I became interested in tiny homes almost immediately after arriving in America, but I never considered RVs as a potential starting point. People in the Southeast frequently told me it was wealthy White Americans who bought RVs and went vacationing with their families. Since being on the road, I can confirm that this demographic makes up a large portion of RVers, but it doesn’t account for all of us. I, after all, am neither White, wealthy, nor American-born.
In fact, RVing is a great way to live a simple and inexpensive life, but that ultimately depends on how you RV. Some people spend thousands per month on RVing, while others spend only a few hundred. My RV-related costs for the month add up to around $1,200. This includes my RV loan, gas money, campground fees, phone bills and WiFi hotspots. These are some of the factors that decide how much it will cost you.
Wealthy retirees often own enormous motorhomes towing infamous gas guzzlers. One such neighbour informed me that his Entegra motorhome cost half a million dollars. He was also towing a Jeep with kayaks mounted to the roof.
Solar installations can make a big difference in ongoing costs, whether people dry camp or stay plugged in. The cost of running generators adds up when dry camping and RV parks often charge electricity rates that are higher than what you would pay at home.
MY SETUP: I opted to stay small. I bought my travel trailer used for less than $18,500. Samson is a decade old and had more than 175,000 miles on the dash when I drove him off the lot. FJ Cruisers are generally pricey, but the sellers didn’t realize what they had and I got him for a steal. Finally, I have a small solar generator and will be upgrading to a bigger system in July.
Gas prices had hit rock bottom before the pandemic. The RV industry boom and the increase in trucking activity have sent prices soaring. The prices are especially high for people who drive big rigs, move often, and require diesel or premium gas.
MY MOVING FREQUENCY: It costs me about a full tank of premium gas to move my RV and I generally move once every 30 days — longer if I like the area. Because I don’t have a daily commute, Samson can sip away at a tank of gas for anywhere from a few weeks to about a month and a half.
The cheapest way to RV is to stay on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. These properties are open to the public and are usually free to camp on. You can also camp for free in “back country” areas of large state and national parks. When you stay at these locations, you usually have to move every two weeks, so the cost of moving could add up. The most expensive accomodations are RV parks and RV resorts. Monthly rates can be as low as $350 or as high as the thousands in big cities.
MY ACCOMMODATIONS: Because I’m new to RVing and travel solo, I primarily stay at national parks and RV parks. I budget $500 per month for my parking spot. This summer, I’ll be camping for free while also completing off-grid upgrades on the RV.
One of the most interesting things I’ve noted on the road is who finances RVs and who doesn’t. Generally, wealthy RVers take out mortgage-size loans for their RVs. People with fewer financial resources tend to take the following options, even when full-timing:
- Buying older rigs that are more affordable, even when they are bigger
- Building out vans or buses on their own
- Buying cheaper RVs and paying in cash
- Buying cheaper RVs so they can take out smaller loans
MY FINANCING: I fall into the latter two categories. Because I tow, my FJ Cruiser is part of my RV setup. I bought him cash and took out a small loan on the RV. The other millennials I’ve met seem to own cheaper rigs or built out their rigs themselves. Some others bought older rigs that were barely used. I pay for my insurance in full on both the RV and my truck, so I don’t have to make monthly payments on that, either.
Recreational vehicles start to look very similar after a while. The easiest way to distinguish the neighbours is by their add-ons. On the one hand, you have people who might have some stickers, a Walmart bike, and some camping gear. At the opposite end, you have the wealthy RVers who have the following add ons:
- Dune buggies or ATVs
- Second RVs (Yes, I’m serious!)
MY ADD-ONS: I am much closer to the first camp than the second. This summer, Samson will get some overlanding upgrades, but nothing like my wealthy neighbours. As of right now, I have a cheap Walmart bike, an inflatable kayak, and some camping gear.
RVing can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. I have met people out here RVing on six-figure and seven-figure salaries. I have also met RVers relying solely on disability benefits. There are even some people who sneak into campgrounds after dark and leave before morning because they either can’t afford to pay or don’t want to.
Have you ever done any long-term RVing? What did your monthly RV expenses look like?
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