Hopefully, you have read the other article in the Fulltiming Topic entitled “Fulltiming By Accident.” We may be the only RVer on the planet who started fulltiming by accident. That’s an absolutely true story.
I Just Wanted To Know
We were going to buy a condo when we sold our house. By coincidence and luck, I had decided I wanted to know our accurate costs to live in our house in preparation for that planned condo purchase (not for fulltiming in an RV). Because we had planned to travel extensively (we owned a motorhome and loved to cruise, too), I simply wanted to understand the difference in monthly cash flow based on our planned change in lifestyle (house-to-condo). With our accidental fulltiming, I was then able to substitute the potential costs of RVing with the condo costs.
Hard to Guess
Sorry, but you will only be able to speculate (take a wild guess) at some of your fulltiming costs if you have little or no experience with RVing. Even with experience, costs change depending on the economy, geographical area, and lifestyle. Talk to other RVers, make some calls to ask about costs, read, join e-mail or online groups, and do the best research you can. First estimate and then carefully track your real fulltime RV costs when you start out. It will take some time to do this carefully and methodically. I suggest you approach it that way.
Some of you may be at an income level where consideration of costs will not be a factor in your decision. If so, the information (costs of fulltiming) will, at minimum, be interesting to know although not critical to your decision-making. However, most will have to factor this in to their overall decision.
A Personal Story… We decided knowing what it accurately cost us to live in our house for one year would be helpful for planning a budget in preparation for any move. I went through the previous twelve months of bank statements, credit card statements, and cash receipts identifying expenditures directly associated with the house we had been living in for 16 years.
For example, if we bought plant fertilizer—that went on the spreadsheet. If we purchased a lawnmower, that went on the spreadsheet, too. I even calculated the cost of the local newspaper delivery. Why? We paid for that newspaper because it was associated with living in that house at that time. We don’t have that cost now.
Some have suggested that I should have amortized the lawnmower cost over several years—i.e., the life of the mower. I didn’t because it was a true expense during that twelve-month period because we lived in that house. If, for example, we had financed the cost longer than twelve months, I would have used the payments only during the one-year period. Conversely, if no lawnmower had been purchased, there would not have been any cost.
The point of this is to caution you to carefully think through your expenditures and be sure to include everything possible. If you are the type that regularly pays cash for the odds and ends purchased for the house, you will have to devise your own method of researching and verifying those expenditures. The obvious goal is to put everything possible on that spreadsheet—i.e., if you spent money directly associated with the house, add it in. Doing this is not an attempt to “inflate” the expenses but to truly find your costs as accurately as possible.
Comparing Apples to Kumquats
Sorry, you just cannot “ballpark” guess at the cost comparison of living in a house and an RV—it’s really an unusual comparison. Plus, you cannot do this in “your head” since it will seem like you are comparing apples and oranges (or kumquats). You must research costs carefully to be accurate and better understand what is involved. After all, you will benefit from the information. Here’s one unusual example of comparing the cost of living in a house with the cost of fulltiming…
When you rent a campsite for the night, you are actually paying for two basic things—some utilities (electric, water, and sewer) plus the rent for a space to park your RV overnight. Sure, they may have a pool, cable TV, or other amenities but let’s keep it simple. (Note: I believe the average campsite is now $30.00–$35.00/night out West and $35.00–$45.00/night in New England.) Compare this nightly campsite fee with the cost of living in your house for one night.
For the house, calculate the daily average cost of your electric, water, sewer, and heat. For accuracy, you must look at your real housing costs for the last 12 months (suppose you run a sprinkler or fill a pool in the summer). Add the costs for 12 months, divide by 365 (it’s okay to use your calculator), and you have your daily average cost for those house utilities. For the RV, it may be a bit tricky figuring the cost of heat and hot water. For example…
- If you have and use the combination heat pump/air conditioner (common on RV roofs), your heating cost is absorbed by the campground fees. Occasionally, campgrounds will charge extra for electricity but again, let’s keep it simple.
- If you use propane for heating and hot water, then that cost is extra. Dig out your propane cost for heating (and hot water) for your coach. (You need the last full year to accurately calculate your nightly cost.)
- Some motorhomes use a “hydronic heating system” where coach heat and hot water is commonly heated by the fuel from the fuel tank (diesel) or propane. This is far more difficult to calculate.
Second (also more difficult), you need some housing expense with which to compare that campground-space rent. (Don’t use your house payment because that equates to your RV payment.) I suggest using your property tax bill as a starting point. (Granted, this does not work for apartment dwellers.) Divide that annual tax bill by 365 to find a nightly average.
Next, add in yard work/maintenance costs. This may seem strange at first but you will not have this cost when fulltiming—the campground absorbs all this and is part of that $30.00–$45.00/night. Calculate what you spend to hire the yard work done or the cost of buying and operating the tools to do it yourself (lawnmower, snow blower, etc.). For apartment dwellers or condo owners, you may have a monthly maintenance fee that works here. Ultimately, you can calculate a pretty close average nightly cost for living in your house.
Remember my estimated average nightly campsite fee is $30.00–$45.00/night? How does that compare with the cost of living in your house for one night?
A Personal Story… Several years ago, when I originally estimated (budgeted) the fuel costs for us to fulltime, diesel fuel was actually selling at the pumps for $1.50/gallon (seriously). To be on the “safe” side, I fudged the estimate an extra 10% and put in $1.65/gallon! Silly me.
While the previous exercise will provide a cost comparison for staying at a campground, it does not consider other house-related costs you no longer have to spend when fulltiming. For example, in your house, it is likely you have a standard phone—a “landline.” It’s been there forever and you pay for it each month. Even if you own the phone, you pay for their services.
You probably have a cell phone, too. When fulltiming, you will take the cell phone with you in the RV so those costs remain the same. However, you would actually get rid of the landline phone and service if you sold the house to start fulltiming. That is another example of unusual cost savings associated with fulltiming for RVers.
There are numerous other types of costs that are typically eliminated by fulltiming with some (like yard work) guaranteed to go away and some (like Internet) that may go away. I am now convinced that people have no idea what it really costs to live in a house. In my seminars, I am constantly hearing, “I didn’t think of that.” when some common item is mentioned as a cost. Here are a few of those “common items”
that go away when you no longer have a house…
- cable TV
- Internet (maybe)
- special movie channels (maybe)
- leaf removal
- snow plowing or cost of snow removal equipment
- trash pick-up
- all yard work and related tools and equipment
- cleaning service
- alarm systems
- the second and/or third car and those related costs (insurance, license, repair, maintenance, etc.)
- apartment/condo association dues
- local golf/country club dues
- property taxes
- swimming pool care and maintenance
- newspaper delivery
- all utilities
You may have others specific to your house. These too, must be considered to create some type of reasonably accurate budget. Unless you have a very large bank account, budgeting will be better than guessing!
Our cost of fulltiming is approximately 30% less than what it cost us to live in our house. That savings is realized instantly, i.e., if you do not pay it out (keep the money), it is instant. Therefore, it is not like an investment, that savings will likely not grow or increase unless you significantly change your lifestyle. Most people do not do this.
I know that the cost of fulltiming is an important consideration. I have found (again, mostly through seminar participants) that all have been pleasantly surprised by the cost savings. Conversely, I have never heard any RVer state that fulltiming cost them more than living in a house.