The most common question from people considering fulltiming is about costs. I get this question in our seminars, at our vendor booth, and from e-mails. They want to now how the costs of fulltime RVing compares with the costs of living in a house or apartment. It’s a great question and obviously important to lots of people but unfortunately, no one can answer it but you. Here’s how…
First, you just cannot “ballpark” or 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 even better, apples and 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 in any RV. However, this also assumes you plan to sell the house so that total cost will disappear.
What Do You Really Pay For?
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 $25.00–$30.00/night out west/midwest and $35.00–$45.00/night in New England.) Your challenge is to compare this nightly campsite fee with the cost of living in your house for one night. Doing this will
give you a reasonably accurate picture of what to expect should you decide to try the fulltime lifestyle. I recommend you try to be as accurate as possible especially if you will live off of a fixed income.
House Utilities… 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). Total 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 (only).
RV Utilities… For the RV, it may be a bit tricky figuring the cost of heat and hot water. For example, consider the following…
- 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 propane cost.)
- Some motorhomes use the AquaHot® system where coach heat and hot water is heated by the fuel from the fuel tank (diesel). This is far more difficult to calculate.
Housing vs. Campsite Rent… Now, you need to identify 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.
Yard and Maintenance… 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. 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 $25.00–$30.00/night out west/mid-west? How does that compare with the cost of living in your house for one night?
A Personal Story… When I originally estimated (budgeted) the fuel costs for us to fulltime in 2003, 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 budgeted $1.65/gallon! Silly me.
Disappearing Costs… 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. These “normal” housing costs should go away…
special movie channels
snow plowing or cost of snow removal equipment
all yard work and related tools and equipment
the second car and its related costs (insurance, license, repair, maintenance, etc.)
apartment/condo association dues
local golf/country club dues
swimming pool care and maintenance
You may have other costs specific to your house or where you live. 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!
I am consistently told by fulltimers that their cost of living decreased dramatically after they sold their house and started fulltiming—regardless of the amount of travel (running around the nation) they did. Also, I am consistently told that their savings was very close to 30%. This means of their monthly out-of-pocket expenses, at the end of each month, they now keep 30% of that figure. Not bad.
I can verify that figure. I accurately tracked our house costs (when we lived in it) and accurately tracked our RVing costs. We, too, saved right at 30% each month.