The Costs of RV Living
While many use their RVs strictly for leisure – be it to camp or road trip and sight see – others take the RV experience further and decide to employ it as their primary place of residence. Taking the RV lifestyle in this direction comes with surplus costs and logistical demands that are worth understanding in advance. This blog post will serve as a guide to the experiences associated with RVing generally, and long-term RV living more specifically. In particular, any would-be RVer ought to know about the prices associated with owning / leasing and maintaining an RV, the varying prices that come with RV lots, and the unique logistics of keeping your amenities in the limited space of an RV. The many pleasures of an RV based lifestyle can be easily subverted by the harsh learning curve at its outset, and this knowledge will save you from many a headache and tight situation.
Owning an RV and Payments
Step one on the road to RV living is, of course, coming into possession of an RV – and prior to that, ensuring that you are sufficiently licensed. Despite their size, almost all RVs in North America are drivable with a regular, full (unrestricted) driver's license. Nevertheless, it may be worth investigating the specific laws governing your region – especially if you are planning on driving a non-standard or oversized RV. Things like airbrakes can require that the driver have certifications in excess of those conferred by a regular driver's license.
The range of prices occupied by RVs is incredibly broad. For the sake of this article, we will focus on motorhomes and similarly sized travel trailers – as anything much smaller than this is unlikely to be desirable for extended occupancy. While Camper vans make for the cheapest motorhome option, it is unlikely that they will appeal to any non-solo RVer, and even then, only those interested in the most spartan minimalism. Motorhomes and camper trailers really become viable living spaces around twenty-four feet. At this size things will be cozy, though they will be manageable.
Prices will vary depending on the season, region, and brand. Generally speaking, eligible motorhomes will range in price between 30,000 and 300,000 US dollars. There are luxury brands such as Living Home which will cost well in excess of this, and high-end Airstream models can sometimes exceed this price point. There is no good substitute for going to RV dealerships near you and seeing what kind of deals and payment plans are on offer from the salespeople there. As in all other circumstances, interest rates, loan offers, and lease conditions are all highly individualized. These things will have to be calculated on the basis of age, gender, credit history, and driving record.
As with home and health insurance, it would be unwise (and depending on a potential lease contract, illegal) to live in an RV uninsured – it is your home, after all! In the RV insurance market, the usual term for live-in RV contracts is "full-timer liability coverage". This essentially rolls home insurance in with the RVs automotive insurance plan. Generally speaking, the larger the RV, the higher the insurance rate will be. This is because larger RVs have greater potential for damage to other vehicles or collision objects in accidents, and thus larger insurance payouts. The same circumstances circumscribing interest and loans apply here, as well.
While RVers undoubtedly escape much of the expenses associated with the scarcity of land and the "crisis" of housing, that doesn't mean that they can fully avoid paying for the land that they intermittently occupy. Depending upon the particular approach you're taking to your new RV lifestyle – more grounded in one place, or forever on the road – you may need to find a long-term campground. But whether or not you choose to stay a long time in one place, you will need an understanding of the amenities offered by RV parks and the fees that come along with them – because it is about more than just renting a piece of land.
In fact, only in the most basic RV lots or sites provided by an RV campground do you pay for the size of the lot and nothing more. Usually, RV parks will have a suite of services which are dispensed in accord with the kind of site package you select. This can involve essentials like natural gas and sewage services. At more upscale RV parks, or simply parks looking for a more dedicated, communally oriented clientele, you are also obliged to pay a social club membership fee, and often are asked to join a park for a whole season or not at all. This latter situation is undoubtedly preferable for RVers intent on staying in one place, as it helps foster a true sense of home and community. At those parks where night by night fees are available, it can range from $15 to $300.
Given the seasonality of RVing for most of those who partake, the season of occupancy or the projected weather for a given period can greatly influence the cost of RV parks. This admits certain advantages to those who plan to RV full time, such as only settling down in a camp during the off season and staying on the go during peak season for the regional parks. If you really want to get creative – and don't mind less idyllic weather – you can even plan your travel so as to stay in each area while it is least expensive!
Utilities, Food and Groceries
While the cost of utilities (per unit of consumption) is no different for an RV than for any other technology which might consume them, there can be convenience fees associated with receiving these utilities at parks or dispensaries like gas stations. While RVers will definitely be feeling the climbing price of gas with particular acuity, generally speaking RVs consume far less electricity and natural gas than a conventional home. Depending on how you outfit your RV – whether you use a stove or a BBQ, how often your climate demands that you run AC or heating – utility costs can sink as low as $50 a month, and that estimate is taken with a family of four in mind. Ultimately, the deciding factor between a frugal RV experience, utility wise, comes down to how much gas is consumed – and this means that, barring a rather bougie RV campground experience, stationary RVers will save significant amounts of money relative to the always-on-the-go.
Something the mobile RVer must be prepared for is the shocking contingency of the price of all goods – be it utilities, gas, or even food. This is where things become especially difficult to prepare in advance, or to find resources that help you make a predictable and stable budget. Between states, towns, the rural and the urban, different goods can fetch strikingly different prices – as much as half or double what they would elsewhere. The cost smart RVers best ally is a knowledgeable friend or acquaintance in the region you plan to tour, one who is aware of what goods cost, where they might be more affordable, and where to avoid due to inflated prices. Where this is unavailable, experience is an adequate surrogate. Whether or not you are particularly preoccupied with bookkeeping, tracking the prices you spy from region to region can make you an invaluable resource, and perhaps even help win friends when you spend time in camp!
In North America and especially the United States, RVing is a large and vibrant culture. The more you invest in the experience – spiritually! – the more you will get out of it. Being aware of the economic nuances and curve balls that make up RV living allows you to free up more of yourself for the richness of that experience. However frugal you intend to be, the United States is a large and richly diverse country, and it is a benefit to all who live in the US to experience as much of it as possible. Someone who moves into an RV and stays in one place to keep costs down may eventually save enough to go on such a necessary journey as a trans-America tour.
To briefly recap, there are three major sources of expense for an RVer, and while they are highly individual – dependent upon the RV, the individual, the lifestyle, and the locations – it is nevertheless useful to have a framework describing what you need to be mindful of. There are direct RV related costs – those of ownership, maintenance, leases, and most importantly, insurance. There are storage or occupation costs in the form of camp fees and camp memberships, and finally, the rather fungible costs associated with utilities, food, and fuel. Mastering these three aspects of RV economics will help you become deeply in the deeply and proudly American RV lifestyle.