There are many reasons to choose full time RV living as a lifestyle, ranging from affordability, to desire for freedom, to last resort necessity.
Depending on what situation you find yourself in, the cost of living in an RV full time could vary drastically from dirt-cheap to quite expensive.
Let’s take a look at the cost of RV living and the primary expenses you’ll incur when living in an RV full time. We’ll discuss lifestyles from budget-minded to disposable income so we can give you the most complete picture possible.
Cost of RV Living Full Time
Before we can talk about the overall price of living in an RV full time, we need to go over some of the primary expenses for you to keep in mind. Then we can add it all up to see how much this lifestyle really costs.
If you’d like to skip ahead to the sample monthly expenses for three different full time RVers, then click here.
Cost of living in an RV full time main expenses:
Click on any expense to jump to that section
- Your RV
- Improvements for full time living
- Fuel for the RV
- Fuel for the appliances
- Lodging Fees
No matter how you look at it, your RV is going to be the biggest expense of RV living.
Obviously, this makes sense since your RV is more than just a vehicle or trailer: it’s your home! You live in there full time, so if there’s anywhere you’re going to spend money on this lifestyle, your rig is the right place.
Of course, that also means that this is the area where you can save the most money if you’re living on a tight budget. We’ll come back to that thought momentarily.
Improvements for Full Time Living
You could simply purchase an RV and start living in it, but you’ll probably realize pretty quickly that you’re missing some things. For this reason, we’ll include the improvements you make when you first get your RV to prep it for full time living as part of your startup expenses.
These improvements can be as mild or as major as you desire, but the cost will rise in accordance with the complexity of your upgrades.
Some common upgrades that can drastically improve your life include:
- Air conditioning
- Instant hot water
- Solar system for renewable energy
- Inverter for powering electronics
- Interior decorations
Fuel for the RV
Without fuel, your RV isn’t going anywhere. Now, maybe your RV is a trailer, in which case, you’ll still need fuel for the towing vehicle.
The longer you stay in one place, the less fuel you’re going to use. But if you’re like me and prefer to use your RV as a doorway to living off grid on wheels, then fuel expenses can rack up quickly.
Remember, RVs aren’t the most fuel-efficient vehicles to get around. Especially with the rising gas prices we’ve seen recently, filling the tank can be one of your biggest recurring expenses.
Fuel for Appliances
Unfortunately, it’s not just the gas tank that needs fuel. Many of your appliances likely use fuel as well, including your heaters, water heaters, cooking appliances, and maybe even your refrigerator.
If you run out of fuel for any of these essential appliances, you’re going to feel the effects. It could even be a serious detriment, depending on the situation.
For example, running out of propane for the heaters when it’s freezing cold in the middle of winter is a recipe for disaster.
On the bright side, most appliances are pretty fuel-efficient, so you won’t be going through massive amounts of propane, diesel, or whatever other fuels your appliances use. For convenience, try to get appliances that all utilize the same fuel.
Some aspects of living in an RV full time aren’t much different than living in a house. Regardless of where you live, you have to eat, and food is always going to be one of your primary expenses.
If you purchased an RV new, then you almost certainly have cold food storage on board.
For those who have built their RVs or have purchased conversions, yours could be lacking refrigeration, as could a very weathered second-hand find. In such cases, it’s vital to add refrigeration in order to keep perishables fresh and avoid the high cost of eating out too often.
As attached as everyone is to their phones today, this is an expense that can certainly not be forgotten.
Many phone plans today include hotspot coverage, allowing you to use your phone as a gateway to provide wi-fi to your computer, should you need the access.
Living in an RV, you won’t have a standard internet service the way you would in a house. That doesn’t mean you have to go without internet though!
If you’re staying in RV parks or other accommodations, then you might be able to access wi-fi where you’re at.
For anyone regularly taking their RV off grid, be it for camping trips or long-term living, hotspots make a better option.
As mentioned, you can use the hotspot on your phone. Alternatively, you can get a dedicated hotspot to provide internet wherever you go. Either way, expect to pay a bit each month for the privilege of staying connected to the modern world!
Unless your RV is never going to move again once it’s parked, you’ll need to include insurance payments in your budget. Without insurance, your RV won’t be street legal, and you won’t have any coverage if any accidents do happen.
Insurance costs can vary drastically depending on many factors including:
- Your driving record
- Your age
- The value of your rig
- The size and age of your rig
- The type of coverage you want
If you opt for basic liability insurance on your RV and nothing else, then your costs will be very low. According to Progressive, the cost of annual liability coverage for an RV starts at just $125!
Of course, more protection for your RV is better, if you can afford it. Remember, your RV is your home as well, so protecting it is of the utmost importance.
There are many add-ons available for RV coverage, including full-time RV coverage, which is almost like a home-owners insurance, protecting you against things like liabilities, injuries, and even losses occurring in proximity to your RV.
In some cases, insurance may not be necessary at all. For example, if your RV is a travel trailer and you own it outright, insurance is optional. While it could save you in case of accident, you could also forgo insurance to keep your living costs low.
Repairs and Maintenance
Often, the cost of living in an RV full time is obvious and upfront, like the cost of fuel, insurance, and food. Other costs are a bit more hidden, and they can sneak up on you when you least expect it, such as repair and maintenance costs.
Often, we don’t consider repair costs until something breaks. By that point, it’s already too late, and the price of repairing the problem is likely much higher than some preventative maintenance would have been.
Either way, your RV is going to need maintenance and repairs regularly throughout the course of its life.
RVs are a combination of a vehicle and a home. As such, they’re susceptible to all the same problems that both homes and vehicles are subject to, and you’ll need to consider the vehicle and home sides of your RV separately.
Let me explain.
The drivetrain, suspension, engine, and other vehicular components make up the vehicle portion of your RV. If your RV is a trailer, then you only have suspension, axles, wheels, and related parts, but you still have vehicular parts to consider.
Keeping these parts of your RV running is a very different game than upkeeping the home portion. Here, you’ll need to do oil changes, belt changes, other fluid exchanges, replace tires, shocks, suspension components, fix exhaust leaks, oil leaks, strange noises, check engine lights, replace brake components, and the list goes on.
The home portion of your RV represents such challenges as leaky roofs, electrical malfunctions, plumbing problems, technical difficulties, broken components, and more.
In reality, the biggest difference is that problems with the vehicle portion of your RV can stop you from going anywhere while issues with the house portion of your RV can reduce your quality of life.
It’s common to pay for lodging when you’re traveling in an RV, but this is certainly one of the largest expenses when you’re living in an RV full time.
Campgrounds range from $10 a night for dry camping up to $50 for a site with full hookups. RV parks are pricier, ranging approximately from $30-$100 per night, though you can save by paying monthly.
Of course, if you want to keep costs down, you can take your RV off grid. Without a doubt, this is the cheapest way to live full time in an RV.
Check out our beginners guide to living off the grid for more information about what it takes to live completely disconnected.
If you take your RV off grid, then you won’t have to pay anything for lodging, and you’ll have an incredible amount of freedom. You can always start with a simple off grid RV camping trip to see if it’s right for you!
For those living in an RV park or campground hopping, water will be readily available, along with sewer hookups. If you park off grid primarily, then you’ll need to find ways to refill your water and dump your sewage. Water conservation will be of the utmost importance.
One great way to conserve water in your RV is to get a couple of five-gallon water jugs that can be filled at water stations for very cheap. If you use these for drinking water, you’ll conserve your water tank for showering and dishes.
You can find other hacks like this in our article about the 16 best camper van hacks. Don’t worry, a camper van is just a slightly smaller RV, so the same ideas apply!
Even if you’re not staying in RV parks, you can stop at most of them and pay $5-$10 and they’ll let you dump your black tank and fill your water tank.
Sometimes, you can find RV stations at truck stops where you can do this for free.
One of my favorite options is to stop at a state or national park. They almost always have RV stations that you can use for dumping your black tank and refilling your water, and you don’t have to stay overnight to use them.
If you’re living in an RV full time and traveling around, then you’ll definitely want to allocate some funs for entertainment! It would be a great shame to travel to so many incredible places and not truly experience them!
Of course, entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many ways to have fun without breaking bank, so you’ll have to decide how much you want to spend on entertainment.
You can always hike and fish!
One comfortable way to live in your RV is to purchase some land on which you can park it. On the surface, this might sound expensive, but there is extremely cheap land to be found all across rural America.
In most places where you’re legally allowed to live in your RV full time on your own property, you’ll have to live off grid, and not everywhere is equally suited for that. These 10 states are the best for off grid living, and any of them would be a great place to purchase some cheap off grid land, park your RV, and live for dirt-cheap without sacrificing your comfort at all.
Other Factors and Considerations
We’ve covered all the primary expenses, but there are a few additional factors that can have a substantial impact on your overall cost of RV living.
Traveling solo is always the cheapest route. As soon as there’s a second mouth to feed, expenses start to rise. Primarily, you’ll see increases in the cost of food and entertainment. Fuel, lodging, and other expenses will stay largely the same.
With inflation so high and continuing to rise, it’s clear that rising costs can have a serious impact on the cost of living for anyone, including those in an RV. Unfortunately, anyone who lives in an RV is hit extra hard by increases in gas prices.
Income on the Road
One cost of living in an RV full time that people often overlook is the cost of no longer having an income. For many, incomes are tied to a job. If you leave the place where your job is located, you no longer have income.
Average Cost of Full Time RV Living
Now that we’ve established the primary expenses you’ll be dealing with, let’s put it all together and see if we can figure out the cost of RV living full time.
It’s clear that everyone will have different priorities, preferences, and finances. So, we’re going to make two hypothetical monthly expense charts.
RV #1 is a basic breakdown of a frugal full-time RVer. This person owns their RV outright and lives primarily off grid thanks to renewable energy. Their fuel costs can be extremely low when they’re staying primarily in one area, but costs can rise dramatically when they start to travel more.
This person spends very little on lodging, preferring to park for free on BLM land, state trust land, national forest land, and other places where boondocking is legal.
Aside from fuel, entertainment is their largest expense. You can keep entertainment costs down by hiking and fishing instead of going to concerts, but that’s why there’s a range in this expense category.
Overall, RV #1 is living for far cheaper than if they were renting or paying a mortgage, and experiencing far greater freedom of life.
RV #2 is a couple or small family with a pretty nice RV that was purchased from a lot, though certainly not one of the flashier models. They’re paying $300 in RV payments monthly, which is about average for a $35,000 RV off the lot. They have no fuel costs since they’re paying for a monthly spot at an RV park. This also means they have no water or sewage costs. They do spend more on entertainment and food though.
Still, with monthly expenses start at just $1,725, this family’s is saving a ton compared to most Americans. For reference, the average American household spends $1,784 a month on housing alone! Our hypothetical RV#2 family is spending far less than that to cover all their expenses, including entertainment!
RV#3 lives the most extravagant life. This is either one person or a couple, living in a very expensive and nice RV that they purchased from a lot with very high monthly payments. They’re constantly on the go, so fuel expenses are high, but they’re also staying in campgrounds and RV parks regularly, so lodging costs are also very high. They’re paying far more for lodging than RV#2 because they’re paying nightly and weekly rates, which are much pricier than monthly rates.
How to Reduce RV Living Cost
As we’ve seen, the cost of RV living full time ranges from very affordable to rather expensive, depending on what sort of lifestyle you wish to lead.
If you’re hoping to save some money while still enjoying the immense freedom and fulfillment that living in an RV full time can provide, then these tips will help you keep your expenses lower.
Purchase a Used RV or Convert One Yourself
Your RV will be your biggest expense when beginning this lifestyle, but you can save yourself a ton of money by either purchasing a used RV outright directly from a seller, or by building a conversion yourself.
Having built two conversions myself, I can say that it’s my preferred method. You get exactly what you want every time. But you need to have quite a few skills to put something like this together.
I’ll cover RV conversions in another article, but also consider purchasing an RV or a conversion from a seller, which can save you a lot of money over buying from a dealer. You will have to have all the cash up front, but then you’ll also have no monthly payments to worry about.
Boondock Instead of Paying for Lodging
If you choose to pay for hookups and parking, you’ll have much higher expenses than someone that parks their RV off grid for free. If you pay monthly, you might get an RV spot for $500-$600, but you could save all of that by finding legal places to boondock.
This is something we’ll cover in another article, so keep an eye out.
Plan Ahead for the Pump
One cost of living in an RV full time that’s hard to escape is the cost of fuel. You can mitigate this by planning ahead though.
Using an app like gasbuddy, you can find the cheapest gas along your route before you travel, saving you substantially when you’re traveling between towns.
This is another hack included in our 16 unrivaled hacks for camper vans article, so be sure to check that out after you finish reading this one!
Learn to Repair and Maintain Your RV
One cost we didn’t include in any of our estimates is the cost of repairs.
As we mentioned before, repairs are sort of a hidden cost that creep up on you. Moreover, the cost of repairs varies greatly.
If I repair something myself, the only cost is materials. But if you take your RV to a shop, or worse, have a professional come to you, then you could pay many times more to fix the issue.
Learn to make repairs on your RV yourself and you could save a ton of money over your lifetime.
Insure Against Incidents with AAA
If some sort of catastrophic problem happens with your rig while you’re out, then you’ll have to pay boatloads out of pocket to cover the cost of repairs and towing.
Instead, pay for AAA once each year and you could save yourself hundreds of dollars in towing fees should some unforeseen event occur. They do offer RV plans, which will make sure you’re covered should the worst happen.
Is it Cheaper to Live in an RV?
Living in an RV can be a very cost-effective way to live. It’s generally cheaper than paying rent or a mortgage on a house or apartment. You can make full time RV living extremely affordable with smart decisions. Instead of paying for campgrounds and RV parks, boondock off grid for free in legal places like BLM or national forest land. Conserve gas by staying in place for a week or more at a time and don’t drive excessively. In this manner, living in an RV full time is one of the most cost-efficient ways to live.
There are many reasons to choose full time RV living, including the affordability of such a lifestyle. Already more cost-effective than other housing situations, living in an RV full time can be an extremely cheap way to live if you choose, while also providing a level of freedom and flexibility you won’t find with other types of housing.
If you’re leaning towards living off grid in your RV, then check out these 12 awesome advantages of living off the grid to help you make a more confident decision!