The Cost of Full-time RVing (by stages)

cost-of-full-time-rvingWith my 2012 tax refund money starting to roll in, I decided to take a look back on the year as a whole and see how going RVing changed my bottom line.

I have been keeping track of earnings and expenses on a monthly basis for a few years now, as it really helps me to predict month to month how much leeway I’m going to have with my budget. It was especially important this past year with the major purchase of my RV and the radical shift in lifestyle. I’ve brought it up before, but I’ll say it again. If you’re planning to go full-timing, keep track of your money. Really. It’d suck to blow it all trying to get on the road and then have none left once you get there.

I decided to break the year down in thirds, because each third of the year marked a shift in earning and spending habits as I went from sticks and bricks dweller, to living stationary in the RV, to traveling in the RV.

January through April I was still living a traditional lifestyle in an apartment, but at the beginning of March I bought the RV. I was paying rent and utilities, and also for 6 weeks paying for a place to store Cas while I went through what I owned in the apartment and decided what needed to come with me, did the necessary minor repairs, and purchased some necessary items to make Cas livable. I had already purchased the truck and brake controller the year before, so those figures aren’t on this year’s totals. The first month I was working at the Old Job, the one that I hated but paid well. At the beginning of February I starting working at Best Buy, which didn’t pay as well but didn’t drain all the color from the world. I also included the tax refund money I got back from 2011 in my earnings.

Total costs: $8271.56 (which includes everything I bought for RVing, except the RV itself since that money had been set aside for years for just this purpose), total earnings $7405.7. In the same four months of 2011, my cost of living was $4123.07.

This stage of going full-timing is going to be the most expensive for any new RVer, because even besides the cost of the RV itself, you’re probably going to have to pay for necessities to make it liveable. In my case, this included water and sewer hoses, hitch, leveling blocks, storage containers, a ladder, caulking and riveting equipment (I had no tools before this point), a water filter, all the registration and insurance fees, etc. To keep things from getting out of hand, I only bought exactly what I needed as I needed it, and nothing more. No fancy RVing cookware, no smaller kitchen appliances that would travel easier, etc.

Last year, after the dust of getting moved into Cas settled, I wrote a post about the costs of moving from a stationary home to a mobile one and estimated that besides the truck and RV itself (a total of $15,797 after trading in my car) everything else I had needed to buy ended up costing me about $3,000 over the course of about seven months. The hitch alone was close to $800 of that. As a point of reference, when I moved from Wisconsin down to South Carolina in 2009 the cost of the Uhaul, fuel, one night stay in a motel, renter’s insurance, security deposit on the apartment, loss of income for the two weeks it took me to move, etc. totaled about $3,000. If you’re interested, that post may be found here, but now I’m not looking at specific costs to go RVing, but my living expenses as a whole.

On April 25th, I moved into Cas. I stayed at a campground maybe 20 minutes from where my apartment had been, and I continued working at Best Buy while getting settled in and figuring out how everything in the RV worked since I hadn’t camped a night in it before that date and didn’t want to spend the money for an actual RVing class. My half of the rent at Oldfield Mews apartments had been $417.50 a month, not including water (about $15 per person) and electricity (anywhere between $25 a person in the spring and fall to $60 a person in the heart of summer). My half of the rent at Stoney Crest campground (Julie and I lived together in the RV until the beginning of August when she got her own apartment) was $175 and included water and electric, in August I paid the full $350 myself. There were still some RV related purchases from May – August, but much less than the first four months of the year.

Total costs: $6173.08, total earnings $4772.24. In the same four months of 2011, my cost of living was $7225.24.

In September things changed again as I hit the road and spent almost three weeks traveling and sightseeing before settling down in Kansas to work at Amazon. Amazon’s WorkCamper program paid for the site I stayed in and all utilities but propane from the beginning of October until December 22nd, when I drove up to Wisconsin to spend Christmas with family and college friends for the first time in four years. My earnings might look surprisingly slim when you think that Amazon paid me $2.50 more an hour than Best Buy did and gave me more hours, but then you need to factor in that I only worked 3 of those 4 months.

Total costs: $4393.01, total earnings $4663.67 . In the same four months of 2011, my cost of living was $6345.87.

These four months make me the most excited about the possibilities of full-timing. For the first time that year I made more than I spent, and I did it only working 75% of the time, getting to take four glorious weeks off to be a real full-timer and adventuring around.

So for those keeping up with the math, in 2012, my total cost of living was $18,837.65, and my take home pay was $16,841.61 (when filing my taxes, total taxable income was $18,000 something). In 2011, my total cost of living was $17,694.18. The 2012 numbers don’t account for the cost of the RV and the 2011 numbers don’t account for the cost of the truck since those things came from a savings account built up for years and set aside for that purpose. When you account for inflation and the fact that costs rise every year, the cost of living for those two years are probably closer, although it’s hard to say for sure. It’ll be interesting to see, now that the initial expenses of getting the RV are out of the way, if this year will see a drop in cost of living.

Image courtesy of Tax Credits

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Dwayne on April 11, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Why don’t you have an article on why you bought Cas, a brand that I never heard of before.

  2. Frank on March 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Howdy Becky,
    (I’m from the Camp Inn Forum). I’ve never really got a good answer from other sites on the monthly? camping rates.

    How do you find them, not all allow you to stay “Monthly” and typically what are the rates? Like a full 30 day x daily rate or discounted due to monthly pay.

    Also, typically you get water/sewer and you have to pay for electrical as i understand it, but what about Cable TV or WiFi/internet if availaible.

    I’m sort of looking into full timing with a base, but wanted some idea on how to plan for the monthly “rentals” other than BML land…

    If you’ve already covered this, just point me in that direction…

    thanks Becky, my hat is off you

    • Becky on March 15, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Heya Frank!

      Nope, not all RV parks will let you stay for a month. I’ve never found a state or national park for instance that’ll let people stay longer than 14 days, but several private parks do.

      Of course, being private parks, they’re all different and the rates and amenities will vary widely.

      The cost is going to be less than the daily or weekly rate, you get a discount for staying longer, which is why it’s an attractive option for full-timers who are on a budget. The places that are near tourist locations will be more pricey than out of the way parks. And typically places out east cost more than places out west, all other things being equal. Sometimes utilities (water, sewer, elec) are included with the stated monthly fee, and sometimes electric is not – you’ll have to inquire at each place you stay. Most private parks these days have free or cheap WiFi, but the quality typically isn’t good – often it’s too slow to stream video on Netflix for instance. Some will have cable hookups (nearly always for an additional cost) and some will not.

      When I was living stationary in my Casita in coastal South Carolina before I hit the road, I stayed at a park that charged $375 a month including WiFi, water, sewer, and electric (cable was not available). So it averaged out to $12.50 a night – way cheaper than a daily park rate but still not exactly “cheap”. BLM land will still be less expensive, but then you’re inconvenience by having to dump and refill your tanks and you spend money on propane to cook or solar equipment/generator fuel for electric.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor on January 17, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for sharing your costs. We’re about a month into living full-time in our 13′ Scamp, so it is really helpful to get a feel for what it costs other folks to go full-time in a small travel trailer.
    Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor recently posted..RV Living | Some Initial Thoughts On Our ScamperMy Profile

    • Becky on January 17, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      You’re so welcome Ellen. Glad you found this helpful, and welcome to IO! I hope you have a great full-timing experience. Small RVs can be big fun. 🙂

  4. Terri on October 17, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    To keep track of your expenses, do you use an app, or just good old-fashioned pen and paper and a calculator or a spreadsheet? I am going to start doing this, and I mean, really, really do it. I have an app on my phone called DollarBird which I have used before but then stopped using. I was wondering how much the trailer and truck cost you together – 15K is good.

    This is really very generous of you to share this kind of information with others.
    Terri recently posted..Why I Keep On Keeping On: Life is Just Too ShortMy Profile

    • Becky on October 18, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      Old fashioned, calculator and a Word document actually, and a careful look at my bank statements every now and then. I don’t even use a spreadsheet. I don’t get as carried away with it as some people do, but I just personally don’t see the sense in spending money on a program that’s suppose to help me save money. That being said, I have a good friend who does use finance programs to track money and she’s had great luck with them. All depends on your style of bookkeeping. Go with what works. 🙂

      Oh, and I’ll just leave this here in case you haven’t seen it yet:

      And a good chunk of my ebook is about the money side of full-timing, more info on that will be coming out before long.

      • Terri on November 4, 2015 at 5:32 am

        I read through this post again this morning for inspiration, and it worked. The first few months of being here, I feel like I hemorraghed money, but now I see that it is normal. I mean, I did move across the country and getting set up in an RV is not cheap initially, even if you are just buying the necessities. And I can see how people can easily get carried away with all the “rv specific” type of stuff. Especially being in an RV park like I am, where some people are very settled, I can see how the “Stuff creep” can totally happen. But now that I have my goals in mind again, it’s easy for me to walk through a store such as Walmart, where I was recently, and say “nope, nope, don’t need that, or that, or that, or that….my other goals are too important to me.”

        And now I’m going to re=read your piggy bank of dreams post. 🙂
        Terri recently posted..Updates: Amazon Affiliate Link, NaNoWriMo, Book Reviews and Changes to the Website, and THANK YOU!My Profile

        • Becky on November 4, 2015 at 6:46 pm

          Even I need the reminder sometimes Terri, when you live in a consumerist culture it’s hard to hold yourself apart from it sometimes, even with the best of intentions.

      • James Messick on August 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm

        If you ever decide you would like something to make life easier check out the Spending Tracker app for Android. It might be $5 for the best version, but it’s well worth it.

  5. PamelaP on March 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Check out Xanterra & DNC – they both hire people for summer in Yellowstone if you are headed West. I believe Xanterra has sites in the East as well. They are both large employers of seasonal workers.

    Good Luck!

    • Becky on March 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      Yeah I’ve heard a lot about them and Yellowstone. That’s definitely something I’ll be looking at for next year. Looks like for out East Xanterra has positions in Ohio right now but that’s it. I’ll peek closer when I get the chance, thanks!

  6. Kristine on March 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Great info as always!! I’m moving into mine to a campground a couple miles from my house, like you did, to actually use everything and get dogs used to it. April 6th….then hit the road the week after. Going to pick RV up in Ocala one week from today wow FINALLY. She’ll be here in my driveway but not hooked up, but I can move in and Im sure me and dogs will sleep out there a few night…LOL

    Oh I got offered the Amazon job for Kentucky for 2013. Thank you for all that info to. Now I just need to get a job and fast in Mass. when I arrive in mid-April, have 4-5 places to meet that know Im coming and have positions so we shall see.Waiting tables most likely and can’t wait. Will not miss sales quotas and meetings….ahhhhhh

    Talk soon, Kristine

    • Becky on March 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Glad to hear that things are progressing well Kristine! I think you’re smart to give yourself and the dogs time to adjust, it will certainly be different from stationary life.

      Congratulations also on the Amazon job. I hear a lot of good things about the Campbellsville site, and it certainly is decent money as long as you watch your spending.

      You’re probably super busy right now, I know I was a week out from launch. Remember to stop and breathe and bask in the glow of the moment every now and then between scrambling to get it all together. This is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. 🙂

  7. Cherylyn on March 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I found a site called Workers On Wheels. You may know of it already. They have a free newsletter for rvers and campers looking for work. Some of the usual workamping but also paying jobs all over the country. I find it interesting what all is out there.

    • Becky on March 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Oooh, I’ll take a peek at it. Indeed sometimes it seems like the problem isn’t not enough options but too many!

  8. Cherylyn on March 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Well laid out comparisons. It is very helpful to see the basic costs and activities/work as I continue with my plans to full-time on a similarly tight budget. Good to know you are still excited about your rv living!

    • Becky on March 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Glad you found this helpful Cherylyn, thanks for following along and best of luck to you! Keep us all appraised on how it goes. 🙂

  9. Gene on March 9, 2013 at 4:19 am

    Very interesting. Have you budgeted/planned this year out? Do you expect to be in the black or the red for 2013? If it is looking like you are going to be in the Red (and Im sure that those red lights that you saw behind you in GA a few weeks ago broke part of the budget) … what is your plan to turn that (other than to slow down in GA and not get speeding tickets)?

    Do you have an emergency fund? I recall that you went to the doctor’s office for an eye problem recently too.

    Thanks for sharing and keeping us informed on these sorts of issues!


    • Becky on March 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      Hey Gene, the plan is to find a better paying job for the summer, haha. I’m waiting to hear back from a likely sounding place on Monday but this whole endeavor has been a fly by the seat of my pants kind of deal. It’s hard for me to budget exactly how much I’ll be spending in 2013 because i haven’t been full-timing long enough to get a real feel for it yet. It’s scary, and I suppose that’s why most people my age don’t go full-timing because there is so much uncertainty surrounding it. I just tell myself that I won’t stop trying until I’ve succeeded, so far it’s worked out okay for me. 😉

      And yes, i do have an emergency fund. In fact I’ve blogged about it before. The eye thing happened on the job and so worker’s comp paid for it.

  10. Jennifer on March 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Great post! You are SO organized. This is such helpful info to people trying to make the leap.

    • Becky on March 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Glad you think I’m organized Jennifer, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it on my end. 😉 And thanks for following along, glad to have you here!

  11. Wayne (Wirs) on March 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    If you haven’t already, you may want to check out Workamper News – – an email newsletter with lots of work options for nomads (house sitting, ranch help, land sitting, etc.) Many of them target full-timers who have their own rigs who can set up on their land and help out around the farm/ranch/sanctuary…
    Wayne (Wirs) recently posted..The BeautyMy Profile

    • Becky on March 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Yep I’ve heard of it Wayne, but thanks. I don’t want to pay the fee and most traditional workamping jobs don’t cut it for me anyway because the pay isn’t enough to cover living expenses, I don’t have a pension or social security checks etc.