Monday, December 9, 2013

How much does it Cost?

It is cold this morning in Tucson--35 Degrees!  It will warm to the 50's this afternoon but that is still pretty chilly to me.  So I started a fire in the fireplace.  This is something I missed on the road, I love a fire on a cold winter day.

So 'how much does it cost to live and travel full time in an RV?'  I am asked that question a lot and it is truly hard to answer.  The answer is almost, "Whatever you want it to cost."

GAS,--$300 to $500 per month
When I started the trip in August of 2011, I had my social security, a small savings, some renters in my house and a couple of paid off credit cards.  Could I live on that?  I didn't know.
Well the first month or two were a shock.  The money going out was pretty scary.  First of all, I was driving every day and, even though the Roadtrek gets about 12-15 miles to the gallon in the city and 15 to 18 on the open road, (pretty good by RV standards),  that tank holds 30 gallons and I was refilling  it on a daily basis. But I had a lot of things to see, people to meet and places to go and I started out going at top speed.  Right away my credit card bill told me I would have to slow down.
The price on gas fluctuated greatly from state to state and I learned along the way that I had to use the more premium grades to get the best performance from the RV.  The answer to my gas dilemma was--to budget the money, not the miles or the gallons.  By the end of the first year I was limiting the amount I could spend on gas to a maximum of $500 per month ($50 every 3 days--maximum) and absolutely never to drive more than 3 hours in a day.  Finally, that gave me something concrete and as I slowed down I discovered that I was enjoying the traveling more. By this last year I was averaging $375 per month)
That meant stopping in city parks or along scenic byways for lunch, a nap, or to read a book.  Spending time exploring the towns along the way and taking at least one day per week for chores--laundry, grocery shopping, car wash, etc.  Somehow, it took me about 4 months to realize that this adventure did not have to be sightseeing all the time.  And eventually, the best part became just relaxing and--well, living. I also have some very accommodating friends and family that let me hang around for a while in their driveways.

Once again, when I started out I thought I had to stay in an RV park every night. As the hour reached 4 or 5 pm I would start to feel panic if I hadn't found a good place to stop.  Crummy RV parks charge from $20 to $30 per night and are usually in less desirable locales.  KOA's charge $45 and up.  You can see where that's going.  I was even quoted $95 per night over Christmas in Key West!  To park! I declined.
The Roadtrek is a pretty low profile vehicle and, by the 2nd year, I discovered a variety of ways to park for free.  I'll cover all of those in a later posting. A larger RV, a trailer or a 5th wheel, because of size, would present some problems with free parking but I am sure there are enough choices out there that, with a little pre-planning park fees could be minimized or eliminated altogether.
Except for staying in State and National parks (Golden Ager Pass), where fees are much lower than private parks (Big Bend National Park was $7 per night for example), I have not paid to park since last spring in Oregon.

UTILITY FEES --$100 to $40
These fees are necessary to all RVs--Water, Propane, Dump stations, electricity for charging batteries.
I use propane to cook and to run the living area heater (not the heater run by the motor).  In the summer the 5 gallon propane tank lasts 2 1/2 weeks ($20 average per refill) and in the winter, it needs refilling every 10 days.

The first year I would look for an RV park and pay to dump the holding tanks, plus take on fresh water. Dumping was necessary every 7 to 9 days and the parks usually charged $15 if you weren't paying to park for the night.  Then I learned the state parks charged from $5 to $10.  And finally I found the free dumps--and there are plenty.  I will also cover that in a future posting.

I was buying drinking water from the grocery stores for $1 per gallon then realized those machines outside the grocery store's front doors will fill the gallon jugs for about .35 a gallon.

Throughout the first year I continued to find RV parks to plug in to electricity and recharge all my electronics. (When driving the motor recharges the 12V house batteries).  Then I learned to efficiently use a converter when driving, and finally, the little neighborhood parks gave me even more options.  If you notice the next time you go to the park, the pavilions where families have their reunions or birthday parties or whatever, all have electric plugs.  That turned out to be a great place to work on the blog and charge up the computer, camera and phone all at the same time.

And I can always fire up the generator that will run the microwave, air conditioner, and recharge everything as well. However, I hate the noise so I run it only sparingly.

My vehicle and liability insurance are with Progressive and cost me $38 per month.

I paid $18,000 cash for the vehicle in December of 2011 and it had 35,000 miles on it at that time.  It now has 89,000.  As it is an older vehicle it has required more maintenance than a new one would need.  Ron put in several thousand dollars in upgrades for me before I even started.   Like any vehicle, there are trade offs.  I love the RoadTrek though.  It is so easy to handle and operating all of the various parts of it are not so daunting to me.  I also like the 'stealthiness' of it. (That sounds like a Stephen Colbert word)
When I take off again I don't know if I will stay with this one or trade up.  There are other models that are the same size but different floor plans that I may look at.  But, for a single person starting out, I think you can't go wrong with the RoadTrek.

(The above tangerines came off my tree)

Well, cat food and kitty litter are pretty certain--$40 per month.
As for food for me--about $50 per week.  It is a little hard to save money in an RV because there is no storage area for those bargains.  Everything has to be purchased in small quantities and consumed quickly.  I did buy from local markets and fruit stands as much as possible and hardly wasted anything.  Now that I am back in the house with a refrigerator that is big enough to move into, I find myself throwing food away again. The contrast is striking and it is shaming me.  I am determined to do better.

(But the poor tree desperately needs pruning and the fruit needs thinning.)

SHOWERS--Approx. $20 per month
I have a shower in the RV but I hate to use it because it is so messy.  My 'Brownie Badge for Courage' came one muggy hot summer day in Florida when I had been shopping.  I came out to the steamy parking lot, put the groceries away and found myself drenched in sweat and utterly miserable.  So I closed the blinds, stripped naked and showered in the Walmart Parking Lot! (Did I tell you I love RV life.)
Through my insurance I belong to 'Silver Sneakers' that gets me, free, into most major health clubs and Y's throughout the country--great for a swim and a shower.  Most small towns now have recreation centers and the usual charge for a swim and a shower is $6 or $7 dollars.  I have paid the $5 daytime entrance fee to State parks then hiked over to the showers.  The truck stops charge $10 to $12 but some have charged as little as $5 for a shower.  I fill in with spit baths and I have an 'outside shower' that works for hair washing on a hot summer day.

I have Medicare and a supplemental that is pretty standard.  Unfortunately, my supplemental is good only for emergencies once I leave Az.  So I must come back here each winter for check ups, etc.

I now keep that to a minimum--$50 per month.  That also includes movies and Redbox movie rentals.  I have learned there are many free things as well and I will cover how to find those in a later post.  I eat out only in local 'favorites' and then only for lunch because it's cheaper.

TV and INTERNET--$50 per month
I have a little 'hotspot' with Verizon and I am using it in the house as well.  I will not pay the cable companies any more money.  Most TV programs can be picked up on the internet now--but I hardly watch any.  I discovered that I do not miss TV and when I watch it I get a headache--the ads are way too loud, jump around too much, and are horridly distracting.  And the programs are mostly dumb.

LAUNDROMAT, CARWASH--$60 per month

PHONE--$15 per month (I share a phone with a friend)

CAR MAINTENANCE & REPAIRS--$100 per month yearly average

SOUVENIRS--$5 per month
There's no place to store them.

(Meet Music, my little cockatiel)

Have I forgotten anything?  As you can see there are a lot of variables that are based on one's personal likes, etc.  My costs the last 6 months were about $1000 per month, but were more than double that when I started out.  I have not included things like clothes, books, medications, personal stuff, gifts, trips to Virgin Islands or to Hawaii, etc.  How far I travel now depends on the fluctuating cost of gasoline and I plan accordingly.
Please feel free to ask any questions that my limited knowledge and experience might be able to answer.

(The renters took care of Music while I was gone, but now I have to figure out what to do with him when I take off again.)


  1. This odyssey of yours is so fascinating. I'm glad you are keeping the blog going. I know what you mean about home maintenance. There is no way I could manage our Hilo home on my own.

  2. Great information. Answers a lot of questions for Jerry and I. Retirement is still out of reach but so anxious to be on the road.