Full-Time RV Budgeting Revisited

In our October 2021 blog we ventured into our budget for full-time RV living by comparing our actual expenses after a couple of months that we had been fully retired to the original budget we compiled during the planning phase of our journey. At the time we thought it would be helpful to our readers as the main question we get from people who are considering this lifestyle is “how much does it cost?” While it was a small sample size the data still proved to be very useful for our readers and it confirmed that we were in the ballpark with our original budget plan. But how would it hold up over the course of a year? That was a bigger question and one that would have to be provided at a later date when we had more data, which brings us to this blog.

This blog post was originally going to published one year after our October 2021 post, but we decided it would be more beneficial to hold off until we had a full calendar year worth of data. This allows us to provide a more accurate accounting of what an actual year on the road costs. It also helps us see the impact that things like work-camping have on our budget.

Before we get started we would like to remind our readers that when it comes to living full-time in an RV the financial side is extremely subjective and can vary widely depending on the type of RV you own, the lifestyle you lead, how often you plan on traveling to a new location and many other factors. We won’t go into all of the variables here, but you can check out our original October 2021 blog for some more insight and things that need to be taken into consideration.

Our numbers represent our lifestyle and travel patterns. As a reminder we live and travel in a 40′ diesel pusher towing a Jeep. We typically stay in each location from one to three months, depending on what we have planned, and we also try to work-camp in the winter months to help keep our costs down. We would rate our lifestyle on the moderately high side of the RV life scale as we do like to enjoy life, but at a reasonable pace and price.

As we did with our original post, we will only be looking at those expense categories that are directly related to living the RV lifestyle. From that point people should be able to plug in their more personal expenses such as RV payments, car payments, insurance payments, etc. to get a number that better fits their lifestyle. We did add the satellite and streaming category to this updated blog as it’s become more of a necessity that most people have.

We are including our original budget numbers from our planning phase, before we went full-time, as well as our 2021 budget that we put together after we hit the road and started getting more actual data. Then we have our updated 2022 budget followed by the actual amounts for the year.

Another point of clarification is that all amounts are broken down to an average monthly figure. Let’s check out the numbers!

CategoryOriginal Budget 2021 Budget2022 Budget2022 ActualDifference
RV Resort Fees$1000$750$750$645$105.00
Food$500$600$600$567$33.00
Gas / Fuel$400$300$350$370($20.00)
Repairs & Maintenance$250$200$200$46$154.00
Cell Phone & Internet$250$280$280$210$70.00
Leisure$200$50$50$61($11.00)
RV & Vehicle Registration$60$54$54$54$0.00
Utilities$50$100$100$35$65.00
Propane$30$30$30$7$23.00
Satellite & Streaming2424$24$23$1.00
Mail Forwarding$10$15$15$17($2.00)
Total$2774$2403$2453$2035$368
Monthly Budget vs. Actual

P&G Good Everyday

As you can see we came in well under budget in most of these categories, but there are some things to keep in mind when looking at these numbers and before trying to apply them to a budget of your own. First, when it comes to the resort fees our numbers are slightly depressed because we work camped for two months which saved some money on our budget. The savings also helped offset the cost of a couple of expensive resorts we stayed at in 2022. If our number was divided by 10 months instead of 12 we would have been slightly over budget. But, if we didn’t work-camp we wouldn’t have booked those expensive resorts to begin with as we don’t do one without the other. So there is some nuance in the numbers.

The fuel and gas category was brutal as inflation and high prices just killed us in the category in 2022. We were WAY under budget in the beginning of the year and had a nice cushion before everything went to hell and wiped it all out. Then we loaned our Jeep to our son for two months so he could use it for work which did not help matters either. If we just look at the diesel fuel portion of this expense category, which reflects only our travel from one location to another, we spent $3,100 on an annual budget of $3,000. Had diesel fuel prices been steady or even averaged just $4 per gallon we would probably come in between $700 – $1k under budget in the category. This was a perfect example of why we try to over estimate in categories we can’t fully control.

Another category that sticks out is repairs and maintenance. While it looks great because we came in way under budget it’s really something to just be thankful for. We were fortunate that we did not have any major problems while on the road and when we got the annual service done on our RV we found someone that did great service for a great price. It was good timing before prices went through the roof. We have already scheduled our 2023 service and it will be more in line with our budget as we are also getting more items taken care of before we get back on the road in the spring. So we will just take the budget win for 2022 and be happy.

Our category for cell phone and internet came in below budget but we will not be making an adjustment as we added internet service though t-mobile recently. We were fortunate enough to spend the first year and a half at resorts or campgrounds that had great internet service either free or paid. But, the last few months were a struggle and it will not get any better when we look at where we are going in 2023. It’s an added expense to a category we over budgeted for so we will leave it for this year and adjust from there.

The last two categories to think about are utilities and propane. We were well under budget for both as we managed to stay at a couple of resorts where electric was not metered. We also have the two months that we work-camped where the utility expense is covered. I wouldn’t change the budget as every year is different, but it helped us out in 2022. The propane expense is low because we didn’t have to run our furnace much and we really only use propane for hot water and our stove. Again, I wouldn’t change the budget as we never know what type of weather lays ahead at the next stops. It just takes one cold snap or heatwave to dramatically increase these categories so we make sure to be realistic or even over estimate in these categories. Remember the big freeze in 2021? You don’t don’t want to run out of propane in those conditions!

Tractor Supply

Overall 2022 was a breakeven year for us when you look at our overall budget. While we saved in most of the above categories we overspent in others. This isn’t something we are happy about and we are currently reevaluating some of our decisions. If you live the full-time RV life and create a budget this is something that is likely to become an annual ritual as each year you’re moving around and visiting different areas with different attractions. It’s easy to have your budget get away from you before you realize it, especially in the leisure and food categories!

If you are considering full-time RV living or are already in the planning phase we hope this blog helps give you some insight on the financial side of this lifestyle or even a base from which to start building your budget. The lifestyle is great and fulfilling, but not without it’s challenges! We view having a realistic budget, and routinely reviewing and reevaluating it, as an essential for our long term financial health, especially as early retirees.

Some folks plan on living this lifestyle while maintaining their work positions, which is great, but you should still make a budget and understand what you are getting into. Many people jump into this lifestyle and quickly find out that the thought of full-time RV living is not as fun as the reality of actually doing it. And even more people are shocked to find that they spent more money living in an RV than they did living in their house or apartment. This is often attributed to the vacation mode mindset where people get in their RV and feel so free that they start living, and spending, like they are on vacation.

While it might feel like a permanent vacation at times, we have to remind ourselves that we are RV living and there is no hurry to see everything or eat at every restaurant and risk spending ourselves into financial disaster. This is a key reason to have a budget as it will help you visualize your finances, prioritize your adventures and control the urge to drop buckets of cash at every stop.

Thank you for reading our blog and please leave any feedback or questions you might have in the comments below.

See you on the road!!

Joe

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