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What is the Cheapest Way to Live in an RV?

Published on January 19th, 2023

Full-time RV living can save you money, but only if you know how to do it correctly. Let’s review the cheapest way to live in an RV before you decide to take the plunge.

Will You Live in an RV? Or Will You Full-time RV Travel?

woman enjoying cheapest way to live in an RV motorhome
Do you want to stay put or move around?

If you are thinking about living in an RV to save money, you should know the difference between living in an RV, and full-time RV travel. What you can afford may depend on how you approach this unique lifestyle. So first ask yourself:

  1. Do I want to buy an RV and stay parked in one spot?
  2. Or is my goal to travel and see the country?

Many new RVers don’t ask these two questions. They choose an RV for full-time living and are later surprised to discover that the expense differences between living in an RV versus full-time RV travel are huge. Don’t make any changes until you determine your goal of this lifestyle change.

The Cheapest Way to Live in an RV is Usually to Stay Put

If you currently put a ridiculous amount of your income toward rent or a mortgage, you might take a look at RV park rent costs where you live and think that RV living is cheaper. That is usually the case, but only for two groups of people. The first are RV owners who don’t travel. The second are those who practice cheap RV living by purchasing extremely low cost RVs (like used campervans and truck campers), and constantly boondocking free on public lands.

Learn why full-time RV travel can be more expensive than a regular house.

Whatever kind of RV you buy, if you want to stay put in one location, be prepared for some roadblocks. Many people are also buying RVs for full-time living, not traveling in them. Expect serious competition and long wait times to get into long-term RV parking spots at campgrounds and resorts. Getting into a monthly spot is tough, especially in places like the West Coast.

  • Most RV parks have long waiting lists for prospective tenants. Many aren’t even keeping a waiting list.
  • Lots of RV parks use the 10-year rule. If the RV you purchase is older than 10 years, you may not be allowed to rent a site in many parks.

One of the cheapest ways to live in an RV is to seek out long-term parking located in less popular, rural areas, or boondock year-round on public lands. The trade off is living with fewer services and oftentimes severe winter weather that can make you wish you were back at your old home.

Full-time RVing Won’t Always Be Cheaper

If your goal is to see the country and travel in any kind of RV, just be aware that frequently changing locations will most likely not be cheaper than a traditional lifestyle. Costs for the two very different ways of life eventually cancel each other out. Whether you practice cheap RV living or not, moving around in an RV simply shifts your living expenses from one category to another.

For instance, it’s almost a guarantee that your campground fees and RV park rent will be cheaper than an apartment lease or mortgage payment. But you can expect other costs of full-time RVing to make up for these savings, such as:

  • You won’t have expensive home maintenance upkeep anymore. But keeping your RV engine in good shape costs more than an occasional passenger car tune-up. Expect to double that RV maintenance cost if your travel in a motorhome with a tow vehicle.
  • The spirit of travel often means making the most of a new location’s attractions, restaurants, and events. Expect your entertainment costs to rise if you intend to do those things.
  • You can certainly try free camping to save money. But winter is not always a friend to RVers. There will come a time when the weather is so bad the only smart thing to do is to rent an RV site and get hookups. Expect to pay for the fuel costs to get there, and the rent itself.
  • Health insurance needs of full-time RVers cost more. Unless you are over age 65 and on Medicare, most health insurance plans do not cover members across state lines. Typically only emergency situations are covered with extreme limitations. If you want coast-to-coast health insurance coverage, expect to pay more for it. Many RVers spend extra for supplemental health insurance, such as air ambulance policies that cover them while camping in remote areas.

Some Cheap Ways to Live in an RV Whether You Travel or Stay Put

Don’t let the costs of full-time RVing scare you away from giving it a try. It’s an awesome lifestyle! I know, because I’ve been doing it for over 15 years. Along the way I’ve learned that becoming a full-time RVer doesn’t have to cost more than your old way of life. Constant full-time RV travel can still cost more than staying put, but there are workarounds to manage those costs if you want to try a full-time RV adventure.

My 5 best ways to full-time RV without going broke

  1. Do not “get your last RV first.” Many people believe the RV myth that you should choose the best and biggest RV you want now, since most RVers eventually upgrade. But why get in over your head in debt and maintenance for a lifestyle you might not enjoy? Smart RVers start small, affordably, and go up from there, not vice versa.
  2. Don’t buy an RV you cannot afford. Choose your full-time RV camper according to your family and financial needs. The cheapest way to live in an RV is to understand RV costs of ownership before financing or spending your savings on one.
  3. Stay out of credit card debt. Don’t go anywhere or buy an RV until you pay off your consumer debt. The burden of making monthly lender payments will weigh you down and defeat the freedom you seek with full-time RVing.
  4. Get outside your comfort zone. Explore new locations far from expensive cities and popular attractions. Travel the backroads and stay in small town RV resorts. You’ll save more money on rent and get to know the country better.

Living in an RV and full-time RV travel is like anything: you won’t know if you like it unless you give it a try. Whether you decide to park your motorhome or travel trailer in one spot, or hit the highway all year long, go into the adventure with good planning and preparation and you probably won’t be disappointed.


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