How to RV on a Budget

How to RV on a Budget

Recreational Vehicle

Are you considering embarking on the adventurous and nomadic lifestyle of a full-time RVer? If so, you might be curious just how economical it is to purchase an RV, drive it, and live on the road. The short answer to this question is that you can make it as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. It all depends on your decisions regarding type of recreational vehicle, how you choose to finance it, and the amount of money you budget for various expenses. The range of expenditures can be pretty huge, so you’ll have to do the research and decide for yourself if you want to live large or small while traveling the countryside in your RV.


Some Questions to Ask Yourself

Before heading out, you’ll need to ask yourself and your travel-mate(s) a few questions. A good brainstorming session will rule out surprises and let you make a solid plan for your adventure. You should ask:

  • Do you have an income stream that will sustain you on the road or will you need to find work along the way?
  • Do you want to travel indefinitely or do you just want to take a year or other specified amount of time off for the trip?
  • Will you be comfortable in a modest trailer or are you desiring a luxurious top-of-the-line motorhome?
  • Do you plan to stay in 5-star RV sites or is boondocking and backpacking more your style?
  • Are there definite places you want to travel to or are you planning to roam free?

The answers to each of these questions will help you plan your trip and get an idea of what your travel mates’ needs and expectations are. Once you have this conversation, you can judge whether you’re ready to roll or need more prep and contemplation time.

Cost of Your Vehicle

The type of RV you travel in will depend on personal preference and your budget. If you have an unlimited amount of money to spend, then you can purchase whatever you want and not worry about gas mileage or efficiency. If you are like most RVers, however, you will need to pay attention to your budget. Nothing can suck the freedom out of an RV adventure like being strapped for cash. Give some thought to:

Motorhome vs. Trailer:

  • Motorhomes are the more expensive option of the two. Not only are they more expensive to buy, but they are the priciest to operate, maintain, and they depreciate more rapidly than travel trailers.
  • Trailers towed by your truck or SUV will be more economical to purchase and travel with. Plus, you can leave your trailer at your campsite and drive your vehicle around by itself.


Consider maintenance costs. Pop-up tent trailers will need less maintenance than motorhomes stocked with luxuries.


Before signing on the dotted line for an RV, call your insurance agent to find out the cost of insuring the vehicle.

RV Budget Estimate

Although you won’t know exactly what your traveling lifestyle will be like until you hit the road, there is a simple way to estimate costs. It is a basic math formula: your new RV lifestyle costs will be equal to your current household budget, minus the expenses of living in your house, plus the costs of living in your recreational vehicle. Seems easy enough, right? Do the math and see if you can swing it financially.

Jobs on the Road

If you don’t have enough cash to just take off without working, you might consider some on-the-road methods for generating income. For example:

Remote Employment:

Work for your current employer remotely. Many of today’s jobs can be handled via your computer and an internet hookup from any location.


Work-camping is another option. Lots of full-time RVers take temporary positions at campgrounds, theme parks or national parks in hospitality, maintenance or retail positions.


You can freelance via the internet and your laptop in a variety of fields, such as:

  • Teacher of online classes
  • Internet content writer
  • Online tutor or paper reviewer
  • Retro RV

    Ways to Save Cash on the Road

    Another way to stay within your budget on the road is to simply trim your expenses. Instead of earning an extra couple of hundred dollars per month, try shaving that same amount from your expenses. Consider:

    Using Home Decor:

    Instead of buying completely new furniture and decorations for your RV, bring stuff from home instead. This will save you money and can serve as a source of comfort when you’re away from home for so long. There are plenty of ways to make your RV more cozy without spending a lot of money.


    Did you realize you could camp for free on land that has been designated for that purpose? This practice is call boondocking and you can find out where sites are in every state. Free overnights save you nightly campground fees that really add up over time.

    Eating In:

    You can save a ton of cash if you prepare the majority of your meals yourself. Even inexpensive fast-food places are much more costly than homemade entrees dined upon in parks and on picnic tables. Plus, self-prepared food is often fresher and more nutritious.

    Fixed Expenses

    Plan for some fixed expenses along the road. In the accompanying chart, you will find some sample costs that you should expect. Keep in mind what you spend will vary, depending on your personal tastes and lifestyle.

    Fixed Expense Cost
    Food $400
    Household Expenses $100
    Propane $50
    Laundry $40
    Phone $90
    Internet $50
    Haircare and Beauty $30
    RV Dump Fees $5
    Postage $20
    RV Insurance $135
    Medical Insurance $350
    Miscellaneous $100

    Expenses That Vary

    Some expenses will vary, depending on price changes, the location, your route, and your vehicle. For example:

  • Fuel costs
  • Tools
  • Supplies
  • Maintenance
  • Gifts
  • Hobbies
  • Memberships
  • Camping costs
  • Restaurants
  • Entertainment
  • Souvenirs
  • Clothing
  • It is a good idea to put in some research time while planning for these expenses. Check to see if your vehicle tends to be more expensive to fix, or if dining out happens to be more expensive in one of the cities you plan to stop in. Fuel prices tend to fluctuate heavily between states, so some early research can save you some stress later on.

    In summary, expenses will vary depending on you, the RVer, but the basic premise is that you can make it just as affordable as staying home. Remember the math formula of subtracting out your “home” expenses and adding in your “RV” expenses to see if this option adds up for you.

    Once you’ve put a pencil to the costs and are ready to begin your excursion, the final step is to plan your route. Are you one of those travelers who wants to see everything you can in a short span of time, or do you plan to move slowly and really savor the experience? The destination and time frame is your decision to make. Once you know you can afford it, you can settle into the rhythm of the road at your own speed.


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