Happiness Per Dollar

A palo verde tree at sunset, at my new camp near Tucson, AZ

When I was preparing to hit the road I made a list of the necessities for RVing, both things I thought of, and what other people said were must-haves. The list became so big that not only was it not affordable, it wouldn’t all fit in the Casita.

There was an important lesson here: not everyone’s definition of necessity is the same.

I made the decision to buy RVing things only as I needed them, and in the end it was the right choice. I may have occasionally spent more on one specific item than I would have had I shopped around for the best deal ahead of time, but it saved countless dollars on purchases that sounded good on paper, but in reality would have just wasted space in storage.

But equally worth discussing is the want-to-haves. When you’re on a limited budget, how do you decide what’s worth spending your precious moolah on, and what to hold off on buying? Pretty much everyone who’s interesting in RVing is on board with the idea that experiences have an equal or greater value than owning possessions, but we can get more specific than that.

Last year in a blog post about a different subject I briefly touched on a concept comparing money to happiness which works like this: spend your money on things that’ll net you the most happiness per dollar spent.

For me, this usually means avoiding the touristy stuff like the attractions in Tombstone, AZ mentioned in my last travelogue, and saving it for gas. It’s not that I don’t think the tours in Tombstone wouldn’t be fun, it’s that I could get more happiness spending that money on activities I enjoy more.

And while people usually take this to mean forgoing little pleasures to save up for the big ticket items, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Going out to eat costs more than eating in, but sometimes the happiness I get from it is greater than spending that $10 elsewhere. Despite boondocking most of the time to save on camping fees, I find it worth it to pay for a full hookup camp site a couple nights a month for the peace of mind of flushing my black tank well, and charging every electronic thing I own.

This guideline can also make unexpected expenses more palatable. I just finished getting some unexpected repair work done on my truck (it was nothing serious). I could get mad about the cost, but instead I look at it like this: I’m trading my money for a fully-functioning vehicle, which is absolutely critical to my happiness as a full-time RVer.

I live a pretty simple life, averaging less than $1,500 spent per month. But it always feels like I have enough. When you think of purchases as an exchange of dollars for happiness, it becomes much more clear what’s worth spending money on and what isn’t.

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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. Ron Kowalczyk on December 15, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Great post again. Curious what you are thinking of trading Bertha for. I am thinking you will need something similar for your storage locker when you downsize to the teardrop. Ron

    • Becky on December 16, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Still between a couple options Ron.

      • Ron on December 16, 2017 at 6:18 pm

        It sure is hard to get you to give up your secrets. I know, future blog posts. I would go with a van or similar pickup setup.

  2. Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing everyone! I’m not surprised at all to see that a lot of you think the same way I do on this issue, it seems a pretty common attitude for RVers to have. 🙂

  3. S. Kaeseman on December 15, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Hi, We whole hardheartedly agree, that happiness no what what it cost or where it comes from is worth every penny and more. As long as You are Happy, it doesn’t matter what others think. Most of the time it is miserable people wanting to make other people miserable because they love the company.
    We Love how you spread the happiness around, we need more people in the world like you. Living their lives the way want to not bothering anyone and enjoying sharing their good and not so good experiences in the most positive way possible.
    Please keep it up.
    With all due respect and Blessing upon you.
    S. Kaeseman

  4. Sandy Tibbs on December 15, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Amen Sista!! :} All too often today, people compare other’s choices to what makes THEM happy – which in my opinion is a big part of what is wrong in the US today. To each their own – as long as what I choose does not negatively impact you – live and let live. The Golden Rule is my guide. We have a 2003 Casita SD that I just adore – couldn’t imagine towing a ginormous travel traveler, but that’s just my choice. Happy traveling adventures – maybe our paths will cross someday.

  5. Kent on December 15, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Maybe it’s just human nature but before I made the plunge into full-timing I felt like I was planning for a voyage to outer-space or something. I had to just laugh at things like wondering if I should stock-up and get things like 12 rolls of lou-paper, kitchen roll, soap… Hey! Maybe I should get a case of soup, you know… Just in case!!!

    That said I realized that most everything I would really need could be purchased along the way as the need or desire arose like Becky wrote.

    One thing I try and keep in mind though is “quality”. As a Full-Timer I’m using and depending some RV related items every day that most recreational folks may use once or twice a year. So I’m willing to pay a bit more for some better quality items like hoses and also tools.

  6. Ray Mullen on December 15, 2017 at 7:47 am

    This post feels very insightful. I do believe it is sage advice. Of course we all agree with things we ourselves believe in.One has to be careful of the marketers. They try to have you believe that things bring you happiness and you can’t live without out what they are pushing.
    Living the simple life you do not get subjected to as much marketing ploys.

    I love your post, Becky.

  7. Kevin & Janie Justis on December 15, 2017 at 7:31 am

    We have a 20+ year old Casita that we have truly enjoyed over the last 11 years. With over 1200 nights on the road, we understand from where you are coming. Before the Casita we spent two years on the road living out of a Honda Accord.

    We live in Rio Rico less than an hour south of where you are. If come south and need to charge up, feel free to drop by. We have lots of RV friends who do.

    Happy trails to you.

  8. Terri on December 15, 2017 at 6:36 am

    You and I live on about the same per month – actually my net take home is even less than $1500 and then I need to save out of that for stuff like car insurance, renter’s insurance, etc! Although our lives are a bit different right now – you’re nomadic and I’m stationary, I totally get what you are talking about, and being on a budget does force you to really evaluate what you spend your money on. I know not every day is all roses and rainbows for you, but you do seem truly, genuinely happy with the choices you’ve made (and I can’t wait for your life with the teardrop), and that is what is the most important. And yes, what one person thinks is absolutely essential would just be a waste of space, time and energy for another.

    I wish I had been as self-aware in my younger 30s as you are now. My life would be so much different. But I think everything happens as it should. Life is a journey!
    Terri recently posted..The Power of Two!! (Milestones)My Profile

    • Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      My first three years on the road my cost of living averaged about $1,340 per month, but it jumped last year with all the repairs on aging equipment. I love your attitude Terri, thanks for sharing!

  9. Rhonda on December 15, 2017 at 5:13 am

    Your life is vastly different from mine (age, choice of lifestyle, close daily family connections) yet I often think, were I able to climb aboard a time machine to travel back to my early 20’s, I would choose to live a nomadic life. For awhile, anyway. I so very much enjoy your travel adventures and your thoughts surrounding such. Thank you for sharing your life.

  10. Jodee Gravel on December 14, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    When we were preparing to go fulltime I also had a lot of lists and fortunately we also waited to see what we would actually need. Probably half the list never made it to ownership so I’m very glad we waited. Like a roof on a house, having to spend big money on RV tires is money that isn’t “fun” to spend, but enables us to live safely. We find that we’re enjoying lots of little adventures over saving for a couple big ones. You’re sure having a good time on a very frugal budget!!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Evacuate!! Evacuate!! Evacuate Now!My Profile

    • Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      I sure do!

  11. RGupnorth on December 14, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    I am impressed that you are getting along on about $1500/month. Sounds like you have really reined in your wants. Maybe having no place to put stuff helps 🙂

    • Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      $1,500 is actually high for me. My first three full years on the road my cost of living averaged between $1,325 and $1,350 per month, but it spiked last year with all of the repairs on aging equipment. Once I’ve switched out Bertha and Cas next year I bet it’ll be lower again.

  12. Reine in Plano (when not camping) on December 14, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    And sometimes you choose to splurge on stuff you don’t REALLY need but you decide will make a difference in your life. I bought a back up camera yesterday. It just happened to be installed in a brand new Subaru Legacy. My 2011 Legacy was working just fine but was a no frills model and didn’t have the back up camera. I received a little inheritance a while ago and the more I thought about it, the more I decided that the new car with the bells and whistles was something I wanted (and had the cash to pay for). Yep, I traded some bucks for enjoyment but as it turns out my new Legacy has lots of safety features in addition to the back up camera that so my driving will be safer and more enjoyable than the old one. I made a good decision FOR ME. And before anyone asks, this is my around town vehicle, not our tow vehicle.

    • Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      Enjoy your new Legacy Reine!

  13. Jim White on December 14, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    You go girl!

  14. Jeff on December 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    We towed a pop-up behind our Dakota for a few years. With a camper shell covering the bed of the Dakota we were able to carry pretty much anything we wanted. Might say we ‘downsized’ to the RV – at least when it comes to storage space. But for living space the RV offers a lot more.
    Jeff recently posted..Wine Time in BajaMy Profile

    • Becky on December 15, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      I do love how much room I have in the back of my Dakota! I tell people it’s my storage locker, haha. Glad you’ve found what works for you Jeff.

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