As of the end of December 2008, we've been on the road as full-time RVers for three years and five months (41 months).
That should give us some interesting data on expenses.
For our newer readers, by the time you finish this, you will know how Linda & I have spent every penny over the last three and a half years. We do not have RV payments, truck payments, or Jeep payments, so don't think I'm hiding those somewhere. We have zero debt, so those with debt that are using this as a guide will have to make adjustments. :)
The only expenses you won't see here are our business expenses. They don't affect this discussion.
Now, I've broken our expense analysis down lots of different ways so that it provides the most useful information. I have calculated our Basic RVing Living Expense averages over 41 months. In addition, I have calculated our average expenses over the 12 months we've workamped and over the 29 months we didn't.
Also, I've divided our Basic RVing Living Expenses into two major categories:
1) Basic Daily Living Expenses like campground fees, propane, fuel, entertainment, food, internet, TV, cell phones, vehicle maintenance, etc. and ...
2) Insurance, Taxes, Registration Fees. This includes health insurance, RV insurance, Truck insurance, Jeep insurance, life insurance, umbrella policy, Kentucky property taxes and registration fees, etc. Remember, we are still Kentucky residents (for cheap insurance and other reasons), and Kentucky does have personal property taxes and registration fees on our vehicles. This category does not, however, include income taxes.
For now, we will leave out the big ticket, one-time expense items, that we had not budgeted for specifically. But we'll get to them later as we have relinquished huge amounts of cash over and above Basic RV Living Expenses - just so you are aware. :)
Our average monthly expenses for our first three and a half years were $2,331.68. Annualized, that comes out to a yearly average of $27,980.16.
Of that, Basic Living Expenses were $1,839.78 for an annualized average of $22,077.36.
Note: Though I don't include our satellite internet expenses in our monthly recaps because we pay them through the RV-Dreams.com business, I have added those fees back into the numbers in this entry. Most folks will have internet expenses and not classify them separately, so I thought it would be more meaningful to put them back in for this discussion.
Our Insurance, Taxes, Registration Fees were $491.90 for an annualized average of $5,902.80.
Note: "The Jeep Effect". Remember that we did not start out with the Jeep. It didn't come along until July 2007 so the above averages are skewed just a bit. Interestingly, it has had virtually no effect on the Basic Living Expenses. In fact, the Basic Living Expense average with the Jeep is about $10 less per month than before we got it. However, the Insurance, Taxes, Registration Fees average is about $65 a month higher. The net effect is the Jeep costs us an additional $55 a month or $660 a year. I had originally thought it would cost us up to $200 per month additional. For us, the benefits of having the Jeep far, far outweigh the extra $660 a year. Next to our Datastorm satellite internet, the Jeep was our second best lifestyle decision. :)
Perhaps the Insurance, Taxes, Registration Fees part of our expenses isn't as meaningful when looking at multi-year "averages". So, we'll look at 2008 only. For 2008, our costs were $6,707.99 or $559 per month. Most of that $800 annual difference over the 41-month average is due to the Jeep.
Travel Months (29 months)
For the 29 months we did not workamp, our total expense average was $2,761.32 per month or $33,135.84 annualized.
Of course, the Insurance, etc. was still the same $491.90 per month ($5,902.80 annualized), but the Basic Living Expenses average was $2,269.42 per month or $27,233.04 annualized.
And that was only traveling (actually towing the rig) an average of 580 miles per month for those 29 months.
Workamping Months (12 months)
For the 12 months that we workamped and did not travel, our total expense average was $1,664.77 per month or $19,977.24 annualized. I'm pretty sure just about all of us could live on that. :)
Again, the Insurance, etc. was still the same $491.90 ($5,902.80). But the Basic Living Expenses only averaged $1,172.87 per month or $14,074.44 annualized. That's about $1,100 per month less than when traveling.
We have managed to keep our total Basic RVing Living Expenses under $30,000 each year. And for 2008, they were down around $25,000 with seven full months of workamping.
As we said, we are spending an average of $1,100 less per month when we workamp. That is mostly due to savings in seven expense categories (monthly savings indicated): Campground Fees ($453.42), Diesel ($234.95), Gas ($96.41), Groceries & Dining Out ($21.95), Laundry, Clothing, Hair ($30.52), Entertainment ($122.23), & Miscellaneous ($65.54).
After all this time and analysis, I'm still standing by that $3,000 per month number ($36,000 per year) to live moderately comfortably on the road without working. That is, if one doesn't have big debts and payments. :)
That doesn't mean you have to have $3,000 a month in income to be a full-time RVer. We certainly don't have that and many, many other full-timers don't as well. You can do it on much less with workamping and/or frugal habits. It's all about how much you want to live the lifestyle, how you want to live it, and what you are willing to do to have it. :)
So you want some details? Okay, here goes.
I'll start with "Insurance, Taxes, Registration" since those expenses aren't affected by workamping.
Insurance, Taxes, Registration Fees
Insurance - Health, Life, Umbrella
We have averaged $241.48 per month ($2,897.76 annualized) during our 41 months on the road.
Since our $1 Million umbrella policy has been $128 a year ($10.67 per month) since 2006 and our life insurance (Two $250,000 30-year level premium policies) has a fixed annual premium of $953 ($79.42 per month), the only fluctuation has been health insurance.
We started out with an Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA) feature, $4,800 deductible, 20% out-of-pocket co-insurance, and $197 monthly premium. When we got a signifcant premium increase in 2006, we changed plans to another Anthem BC/BS plan with a $10,000 deductible and 0% co-insurance for a monthly premium of $168. In 2007, the premium increased to $180 and in 2008 it increased to $195.
We know our health insurance premiums will keep increasing each year, so we'll have to make adjustments in other areas as they start to get really high. Fortunately, the expenses below are trending down each year to help with the annual health insurance increases.
RV Insurance (2006 Keystone Cambridge Fifth Wheel)
Averaged 71.37 per month ($856.44 annualized) for 41 months. For 2008 it had gone down to $59.52 ($714.29).
Truck Insurance (2005 Ford F-450)
Averaged $58.76 per month ($705.07) for 41 months. It has stayed pretty steady.
Jeep Insurance (2003 Jeep Liberty Sport)
Averaged $23.57 per month ($282.83 annualized) for 41 months. That is the amount included in the $491.90 total at the top. But we only had the Jeep for 18 months at the end of 2008, so the real number is $53.68 per month ($644.16 annualized). :)
RV Taxes/Registration (Kentucky)
Averaged $47.36 per month ($568.30) annualized for 41 months. This is trending downward pretty quickly as the value of the fifth wheel decreases.
Truck Taxes/Registration (Kentucky)
Averaged $45.83 per month ($549.97 annualized) for 41 months. This is dropping about $50 per year as the truck decreases in value.
Jeep Taxes/Registration (Kentucky)
Averaged $3.54 per month ($42.43 annualized) for 41 months. Again, we only had the Jeep for 18 months, so the real number is $12.08 per month ($144.97 annualized). That will also trend downward.
Basic Daily Living Expenses
Averaged $328.03 per month ($3,936.35 annualized) for 41 months.
Averaged $460.74 per month ($5,528.84 annualized) for 29 travel months.
Averaged $7.32 per month ($87.83 annualized) for 12 workamping months (had one month that was not quite a full workamping month).
When we started, we budgeted $25 per night for campgrounds which comes out to about $750 per month. We found that we could be well under that by staying at public campgrounds, getting weekly or monthly rates at RV parks, using Passport America, staying at private residences occasionally, and boondocking for free on public land.
Now we budget $15 a night during travel months or about $450 per month. With that said, $25 a night is still a pretty good moderate budget for those staying in campgrounds or RV parks every night.
When we started, we signed up for Escapees, Good Sam, Golf Club International through Good Sam, and Passport America. We averaged about $100 a year.
This past year, we dropped Good Sam and the Golf Club International. I'm sure we were getting our money out of them, but we just decided not to renew. Also, we have enough Escapee referrals to pay for our annual Escapees dues of $60. Still, $100 a year is about right for most folks.
We have averaged about $11 per month ($132 annualized) across the board. Usually our propane is included during workamping, but not always and it seems to even out.
Though our cell phone bills average $85 a month (Verizon National Access with two lines), our 41-month average in the cell phone category has been $100 per month. Of course, that's because I keep losing phones or dunking them in a river and have to get new equipment. :) Actually, it also includes an amplifier and booster antennas purchased along the way.
Lots of RVers use internet based phone service now with their air cards or Wi-Fi. We haven't gone that route yet due to the latency over the satellite internet.
We try to keep an eye on phone service technology for the road, but for now, we're sticking with what we have.
Our 41-month average for this expense is $70 per month ($840 annualized). In 2005, we paid $94.05 a month, but since January 2006 we've paid $798 annually or $66.50 per month.
That's about the same as monthly cellular air card service.
Our satellite TV has been with DirecTV since we started. It has averaged $67.44 per month ($809.25) for basic programming (no movie channels or premium services), two DVRs, and Distant Network Programming (New York & Los Angeles network feeds). Of course, the average includes a promotional discount in the first three months and the occasional pay-per-view movie. :)
Our standard price has risen steadily and is currrently up to $79.04 per month. We'll have to see what our threshhold for this luxury might be if it keeps going up. :)
Averaged $228.06 per month ($2,736.77 annualized) for diesel over 41 months.
Averaged $296.83 per month ($3,561.95 annualized) for 29 travel months.
Averaged $61.88 per month ($742.60 annualized) for 12 workamping months. Of course, this has gone to zero since we got the Jeep.
For 41 months we averaged $2.94 per gallon at the pumps, but $3.91 in 2008. We get 10 mpg pretty consistently while towing, and about 15 mpg when not towing. Again, we rarely drive it without towing anymore.
We have driven the truck a total of 35,594 miles in 41 months and 16,809 of that was towing. That's 580 miles of towing per month in the 29 travel months and 410 miles per month over all in the 41 months on the road.
Averaged $80.40 per month ($964.83 annualized) for 41 months. Of course, once again, we only had the Jeep for 18 months, so the real number is $183.14 per month ($2,197.68 annualized).
Averaged $225.99 per month ($2,711.88 annualized) in the 10 travel months we had the Jeep.
Averaged $129.58 per month ($1,554.96 annualized) in the 8 workamping months we had the Jeep.
For 18 months we averaged $3.11 at the pumps, but $3.46 in 2008. We get about 20 mph on the highway.
We have driven the Jeep 21,830 in the 18 months we've had it. Of that 7,360 has been while traveling and 14,470 has been local travel.
As you know, we don't double tow the Jeep, but drive it separately when we travel with the rig. However, with the differences in gas vs. diesel prices and the better mileage of the Jeep over the truck, we have more than offset the cost of driving it separately by driving it locally when parked instead of the truck.
We've averaged $22.38 per month ($268.56 annualized) over 41 months. We do a little more maintenance in workamping months due to being in one place for awhile and having the ability to schedule appointments, but the difference during travel months is insignificant.
We do have a seven-year extended service contract that we bought at the time we purchased the fifth wheel, and that has helped keep our costs down. I still budget $50 a month ($600 a year) for maintenance.
Averaged $23.21 per month ($278.57 annualized) over 41 months. We still budget $35 per month.
Averaged $15.45 per month ($185.40 annualized) in the 18 months we've owned the Jeep. We budget $20 a month.
Groceries & Dining Out
Averaged $426.25 per month ($5,115.01 annualized) in 41 months.
Averaged $432.68 per month ($5,192.10 annualized) in 29 travel months.
Averaged $410.73 per month ($4,928.70 annualized) in 12 workamping months.
Notice there is not a significant difference between travel and workamping months. If we are working remotely, Linda cooks more. But if we are working near towns, we tend to eat out more since Linda doesn't like to cook on work days. It all sort of balances out.
This category also includes basics like paper towels, kleenex, paper plates, toothpaste, soap, etc. - anything that can be picked up at a grocery.
Some folks include their Dining Out in their Entertainment budget. Many folks don't know how we keep this category this low. :)
We just don't eat out that much and we shop cheap at the grocery - store brands over brand names, sale items, etc.
Laundry, Clothing, Hair
Averaged $66.53 per month ($798.35 annualized) for 41 months.
Averaged $75.46 per month ($905.53 annualized) for 29 travel months.
Averaged $44.94 per month ($539.33 annualized) for 12 workamping months.
You can see there is a $30 difference between travel & workamping months. That's because we get free laundry while workamping and save $6 - $8 per week.
Averaged $192.48 per month ($2,309.74 annualized) for 41 months.
Averaged $228.25 per month ($2,739.05 annualized) for 29 travel months.
Averaged $106.02 per month ($1,272.24 annualized) for 12 workamping months.
This category includes park admission fees, tours, movies, golf, fishing licenses, etc.
An interesting thing here. We know that we spend less overall while workamping, so we increase our entertainment budget during those months to have some fun on our days off. However, we find we just don't spend money on entertainment while working. We continue to entertain ourselves with free activities or just don't go out as much as we think we will.
Medical & Dental Expenses
Averaged $30.34 per month ($364.08 annualized) over 41 months.
There is no real difference in travel vs. workamping months.
This category includes doctors visits, prescription drugs when we have them (we don't have any ongoing prescribed medicines), over-the-counter medications, and visits to the dentist (which we self-insure).
We still budget $50 a month, but we were really lucky in 2008 having less than $40 for the year - knock on wood. :)
Averaged $179.54 per month ($2,154.50 annualized) for 41 months.
Averaged $198.72 per month ($2,384.69 annualized) for 29 travel months.
Averaged $133.19 per month ($1,598.23 annualized) for 12 workamping months.
My guess is that we are just exposed to more goodies while traveling than when staying put. :)
I hate this catch-all category, but we have to have it. Trying to classify every little thing that comes up would drive us crazy. But it is necessary to record those things that don't fit elsewhere. As you can see, those little expenses add up to a big expense. :)
Major Cash Outlays (Outside Basic Living Expenses)
This is the section I'm almost embarrassed to post. But I want to make sure those looking forward to full-timing consider things like this when preparing a financial plan.
Recall that we made our decision to full-time in December 2004 and had never considered it before that time. We had not prepared other to figure out we wanted to do it, we could do it, and we were determined to do it.
In January 2005, we bought our fifth wheel and gave six months notice at work. We bought our truck anticipating delivery of the fifth wheel in April. We decided to buy as much as we could for our new lifestyle while we still had big paychecks coming in.
We paid for service contracts, annual contracts on satellite internet, satellite TV, health insurance, etc. We didn't want to have to deal with those large expenses our first year on the road.
We bought lots of small accessories that most experienced RVers already have. We also bought two DVRs for satellite TV - $200. But our biggest expense was $5,245 for our Datastorm roof-mounted automatic internet satellite dish. Remember, I said earlier that was our number one purchase for our new lifestyle.
We sold our house in May 2005, lived at my parents' farm in our new fifth wheel through the end of July 2005 when our jobs ended, and hit the road August 3, 2005. Needless to say, we hadn't had much time or much experience to figure out what we wanted or needed.
Okay, here goes.
Since we hit the road, we've spent (gulp) $51,760.39. Of that, about $34,000 was spent on what we consider lifestyle upgrades. Some of it we were able to classify as business items, but I'm going to include them here anyway.
Here is my breakdown:
$3,576.00 - Considered necessities for safety/convenience
$690.00 - Pressure Pro Tire Pressure Monitoring System for truck & trailer
$269.00 - Steel Tripod Stabilizer for fifth wheel kingpin and a "Blue Boy" for wastewater transfer
$108.00 - Sears Craftsman portable 150 psi air compressor
$140.00 - Extra fire extinguishers and smoke detector
$139.00 - 17-foot Gorilla Ladder for safer access to RV roof
$2,230.00 - Upgraded to H-rated tires & wheels for RV
$20,409.26 - Lifestyle improvement upgrades (not necessities)
$1,346.86 - Electra Townie Bikes and accessories; We didn't have bikes when we started, and these comfortable cruisers looked like just the ticket for people that hadn't ridden in years; Looking back, I'm not sure we needed to spend that much money and I probably would have been better off with a mountain bike; But we do like having the bikes and would have something if not these
$274.00 - Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Boat (canoe/kayak); A top five purchase for us - we love it!
$160.00 - Magellan eXplorist 200 handheld GPS for geocaching & hiking
$1,698.00 - Sea Eagle Foldcat Inflatable two-seat pontoon fishing boat with electric motor and marine battery; As much as we love the Sea Eagle 330, we wanted a boat that could 1) get us farther across a lake, 2) make it easier to go upstream on a river, and 3) carry more gear; We used it to float 22 miles of wilderness river and camp overnight - still one of the biggests highlights during our journey; Though we don't use our inflatable boats as often as we'd like, when we do, we always end the day with "we love our boats!"
$568.00 - La-Z-Boy Pinnacle Recliner; we tossed our hide-a-bed sofa and got a third recliner to match our other two; Great choice for us - gives us more room in the fifth wheel and weighs far less
$7,199.78 - Electrical Upgrade - Xantrex 3000 watt inverter, 4 6-volt AGM batteries, 4 AM Solar AM100 solar panels, Solar Controller, Trimetric battery monitor, shunt, wiring, hardware, & supplies; Gives us tremendous flexibility on where we can camp; Strictly a lifestyle choice and certainly not an economic one; Still trying it out, but could be a top five decision down the road
$13,700 - 2003 Jeep Liberty Sport; We had several reasons for buying the Jeep: 1) Explore more nature by getting off-road without rattling our brains out, 2) Have a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle for local exploring and errands (became more important the more we workamped), 3) Have a second vehicle so we could each go places individually, 4) Have more storage, 5) Have a place to put a bike rack and get our bikes out of the fifth wheel basement storage, 6) Have two vehicles so we could shuttle ourselves to the end of a canoe float or hike, 7) Have a vehicle to explore roads and campgrounds before getting the fifth wheel stuck, 8) Have another vehicle on travel day to help letting the fifth wheel change lanes and act as a buffer to other traffic, 9) Get Linda in control of her own steering wheel so she'd have less anxiety while traveling
$711.00 - All-Terrain Tires for the Jeep
$215.00 - Receiver Hitch for the Jeep
$757.00 - Kentucky Sales/Use Tax on the Jeep
$3,653.62 - Equip Jeep for more serious and safer offroading - skid plates, bumper & winch
$126.00 - Bike rack for Jeep
So, in this category, $19,162.62 was spent on the Jeep or as a result of the Jeep. Yikes! But we still wouldn't change anything. It all made what we were already enjoying a lot better.
Here's the tough part. Before we went on the road, Linda had a nice, shiny Suzuki Grand Vitara. It was 4WD, about the same size as a Jeep Liberty, and PAID FOR. But we didn't want to deal with two vehicles and thought it would be a hassle to travel separately. Oh how we wish we wouldn't have sold it. Just some food for thought. :)
$4,593.00 - Truly unexpected expenses
$300.00 - Airfare for Linda to go to Louisville; She had a dental issue that was going to cost a bundle, but her previous dentist would fix it for free if she could get home
$2,087.00 - With a horrible lack of judgment coupled with downright stupidity, I dropped the fifth wheel on the truck - this was the cost to fix the truck rails; It's a long story that is well detailed in the Journal
$2,206.00 - Mexican Riviera Cruise; Now, we would never have done this, but a really good friend called and wanted us to go for her 50th birthday; I balked at first, but we couldn't turn her down :)
$4,776.55 - Computer-related or photography-related
$1,200.00 - After our 2005 Datastorm installation, satellite internet equipment upgraded, so we got the new equipment in January 2006; This also included labor to move our dish to a better part of the rig as it wasn't level when first installed
$703.60 - Nikon D-40 SLR Kit; I wanted a smaller back-up for my D-70, but couldn't go to a pocket sized camera; Glad I chose this one!
$1,343.36 - Toshiba Laptop with 17-inch screen; We went on the road with two aging laptops and when the first one died, I ordered this one
$970.59 - Toshiba Laptop with 15-inch screen; A year and two months after the first laptop died, the second old laptop followed suit
$559.00 - Nikon D-40 SLR Kit; Unfortunately, I drowned my first beloved D-40 in a canoeing accident
All of these expenses were used to generate business income, so RV-Dreams.com paid for all of them.
$8,405.58 - Income tax-related
$2,600.00 - 2006 income taxes and accounting fees; This was the result of residual income (our first year safety net) from our old lives; Not sure it is really fair to include it here, but it was a big ticket item we had to pay on the road
$4,978.58 - 2007 income taxes and accounting fees plus 2008 estimated taxes; When we purchased the Jeep in 2007, we sold stock (you know, back when times were good) and that sale generated capital gain income which, in turn, caused us to pay taxes and triggered estimated taxes for 2008; A big brain freeze on my part as I knew we wouldn't otherwise have to pay income taxes
$827.00 - More 2008 estimated taxes
Final Thoughts On The Large Cash Outlays
Some of you are probably thinking "Wow, I bet Howard wishes he had that $52,000 in the bank now." Well, you'd be right about the $2,000 to repair the truck rails and all those dang taxes.
And it does sting a little that we sold a perfectly good second vehicle before going on the road. Especially since about $25,000 of these expenses were for, or the result of, buying the Jeep.
Still, I'm at ease with everything. As always, we make decisions and we go forward.
I have two reasons for sharing all this.
First, it is very difficult to know what you might want or need to enhance your RVing lifestyle until you've lived it. Expect big expenses like these in the first one, two, or even three years.
Second, maybe, just maybe, we have provided some food for thought that may assist in better preparing a financial plan or at least setting aside a little extra cash for things like dying laptops.
Well, that about wraps it up. It may take reading and re-reading this post to make it "click" fully. I've just completed getting it in a more visual form for the website - Our 2005 - 2008 Full-time RVing Expense Averages. I hope some you find this entry and the webpage helpful or enlightening. It was both for me. :)
If you find it helpful, we sure would appreciate a visit to our sponsors or a small donation for the time and effort. :)