Living In An RV Full-Time Cost: Building Your RV Budget

If you’ve ever asked how much does it cost to live in an RV you are not alone! 

Chances are if you are asking yourself that before you buy an RV then you are well ahead of us in your planning!

We didn’t really have any idea how much it would cost when we first set out on the road. 

living in an rv full time cost
Is “enough” ever “enough” with an RV budget?

And now, in looking back, there are many items in our RV budget that we would have treated much differently if we had known what we know now. 

But the simple answer to the question of how much does it cost to live in an RV full time is: it depends.   

RV living costs vary. 

So before you base your entire RV budget on what we say it costs, be sure to look at your personal financial situation, your goals in RV travel and, of course, what others might say. 

We can say, with full confidence, that we live truly balanced in our RV lifestyle.

We don’t go over the top with either costly experiences or luxury items.

But we also don’t live so cheaply that people can smell us from across the Wal Mart parking lot. 

So how much does it cost to live in an RV? 

Let’s take a look at that now. 

OUR TOTAL COSTS TO LIVE IN AN RV FULL TIME: $3000 / month 

Fixed RV Costs: $450
RV payment: $0 (We are 100% DEBT FREE!)
RV insurance: $10 (considered “renters insurance”)
Vehicle insurance
(if separate):
$115
Maintenance: $100
Phone / Internet: $200
Entertainment: $25 (Netflix + Spotify)
Variable RV Costs: $2,050
Food: $750 ($25 / day includes going out to eat)
Camping: $750 ($25 / day)
Fuel: $250 (variable by destination and price)  
Contingency / Fun: $300 ($10/day)
* Personal RV Costs: $500
Health Insurance: $300
Health Expenses: $200 (vitamins, supplements, appointments)
Debt: $0 (We are 100% DEBT FREE!)
* Personal expenses vary

RV Living Costs Broken Down

Would you be surprised to know that, on average, the cost to live in an RV is less than the cost to live in a traditional home

Of course, there are trade-offs for living in either. And we won’t get into those tradeoffs now. 

But to give you an idea of actual monthly RV living costs let’s take a look at our budget and recommendations for how to build out your own RV budget based on your own personal experiences and expectations on the road. 

Just like living in a traditional “home,” you have RV costs that will break down into both fixed and variable. We’ll cover the fixed costs first. 

Fixed RV Costs

Think of fixed RV costs as those that you are going to pay regardless of where you are.

These include items such as: 

  • RV payment
  • RV insurance
  • Vehicle insurance (if separate)
  • Maintenance

Grouped in these would be your “utilities” while you travel: 

  • Phone / Internet 
  • Entertainment (Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

Looking back on our fixed RV costs we have the following notes: 

RV Payment

We are 100% debt-free. This means that before we buy anything – including the significant expense of an RV – we are sure to budget to have the cash on hand.

Don’t think this is practical? 

Here is a list of things we’ve done to ensure we live this way. 

So we have a $0 monthly payment for our truck and camper.

(Albeit, we have had to account for some pretty substantial repairs which, of course, we paid in cash.) 

But your payment will vary depending on your financial philosophy and RV selection. 

READ MORE: Save $$ and build your own flatbed truck camper.

RV Insurance / Vehicle Insurance

Our RV and vehicle insurance situation is a bit tricky because of the company we use and how they define our truck camper. 

Make sure that you insure your RV properly so you are always prepared for the worst!

Because our camper fits on our truck it is considered “cargo” from the standpoint of bodily injury and collision and is covered as a rider on our vehicle insurance policy. 

However, the contents of our camper are covered under a separate renter’s insurance.

Thus if we are involved in an accident the vehicle insurance will cover the damage to both truck and camper, while the contents would be covered under our renter’s insurance. 

If you have any other type of RV it is likely that your insurance will be much more straightforward.

You will have one stated insurance policy to cover your Class A, B or C motorhome. 

But if you have a 5th Wheel or a camper trailer then you will also need to have a separate policy for that RV – which should not be difficult to do. 

Maintenance

While maintenance and repairs vary in their actual cost, we consider these fixed expenses because we know, on average, setting aside money for maintenance is wise. 

Repair RV costs
Repairing your RV can be more expensive than maintaining it!

For example, an oil change for our diesel truck will cost us between $80-$125 every 3 months (or 5,000 miles).

But then we’ll also have miscellaneous repairs we have to make in that same time frame. 

Unless we experience catastrophic breakdowns (which we have!), this amount works for us on regular maintenance and repairs. 

Phone / Internet

We consider this a fixed RV cost because it is one you will have (should have) every month just as if you had a landline and/or internet in your home. 

We have a family share plan through AT&T for our cellular service. But we also have a data plan and MiFi hotspot through Verizon. 

This has allowed us to hedge our bets in the cases where we had either AT&T or Verizon service. 

Since we work digitally on the road having reliable WiFi is essential so between hot spots on our AT&T phones and our Verizon MiFi we are typically in great shape for WiFi service. 

Depending on your cellular/data plan (and needs) you might have more or less expense here.  

Entertainment

While some might dub this an unnecessary expense, we argue differently!

Very few people have no entertainment expenses when living in a traditional home. 

So instead of cable/satellite television, we combine our love of movies and music with a simple $25 budget item to cover Netflix and Spotify Premium. 

And while we spend most of our time exploring the outdoors, it is nice to have the opportunity to binge from time to time!

READ MORE: RV Clubs and Memberships that will save you $$

Variable RV Costs

Variable RV costs are exactly what they seem: costs that vary depending on your travel itinerary. 

These would primarily include items such as:

  • Food
  • Camping
  • Fuel
  • Contingency / Fun

Looking back on our fixed RV costs we have the following notes: 

We can attest that these do vary greatly! But because they vary we are able to meet our overall RV budget EVERY MONTH.

If we happen to go over on one item, then we look for ways to cut back on another. 

For example, driving through Canada and Alaska took a toll on our fuel budget. But 80% of the time we camped in Alaska for free!

Thus we saved money on camping expenses to put toward the additional fuel expenses. 

Food

We budget $25 per day for food. But we almost never spend $25 per day.

rv cost for meals
A splurge on a meal with a view balances out with weekly groceries

Sometimes we’ll go a week between trips to the grocery store. This means we have 6-7 days with $0 food expenses.

Then we’re hit with a $100-$150 grocery bill at the end of the week.

And we don’t go out to eat very often. But if we do, this is counted into our food budget. 

If we are in a special place, such as camping on Homer Spit in Alaska, we might make a “date night” and splurge on a meal. 

Or maybe we’ve been driving all day and don’t want to cook a meal when we pull over to camp. 

However we spend our food budget, we are careful to account for all forms of spending on food.

Yes, this includes a quick cup of coffee from the gas station or a bag of popcorn at the movie theater! 

Camping

Although we budget $25 per day for camping we very rarely if ever, pay that much.

Camping by Portage Glacier Ak
We have camped for FREE in some beautiful places!

In over 18 months of traveling throughout North America, we have found that the average cost of camping at established campgrounds ranges between $25 – $40 per night. 

But there are a ton of ways to spend less than $10 per night on camping. We recommend RV clubs and memberships – particularly Harvest Hosts and Passport America – as a way to save on camping. 

After our road trip to Alaska, we decided to make a game out of our camping expenses. If we didn’t absolutely HAVE (or sometimes WANT) to pay for camping we would find a free place to camp. 

Sometimes that meant spending the night at a Wal Mart, Cabelas or less comfortable rest stop on the side of the interstate. 

However, this is an incredibly variable RV cost that will change depending on your personal preferences, financial goals and location. 

SAVE 15% on your membership to HARVEST HOSTS today!

Fuel 

Traditionally fuel is our greatest RV cost while traveling. It can be managed, of course.

rv cost for fuel can be expensive
RV cost for fuel can be expensive!

But because we rarely spend more than 2-3 days in a location at a time we find that moving constantly equates to a higher-than-normal fuel expense. 

If you can be more patient in your travels then fuel does not have to be overly costly. 

However, this RV cost is also often dependent upon variables beyond your control (global markets, seasonal surcharges, political climates, etc). 

We budget $4 per gallon (for diesel) and underestimate our mileage at 10 mpg (we will likely average between 11 – 12 mpg) in order to cushion this budget as much as we can. 

In addition to padding the budget in this way, if you can find yourself limiting your travel throughout the month then you’ll also save on this RV cost. 

Contingency / Fun

We group “fun” into our “contingency” budget because we prefer to find activities that are either inexpensive or free. 

But we don’t want to miss out on unique opportunities, such as a trip to swim in the Arctic Ocean!

Standing in the Arctic Ocean is the highlight when you drive the dalton Highway
Sometimes you have to spend money to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences

And this also covers basic expenses such as entrance into state parks, where other activities are free. 

However, this RV cost also covers things that are, well, a contingency.

Maybe we went over on our maintenance budget and we need an extra quart of oil. Or perhaps we came across someone who needed a little extra help in some way. 

Whether we’re budgeting for fun or for the unexpected, this is a particularly useful RV cost to include in your budget. 

Personal RV Costs

Most resources that discuss how much it costs to live in an RV leave this important budget item out.

This is because every person is different. Thus your personal RV costs will vary. 

But do be mindful that just because you might live in your RV full time doesn’t mean these RV costs will go away.

In fact, you may find they increase when you live the RV lifestyle because the conveniences of “home” are gone.  

Be sure to include items such as the following:

  • Health Insurance (or health sharing plans)
  • Health Expenses (appointments, prescriptions, supplements, etc.)
  • Consumer debt (credit cards, store accounts, etc.)
  • Home debt (mortgage + insurance + HOA, if applicable) 
  • Other payments (student loans, secondary vehicles, etc.)

We can’t get into the details of these too much.

But we will say that because Lindsay has Crohn’s Disease, we will ALWAYS budget to keep our health insurance and provide room for any necessary vitamins, supplements or trips to the doctor. 

Lindsay receiving Remicade infusion
Health insurance will always be the #1 priority for us

Because we are 100% DEBT FREE we don’t carry a lot of unnecessary personal expenses.

We recommend that you do everything you can to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, your debt as well before you commit to RV living. 

But in any event, your personal expenses are above and beyond what most RV resources share when answering the question of how much does it cost to live in an RV.  

Just don’t forget these and, in the meantime, do your best to reduce them in any way that you can. 

Not only will your journey on the road last longer and include more memorable experiences, but you’ll also have the peace of mind that will feel most like the FREEDOM that we all seek by living on the road. 

7 TIPS TO SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE YOUR RV COSTS

There are TONS of ways to significantly reduce your RV costs while you are traveling. 

Here are a few quick and easy recommendations we have to make your journey more enjoyable from a financial point of view:  

Camping at Wal Mart saves in RV cost
Save a few bucks by camping at Wal Mart from time to time!
  1. Join RV clubs and memberships. We have our favorite and outline exactly WHY you need to join these groups before you hit the road. 
  2. Slow down your pace. The more you move the more fuel you burn.
  3. Preventative maintenance (routine checks, oil changes, etc.). Spending a little time and money on preventative maintenance is usually less costly than an unexpected repair. 
  4. Invest in the US National Park pass. The pass pays for itself in just 3 visits to any US national park. Once in the park, your entertainment options are endless (and FREE!).
  5. Eat-in more than you eat out. Plan a date night or special occasion. But limiting your meals at restaurants and fast food will extend your budget big time. 
  6. Prepare meals in advance. If you’re starving you’re more likely to justify a stop and N-and-Out Burger (our favorite splurge!). But if you have a sandwich handy, or a plate of pasta ready to be warmed, you’ll avoid the temptation and expense of eating out. 
  7. Don’t be afraid of Wal Mart parking lots and BLM land. Budget your camping expenses on your terms and find great places to spend the night without costing a nickel.

OUR TOTAL COSTS TO LIVE IN AN RV FULL TIME: $3000 / month 

Fixed RV Costs: $450
RV payment: $0 (We are 100% DEBT FREE!)
RV insurance: $10 (considered “renters insurance”)
Vehicle insurance
(if separate):
$115
Maintenance: $100
Phone / Internet: $200
Entertainment: $25 (Netflix + Spotify)
Variable RV Costs: $2,050
Food: $750 ($25 / day includes going out to eat)
Camping: $750 ($25 / day)
Fuel: $250 (variable by destination and price)  
Contingency / Fun: $300 ($10/day)
* Personal RV Costs: $500
Health Insurance: $300
Health Expenses: $200 (vitamins, supplements, appointments)
Debt: $0 (We are 100% DEBT FREE!)
* Personal expenses vary

Do you have other ideas for how to save money while living in an RV full time? Please reach out to let us know!

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