likely satellite and/or streaming services. This is really a choose your own adventure depending on how much you watch tv and what’s important to you.

Internet: This expense is a big one for those who work and travel. I think we all rely pretty heavily on the internet. However, there are lots of options available. Do you need multiple hotspots so you can always be connected? Are you okay with traveling to the local coffee shop or library to get some work done? That’s all up to you.

Groceries: We all need to eat! However, there are varying degrees of expenses even with food. Grocery costs can also vary according to your location and availability of fresh food from local farms and whether or not you buy food for a special diet. If you like to shop at more natural grocery stores where the prices are usually higher, then your budget should reflect that. The USDA creates a nice cost of food monthly report. It gives different budget scenarios and also costs for age ranges. Feel free to use it as a guide to help you set your grocery budget.

Pets: If you have pets, then you already know they aren’t free. Make sure to factor in vet visits (emergencies happen), annual vaccinations, food, toys and any other supplies needed for your pet. If you have a cat, this might include kitty litter.

Emergency Savings: I strongly urge everyone to have an emergency fund and that’s why I say build it into your budget. It’s up to you what you want to contribute to it each month.

Variable RVing Expenses

How To Budget For RV Life 2

The following are variable costs because they can differ from month to month. Gas, in particular, varies according to how fast you are moving. If you stay stationary for a month or two, then your fuel costs will likely drop. I also find propane varies according to temps and if we’re using our furnace and/or boondocking when we use propane to cool our refrigerator.

Maintenance is an important category because you might go for 10 months with no maintenance costs. Then one month you’ll need an oil change, new tires, etc. and your cost will explode. I put this in variable expenses but, in reality, you should save for maintenance each month or include it as part of your emergency saving fund.

Gas for your RV and tow/towed: This is a widely variable expense and truly depends on how fast you travel. Gas prices also vary according to where you are in the country and if you need diesel or regular gas. You may need to also factor in DEF if you have a diesel vehicle. If you plan on staying in California, then your budget needs to be higher for this. If you stay put in a place for a month or two or six, then chances are your gas budget will decrease.

Propane: I find this expense to vary greatly as well. We tend to use more propane in the winter months if we use our furnace to heat our RV. We also will go through propane a little more quickly if we are boondocking and need propane for our hot water heater and our refrigerator. If you stay in campgrounds with full hookups, then you might find your propane costs stay low.

Maintenance: Make sure you not only leave room in your budget for regular maintenance like oil changes, tires and such, but also for the unexpected mechanical failures. It happens. It’s all part of the RV life.

Camping fees: This expense not only varies according to your travel style but also where you are in the country. If you want to spend time in the Florida Keys, you better up your budget. If you boondock exclusively, your budget might be $0. Many are able to keep campground costs lower by using membership clubs like SKP member parks, Thousand Trails, Passport America, Harvest Hosts and more. Others get discounts because of age or military affiliation.

Entertainment: This expense is totally customizable. How much do you think you’ll spend going out and doing fun activities? Do you like to see every museum? Are you okay with hiking for free? Will you plan your travels around attending concerts or other events? Whichever is your style make sure to budget for it. Remember, this is a variable expense. One month you might go to Disney World and spend $500 and the next might be $20.

Personal: Personal for me includes things like haircuts, books, souvenirs. Etc. You decide the extra things you can fit into your financial roadmap.

Eating out: Another very variable expense. This could be $0 if you are always boondocking far out of town. It could also be high if you hit up New Orleans and want to try all the amazing restaurants and food establishments. That’s why I put this expense in the variable category.

Sample Budget for RV Life

Here’s a real-life example monthly budget for a couple to give you a better idea of costs with a range from low to high. Remember, these can vary widely so you need to determine what fits your travel style, income level, and comfort. I suggest you use this as a guide to start yourself off and adjust it according to what you are seeing with actual expenses.

For any bill that is annual vs. paid monthly, take the annual cost and divide by 12 to build the monthly cost into your budget. You could also do this for variable expenses. After a year or 6 months on the road, divide your total expense by either 12 or 6 to get your average monthly cost.

Expense

Low

Middle

High

Health Insurance

$296

$500

$1,000

RV Loan

$0

$200

$1,000

RV Insurance

$50

$125

$150

Tow/Towed Insurance

$100

$150

$200

Registration Costs

$20

$20

$20

Campground fees

$0

$500

$1,000

Roadside Assistance

$8

$8

$8

Gas

$250

$350

$400

Phone & Internet

$100

$150

$200

TV services (streaming, satellite, etc.)

$0

$30

$50

Propane

$12

$30

$30

Mail Service

$10

$20

$25

Groceries

$300

$500

$400

Pets

$0

$100

$150

Maintenance/Emergency Savings

$50

$100

$200

Laundry

$30

$40

$40

Eating Out

$50

$200

$300

Clothing

$20

$50

$75

Personal

$20

$30

$50

Entertainment

$50

$100

$100

 

$1,366

$3,203

$5,398

Creating a Budget for Your RV Life

Everyone’s RV Life budget will be different, because everyone’s RVing style is different. Your budget will have different fixed and variable expenses, different income levels and different ideas of necessity and comfort.

Creating a budget for your RV life gives you a financial roadmap that can help take away some of the stress of a full-time traveling life. Check out part two for 5 reasons you need to create and use a budget!

How To Budget For RV Life 3

Author

Heather Ryan

Heather is the owner of Tax Queen, a tax firm supporting entrepreneurs and digital nomads. As a federally-licensed Enrolled Agent, she supports her clients year-round with tax preparation, tax planning and bookkeeping for RV entrepreneurs. She also educates digital nomads and entrepreneurs through her blog posts and has written a book, Taxes for RV Owners, and created a course, Finances for the RV Entrepreneur, to help RV owners navigate the world of finances and taxes. She hit the road in September 2016 and travels in a 5th wheel with her husband and two dogs.

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