We have been living full time in an RV of one type or another for over 10 years. One of the questions asked a lot is how much does it cost. Now everyone is different, but I thought I would provide some information on what we have found and how it works for us as a guide line to living in an RV.
Full Timers fall into 2 basic categories; Traveling and Stationary. One of these is more expensive than the other, can you guess which one J. For this article I am going to cover the information based on the category of full-timing.
Traveling Full-Timers. This group of RVers travels from place to place depending on many different circumstances. It could be job, adventure, seasons, commitments or any other personal reasons. They may travel hundreds or thousands of miles between stops. Their stays in any one place may be for days, weeks or months at a time. Titles for Traveling RVers include “snow birds”, “workkampers”, or just plain RVers.
Cost for traveling RVers generally are the same for other types of dwellers. You have rent, gas, fuel, insurance, food, clothing, entertainment, bills etc. One of the primary ways to reduce your expenses is by camping in a campground that has a reduced rate for campers. This could be a membership campground, discounts by associations such as Good Sam, AARP, Passport America, or some other organization. You can also reduce your cost by staying in a place for a month or more. Most campgrounds have monthly rates that are about the same as a 10 day stay. For example, if the daily rate is $35 per night and monthly rate might be $350. Another way to reduce your expenses (over time) is to belong to a campground membership. There are several out there, but it seems they are merging into bigger organizations. This is not a bad thing, at least at the moment. An organization that has hundreds of campgrounds, I think is a better deal than one with only 5 or 10 campgrounds, if you are going to be traveling. We belong to a membership organization that has quite a few campgrounds, mainly up and down the East and West Coast. Our stays in the campgrounds are free and include all the utilities. We are limited to 21 days per stay, but can move to another campground and start over again. We essentially live rent free as long as our wonderings allow us to use the campgrounds in the membership.
For those times that we cannot stay in a membership campground we have discount cards that allow us to stay at a reduced rate. The rate can be a percentage off or a flat rate. We have several different discount programs. Resort Park International (RPI) is a hybrid of membership and discount. You have to have a membership in another organization before you can purchase the RPI Discount. The rate of camping in an RPI campground is $10 a night. In our case we can camp for 14 days and then have to move on to another campground. Passport America is a discount club that does not require and memberships in other organizations. It offers a discount of up to 50% off the nightly rate at thousands of campgrounds around the country. Here you simply show your card and save. The Saving can be huge. A few days camping and you could save the price of the program. Save even more by becoming a lifetime member.
Next to campground fees, one of your biggest expenses will probably be fuel. Not much we can do about it other than keep the vehicles in good shape, tires at proper pressure, etc. But we can save a few cents per gallon and earn rewards to put some money back into our pockets. There are several programs out there to save a few cents per gallon. We have a diesel Class A. The tank is 80 gallons and we get about 7-8 MPG. Good Sam has a discount program with Pilot and Flying J that saves $.03 per gallon. It may not seem like much but if you travel full time going 20,000 miles a year, you could save up to $85 or so. Next our credit cards are reward cards as well. We earn 1.5% back on all purchases, even fuel. So that fill up of 60 gallons of diesel just paid back another $3.60. Again the 20,000 miles a year trip would return a little over $171.
Food is another expense for the RV that we all have. One difference for the RV family is that space is limited and the refrigerator is smaller as well. So shopping at the big clubs is not an option for savings. Fortunately, we tend to travel around the country where the weather is warmer. Which means fruits and vegetables are growing. Farmers markets are a great place to save money, get better quality foods and to meet and talk to people about the local area. You can search the web for local farmers markets or go to National Farmers Market Directory (http://nfmd.org) to find one near you.
Lets talk about utilities. Depending on the length of stay, campground and membership used your utilities may be free or you may have to pay for electric, cable and Internet. For us, because of our membership camping, most of our utilities are free. We get 30 Amp electric, water, sewer hookups free at the membership campground and discount campgrounds. We do have a satellite system which we pay for, but may campgrounds offer free cable and you can always use an antenna to capture the over the air local TV stations. Internet is another issue. While many campgrounds are beginning to offer free WIFI, the speed and connections leave a lot to be desired. Some still charge up to $7.50 per day for WIFI. There are solutions available including using your cell phones or dedicated cell phone plans to provide Internet access. They can be very expensive as well. Currently, I do not think there is one solution that meets everyone or even a majority of users requirements.
So what is the solution for us? Internet is important for us on the road. We keep in touch via email, search the web for things to do in the area, entertainment (Hulu, Netflix, etc.), download books, update our blogs and keep up with friends and family via Facebook. So what are the options? First, you cell phone plan will probably have data included. This is the most expensive option. Verizon for example can cost you easily over $150 a month if you stream video once a week along with heavy Internet usage. But for light users it may be the best option as most plans come with 10 GB of data monthly at ‘no additional charge’. Millenicom (www.millenicom.com) is another option for data users. They offer a plan for 20 GB a month for $89. They also use the Verizon Network so they have very good national coverage. Effective May 1, 2014, you can add increments of 20 GB per month to your account if you need more. This is much cheaper than Verizon for the same service. Still this is expensive for a lot of people. The next option would be to use the campground Internet, if it is available. Free is always the better option for those on a budget. But my experience is that campground Internet is usually poor. There are several reasons for this. First is that WIFI is a shared resource, meaning that the more people on it the slower the connection. Second it is distance intolerant. The further away from the antenna you are the worse the signal and your connection. There is not much you can do about the number of people on the network other than try to use it when others are not. Weekdays, early morning or late at night would be the best time. Weekends and evening are the worst time to try to use a shared network. There is something you can do about distance from the antenna. You could select a site close to the antenna. Ask at the office where you could park that would ensure a good signal. Or you could install an antenna and amplifier in your RV that would capture and boost the WIFI. There are several on the market. Word of advice, you want a unit that support 4G WIFI signals. These are new and just coming on the market as of 2014. Many changes in this area due to FCC regulations. The manufacturers have to have the units certified etc. and it is taking them some time. The advantage of having one of these systems installed is that you should be able to pull WIFI signals from up to 2 miles away for your use. The cost of the one we have is around $350 and includes a high gain antenna and amplifier.
The next area would be maintenance. We have full timed for over 10 years. We recently purchased a used Class A that we had to pick up from SC. Not knowing much about the rig, I decided to buy an aftermarket Extended Warranty Program. These programs cover repairs to the rigs when something goes wrong. Now let me say that the companies are in business to make money. In my case, I purchased a year program with a $1000 deductible. The cost of the insurance was about $1300. I will not be renewing it. I have had a change to go over the rig with our mechanic and RV technician. Both have given it a clean bill of health. What we will do is put money away for repairs.
Maintenance is very important for your rig. Annual cleaning and waxing is a must from top to bottom. A good car wash detergent with a liquid wax will do fine. Treating he roof with an appropriate cleaner and conditioner should be done at least once a year. Greasing or servicing the jack will keep them in working order for years to come. Depending on the type of rig (motorized) you may need to do oil changes, etc. just like on a car. I found that AMSOIL works well. 25,000 mile oil changes for full timers mean once a year oil change.
So there you have it, how to travel full time on a limited budget. It can be done. Those of you that are still working, can find work on the road. I will write about it in another article. Those that have a limited income, it can be done.