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Can I afford the RV lifestyle?

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"It's nice to get out of the rat race, but you have to learn to get along with less cheese."
~ Gene Perret

To answer the question of, "Can you afford the RV lifestyle," it comes down to three factors:

1. How much will it cost to buy an RV?

2. How much does it cost per month to live the RV lifestyle?

3. How can I make the money I'll need while living full-time in my RV?

These are the three factors that will determine if you can afford to live the RV lifestyle.

One thing to keep I mind is that making payments on an RV, paying off credit cards or having to make payments on a student loan are the three things that put the biggest damper on living the full-time RV lifestyle. You don't have to be debt-free to make the RV lifestyle work, but it sure is a lot easier to do if you're debt-free when you hit the road.

If you're not debt-free, you'll just have to add the amount you will need each month to cover your debt payments to the monthly cost of living described later in this chapter and then after you look at the chapters on making money, decide if it's feasible. A lot of people hit the road while making payments on debt, so it can be done.

Back to the question of whether you can afford the RV lifestyle, my guess is that you can, but being an engineer, I don't like to guess. Let's look at the numbers.

The first thing you have to do to afford the full-time RV lifestyle is to quit buying things. First of all, you don't have room for all of the stuff you already have. Your new way of living is that if you buy another shirt, you get rid of one that you already have. And by the way, consider getting your 'new' shirt from Goodwill.

In another article I talk about getting rid of all of the stuff you don't need so you can down-size and live in your smaller RV home. Wouldn't it be nice if you had the money you spent buying all of that stuff you don't need? You can't get that money back, but you can stop buying more stuff that you don't need.

Things don't bring you happiness. You've already realized this. Think back to when you just had to have that new latest and greatest cell phone or that new car. You would do anything to get it. Then you managed to get it and after a few weeks (or maybe even a few days), it's not so special anymore. The new wears off of it and now there's something else you just have to have to make you happy.

If you want to enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle, you have to realize that things don't make you happy -- experiences make you happy. Obviously, I think you're already starting to realize that or you wouldn't be considering getting rid of most of your stuff and downsizing to live full-time in an RV where you will have fewer things and more experiences.

With that in mind, let's get on with talking about how you can afford the RV lifestyle, what it will cost and how you can make the money while you're on the road and be able to pay for your new lifestyle.

The first thing you have to consider is the initial expense of buying a motorhome or a camper and a truck to pull it with.

Life is a lot simpler and less stressful, if you can come up with the $5,000 to $50,000 to buy your RV without having to finance it.

You can buy a very functional RV for $5,000 to $10,000 and of course, there are some very nice RVs that will cost you a fortune, but you can live in a much, much lower priced RV and be just as happy -- well, almost as happy.

It's the lifestyle that's enjoyable and will make you happy -- not the price of the RV you live in. How much will it cost initially to buy an RV?

There are articles on this site that will help you decide what kind of rig you should get, how much they cost and how to get the best deals, but here is a quick overview.

Typical costs for a good used motorhome will run between $10,000 and $50,000. You can go a little less or a lot higher, but don't spend a lot on your first RV. After you live in one for a while, you'll have a better idea of which of the many RV options will work best for you. Basically, don't spend more on an RV than you can afford to pay cash for. You can always trade up later. Being debt-free removes a lot of stress.

You can spend a lot more than $50,000 on a used RV. Many of the late model, nicer RVs can easily cost over $100,000 and used diesel rigs will be even higher.

The diesel engines can run well over a million miles. The Ford V-10 gasoline engine (which is now used in all gasoline RVs) will easily run for 200,000 to 300,000 miles.

With either engine everything else in the RV will wear out before there is any trouble with the engine. In fact, be wary of a used RV with very low mileage. Setting up and not being driven for months or years at a time can cause a lot of maintenance problems for an RV.

Keep in mind that there will be some maintenance expenses with any RV. Most of the time it will be nothing major. New tires are needed every five to seven years. Don't go by the tread. Look at the date code. I'll talk more about where to find the date code and how to read it later.

With a stick and brick house, you will have maintenance expenses, such as $5,000 for a new roof, $6,000 for a new heat pump or air conditioner, etc. Your RV probably won't have maintenance expenses that high, but do budget $1,000 or so a year depending on the age of your rig and how much you travel A diesel rig (also called a DP for diesel pusher), will be more expensive to maintain. A lot of the things you spend money on will not be something that has to be done -- at least, not immediately, e.g., new carpeting, reupholstering the couch, etc.

Next, let's look at the actual cost of living full-time in an RV

You're on this earth and you have to live somewhere. Living full time in an RV is one of the least expensive options you'll find. Here's why: The fee for campsites can be a major expense and can vary from quite high to very reasonable -- or even to zero when you're boondocking. Boondocking is a term used to describe camping where it's free, but where there is no water, electricity or sewer hookups.

Here are some typical numbers to think about. Campsite fees range from about $18 to $45 a night with $20 to $30 being about typical for a single night. Another option is to book a camping space for a month or more at at time. You can stay in some very nice campgrounds for $300 to $450 a month. This includes electricity, WiFi, water, sewer, trash pickup and sometimes cable TV is included. I don't watch a lot of TV and I can almost always pick up enough stations with my crank-up antenna to satisfy my TV needs.

Monthly rates run about two times the weekly rate, so whether you stay for two weeks or for a month, the cost will be about the same. Also, by staying a month or more it saves gas, gives you time to relax, meet people, see the sights, and enjoy what the local area has to offer.

There are ways to get discounts. For example if you join for $45 a year, you can stay in thousands of participating campsites for half-price. As you might expect, some conditions apply. You can also join and get discounts too.

To cut expenses while traveling, a common practice of RVers is to stay in a campsite for about $24 for one night and then stop and boondock two nights in Walmart parking lots along their way. That means that they spent a total of $24 for three nights of camping or $8 a night. If you stay three nights in Walmart parking lots (or other boondocking areas) and one night in a campground, you will get the average price down to $6 a night. Not all Walmarts will allow you to park overnight, but most will. Be sure to check with the manager and get permission before spending the night.

If you're traveling and just making miles, stopping at Walmart parking lots two or three nights in a row and then getting up and hitting the road again each morning is a great way to cover a lot of miles with minimum campground fees. Also, since you're not putting down leveling jacks, extending the slide-outs, hooking up water, electric, and sewer, there's nothing to do the next morning except start your engine and hit the road. But be sure to crank your TV antenna down if you cranked it up the night before. One easy way to remember to do this is to hang you ignition key on the antenna crank handle.

What about the cost of gasoline or diesel fuel?

Everyone thinks that the cost of fuel is a major expense with an RV and it is if you travel almost every day or travel back and forth across the country. But if you stay in one campground for a month and then travel 300 miles to another one, this would add up to 3,600 miles a year. This is about average for most RVers.

Let's do the math. Assume that you drive 3,600 miles a year and are getting nine miles per gallon. Some RVs get 8 mpg or less and some get 10 mpg or more. How fast you drive and what kind of rig you have will affect your mileage, but these numbers are in the ballpark.

This would mean you would use 400 gallons of fuel a year and at $3.00 a gallon, that would be $1,200 a year for gas or $100 a month. You're probably spending more than $100 a month on gas now just driving back and forth to work. What if you drive twice the national average and drive 7,200 miles a year, that's still only $200 a month for gas. Even if gas went to $4.00 a gallon, you would be looking at $133 a month at 3,600 miles a year. That's an extra $33 a month. In other words, the price of gas is not a real issue.

Thefore, the cost of gas is not really an issue. It comes down to which lifestyle you would enjoy the most -- the RV lifestyle or your conventional stick and brick lifestyle.

One of the things that make the RV lifestyle so affordable is that you have a lot of control over how much you spend each month and you can change it in a heartbeat. When you live the conventional lifestyle, you don't have many options to change your monthly living expenses.

For example, if you have expensive repair work that needs to be done on your rig this month, you can almost totally eliminate fuel cost, by not traveling. You can also almost (if not entirely) eliminate camping fees by boondocking on public lands, in Walmart parking lots (only one or two nights at a time) or by doing some volunteer work at state park campgrounds in exchange for free camping. You can also do what is called work camping for a month or so and get free camping.

You can find out more about work-camping at and I talk more about it in the chapter on, "Ways to Make Money Without a Computer." In a nutshell, work-camping is where you get free camping in exchange for working a few hours a week. Sometimes there is a salary paid also.

Your monthly living expenses including everything (assuming you are not paying off debt or making payments on a car or RV) can vary from less than $1,000 a month to over $3,000 a month depending on how much you travel, how much you eat out, and other personal and entertainment expenses you choose to make. This amount includes campsite rental with water, electricity, sewer, WiFi, and maybe cable TV.

It also includes food, insurance, an allowance for some maintenance, and some gas. You can get this amount even lower by boondocking some and/or doing volunteer work in exchange for free camping.

Bottom line: After reading this chapter you will agree that, yes, you can afford to live full-time in your RV if you can find a way to earn $1,000 or so a month -- which I'll talk about in the next three chapters. In the next chapter I will tell you about how one single female RVer has been traveling around the country for the last two plus years, making a living (and saving money) doing only work camping jobs -- no Internet income sources, consulting or other forms of income.

This shows you that it can be done.

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