2016 Full-time RVing Cost of Living & Income Report

Photo credit: Bernhard Suter

Wondering how much it costs to live full-time on the road? You’ll quickly learn when researching this question that the number varies wildly from RVer to RVer. This can be frustrating because it makes it harder to narrow in on how much it’ll cost you. But another way to look at it is this: That huge variance is proof that this lifestyle can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. If you’re on a budget you’ll learn that to save money you can travel slower, eat in more, and avoid tourist traps.

Here are my personal numbers for 2016, which I’ve conveniently tacked onto the chart from previous years to show how it has changed over time.

Year

Adjusted Gross Income

Living Costs

2011 (My last year living a stationary life, working as a Vet Tech and sharing a lower-end apartment with a roommate)

$27,732 (I worked an average of 40-45 hours a week, and had two weeks of paid vacation time)

$17,694 (not including the $6,984 spent on the truck purchase, taxes, registration, etc.)

2012 (I quit the vet tech job at the end of January and worked at Best Buy from Feb until Sept. I lived in the Casita starting April 28, and started traveling full-time on Sept. 17). I worked in CamperForce for the holidays)

$18,495 (I worked an average of 30 hours a week at Best Buy, 40-50 hours a week at Amazon, and had about 6 weeks of “vacation” time where I didn’t work and just traveled)

$18,838 (not including the $9,440 RV purchase, taxes, registration, etc. but including other RVing items like leveling blocks, the hitch, water pressure regulator, and a laptop)

2013 (First full year as a full-timer. Worked at Lowe’s from Feb-April. Badlands Natl Park from April-Oct. And Amazon from Oct-Dec.)

$16,070 (Had about 8 weeks of vacation time. This was the first year I started making money from writing but it was less than 5% of income.)

Estimated at $15,300, but I didn’t keep close track. I ended up earning a little more than I spent in 2013.

2014 (Second full year on the road. Volunteered in Florida Jan-Apr, worked at GA renaissance festival Apr-June, Zion Natl Park June-Oct, and Amazon Oct-Dec.)

$15,066 (Acting at the festival was only 2 days a week and less than $600 in earnings, so I essentially had 6 months without seasonal work this year. Writing was 15-20% of income.)

Estimated at just under $16,000, Spent more than I earned this year but fulfilled a longtime dream of performing at a renaissance festival.

2015 (Third full year on the road. Worked at Yellowstone Nat’l Park May-Sept, and Amazon Oct-Dec.)

$20,017 (Had 4.5 months without seasonal work this year, writing was 37% of total income.)

$15, 693 The biggest net gain I’ve had since hitting the road, and this with $4000 in RV and truck maintenance/repair costs.

2016 (Fourth full year on the road. Boondocked out west first 9 months of the year and worked Amazon Oct-Dec.)

$17,970 (Will update with official number from IRS in a month or so. 9 months without a seasonal job this year!)

$18,403 $1,843 fridge replacement plus $3,746 bill for broken-down truck, need I say more? HAVE A REPAIR FUND!

2016 monthly cost of living average: $1,534

2016 monthly income average: $1,498

  • Most expensive month: September ($5,196(!) – truck break-down)
  • Least expensive month: July ($756)
  • Highest earning month: December ($3,234 – Thank you Amazon holiday shoppers and Paypal donators!)
  • Lowest earning month: May ($757)

Wait, why don’t you just list your financial info by month if you keep track of it by month?

Because there is no such thing as an average month, and I list the highest and lowest to illustrate that point. If you hit the road and expect to always keep your income or expenses at the same amount every month you’re going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. Expect that once you hit the road that some months will be cheap and some will be expensive – save up your extra from the cheap ones to afford the expensive ones. You won’t really know what your cost of living looks like until you’ve been on the road a full year and can average out the dips and peaks of 12 months.

I hope this helps those of you dreamers who are thinking of hitting the road some day! If you follow my blog regularly, then you’ll have a feel for the kind of life I live at an average of $1,534 a month. I encourage you to look up the cost of living numbers for other RVers out there (try blogs, forums, Facebook communities, etc.) to get a sense of the bigger picture on how much full-time RVing can cost.

Are you a current or past full-timer? Please feel free to share your own numbers in the comments section (if you feel comfortable doing so), or other wisdom on the cost of RVing – you never know who you might help. Are you a wannabe full-timer? See the links below for more information on this subject, and check the comments for thoughts from other readers.

Related Links:

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34 Responses to 2016 Full-time RVing Cost of Living & Income Report

  1. Old Fat Man January 16, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    Becky, These numbers are not including the used truck I bought in 2016. It was purchased from a long standing “replacement fund” I started before I went full time ten years ago. On a fat year I average $1750 a month. But I also know from experience I can easily live on $1100 a month without any trouble at all. On a few boondocking months I was even down to under $800 for the month. But I want hookups (AC) when it is hot so that brings my yearly average up a bit.
    Old Fat Man recently posted..Adventure ChoosingMy Profile

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 10:43 am #

      Thanks very much for sharing your numbers OFM!

      Traditionally my cheapest months occurred during the summer when I was working at National Parks. Tended to live right next to “work” so there was no gas needed to commute, and I had a whole park to explore and didn’t feel the need to spend money on entertainment.

      • Jerry January 24, 2017 at 4:20 am #

        Could you tell us the spreadsheet headers for the expenses you track?

        • Becky January 24, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

          I don’t use spreadsheets Jerry. I compare receipts to bank statements and add it all up using a calculator. If I want to see how much I spent on gas for instance I just manually look up the gas stations on my statement. All of my spending comes from one bank account, which makes it easy to keep track of money going out.

          It’s not as easy to reference as using spreadsheets, but it works for me. I prefer to keep it simple.

  2. Sue Ann Jaffarian January 16, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

    Thanks for posting this, Becky! I’m still on track to go full-time when I retire and have even set up a budget. I plan on buying my Class B van in about 12 months and live in it for the last 6 months or so while I finish up my job. Love your posts! — Sue Ann

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 10:51 am #

      You’re welcome Sue Ann! 12 months probably seems like so far away right now but it’ll be here before you know it. 🙂 Take care and keep on truckin’!

  3. Lara January 16, 2017 at 7:00 pm #

    I’m not too interested in getting into this, however, do find it interesting to see the range of people’s experiences.
    I’m curious, if you’re willing to share, what is your usual highest cost? Is there one? Unless I’m traveling far distances, fuel and food have been mine so far at probably a close amount to each other each month.
    I use an app on my phone called Spending which allows you to track income and expenses by category, month, week and year. I like it- there is a free version and it is easy to use.
    For those looking into RVing, starting to track things beforehand, if you aren’t already, may be useful as you have an idea of the basics that will probably stay the same and what will be dropped and replaced with something else. I looked a bit at other people’s reports like this prior to RVing but knowing my own preferences was more useful because, as you’ve mentioned, it’s as different as with any other dwelling depending on the person.
    🙂
    Lara recently posted..Eau Claire, Wisconsin My Profile

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 11:11 am #

      Lara, by far my biggest cost this year was repair and maintenance fees, just the fridge and break-down bills put together accounted for a whopping 30% of my total expenses, just two bills! and that doesn’t count other smaller repairs like all of the caulking work I did in March, oil changes, etc. So this year it was maintenance>food>gas.

      This is why I like listing all the years though because it has varied a lot from year to year. In 2015 repairs and maintenance was 25%, food>maintenance>gas.

      From 2012 to 2014 my repairs were much fewer and it was either food>gas>maintenance or gas>food>maintenance. My gas expense tends to be lower than food averaged throughout the year because when I work-camp I stay in one place for months at a time and even towing I get about 15 mpg on a level road.

  4. Rob January 17, 2017 at 5:54 am #

    $160 a month (average) for truck & RV maintenance over 5 years, that seems like a reasonable number. For many years I’ve ‘ball parked’ $100/month to maintain a vehicle, any vehicle. i never really had a ‘rule of thumb’ for maintaining an RV.
    Swapping out the refrigerator is one of the largest dollar jobs you’ll have on that RV and the head gaskets on your truck was a major one too. The refrigerator should last you for years & years now, it’s not going to be an issue again.

    The truck is a machine, machines wear out. I like the OFM’s idea of making a machine payment before hand so when you need to replace it you can.

    It is good to see things getting better (more free time) as the years go by, thanks for sharing!

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 11:15 am #

      Yes Rob, the fridge is the single most expensive thing that can fail in a Casita, and head gasket is the third most expensive thing (behind transmission and motor) that can fail on a truck. Hopefully I’ll have a couple lower-than-average repair years coming up now, but that’s no guarantee of course. I always stress to new full-timers how important it is to have a fund for emergencies.

      Thanks for sharing your number.

  5. Mike January 17, 2017 at 8:10 am #

    Thanks Becky, very helpful.

    I budget $ 1,500.00 per month. That includes 4-500/ month in RV park fees. I spend 6 months in one spot while I work, and 6 months in RV parks when I am off work. (A little boondocking here and there). My work gig is 40-70 hrs during the 6 months grossing around $ 40,000.00. 10% to charity and my net is usually $ 32,000.00. I can live comfortably earning $ 20,000.00 (less taxes).

    I am off to my volunteer gig at the local animal shelter. Those doggies need some walkin’.

    –Mike

    • Yvonne January 17, 2017 at 9:40 am #

      Mike, what is your ‘work gig’ that lasts 6 months/year and pays $40,000? Would love to hear the details! Thanks!

      • Mike January 17, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

        CDL Driver. I drive an aggregate truck (hauling rock and sand) during the construction season in North Dakota. They pay my health insurance while I work and when I am off on layoff.

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 11:19 am #

      Thanks for sharing your numbers Mike!

      • Mike January 17, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

        You are welcome, Becky.
        You were one of my inspirations to go full-time. My 1st RV park was Sparks Marina RV Park on your informational write up 2 years ago.

        I do not usually comment on your blog posts (not my style), but I read them all.
        Thanks for all the sharing that you do, it is a big help.

        I am off to order some dvd’s through your Amazon link.

        • Becky January 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

          I appreciate your continued support. 🙂

  6. Mike January 17, 2017 at 8:16 am #

    Also, I forgot to mention,

    I was debt free and I had a fully funded emergency fund (one year of expenses) and a vehicle replacement fund in place before I quit my full time job in 2014.

  7. Arden | The-Ex-Expat January 17, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    I just want to say this is really helpful — both to know your expenses and have some pretty good insights into where your income comes from. It’s funny — I experienced something similar when we first moved to Costa Rica where we’re so used to NOT talking about money, how much we make, how much we spend, but when you’re looking at doing something really different like moving abroad or full-timing in an RV, how will you have a clue if it’s possible unless people get over it and DO talk about money. So I really appreciate these posts of yours! (I have nothing to add to the conversation since I’m not a full-time RVer, but I just wanted to take a sec and say thanks!)

    • Becky January 17, 2017 at 11:36 am #

      You’re welcome Arden and I’m glad you found this interesting.

      Yes, the stigma on talking about money can make it very hard to plan for big life changes. Some friends and relatives think I’m crazy to be so open about my expenses but really it doesn’t hurt me to do so (those who might look down on me for my lower income aren’t the sort that would read a blog like this anyway), and it has helped so many others navigating these same waters.

      • Arden | The-Ex-Expat January 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

        Just wanted to add that while I’d said (accurately) that I’m not a full-time RV-er (or even part-time RV-er at this point, just a plain old tent camper), after we moved back to the U.S. after our years in CR, I find myself definitely drawn to *imagining* the possibility of such a thing and have even planted the seed with our daughter that we should think about taking a year or two, in a few years when the kids are just a bit older, to go full-time and travel the country, home-school the kids, and see a bit of our amazing world here. So your blog is one that I follow and really do enjoy!! Just didn’t want you to think I’d just drifted in out of nowhere! 😉 The info you share on your life is really inspiring!
        Arden | The-Ex-Expat recently posted..Hummers and HailMy Profile

        • Becky January 18, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

          Well I get plenty of arm-chair adventurers Arden who follow along without any plans to go RVing themselves so it didn’t phase me, all are welcome here. 🙂

          I do wish you the best though if you decide to take the plunge and try the RVing life yourself!

  8. Kevin January 17, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    I love your honesty. Thanks for sharing your financials.
    Kevin recently posted..Out of BusinessMy Profile

    • Becky January 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

      You’re welcome Kevin.

  9. Marie January 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your expenses and showing how much was repair related. I’m pretty frugal and seeing how you’ve been successful full timing is giving me hope that can also be successful.

    • Becky January 18, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      I’m glad you’ve found this helpful Marie.

  10. Marilyn in Dania Beach January 17, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    Excellent informative post, Becky. You are doing well.

    Good luck and may the repairs be few.

    • Becky January 18, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed this Marilyn.

  11. Mary January 23, 2017 at 8:36 am #

    Hi Becky,
    Thanks for your info and for everyone who commented. I am so interested. We might not be able to rv full time, but I like learning about how to budget and save money.

    • Becky January 23, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

      You’re welcome Mary and I’m happy that you found this educational.

  12. Zan Thornton January 25, 2017 at 10:11 pm #

    Thank you all. Gives us a good plan to aim for. Our RV (Josie & Paul or Van Paul) blew 2 spark us from E350 Ford 5.4 liter engine. Warning, this engine is on recall but older models are not. It’s hard to get a full repair because the engine may blow the other spark us at anytime. hence- have a large repair emergency fund and at least 8 months of living g expenses!
    We ve been stuck home & now have decided to just get a good rebuilt engine to replace the Ford engine not covered in Recall. Thank you all and look forward to seeing yall on the road!
    PS we tried to get Ford to fix it, but they come up with excuses why they can’t use we pay thousands of dollars for a fix on their errors.

    • Becky January 27, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      Glad you found this helpful Zan. Sorry to hear about your RV and I hope the rebuilt engine treats you well!

  13. Mary February 2, 2017 at 12:14 am #

    Would you be willing to share the percentage of your fixed costs versus variable costs minus the repairs? We are leaving in 2 months to be full timers. I easily know my fixed costs and know what I’d like my variable costs to be. It it would be enlightening to see how that shakes out with someone who is doing it. I know (because I’ve been reading your blog) you eat a lot of inexpensive meals but that’s okay. I’m just curious how extravagant my budget really is. I cook and love to cook so maybe one day I can make you a meal for all your hard work on this blog!

    • Becky February 2, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

      My fixed bills for phone/internet, vehicle insurance, and health insurance came to about $224/month last year. I also have fixed bills for running this website but those wouldn’t be applicable to the average person. In general I try to avoid/minimize fixed costs where I can and I don’t pay monthly subscriptions for entertainment (like Netflix) nor do I have any debt or loans.

      Hope this helps Mary and best of luck to you! I hope you enjoy full-timing as much as I have.

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  1. The Costs Of Fulltime RVing (Part II) – Specifics & Links – Wheeling It - February 19, 2017

    […] Interstellar Orchard –Becky is a frugal solo gal that travels in a cute little Casita. She spends around $1300/month on everything. […]

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