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Full-timing on a Budget Tips & Tricks

If the full-time RVer life sounds appealing, these full-timing on a budget ideas can help you take an educated leap into the lifestyle.

How much does it cost to full-time RV?

The nomadic life looks so easy from the outside. You just buy an RV and hit the road, right?

Wrong!

Making full-time RVing work means so much more than going into an RVer discussion forum and asking “How much does it cost to full-time RV?

The truth is, there is no one answer to that age-old question. Everyone spends and saves money differently. The cost of full-time RVing depends on criteria like:

  • Income sources
  • Spending and saving habits
  • Essential living costs on things like food and fuel
  • The type of RV they buy
  • Where they camp and park the RV
  • How they spend their free time

What seems like a life of luxury to one person, is poverty city to another. Nobody can tell you how much it costs to live in an RV. Only you know the answer to that question. And if you’re like most people, you probably have no real clue about you’re true cost of living. That’s where this article about full-time RVing on a budget comes in handy.

Full-time RVing Money Myths

cheap motorhome full-time RVing on a budget
Full-time RVing on a budget doesn’t have to mean living in parking lots.

Many new full-timers on YouTube and elsewhere try to convince people that the costs of full-time travel are similar to a traditional stick-house life. “Don’t worry! You’re just trading one expense for another,” they like to say.

They’re wrong.

After 15 years on the road (and counting), I can tell you that the nomadic lifestyle is filled with unexpected expenses you won’t encounter elsewhere. The simple act of moving around puts you at greater risk of financial catastrophe than if you followed a predictable routine in the suburbs.

Why Try Full-time RVing on a Budget?

expensive RV tow is why full-timing on a budget matters
Here’s the best reason for full-timing on a budget. Image: @liveworkdream

Generally speaking, living in an RV costs less than living in a stick house. But when you do encounter a sudden expense, it’s usually a time-sensitive doozy.

When you’re taking your vehicle and all your possessions to a new place, you just never know what’s around the corner. The cost of full-time RVing can hit your finances hard if you’re unprepared for unusually expensive emergencies along the way.

Expensive full-timing costs we’ve endured include:

  • A broken leaf spring that required a 5 hour tow back to civilization
  • Calling a specialty tow truck service to get the rig off the highway
  • Getting a CT scan after a tree fell on my head, which required out-of-network care
  • Another ER visit that was out of our health care insurance provider network
  • RV tire blowouts that damaged our undercarriage
  • A transfer switch meltdown
  • and oh so many more!

These are not things you encounter in the stationary life world. They were all very expensive, unexpected full-timing costs. It’s likely there will be more because that’s life on the open road. The only way I can tolerate this level of uncertainty is because I prepare for the worst by following a full-timing budget.

If you’re good about following your own full-timing budgets over the years, you can bounce back from whatever the road throws at you.

Full-timing on a Budget Tip #1: Know Your Expenses

Do you know your average household expenses? What do you pay each month for food, shelter, fuel and utilities?

If you cannot answer these questions, you are not ready to hit the road. And if you are already on the road, start learning them today.

Set up a household budget

You can’t know where you’re headed if you don’t know exactly where your dollars are going. A budgeting app helps you look ahead at what you’re about to spend, not what you already spent.

I got my finances in order with You Need a Budget. It’s an app that helps you assign every incoming dollar a job in order to create a budget that works for your income situation. These numbers tell you how much it costs for you to live now. Later once you hit the road, you’ll know how much full-time RVing costs.

Full-timing Budgets Tip #2: Save for Predictable Expenses

When you live in an RV, you can almost always expect to pay more for things like:

  • Vehicle and house maintenance and repairs
  • Out-of-network medical bills
  • Emergency veterinary bills*
  • Travel costs to see family
  • Internet connectivity

Once you built a track record of living expenses in your budgeting software, you will get a good idea of how much to save for each expense. Create a target date for each expense, know the amount you’re aiming to save, and contribute regularly to that budget category so that when the expense comes up, you’ve got it covered.

*It’s been my experience that full-time RVing pets don’t get annual wellness exams that can catch problems before they develop into costly emergencies.

Full-timing Budgets Tip #3: Get Rid of Debt

My final tip about how to pay for full-time RV living is a doozy. Many people who buy into this lifestyle do so because of the freedom it represents. Yet, they are traveling with serious debt.

The honest truth is that you cannot have debt and experience true freedom if you are a full-time RVer.

Owing money to a corporation, RV loan lender, or other entity limits your options on the road. Being in debt means you are a slave to your lender.

Debt forces you to make choices about where you go and what you do, because you need to pay down that loan or credit card.

If you are in debt now, my first pointer about full-timing on a budget will set you on the path to true nomadic freedom. And if you aren’t in debt, good for you! You probably didn’t even need to read this article, but I hope you learned something anyways.


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