Does RVing Save Money?

Short answer, No

Long answer, maybe – but you will have to change the way you behave

The boys and I have been on the road in a travel trailer for four years now and in our experience the cost of living is mostly the same. There are some areas where we spend less, others where we spend more

Two of our big up-front expenses were buying the trailer and upgrading from Truck 1.0 to Truck 2.0. That alone was a hefty $43,000

Our Experience

Let us have a look at some of the details of our first year on the road. We’ll be comparing the brick house vs the RV.

The payment on brick house came to $7,988 per year and that pays for the cost of the shelter and the land it sits on. The equivalent of that in RV terms is the cost of the RV and camp ground fees. Keep in mind I spent 2/3rds of my year in spots that were free. If you need hooks ups each night it will cost you more. We spent $3,395 in land rent and shelter works out to about $3,000*. I saved about $1,593 in this category.

Property tax on brick house was $2,009 and tax on the trailer was $505, savings $1,504

Heating brick house cost $1,285 while heating trailer was $516 partly because I moved the trailer to a warmer climate and that cost in terms of diesel fuel (see below)

I put $585 worth of diesel fuel in the truck during brick-house days and $15,536 during the first year in the trailer. I lived in a town with good public transportation and bike paths so my driving was at a minimum

Our food bill went up a little bit from $2,975 to $3,699 mostly because small towns charge more for food than big towns

The entertainment bill went down, $1,914 in brick house to $868 in the trailer. The big difference is I don’t pay to go see things on the road so if it cost $5 to get in to see the big ball of twine I drive on by

Our medical expenses dropped from $4,794 to $2,535 but that’s mostly because I got all our doctor visits taken care of before we left

*I took the cost of the trailer and divided it by the useful life of the trailer – $30,000 / ten years comes to $3,000. This of course ignores selling the trailer and recovering some of the cost.

Payments $1,593
Tax $1,504
Heating $769
Diesel Fuel -$14,951
Food -$724
Entertainment $1,046
Medical $2,259

Add these up and it cost $8,504 more to live in the trailer than it did to live in the house. If we throw in the $12,500 spent on Truck 2.0 the first year we can see that we’d have been $21,004 better off staying in brick house

For a lot of people the transition from a house to an RV involves letting go of stuff. Much of the accumulated detritus from years in a traditional house gets sold, donated, or recycled. If you end up putting your stuff in storage then you will need to add the cost of that into your yearly expenses.

If you are moving into an RV because you can no longer afford rent in the city you have a job in then your situation will be different by far. You need to find a park with a monthly space, for which you will likely pay a space rent and the electric cost. Spaces can go for as little as $200 a month in places with no jobs to $800 for Denver. Even higher in California. And you will likely have to start off on a waiting list that could be hundreds of people deep.

If you are going RV because you are done with the workday world and just want to go places and help people then your experience will be much smoother. Lots of places need help and they will trade you for a place to park your RV. There are many RV clubs which you can find on the web to guide you in this pursuit.

After writing this out I’m a little sad that life on the road was so expensive in 2018. I gave up a lot of good with the bad when I sold out and hit the road and having a plus in the cost column would have been nice. On the other hand I’ve met some very nice people I would never have met had I stayed in my rut and I have more things to keep me busy than I had in brick house

For 2019 we are going to stay put most of the year with a couple of side trips so we’ll see how that turns out

Living expense 2019
The boys and I spent 9 months in the same place with a few side-trips to keep it interesting. This year’s cost has been far less than last years as a result of our static condition.

For 2019 we had the following costs:
Campground fees $1,547
Tax and Plates $506
Heating $190
Diesel Fuel -$1,154
Food -$2,563
Entertainment $2,562
Medical $3,114

That is:
$46 less on Campgrounds
$998 less on plates and tax
$606 less on heating
$13,797 less in fuel cost
$1,839 More in food cost. Mostly chocolate and cookies I’ll bet
$1,516 More in entertainment (i have no idea why)
$855 More in medical because my new chiropractor charges way more than my old one

That works out to $11,237 less than 2018. Which is huge. That’s almost enough to cover the cost of buying the Husqie Adventure 450

Next year we are already planning a trip to Canada and Idaho with side trips to the mountains so our fuel cost will be up again in 2020

Living expense 2020

Well that didn’t pan out! Covid closed Canada and parts of the US to travelers so we spent a lot more time than we planned sitting at home. I bet you did too!

For 2020 we had the following costs:

Campground fees $2,363

Tax and Plates $674

Heating $371

Diesel Fuel $1,126

Food $3,435

Entertainment $1,350

Medical $3,657
That is:

$816 more on campgrounds because we wintered in an expensive place

$168 more on plates and tax because of the motorcycle I bought

$181 more on heating because we wintered in Colorado

$28 less in fuel cost

$872 more in food cost because Covid drove prices way up

$1,212 less in entertainment because Covid

$543 more in medical because my new chiropractor charges way more than my old one

Sorry about the text spacing in this section. WordPress is just stupid these days

2020 follow-up

So 2020 was all shot to heck. Spent most of it hiding from a pandemic. Fuel cost was very low so that was good. Inflation started rising late in the year and that drove prices up and up into 2021. The pandemic drove a ton of people out on to the road to explore which made it super-hard to find camping spots where I usually do. Add to that the number of people displaced by wild fires and it made for a very frustrating year

Living Expense 2021

2021 has been marked by inflation driving prices even higher. Plus supply chain issues, techies living on the road, and a new batch of house-less people living in RV’s. I have not put together the numbers for 2021 yet, but a quick glance at my books suggests I’m spending as much living on the road as I did to live in a house. Add to that Truck 2.1 is wearing out. Both the truck and trailer need tires and brakes this year