Debt and RVing

debt-and-rving1Should or should you not be willing to go into debt to buy your RV? I’m a big fan of avoiding debt at all cost. One of the biggest lures and advantages of RVing is the flexibility. You can change your plans with very little notice. Stay where you are another day if you’re having fun or move on down the road with little effort, just however long it takes to pack up.

Debt on the other hand takes some of that freedom away, it’s like taking one step backwards. The more you accumulate in debt trying to get on the road the more your new flexibility will be tempered by it. There are a two major ways by which debt hampers RVing:

The first is time or money. To account for that monthly payment, you will have less money to spend on attractions, upgrading your rig, or on gas to travel to a new location. Talk about being a drag on your dreams. Or you can choose to still do all of the fun things you wanted to do when you hit the road, but then you’ll need to find a way to earn more money while you travel to account for that payment. Making that extra money will cost you in free time.

If you want to pay off the debt quicker for less interest, that’ll mean less enjoyment and more working in the short run. If you want to pay off the debt slower to enjoy your new RVing lifestyle, that’ll mean less enjoyment and more working in the long run. I can’t see either option as being favorable.

Besides money and free time, it’ll also wear on you mentally. Every time you make a purchase you’ll need weigh in your head if it’ll hamper your ability to make that payment. If you keep a strict budget to make sure you have enough money to avoid this pitfall, then it’ll hamper your spontaneity if something unexpected comes up that you want to pursue except you can’t, because it’s not in the budget.

The hardest part of the money equation when it comes to RVing is the initial purchase. After you have your rig, the expenses are pretty easy to control by staying at places for longer and driving less, eating in more, doing activities that don’t involve entrance fees, boondocking and choosing lower cost places to stay. It’s getting over that initial hurdle that can put people in financial constraints. So what can be done about it?

What I did to avoid debt was go small and used on the RV and truck, buying within my means. Being solo and having already rejected the rampant consumerism that is a staple to the U.S., the thought of living in something 17′ long that someone had already used before and not having the newest and “best” features in it didn’t bother me. My intention was to live out of my RV, not in it. I spent over a month looking at Casita information online and reading owner’s comments about them on various forums. Through this I learned that even over ten years old, these little trailers held up well to wear and I would be unlikely to purchase a lemon as long as I was careful to do a thorough exam of any I thought to purchase. To date, having had Cas a little over a year and a half, I’ve spent around $500 total on maintenance and fixes, most of that to a shop for labor because I’m not that handy of a person, not too shabby for a house.

The second part of the equation was waiting to pull the trigger until I had enough. I continued working over a year after I decided to go RVing, to save up enough money for the initial purchase plus about $2,000 for things I’d need once I had the RV (most notably my fancy hitch), and $5,000 set aside for emergencies.

There is a fine line to toe here, as you might not want to wait years and years to go RVing, but you don’t want to buy until you have enough to buy something you can stand to live in. I don’t have the answer to what will work best for you, just a piece of advice based on two statistics.

First of all, over 50% of people buying their first RV will be in a different RV in two years. It’s very seldom to find your perfect fit on the first go around, how can you know what features mean the most to you and in what layout until you’ve lived in one for a while to see what does and doesn’t work? Knowing this, I think it makes sense to spend less on your first RV starting out, consider it kind of like a trial run. You can always upgrade to something newer, larger, and fancier later if the whole full-timing thing goes well. Note that not everyone who moves on to their second RV chooses something larger, it does occasionally work the other way too.

Second, a new RV (Casitas aside, their sort of a special case) will lose about 50% of it’s value in five years. So you can get a five year old RV for about half of the cost of a new one, that’s a huge difference. In five years, a RV will have all of the kinks that new RVs have worked out, but will still be in good shape if the first owner took care of it.

Which boils down to my conclusion. I don’t think having the newest and biggest is what makes us happy as RVers. It’s more about the things you do, places you see, and people you meet as opposed to what you’re doing it in. If you can avoid getting into debt to get out on the road, that’ll be one less rope tying down your new found freedom. The biggest advantage as I see it to having a new RV is less maintenance and fixes to worry about, because like debt having to constantly be working on your RV would limit freedom, but if you’re a careful shopper there are plenty of used RVs out there in good shape that won’t require much more work than a new one would – my own is now 14 years old and still requires little fixing.

What do you think, is going into debt to get out on the road worth it or not?

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29 Responses to Debt and RVing

  1. Marvin November 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm #


    RVing is about freedom – debt restricts that freedom .

    I project next years expenses based on goals and adventures , and try to earn enough this year to cover .

    I allow a cushion for maintenance and unknown situations , and if health issues should become a problem , I am ready to downsize .

    Someone will always market a new item that will catch our attention .

    Most RVers know the difference between want and need .

    It can be refreshing to walk thru a big box store knowing that I can afford anything in the store , and then walk out with empty hands because I do not need anything .

    Everyone be safe and enjoy each day !


    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      “It can be refreshing to walk thru a big box store knowing that I can afford anything in the store , and then walk out with empty hands because I do not need anything” I really liked that Marvin, and agree. Have a good weekend!

  2. OpenSpaceMan November 20, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    You know those telethon thermometer things were they keep redding it out as more money is raised…not sure what you call them but I was thinking of making a “Freedom Thermometer” for myself. That way when I’m eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches instead of going out to a restaurant…I can put the difference in my travel fund and know that I’m gettin’ closer to free.

    *My apologies to any English teachers…I never really got the hang of the punctuation thing…but I’m pretty good at making run on sentences.

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      That’s a clever idea OpenSpace! Keeps your mind on the goal with a clear reminder that you’re getting closer every time you look at that jar.

      And I don’t think you’ll need to worry about punctuation mistakes here, we’re a pretty easygoing group and it’s clear you’re trying. That’s the important thing. πŸ™‚

  3. Pleinguy November 20, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    You are correct! Unless you have a large savings and investment fund, or sufficient cash flow, then debt free is the only way to go. And, you also need savings for maintenance, medical, and unexpected expenses. Run the numbers for cash flow to keep the lifestyle you want while RVing. I made sure to get a rig I could pay for with cash, and for me, I knew it would only be possible once; so no trial unit. I bought older in order to get higher quality. Once again, your advice is spot-on.
    Pleinguy recently posted..RV Boot CampMy Profile

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      I’m not going to fool myself into thinking it’s perfect advice, because I know everyone’s situation and needs are different. But as a whole I think America spends too much money that it doesn’t have, and if we were all just a little more careful with budgeting life would be easier. I know I sleep easier at night knowing that I don’t owe anybody anything. I may not have a lot, but it’s mine fair and square.

  4. Dee November 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    I am trying very hard to make sure I don’t go into debt buying my first RV. I am not going to be a full time move around rv person but a most the year live in a travel trailer then hit the road in the summer type.

    I am nervous about buying something as small as a 17 ft though for my first one. It’s hard to imagine that transition.

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      Heya Dee, thanks for commenting and welcome to IO.

      17 feet isn’t enough for everyone. If you’re trying to get a feel for if that little space would work for you, try restricting your activities in your house/apartment to just one room for a few weeks and see how it goes. I mean you’ll still need your kitchen to cook, your bathroom to shower, etc., but the majority of your time other than that.

      I first figured 17 feet would be enough for me when I realized that in my 1,100 sq. foot townhouse I spent the majority of my time in bed or at my computer desk. The living room and dining room rarely needed cleaning because I was never using them – I just ate at my computer. If you’re going to be living with someone else, that might be a different story.

      Good luck, keep us updated on how it all goes! If you ever have more specific questions about RVing, feel free to drop me an e-mail. I may not respond quickly, but I do get to all e-mails eventually.

  5. Kim November 20, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    Agreed that debt is slavery. You were wise to save up for your new lifestyle and buy a quality rig.
    Kim recently posted..Home Again!My Profile

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

      I sometimes wonder how it would have gone if I’d had half the savings I had when I hit the road. At what point would it all not have worked out, would I not have had ‘enough’ for a good enough rig to hit the road? Could I have managed in an old cheap conversion van with a cooler instead of a fridge and relying solely on public restrooms and showers? Hard to say.

  6. David Michael November 21, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    In the world of RVing, the prudent decision is to buy a good used RV. Lots of reasons why, but the key being that most larger ones come with a myriad of problems direct from the manufacturer. Monaco was famous in rushing out its motorhomes as fast as possible with little quality control and then letting the new owners get things fixed over a two year warranty period. That’s a famous PITA.

    Another reason for buying used, is that RVs depreciate rapidly. One can literally buy a $200,000 RV for as little as $70,000 a few years later. Most people do not use their RVs more than a few thousand miles a year and keep them is great shape. I bought ours (A Lazy Daze Class C Motorhome) used and it is now 15 years old. It’s in terrific shape and we have been full-timing for seven years now.

    No Debt? Absolutely. If one is retired, live beneath one’s means, and if necessary, work at some place like Amazon seasonally to raise any needed funds for the year. We are at Amazon (Fernley) this season in ICQA and the overtime has really added to our savings. I have met lots of workampers who are saving for trips to Europe and one couple just purchased a 60-day cruise around the world for $15,000…which takes their entire earnings for the Christmas season.
    David Michael recently posted..Eastern Sierra NevadaMy Profile

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Looks like a lot of CamperForce folks ended up in ICQA this year, what do you think of it? Eventually I’ll get to the point where working at Amazon brings in extra money for projects or trips and not just to cover living expenses. In the meantime, I don’t regret my decision to start my adventure as early in life as I did.

      • David Michael November 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

        At first I was disappointed that I was assigned ICQA. My first choice was Picking. However, the Pickers are so under the gun with reaching their numbers that nearly 40% quit or are asked to leave Amazon. Considering I am 76, it probably was a good choice. So far, no aches or pains. I find the work monotonous and boring but now accept it as a job and that’s enough. Finally starting to hit my numbers and make it fun. My wife is in Prep and everyone there is suffering from carpal tunnel. Not fun but doable with lots of ice and braces to reduce the pain. Some workampers are already leaving in time for the holidays. Personally, our department is great and the managers have been very helpful and caring for the Workamper staff. The whole process is amazing to me! A great way to earn extra money for the rest fo the RV year! Love your blog!
        David Michael recently posted..Eastern Sierra NevadaMy Profile

  7. Marcia GB in MA November 21, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Excellent post, Becky. IMHO you are 100% right. We researched FG trailers and saved our $$ until we had enough to buy our 2011 Casita outright. It meant waiting a year longer but we certainly don’t regret it. Eventually, we’ll get a little larger trailer, probably an Escape, but again, we’re saving for that as well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Casitas keep their value so well and will make a nice down payment on the next trailer. We’re in no hurry.

    I’m a firm believer in buying a 2 or 3 year old low mileage tow vehicle also.

    • Barbara November 21, 2013 at 11:03 am #

      Becky – first off thank you for your blog posts! I consistently enjoy and agree with your recommendations so thank you for that.

      One of the comments already made by Marcia GB in MA – I was wondering which Casita model you have and I know this might be premature but depending on what model you have we MIGHT be interested in purchasing it from you because I could see us looking to purchase in a few years if that agrees with your timeframe.
      Would love to hear from you.

      Thank you,

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

      It sure can be scary though, writing that check for the full amount of a RV for truck, haha. I saw an Escape in Elk City park before I arrived here in Amazon, was a nice looking trailer. I hope you enjoy it as much as you’ve enjoyed your Casita.

    • Diane December 18, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      Marcia, where are you in MA? I work in Stow and live in Harvard. I’d love to keep in touch with you since I’d like to buy a good used Casita someday, and you’ll be selling yours, as you said, “eventually.” My email address is and my tel. # is 978-270-1828 or 978-270-9447. I’d love to hear from you!

  8. Elisabeth & Mike November 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    We agree entirely. We’ve been doing this 4 1/2 months now, and we specifically bought a used, older, higher-end rig so that we could afford to pay for it outright. We researched for over a year, ramping up our reviews a couple of months before we made our purchase, so that we’d know the right deal when it appeared. It’s such a wonderful feeling to travel knowing that we don’t owe anyone anything.

  9. Elisabeth & Mike November 21, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    We agree entirely and specifically purchased a used, older, higher-end rig so that we could buy it outright.
    Elisabeth & Mike recently posted..Wogging on the Charles RiverMy Profile

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm #

      Heya and welcome to IO! I’m guessing the double post was because of the verification thing, I need to do that for first time posters to keep spam from getting through. Now that I’ve okayed you once, future comments will be approved and show up automatically.

      I hope you two are enjoying life on the open road! Doesn’t it just feel nice to know that everything related to your freedom on the road is owned entirely and fully by you and that no one can take it away?

  10. lee and lynda November 21, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Loans and debt are different. In rare cases a loan will generate more income or reduce cost. A well chosen used rv is the perfect example. We paid $900 rent for a small apt and 1500 for our mortgage. Total RV can be 600. Your now keeping much more income.

    • Becky November 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      If you’re talking $600 a month for your RV loan vs. $900 a month for an apartment or $1,500 a month for a home, the RV is still the better deal financially, clearly. I know not everyone is capable of buying a RV they can be satisfied in outright with the savings they have, and I don’t look down on those who do take out a loan.

      Thanks for responding Lee, this is a perfect example that illustrates that even if you aren’t in a position to pay all at once, if you are careful with your money and capable of paying back a loan on time, that living and traveling in a RV can still be cheaper than living stationary, especially if you’re working jobs like Amazon which pays for all site costs for the RV so you aren’t paying site rent and loans at the same time. I still see any kind of loan as a debt personally, but that’s just me.

  11. Dawn November 23, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    Very good advice! I think that makes sense, to buy used, you’re the second person to tell me that.

    • Becky November 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      The most daunting part of buying used is having to do a thorough check of the RV to make sure it doesn’t have any big problems that the previous owners or RV lot neglected to tell you about.

      There are two options you can decide between. Go online and educate yourself in what to look at on a used RV, you’ll find checklists and such without to much of a problem. Bring along a friend who knows more about RVs than you if it’ll help. This is the route I went with money being somewhat constrained.

      Or if you can hire a 3rd party to do a pre-purchase inspection for you. If you’re hiring a certified RV tech to do this, it can cost around $200, but you can be sure that they’ll look at everything that needs looking at and give you a honest report of the shape it’s in.

      • Dawn November 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

        I think it would be well worth it to get an objective opinion and have everything looked at. I didn’t know you could do that..see? More information from you that is invaluable!

  12. Curious by Nature December 5, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    First off, I’ve enjoyed your blog very much, you are quite a good writer and have an interesting mind.

    While I completely agree that used is a better bang for the buck, sometimes you just can’t find quite find what you are looking for. We’ve owned four previous units, a popup, a 13′ TT, a home built teardrop, and a 1978 class C motor home. All had their positive and negative points, some of which had to do with our aging bodies.

    Our dream unit, was to have a center kitchen, an easily accesable decent bed, large fridge, bathroom, lots of storage, decent counter space, comfortable couch, dinette we could leave setup, central heating, in other words, a unit we could live in for extended periods comfortably.

    Our intention was to use it for dry camping, so having a large open roof space close to the batteries was also important, so that solar panels could be installed. Large water and gray and black tanks and propane capacity were also considered.

    While looking at units on the net, I came across exactly what I was looking for, new, last years model, with a small amount of hail damage on one side. I bought it for $6000 less than the current years model. It also had the deluxe package with the better mattress, larger fridge, spare tire, roof ladder, alloy wheels, power jack, etc.

    I did have to finance it. We have it out at a seasonal lot we rent year round, so for now, its a May to October retreat. We use it nearly every weekend.

    My house is paid for, but often as we get older we have outside responsibilities that keeps us in one spot for many years, aging parents who can’t manage everything on their own is one of ours. Until they pass, repairs, shopping, Drs. appointments, snow removal, garden maintenance are all things they need help with. So, you see, we do have some time to repay and do the modifications we need to live our dream.

    • Becky December 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      It sounds like you made a sound decision based on your needs and resources Curious, I won’t shake my finger at you. You’ve had several RVs before so you knew exactly what you wanted, you got a good deal on it, and you’re able to pay the fees, so good on you.

      I hope it brings you a lot of joy for many years to come! Thanks for reading.

  13. Sue December 16, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Hi Becky,

    I kind of stumbled upon your site while researching options for getting off the grid. I’ve spent the last year and half pouring through web page after webpage trying to find what options suit me the best. Until a week ago all I could find was about farming, yet I can’t even keep a cactus alive. From what I could tell being a single female farmer would probably take me the rest of my life just to learn given i have no agriculture nor maintenance experience.

    Then during my search I somehow came across a site about living in an rv full time. I thought to myself, now this is a good possibility. So far your site has had the best information for someone like me who is still in the research phase. I got really excited after reading your icqa at amazon, because my biggest concern was how will I provide for myself. I’m in the corporate rat race and am ever so ready to get out. So it is really good to know that there are options out there.

    If you don’t mind, after I get through reading about your rv’ing experiences, can I send you some of my questions?

    Stay warm, and thank you for all this information, it is very inspiring to read about another female who is living this dream. πŸ™‚

    • Becky December 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

      Hello Sue!

      Welcome to IO and thank you for commenting. I’m glad that you stumbled upon my little site, more and more single women are getting out on the road, it’s not as hard or dangerous as ‘sticks and bricks’ folk would have you believe. You can definitely earn enough working while traveling to pay your way, as long as you’re careful about your expenses – I’ll never get rich doing this.

      Please do send me an e-mail, but realize that I’m working overtime at Amazon and it might take me a while to respond, I will respond to you in time, promise. Happy holidays!

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