With rising housing costs, many Americans are making RVs their permanent homes to save money.
While downsizing to a home on wheels has obvious cost-saving benefits, there are many hidden expenses as well. Before diving into full-time RV living, it’s crucial to know what to expect financially to avoid budgeting surprises.
The Cost of Full-Time RV Living
Many aspiring RVers don’t realize all the costs involved with full-time RVing. Fortunately, most of these are one-time startup costs. So the longer you plan to live in your RV, the more you save.
Just like living in a traditional house, your cost of living depends on your lifestyle. If you choose a frugal lifestyle, your expenses are a fraction of what you would pay living in a house. But if you want a life of luxury on the road, you may end up paying more than you would back home.
My wife and I have been RVing full-time for six months, and it’s allowed us to explore the U.S. while slashing our living expenses.
RV Types and Costs
RVs come in all shapes and sizes, from cozy Class B camper vans to luxurious 45-foot Class A motor homes. Each type of RV has unique advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right type comes down to striking a balance between cost and comfort.
Note that all price ranges provided are based on searches of new and used vehicles in that class. As such, when you search, your results could be different. Nonetheless, these ranges give you a good idea of what to expect.
Motorcoach RVs have an engine and driving chassis, so you don’t need another vehicle. They are categorized by class.
- Class A. Class A RVs are long, bus-looking RVs with giant front windows. They range from 20 to 45 feet long, making them spacious and comfortable. This comfort comes with a hefty price tag, poor gas mileage, and challenging maneuverability. Class A’s start at $40,000 for low-end models and can cost $500,000 and up for top-of-the-line motor homes.
- Class B. Class B RVs are the smaller camper van-style RV. They’re more affordable, offer the best gas mileage, and are agile enough to search for off-road camp spots. Old Class B’s go for as little as $5,000, while a new luxury model could set you back up to $200,000. They jam in everything you need to survive — a kitchen, bathroom, and (if you’re lucky) a shower — but space can be tight.
- Class C. Class C RVs are the “goldilocks” class, offering a happy medium of size, drivability, comfort, and gas mileage. They are also built on a truck chassis, which makes driving feel less awkward than a huge Class A. You can pick up a used Class C for around $12,000, while a new model costs up to $150,000.
- Converted Passenger Vehicles. Remodeled vans, buses, and ambulances aren’t officially RVs unless you register and license them as an RV in your state, which could affect whether or not the living areas and their contents, such as refrigerators and TVs, are insured in the case of an accident. Each state has its own licensing rules, so check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website for specific guidelines. The cost of a converted vehicle depends on what you find and who converts it.
Trailers do not have engines and require you to tow them using another vehicle. They’re cheaper than comparable motor homes, but you must factor in the cost of a towing vehicle as well.
Bigger trailers require heavy-duty trucks, and a quality used three-quarter-ton truck costs $8,000 on the low end. You can tow midsize trailers with a smaller, less expensive truck. As with any vehicle, prices vary by make, model, year, condition, location, and features.
- Pop-Up Trailers. Pop-up trailers are compact with canvas siding. Many are small enough to tow behind a sedan. But since they fold down on top of themselves, they’re impractical for full-timers. An average new pop-up costs between $10,000 and $20,000, while luxurious custom models can top $40,000. Older used models go for as little as $3,000.
- Travel Trailers. Travel trailers are midsize towable trailers with hard walls. They range from 12 to 35 feet, are cheaper than fifth-wheel trailers, and typically don’t require a heavy-duty truck for towing. Prices for new travel trailers vary by size and quality, ranging from $11,000 to $35,000.
- Fifth-Wheel Trailers. Fifth-wheels get their name from the special hitch you need to tow them. They’re the largest type of towable trailer at 25 to 35 feet and require a powerful truck. Large fifth-wheels are spacious and can feel like a small apartment complete with a washing machine and dishwasher. They’re also the most expensive towable trailer type. Fifth wheels cost between $25,000 and $150,000, depending on amenities. Most prices fall near the center of the two extremes.
Choosing the Right RV for Your Budget and Needs
If your primary concern is to reduce your cost of living, find a well-maintained used RV you can pay for in cash. You can eliminate your housing payment when you own your RV outright and know where to find free camp spots.
New RVs are attractive because you can design them to your liking. But since they can depreciate up to 30% the second you drive them off the lot, they never make sense financially.
You get more bang for your buck with a used RV. Not only that, but you also bypass the break-in period, when new RVs are prone to issues and limitations.
If you choose to finance your RV — whether used or new — your RV payment can replace both your rent and car payments.
If budget is your No. 1 priority and you don’t already have a towing vehicle, a used Class B or Class C is your best option.
Building out an affordable used vehicle yourself is one of the cheapest ways to get a customized home on wheels. It enables you to take full advantage of every inch of the vehicle and avoid space-wasting features you don’t use. Having a company remodel a new vehicle can be even more expensive than a new RV.
To put things into perspective, I purchased a vintage 29-year-old Dodge Roadtrek (Class B) for $4,500 during a hot camper van market. Most people only use their RVs for a few camping trips each year, so you can find old vehicles with surprisingly low mileage.
If you prioritize comfort and already have a heavy-duty truck, a used fifth-wheel trailer offers the most space for the money.
You also have to consider how you plan to use the vehicle. There are many factors to consider, and depending on your situation, you may need to compromise.
Where Do You Want to Go?
The places you want to go play a role in the size of the vehicle you can get. Fortunately, in this case, needing more flexibility works in your favor.
Driving a large Class A or Class C can limit your destination options. With a Class B or converted van, you can camp out in the boondocks and explore hard-to-reach locations, especially if you have high ground clearance, off-road tires, and four-wheel drive.
Even certain paved roads prohibit large RVs or have vehicle length and height restrictions. A Class B fits almost anywhere.
Due to space restrictions, larger RVs also have fewer options when it comes to campsites. For example, 27% of national parks that offer RV camping can only fit rigs up to 35 feet in length. There are also fewer large sites available, so it is harder to find open spots.
Plus, in campgrounds that accommodate big RVs, large pull-through sites are more expensive than small back-in sites. Prices vary from campground to campground, but if you only camp in paid campgrounds and pay an average of $10 extra per night for pull-through sites, that’s $300 per month.
How Often Do You Move Around?
The bigger your rig, the more of a hassle it is to maneuver, find camp spots, set up, and tear down. With a bulky Class A, you want to stay as long as possible once you set up shop. If you plan to constantly hop around to new destinations, opt for Class B or a small Class C.
They’re easier to drive and don’t use as much gas. They’re also cheaper.
How Much Space Do You Need?
The more people you cart along with you, the easier your decision gets. Class B’s are compact, rarely sleep more than four people, and feel cramped with more than two. On the other end of the spectrum, some large Class A’s fit up to five adults and five kids.
Living full-time in an RV is different from a quick weekend camping trip. An RV might claim to sleep six people, but that doesn’t mean six people can comfortably live in it long-term.
You need personal space to stay sane. If you jam a family of four into a Class B and are constantly bumping into each other, it won’t be an enjoyable experience.
As a full-timer, you also need more space to store gear. Before choosing a model, make a list of everything you plan to load into your RV. And if you have kids, don’t forget storage space for toys.
So the more people you have with you, the more likely you are to have to buy a more expensive class of vehicle.
Do You Have Pets?
Bringing along a small furry friend might not seem like it’d make much of a difference, but you need to account for their bed, toys, food, leashes, and a litter box and litter for cats.
I’ve met many RVers who travel with their pet and fit everything into a small camper van. That said, if you have kids, multiple pets, or are claustrophobic, look for something bigger.
Having a pet also influences the price you have to pay for an RV. If you plan to live with a mischievous pup that loves chewing everything to shreds, you probably won’t want to invest in a brand-new $200,000 motor home. In a house, you can restrict your pet to certain areas to prevent them from destroying things. In an RV, that’s not as easy.
Other pet expenses like food, medicine, and supplies are the same as they are in a house.
What Climate Do You Camp In?
If you plan to live in the freezing cold or scorching heat, you need an RV that can protect you from the elements.
Cheap, old RVs have poor insulation, which means it’s easier for the outside temperature to seep inside the RV. If you plan to save money by purchasing an old camper or converting a vehicle from scratch, you may need to add in your own insulation.
A spray foam insulation kit for a Class B motor home would run you roughly $400. The larger the RV, the more money you spend.
Some RV models are specifically built for cold weather. Each RV company markets these RVs differently, and there is no universal standard. For example, Heartland RVs offers an Extreme Weather Package, and Keystone RVs has a Four Seasons Living Package.
You also need to factor in the extra cost to run the furnace or air conditioning in extreme climates.
Do You Need a Bathroom and Shower?
Larger RVs come with a bathroom and shower. That’s not always the case with a Class B or converted vehicle.
In compact RVs, a toilet and shower take up already limited storage space. Many RVers I’ve spoken to initially thought they couldn’t live without a bathroom or shower onboard but later discovered public and “natural” restrooms aren’t as bad as they imagined.
An RV with a toilet and shower also presents some logistical issues when camping in places without hookups for water. It’s cheaper than a park with hookups, but you need to consider the size of the water holding tanks, especially when living with multiple people. Holding tanks range from 25 to 100 gallons and vary by model. The bigger your group, the bigger tanks you need.
While some dump stations are free, most I’ve seen cost $10 per dump. The smaller your tanks, the more often you dump. And the more often you dump, the more you pay.
If you purchase an RV without a bathroom and later decide you want a toilet, you can add one yourself. There’s a solution for every budget:
- Portable Camping Toilet: A collapsible toilet-shaped bucket you fill with toilet bags; under $50 plus the ongoing cost of toilet bags, which cost just under $1 each
- Porta Potti Toilet: A portable toilet with a built-in tank that flushes; under $200
- Cassette Toilet: A permanently attached toilet with portable exterior blackwater tank; under $600
- Compost Toilet: A toilet that separates liquids from solids and breaks solids down into compost; under $1,000
None of these toilets are as convenient or comfortable as the toilet in your house, but it’s one sacrifice all RVers must make.
Why Do You Want to Live in an RV?
Your goals can help determine which type of RV is best for you and thus how much you need to spend. While RV life offers freedom and adventure, many people choose this lifestyle primarily to cut their expenses.
If you sell your house and purchase an RV with cash, you eliminate your mortgage payments. To do so, you must choose an RV that costs less than the amount of equity you’ve built in your house.
If you don’t own a house or haven’t built enough equity to afford an RV outright, you need to finance it.
In this case, your RV loan replaces your mortgage loan. Most RV loans are secured, meaning the RV is used as collateral if you don’t make your payments. Loan terms range from one to 20 years. You can save money on interest by choosing a shorter term, but your monthly payments are higher.
You can also buy an RV with an unsecured personal loan if you have good enough credit. Personal loans don’t require collateral and are quicker to fund, but they usually have shorter repayment periods and higher interest rates.
Interest rates for both secured and unsecured RV loans are higher than home mortgage interest rates. But since the average RV costs less than the average home, you don’t need to borrow as much. And the amount you borrow determines whether or not your monthly RV payment is cheaper than your mortgage payment.
For example, if you take out a secured 15-year, $40,000 RV loan with an 8% interest rate, your monthly payments would be roughly $380 per month. A five-year unsecured personal loan with a 13% interest rate would cost $910 per month.
Depending on the state you live in, you may also have to pay annual property taxes on your RV. Most states charge no vehicle property taxes, but some, like Virginia, charge up to 4.05%.
Compare those RV loans with a 15-year, $200,000 mortgage with a 2.5% interest rate, which leaves you with a $1,564 monthly payment. That includes property tax and homeowners insurance, neither of which are required when you’re traveling around in your RV, though you still require RV insurance.
Even with RV insurance, you should still come out ahead. According to Insurance.com, the average homeowner’s insurance cost in the U.S. is between $1,806 and $3,323 per year, depending on home value and liability coverage. Compare that to the average annual premium on travel trailers and motor homes at Progressive, which is $502 and $848, respectively.
Your interest rate and loan terms depend on many factors, including your credit score, debts, income, and the lender you use. All of these can influence the amount you’re able to save per month living in an RV.
There are two types of RV living: stationary and mobile. The type of lifestyle you choose has a significant impact on your cost of living.
Stationary RV Living
If you plan to stay in one place, you need a plot of land to plant your roots. That can be your own land, a friend or family member’s land, or (most commonly) rented land in an RV park.
RV park costs depend on:
- Location. Campgrounds close to popular tourist attractions or high-cost-of-living cities typically cost more than equivalent campgrounds in lesser-traveled areas.
- Length of Stay. Many parks have monthly, seasonal, and annual rates. The longer you stay, the better the rates.
- Amenities. A barebones park costs less than one with pools, exercise rooms, and recreational areas.
- Season. Prices are higher during the high season, when demand for campsites outweighs supply. The high season varies by location. In the winter, snowbirds flock to warm areas like Florida and Arizona. In the summer, mountain destinations are popular among RVers.
- Size of the RV. Some RV parks and campgrounds charge according to the size of your RV and what type of hookups you require.
Overall, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to over $1,000 per month to stay in an RV park long term. The lower range gets you a lot in a cheap trailer park. The higher range could score you a luxurious spot on the beach or even in a waterpark.
Of course, most RV parks fall somewhere in between the two extremes. For example, the Camp VIP RV Community in Salt Lake City charges $680 per month without electricity or $835 with electricity included. This price includes amenities such as a second parking space, cable TV availability, DSL Internet, a phone line, a mailbox, garbage pickup, and a storage shed.
With stationary RV life, you spend less on gas and maintenance for your RV, but you still pay expenses for a separate vehicle to move around town.
Mobile RV Living
If you’re retired or have a remote job, you may not need to tether yourself to one location. This freedom can make or break your budget, depending on how you use it.
When you stay in campgrounds for shorter periods, you pay a higher daily rate. Camping fees vary widely based on location, amenities, and electricity hookups but typically fall between $25 and $80 per night.
If you paid an average of $40 per night for campsites with electricity, your “rent” tallies up to $1,200 per month — more if you’re also paying on a loan for buying your RV. That’s over 40% more expensive than the monthly rate in a midrange RV park like Camp VIP, and it doesn’t come with nearly as many amenities.
While paying short-term rates increases your monthly expenses, there are several ways to score discounts:
- State Park Passes. Annual state park passes range from $10 to over $100, depending on the state, your age, and your residency status. Each state offers unique benefits to pass holders. Most allow you free entrance and day use in all of a state’s parks, but they don’t discount camping fees.
- National Park Passes. The American the Beautiful pass (an interagency pass) costs $80 per year and gives you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the U.S. That includes free admission to national parks and free or discounted rates at many government-run campgrounds throughout the country.
- Special Discounts. Many parks also offer discounts for veterans and senior citizens. For example, in Idaho, anyone 62 and older receives a 50% discount on campsites, and disabled veterans camp for free.
- RV Clubs. Benefits vary by RV club, but they’re an excellent way to save. For example, Passport America qualifies you for 50% discounts at over 1,450 campgrounds. If you spend at least a few days per year in these discount-eligible campgrounds, the $44 pass pays for itself. Many campgrounds also offer a 10% discount to AAA members. For even more ways to save with AAA, read our guide on the best AAA membership discounts.
If that still sounds expensive, know that you can eliminate RV park fees by staying at free campsites on government land with limited amenities.
According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), there are 245 million acres of public land in the U.S. Much of this land is free to camp on for up to 14 days.
You can completely erase your housing costs if you own your vehicle outright and park on free BLM land. This type of free camping has many names, including boondocking, dispersed camping, or dry camping.
To live this way, you must be completely self-sufficient. That means having a way to produce electricity without hooking up to power and carrying enough food and water for several days or weeks.
Several websites and apps show where you can camp for free across the U.S., such as:
By relying on these apps to find free places to stay, my wife and I have only spent $25 on campsites over the past six months. In other words, our “rent” costs $4.16 per month.
If you need or want to stay in the city, you can also find RV-friendly stores and restaurants that allow overnight parking, including Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, Safeway, and Cabela’s. Just make sure to get permission from a manager before staying overnight, as many cities are starting to ban overnight parking.
Gas and Propane
Gas is one of the biggest expenses for those who choose the RV life.
Fuel efficiency varies by vehicle, but in most cases, you can expect 7 to 13 mpg in a Class A, 18 to 25 mpg in a Class B, and 14 to 18 mpg in a Class C.
Your fuel efficiency towing a travel traveler depends on your truck and the weight of your rig. But according to Go Downsize, your vehicle loses an average of 7 miles per gallon when towing a trailer.
Your monthly gas expenses can vary widely, depending on the distances you cover and how frequently you move.
For example, let’s say you live in a Class A RV that gets 7 miles per gallon. On average, you camp for five days at a time and drive 200 miles to each new destination. If you drive 1,200 miles per month and gas costs $3.20 per gallon, your monthly gas expense is $548 per month.
Even in a more fuel-efficient Class B camper van, that’s still at least a couple hundred dollars per month in fuel costs.
And that doesn’t include the gas you use for electricity. If you use a generator to charge your batteries, you need to buy even more gas.
Long story short, when you start RV life, you need the best gas rewards credit card you qualify for. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® from American Express and U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® card offer excellent gas and grocery rewards. See our roundup of the best gas rewards cards to find the card that’s right for you.
You can also save by using the GasBuddy app to locate gas stations near you with the lowest prices.
Along with gas, propane powers the refrigerator, stove, and furnace in many RVs. In our RV, we spend $20 per month on propane in mild climates. If you live in extreme temperatures, these costs increase. In hot climates, your refrigerator needs to work harder to keep your food cold. In cold climates, you need to run the furnace more often.
For example, RV blogger The New Lighter Life reports spending $480 on propane to heat her Class A RV to 70 degrees during a cold January.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of home electricity in 2019 was $115 per month. The cost of electricity can be considerably cheaper when you live the RV life.
You have three main options for electricity in your RV:
- Pay for campgrounds with electric hookups.
- Buy a gas-powered generator to charge your batteries.
- Set up solar panels to charge your batteries.
The latter two let you spend at least part of your time off-grid, cutting your campground fees each month.
Installing a solar system is more work and requires a higher upfront cost. But after it’s set up, you get free energy from the sun.
The 100-watt portable solar panel we use cost less than $200. But a powerful rooftop setup can cost well into the thousands. The size of your system depends on the energy you plan to use. The easiest way to determine your energy needs is to use a solar calculator.
Generators have a lower initial cost, starting around $400 for a basic model. But you need to buy gas to power them. Because of the ongoing costs, it becomes more expensive than solar over time. These ongoing costs vary by the type of generator you use, how much you use it, and fuel prices.
To give you an estimate, a 4,000-watt diesel generator running at full capacity uses 1 gallon of fuel per hour, according to Go Downsize. So if a gallon of diesel costs $3, that’s $3 per hour. You probably won’t max out the generator’s capacity all the time, so it will probably be a little less. Still, if you run it for hours each day, the cost adds up.
Generators are also noisy and annoying, both for you and your neighbors.
No matter which method you choose, when you live off the grid, you quickly learn to minimize the electricity you use.
You can also equip your RV with a smart isolator for less than $100, which allows you to charge your house batteries with your alternator whenever your vehicle’s engine is running. That means whenever you run errands or drive to a new campsite, you’re charging your batteries. And if you charge your batteries while driving, you don’t need to pay for electricity hookups in campgrounds.
When you have a limited supply of water in your RV, you naturally use it sparingly. And if you know where to find it, you can fill your tanks for free.
We use iOverlander to find free water spigots at parks, gas stations, rest stops, and dump stations wherever we go. If there are no free options nearby, we refill our big water jugs at Walmart for less than $0.50 per gallon.
RV Maintenance and Repairs
When your house is constantly barreling down dirt roads and hitting potholes, things tend to break.
In a large RV, you can squeeze in a decent-size toolset. But in a camper van, there’s only room for the basics. In our van, we carry a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, drill, duct tape, and a bag of miscellaneous screws.
If you get creative, you’d be surprised at how much you can fix with limited supplies. But if you need any major work done, you either need to hire a professional or borrow a friend’s tools and workshop.
Your maintenance costs depend largely on how much you’re driving. As with any vehicle, you need to replace parts and do oil changes at certain mileage intervals.
Since Class B RVs are compact and fit in normal service bays, oil change prices are similar to normal vehicles, from $60 to $90.
To change the oil on a larger RV, you have to take it to a service center or dealership, hire a mobile mechanic for a “house call,” or change it yourself. Some Walmarts and Camping Worlds also offer oil change services.
Prices vary based on the oil type, amount of oil, the type of engine in your RV, and who services your vehicle. Class A’s with large diesel engines are the most expensive. It can cost over $200 in some locations.
If you plan to travel far from home, you should look into roadside assistance plans. The last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere with no friends or family nearby to help.
You can purchase roadside assistance as an add-on to your insurance policy or buy it separately using a service like AAA. If you aren’t already a member, it may be worth it to join AAA.
Good Sam also offers roadside assistance packages with various levels of coverage ranging from $65 to $120 for first-year introductory rates. If you renew, regular price plans range from $130 to $240 per year.
Even with roadside assistance, it’s a good idea to learn the basics of auto maintenance, like how to change your tires and top up your fluids. Nowadays, you can instantly learn any type of maintenance for free on YouTube. That said, it pays to have a hardcopy of the “RV Repair and Maintenance Manual” on hand in case you’re stranded without service.
These preventative measures save you from expensive problems cropping up down the road.
Stationary RVs have fewer maintenance costs. But just like a traditional house, you need to invest to keep everything working.
Remote Work Setup
If you work remotely, your mobile office setup is one of the most crucial aspects of your RV.
Even if you don’t have a remote job, it’s convenient to have a dedicated office space.
When you transition from your house to an RV, you need to:
- Set up a mobile Internet plan
- Change from a desktop computer to a laptop
- Buy equipment for an ergonomic, travel-friendly workspace
Setting Up Your RV Internet
Mobile Internet setups come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from $25 per month to several hundred. Your expenses depend on your cellphone provider, plan, and any additional equipment like hotspots, Wi-Fi extenders, or signal boosters.
If you’re on a budget, all you need is a cellphone plan with unlimited data and tethering. We use Visible and pay $25 per month per line. Visible’s unlimited plan usually costs $40 per line per month. But if you take advantage of their Party Pay, a group plan option, you can knock off $5 per month for each person in your party until you bottom out at $25 per month.
Best of all, Visible shares Verizon’s network, which has some of the most comprehensive coverage in the U.S.
If you plan to camp out in the boondocks, investing in a signal booster helps you stay connected in areas with weak service. We use the WeBoost Drive X RV, which you can pick up for less than $500 on Amazon. WeBoost is the most popular cell booster brand among RVers, but they’re also one of the most expensive. You can find cheaper alternatives, but most have less-than-impressive reviews.
If a signal booster enables you to earn money from locations where you typically wouldn’t be able to, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Many campgrounds offer Wi-Fi, but since there’s no guarantee of a good signal, it’s best to have a Plan B for Internet access.
If you want to cover all your bases, you could bundle together several devices to maximize your coverage, such as:
- An unlimited data plan with tethering
- A hotspot with unlimited tethering for when your regular coverage is weak
- A cellphone booster for when mobile signals are weak
- A Wi-Fi range extender to boost weak Wi-Fi signals at campgrounds
More services mean more freedom, but it also means higher monthly bills. For example:
- Unlimited Visible Data Plan With Tethering: $25 per month
- AT&T Hotspot Device With Unlimited Tethering: $250 upfront for the Netgear LTE Mobile Hotspot Router; $25 per month for a 20-gigabyte data plan (when you pay for 12 months upfront)
- Cellphone Booster: $480 one-time cost for the WeBoost Drive X RV Cellphone Booster
- Wi-Fi Range Extender: $400 one-time cost for the King KF1000 Falcon Wi-Fi Range Extender
This setup is overkill for most RVers. If your life depends on staying connected and you want to venture off the beaten path, it’s going to cost you.
Switching to a Laptop
Moving into an RV requires significant downsizing, and that includes your computer. If you don’t already have a laptop, it’s an investment you need to make to work on the road comfortably.
Not all camping spots have electric hookups, so you need to be as energy-efficient as possible. If you’re moving around frequently, battery life should be a priority when choosing a laptop.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro M1’s battery lasts an impressive 17 hours using wireless Internet, according to Apple. If you prefer Windows, the LG Gram 14 boasts 18.5 hours of use per charge. Both options are going to set you back over $1,000, but if you rely on your computer to make a living, you don’t want to skimp.
You can save money by hunting for refurbished laptops on the Apple Certified Refurbished store, Best Buy, Newegg, and Back Market. Just remember that when you buy a refurbished laptop, you may also be buying a used battery with less life.
Creating an Ergonomic Workspace
Designing an ergonomic workspace is challenging in an RV. Unless you have a giant fifth-wheel trailer or Class A motor home, you won’t have room for a spacious desk, ergonomic chair, and properly positioned monitors.
At a minimum, you need to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard, Bluetooth mouse, laptop stand, and pillow to help you maintain a healthy position while working. Without them, you end up working with poor posture, which can lead to injuries.
I use the Magic Trackpad, Magic Keyboard, and Nexstand laptop stand. That setup runs around $250 on Amazon. If you use Windows or want to save money, replace the keyboard and mouse with the Logitech K380 keyboard and Logitech M535 mouse for a total expenditure of less than $100.
Unless you custom-build a desk into your RV, you have to make do with whatever table your RV comes with. If your table is too high or far from your seat, you can’t maintain proper desk posture. To fix that, you can buy an office chair seat cushion or save money by using pillows from your bed.
Skipping these accessories may save you money in the short term. But if it leads to poor posture and injuries, the medical bills will come back to bite you down the road.
If you don’t have a travel-friendly remote job, read our guide on how to earn money while you travel full-time.
Homeschooling Your Kids in an RV
If you have children, they still need school, even on an RV adventure.
There are many different strategies for homeschooling — or in this case, “roadschooling” — and you should choose your approach before taking the plunge into RV life.
To make life easier, sites like Timberdoodle sell complete curriculum kits that include all the material you need for each grade level. These kits cost between $400 and $1,400 per year, depending on grade level and the quantity of materials you order.
That said, stacks of heavy books and materials aren’t conducive to small-space living. Strictly following a state curriculum also fails to take advantage of the unique opportunities associated with RV travel.
That’s why many RV families choose a unit studies approach, which bases all subject lessons on the location you’re visiting.
For example, instead of loading your RV with history textbooks, you can visit real-life historical sites and build your curriculum around them. You can also try to tie math and English lessons to your travels, but you have to revert to a normal curriculum for many lessons.
While a unit studies approach is engaging and fun for your kids, the downside is it requires time-consuming lesson planning.
Whichever roadschooling route you follow, expect costs you typically wouldn’t have to pay in a traditional public school and then some. In traditional schooling, you pay for the occasional field trip. But if your entire curriculum is based on travel and field trips, those museum entrance fees (and gas to get there) add up. To minimize expenses, search for discounts and free admission days for every site you plan to visit.
Field trips aren’t the only extra roadschooling expense. You also need to buy equipment for activities like art projects and science experiments. You can pick up art supplies at any craft store, and sites like Home Science Tools sell complete science experiment kits. These kits can get pricey, depending on which experiments you choose.
You can save money by purchasing used equipment from Craigslist and homeschooling Facebook groups. Then, you can resell everything when your child outgrows it.
Another way to cut expenses is to choose activities that use materials you already have around the RV, like the classic Coca-Cola and Mentos chemistry experiment. Many science museums also offer interactive experiments, and museum admission is cheaper than buying your own experiment kits.
Before designing your own curriculum, check your state’s homeschooling laws to ensure you meet all requirements. Some states have no homeschooling requirements, while others require you to send in your curriculum for approval.
If you prefer a pre-made curriculum but don’t want textbooks cluttering up your RV, online learning platforms like Time4Learning provide virtual lessons for a monthly subscription. Pre-K through eighth-grade curriculums cost $20 per month for the first student and $15 per month for additional students. Grades nine through 12 cost $30 per month.
For more tips on keeping costs low, read our article on homeschooling on a budget.
When moving into a smaller space, you need smaller belongings. Much of the equipment you use in your house won’t work well in an RV, so you have to replace it.
For example, that hodgepodge of mismatched pots and pans in your kitchen is not going to fit in your dainty RV cupboard. To save room, you need stackable, space-saving cookware.
For example, Camco’s nesting cookware set includes removable-handle pots that nest inside each other. Depending on your cooking needs and the type of set you get, you can get nesting cookware sets for anywhere between around $20 to over $200.
We don’t have much storage in our Class B RV, so we also bought collapsible camping cups that take up a fraction of the space as regular cups. They aren’t classy, but they make the small kitchen more comfortable to use. You can buy inexpensive collapsible cup sets starting at around $10 or nicer individual collapsible cups starting at under $10 each.
In a Class A or large fifth-wheel trailer, you should have plenty of space for regular cookware — just avoid materials that could break while driving down bumpy roads.
To use space as efficiently as possible, you also need storage bins and organizational supplies. If you don’t have bins lying around your house, you can pick them up on Amazon starting at around $20 per set or from a department store like Walmart for a few bucks each.
If you plan to use off-grid electricity, you also need to replace power-hungry electronics to match your energy setup.
Some of the biggest power-hog appliances are:
- Air conditioners
- Toaster ovens
- Electric space heaters
- Powerful blenders
If you have several hundred watts of solar, a large battery bank, and a powerful inverter, you might be able to run your regular appliances. But a setup like that would cost thousands of dollars.
Instead, you could use a modest solar setup and replace your power-sucking appliances with products like:
- Low-Wattage Travel Hair Dryer: Around $20
- Ninja Personal Blender: Around $100
- Compact Coffee Maker and Toaster Oven Combo: Around $100
Not only do RV-friendly appliances use less power, but they also take up less space.
If rebuying all your electronics sounds like a pricey endeavor, you can adjust your lifestyle and habits instead. For example, instead of a coffee maker, I switched to instant coffee. And instead of buying a new hairdryer, my wife washes and dries her hair when we go to the gym.
That said, if you plan to stay in a campground with electricity hookups or run a powerful generator, you can use the same electronics you use in your home. But depending on their power usage and your power source, you might not be able to run everything simultaneously. Plus, they take up a lot of room.
The cost of camping equipment adds up as well, including:
- Water Jugs: $9 to $17
- Bear Spray: $34 to $50
- Hammocks: $23 to $85
- Camping Chairs: Up to $100 each ($7 chairs are available at Walmart)
- Camping Tables: $20 to $80
- Portable Fire Pits: $90 to $200
- Headlamps and Flashlights: $14 to $70
- Mosquito Spray: $4 to $10 per bottle
- Camping Grills: $30 to $300
- Equipment for Outdoor Activities: Bikes, paddleboards, games, fishing equipment, and hiking gear vary in cost
While everyone should carry bear spray, whether you need the rest depends on what activities you enjoy and your environment.
Lowering Maintenance Costs
The square-footage rule helps homeowners estimate maintenance costs on their home. For every square foot, you can expect to spend $1 per year on maintenance. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median single-family home built in 2020 was 2,261 square feet. That comes to roughly $190 per month in maintenance costs.
When you sell the bulk of your belongings to live in an RV, you have fewer things to maintain and repair.
For example, when you live in an RV, you no longer have a lawn. Without a yard, you can sell your lawnmower. And without a lawnmower, you don’t need to pay for its gas and maintenance.
The same is true for other types of house-related maintenance, such as pools, wells, doors, windows, and paint.
According to a Mobile Home Part Store survey, the average RVer who hires mechanics for all maintenance pays $118 per month on RV maintenance. DIY maintenance costs less.
That said, if your RV replaces at least one of your cars, you have fewer car maintenance expenses, which average $66 per month per car, according to AAA.
Even with the most space-efficient gear possible, you can’t expect to fit as much equipment in an RV as you do in your house. When you don’t have space to store all your gear, you have to rent it.
Recreational equipment falls into this category.
For example, depending on the size of your RV, it’s not always practical to haul bikes, kayaks, and surfboards with you everywhere you go. If you only use them once in a while, it makes more sense to rent — even if it ends up being more expensive.
That said, if you need to rent often, expenses can spiral out of control. Rental prices vary by location, brand, and quality, but expensive mountain bikes can cost over $150 per day. If you rent expensive bikes four days per month for two people, that’s $1,200 per month. At that point, you’re better off choosing an RV that can accommodate your equipment or finding a new hobby.
You also may need to rent specialized tools for repairs or projects.
Most health insurance policies only offer in-state coverage for anything other than emergencies. So unless you plan to stick to your home state, you need a plan to deal with health care on the road.
If you’re relatively healthy, you could keep your current insurance plan for out-of-state emergencies and return home once per year for routine checkups. Just ensure the fine print of your policy doesn’t have any rules requiring you to live in-state for a certain portion of the year.
If you have a chronic condition requiring frequent doctor visits or prescription refills, you can subscribe to a supplemental telemedicine package for a small monthly fee. Remote medical care via phone calls, video chat, and email gives you the flexibility to consult with a doctor wherever you are.
That said, some conditions require in-person visits. In that case, Blue Cross Blue Shield sells policies with coverage in all 50 states.
You can compare Blue Cross Blue Shield policies with other plans on the Healthcare.gov insurance marketplace. Pricing varies based on your home state, age, tobacco use, and annual income. If you have a low income, you may be eligible for discounts on your premium when shopping for marketplace plans.
To give you an estimate, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans range from $257 to $700 per month for a nonsmoking, 30-year-old Michigan resident. Your deductible and amount of coverage determine where you fall in this range. These prices exclude income-based marketplace subsidies. For example, with a $40,000 annual income, you are eligible for an $82 monthly subsidy.
Finding coverage that meets your unique travel and medical needs can be challenging — not to mention expensive. If you get stuck, websites like RVer Insurance specialize in matching RVers with the right health care plan.
Note that each state offers its own set of insurance plans, and some states offer more RV-friendly policies than others. For example, according to RV bloggers Mortons on the Move and peer-to-peer RV rental company RVshare, Florida, Texas, and South Dakota are known to have flexible plans. If your state doesn’t offer the plan you need, you can change your domicile to a state that does.
Doing so isn’t free, so you must determine if the benefits outweigh the costs. The costs include:
- Transportation Expenses to the State. Some steps to changing your domicile require your physical presence. That means paying for gas to drive there in your RV.
- Mail Forwarding Service to Get New Address. To establish residency, you need to provide an address to show you “live” in the state. If you can’t borrow a friend or family member’s address, you can use a mail forwarding service like Escapees, which costs $95 to $135 per year. (Some RVers may need this service either way if they don’t have a trusted family member or friend who can get their mail, though you can get most bills online these days.)
- Driver’s License Fees and Driving Test. Some states issue a new driver’s license on the spot, while others require you to take a driving test. Depending on the state and size of your RV, you may even need to earn a noncommercial driver’s license. Fees for driving exams and driver’s licenses vary by state.
- Vehicle Registration Fees. You must register your RV in your new domicile state. Registration fees vary by state.
Note that you may also need to reregister to vote, and it could affect your taxes. To get the rules for the state you plan to make your new home, search that state’s name plus “establish residency.”
Depending on your RV life setup, you can save hundreds of dollars per month on insurance costs.
For example, with a house and two cars, you pay homeowner’s insurance and double car insurance. When you live in a motor home, all you need is RV insurance.
RV insurance is cheaper than auto insurance when you compare them apples to apples. So even if you decide to keep one car for added mobility, you still save money.
For example, 12 months of basic Progressive coverage on a 2015 Dodge Roadtrek Class B RV is $338 in Michigan. To insure a 2015 Dodge 2500 Sprinter van with a similar level of coverage, it cost $372 for just six months. That’s a higher price for half the length of coverage.
AAA compared the average costs of full-coverage insurance by vehicle type. On average, small sedans full-coverage insurance premiums cost $1,342, minivans cost $1,096, and small pickups cost $1,242. Compare that to Progressive’s average premium of $502 for travel trailers and $848 for motor homes.
If you choose to live in a travel trailer, you need to insure both the trailer and the truck you use to pull it. If you currently only have one vehicle, that increases your monthly budget. But if you are downsizing from two cars, your total monthly insurance bill decreases.
That said, insurance costs depend on many factors, including your state, vehicle type, coverage amount, deductibles, driving record, age, gender, and even your credit history. While RV insurance is cheaper in many cases, it depends on the vehicles you compare.
Note that if you convert a passenger vehicle into a tiny home, many insurance companies require you to re-title your vehicle as an RV to be eligible for RV insurance. Each state has its own requirements for what qualifies as an RV.
To find the best RV insurance rates, make sure to shop around with different providers.
If you love nature, RV life offers endless free entertainment.
Instead of spending money going to the movies, hitting up bars, visiting expensive amusement parks, and eating out, you can keep yourself busy for decades camping and exploring free public land.
We purchased the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks pass, which gives us unlimited access to all national parks for a year. That brings our monthly entertainment bill to a measly $6.66.
If you aren’t a nature fanatic, you could save money by museum-hopping around the country. With programs like the Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM), you get free admission to hundreds of museums across North America. (Note that ROAM’s site doesn’t work in Safari. Try Chrome or Brave.)
To qualify, you must hold at least a $100 annual membership to any one of the qualifying museums. Adult ticket prices for popular museums in the U.S. can cost up to $25. So if you travel with your family and visit more than a few museums per year, this membership pays for itself.
If you have a Bank of America credit card, you don’t even need a ROAM membership. Their Museums on Us program gives free access to 225 cultural institutions across the country on the first full weekend of every month.
That said, just because you live in an RV doesn’t mean you have to give up entertainment activities you love, such as streaming TV or going to the movies. You just have to add them to your budget.
When transitioning from traditional life to living in an RV, your creature comfort expenses stay the same.
For example, you still have to factor in all of your subscriptions, like movie and TV streaming services, music streaming services, news subscriptions, and gym memberships unless you find you need them less or not at all on the road.
A gym membership is critical if you lean toward activities that don’t involve much exercise, such as museums. Working out regularly helps keep you healthy and can lower health care expenses. It’s also a reliable place to shower.
Planet Fitness is one of the most popular gyms among traveling RVers. They have over 2,000 locations across the U.S., and you can access all of them with a $20-per-month Black Card membership. A Black Card membership also includes unlimited guest passes. So if you travel as a couple, you only need one membership.
While we love Planet Fitness gyms, they can be notoriously hard to cancel, especially for RVers who constantly move around. At Planet Fitness, you either have to cancel in person at the gym where you signed up or send a cancelation letter via certified mail.
We’ve spoken to several RVers whose cancelation letters were “lost” in the mail, and Planet Fitness continued to charge them. So if you go that route, send it certified mail with a return receipt. You’ll have to send the return receipt to either a post office box you maintain or a trustworthy friend or relative.
Your mileage may vary, but before signing up for any gym, read their cancelation policy carefully.
Sample RV Budget
As you can see, RV life can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be.
Everyone’s situation and RV living costs are unique. But to give you a concrete example of how much money you can save, our total monthly cost for two adults is less than $1,500 per month.
- RV Purchase: $4,500 for a 1992 Class B RV in good condition
- Repairs: $1,000
- Camping Gear: $150
- RV Gear: $350
- Remote Work Gear: $500
Average Monthly Expenses
- Fuel (Gas, Propane, Butane): $480
- Tolls: $9
- RV Insurance: $43
- Health Insurance for Two: $163 (We use travel insurance because we’re not U.S. residents; typical U.S. health insurance costs more)
- Two Unlimited Visible Cellphone Plans: $50
- One Gym Membership: $20
- Campsites: $10
- Food and Alcohol: $410
- Electricity: $10
- Water: $5
- Laundry: $10
- Entertainment: $30
- Miscellaneous and Unexpected Expenses: $200
So, for a total of $1,440 per month, we live a simple life, working remotely and exploring America’s stunning national parks. That’s $45,756 less per year than the average American spent in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We already had most of our remote work supplies, and our family donated some old camping gear they no longer needed. If we had to buy everything from scratch, our upfront costs would’ve been a few hundred dollars higher. But most new RVers don’t need to buy everything from scratch either. Odds are you already have supplies you can use in your house or can borrow them from a friend or relative.
Note that RV life cost of living can fluctuate significantly based on your vehicle, travel style, and the number of people in your group. For example, the RV bloggers at Family Adventure for All are a family of three towing a 30-foot travel trailer with a Chevrolet Silverado 2500. Their monthly expenses tally up to roughly $3,000 per month.
Their expenses are twice as much as ours, but they still save nearly $10,000 per year compared to the average American.
Using Downsizing Proceeds to Pay for Your New Lifestyle
When you move from your house to an RV, you can sell all the belongings that don’t fit in your RV. These proceeds should easily cover the cost of any new gear you need.
It’s tempting to take the easy route and throw your belongings in storage. But doing so cuts into your startup funds and adds an extra monthly expense to your budget.
It takes nerves of steel to ditch the bulk of your belongings. But after a few months on the road, you forget about everything you used to own.
When purging your things, you have to determine what is worth selling. Sell more valuable items — anything above $50 or $100 — individually on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Then, sell your lower-value belongings at a garage sale.
Lastly, if you have enough equity in your house when you sell, you can use part of your proceeds to purchase your RV and put the rest toward any new gear you need.
Living in an RV is only worth it if you’re willing to downsize and simplify your life.
If you sell your $300,000 house to buy a $300,000 Class A RV, you won’t save much even if you sell your home yourself and skip the real estate agent. But if you choose an affordable RV and take advantage of free campsites, electricity, water, and entertainment, RV life costs a fraction of “normal” life.
That said, just because it’s worth it financially doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone. Full-timing in an RV is not as comfortable as living in a house. It can be inconvenient at times, and it forces you to be a minimalist.
In the end, only you can decide if the savings warrant downsizing your life.