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After 17 months of full-time RVing, we returned to a stationary lifestyle in October 2018. Here are details about some of the financial reality of both decisions and what we would recommend to you based on our experience.
I can’t imagine what I would be feeling today if we had not made the life-altering decision to hit the road with our family in 2017 and travel the continent in our brand new travel trailer, fully embracing the full-time RV lifestyle. We would have missed out on so much.
But there’s no doubt about it: That decision challenged me to my core. (You can read the details about our 100-day transition to the RV lifestyle right here, or about the fears that almost kept the adventure from happening at all right here.)
If I’m being completely honest, I have to say the financial uncertainties of the full-time RV path made up the bulk of that personal challenge.
My guess is you are facing down similar uncertainties at this point. It’s unclear how this crazy RVing idea is going to come together. And it’s even more unclear what happens on the other side of it, and when you will face that other side.
Let’s take a deep dive into this subject, based on our experience, in hopes of helping you move forward smartly….or at least smarter.
Life After Full-Time RVing: The Financial Reality of Selling Our Travel Trailer and Truck
For practical “numbers” folks like me, this is no joke. Trying to plan for the RV life feels kind of like trying to solve a critical mathematical equation when half of it is simply question marks.
See? Terrifying. And circuit-frying.
Since I have misplaced my crystal ball at the moment, I can’t replace those question marks in your equation with hard data. I can’t see your future any better than you can.
What I can do, however, is provide a glimpse into the reality of our situation. I can show you the financial figures that stared us square in the face while entering and exiting the RV lifestyle.
I’m going to stay focused on just the travel trailer and truck costs, for the most part. Trying to tackle the entire “living expenses” ball of wax is just a bit too messy to manage, and truthfully would require its own post. And a huge pile of number crunching.
Your RV and (possibly) tow vehicle expenses will likely be your largest one-time expenses related to this decision. So let’s go deep in that arena and I will give you all of the detail I can to help you effectively plan for your adventure…question marks and all.
Buying the Travel Trailer
*Disclaimer: Spontaneity usually isn’t cheap. This is especially true when it comes to choosing the full-time RV life. Our choice to make all of this happen in 100 days undoubtedly cost us more money, both entering and exiting, than it absolutely needed to. We chose speed as our top priority, based on the specifics of our life situation at the time. I cannot recommend that you do the same if you feel you have a choice. There is a great argument to be made for “slow and steady”; it’s just not the path we chose. But for you, I say: Choose wisely…but please don’t judge our path too harshly. It was a beautiful path, despite its imperfections.*
You may be wondering what made us choose a travel trailer over the other RV options out there. I mean, it doesn’t seem to be a very common choice for full-time RVers…especially families of five with full-sized kids! (Ours were 19, 17 and 13 when we launched.)
Here’s the truth: In the midst of a lot of decisions that might not have made sense from a purely financial standpoint, the travel trailer did make the most financial sense for us.
Financing “Luxury Items” Isn’t Super Easy, Or Cheap
If you haven’t hit this point in your journey yet, you should be clear on the fact that an RV is considered a “luxury item” in the financial world. It doesn’t make any difference to them how you plan on using it (e.g. home); when financing, the purchase is evaluated as a luxury purchase.
The upshot of this is simply that financing an RV of any type is far more challenging than financing an automobile. Don’t expect to see many similarities between the two processes. From the stricter criteria to the higher interest rates to the larger down payments, it’s a completely different animal.
It’s not uncommon for folks to make an automobile purchase with very little, or no, money down. That doesn’t happen on the RV side of the fence.
No, it’s far more common for RV purchases to require 20%-35% as a down payment. So go in with your eyes wide open and be prepared to pony up some cash. The better your credit, the less you may be required to pony up.
The realities of financing luxury items led us to one inevitable conclusion: Purchasing a reasonably priced travel trailer, and later a used tow vehicle, was our only reasonable path forward on our rapidly-evolving RVing journey.
The Looming Question of “New versus Used”
Coming at the prospect of buying a travel trailer as a complete RV newbie, I couldn’t quite handle the thought of potentially “buying someone else’s problems”. With the safety and welfare of my family on the line, I had to accept the fact that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I was terrified at the thought of purchasing a used travel trailer, uncertain of what lurked beneath the surface.
I decided early on in the process that I was willing to buy new and deal with the potential financial consequences of rapid depreciation. For me, this was simply the price I had to pay for some peace of mind that I was desperately craving in the midst of this unfamiliar and overwhelming territory.
Purely from a financial standpoint, purchasing a gently used (and professionally inspected) used RV can make a great deal of sense. But ultimately, that decision depends on many different factors in your personal situation.
I can say with confidence that you should not initially rule out the possibility of buying used, especially if you have the time and energy to find the right one.
The Details of Our Travel Trailer Purchase
When we stacked it all up, this is the reality we were staring at:
- We needed this “luxury item” to make our plan come together.
- The most reasonable option, from a financial and peace of mind perspective, was purchasing a new travel trailer (luxury) and a used tow vehicle (non-luxury).
- The travel trailer purchase, which needed to happen before selling the house or buying the truck, would require a significant amount of cash as down payment.
Before we even began to prepare our house for sale or shop for a truck, we had to make this travel trailer purchase. It felt insane. It felt terrifying.
I was buying this RV with no guarantee that my home would sell, and that HAD to happen for the rest of this dream to come together. Renting it out was not an option. (Did I mention I had one or twelve sleepless nights around this time?)
Yet in the face of uncertainty, we marched on. And within a few weeks, we were the proud owners of a brand new 2017 Keystone Passport 2670BH. With no way to “bring it home”. A friend of ours came and towed our soon-to-be home to an RV storage lot near our home, where it would remain for the next couple of months as we put the rest of the pieces of this puzzle together.
Here are the details of the travel trailer purchase:
- Sale price: $23,995
- Total amount after taxes and fees: $25,753
- Down payment: $6,000 (25% of sale price)
- Financed amount: $19,753
- Additional 5-Yr Protection Plan added to financed amount: $2,100
- Monthly payment: $330
- Travel trailer name: Haully
Buying the Truck (Tow Vehicle)
You might think that the travel trailer buying process would be the longest and most challenging. You’d be wrong. I just love to defy convention, I guess.
Of course, this process had to be longer because we were waiting to buy the truck until after we had prepared the house for sale and actually sold it. All of that did happen remarkably fast, actually. Here is a break down of the dates:
- Feb 13 – Visit RV dealership for the first time
- Mar 7 – Purchase travel trailer and park at RV storage lot
- Mar 31 – List house for sale
- Apr 6 – Accept a full-price offer
- May 8 – Close on house sale
- May 8 – BUY TRUCK SO I CAN ACTUALLY TOW MY TRAVEL TRAILER
See, I had about two months to really dig into the details on my tow vehicle. There was no rush because I was planning to use proceeds from the house sale to get us into the right truck, one that I felt confident would treat us well.
One of the main selling points for me on the Passport 2670BH was its lightweight construction (aluminum framing, etc.). Its empty weight was just a hair under 5,000 lbs with cargo capacity of about 1,500 lbs. I just needed to find a tow vehicle fully capable of towing 6,500 lbs with a margin of safety.
Arguments for a Diesel Truck
Even though I did toy around with the idea of buying a diesel truck for a while, I eventually decided that was overkill for this travel trailer and for our situation.
Yes, there were still plenty of arguments out there in the RV forums for buying a diesel from the very beginning regardless of your trailer weight. The basic argument went something like this:
- This is your first RV. You don’t know what you like yet; you don’t know if this will work for you long-term.
- If you buy a heavier trailer trailer (or fifth wheel) later, you will have to ALSO upgrade your truck at the same time. That’s very expensive to do!
- Therefore, it’s best to buy the beefiest truck you can now, expecting that you will upgrade your RV down the road, thus avoiding the need to simultaneously upgrade the truck.
- Plus, the diesel truck will maintain its value FAR better with all of the miles you will put on it while traveling full-time.
Apparently, upgrading your RV is a pretty popular past-time. I did see that “upgrade argument” quite a few times out there. But after thinking it through, I realized that the chances of us wanting a larger rig at some point were slim to none. If anything, we felt we would go the opposite direction into something smaller than this 26-ft beauty.
Look at Your Life Situation and Tendencies
We had one kiddo in college (who was with us on her school breaks), one that had just graduated high school and would be building his own life soon, and one finishing middle school. If this rig was big enough for all of us for this first year or so, then surely it would feel like a PALACE when we were down to just three of us in the not-too-distant future.
On top of that, Julie and I were strongly in the SIMPLIFY camp. We had been moving in that direction for a couple of years prior to considering full-time RVing. We didn’t see any reason we would reverse course anytime soon as we moved toward that empty nest stage of life.
The only factor that made the diesel vs. gas decision such a struggle was the resale value I mentioned in the final bullet point above. I didn’t have any reason to doubt that part of the equation…but it didn’t quite swing me to the diesel side. Just like with the travel trailer, I was willing to face the potential financial downside of all of those miles when it was time to sell the truck. For me, it was a better option than jumping into a diesel truck which would cost far more up front and require far more expensive maintenance during our travels.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the amount of time I spent trying to understand all of the issues with the different types of Ford diesel engines. Which ones were terrible, which ones were okay, which ones could be ok (or even invincible, with major modifications (“bullet proofing”), etc. In the end, the diesel world was just too much for me to take on as a first-time truck owner!
Benny (The Truck) Comes Home to Meet Haully!
After countless hours of searching within a radius of probably 150 miles from my home, we found the right gas truck about 1.5 miles down the road:
- 2013 RAM 2500
- 5.7L HEMI
- Long bed (8′)
- Miles: 35,887
- Price: $26,999
I had searched around enough to know that I REALLY liked that price. That’s not cheap as far as vehicles in general go, but for a tow vehicle it felt like a steal.
Now, I decided to bring a wad of cash into this transaction, after selling the house, primarily because we had some negative equity built up in our 2013 Nissan Altima (with 98,000 miles on it) that we were trading in on the truck. Here’s what that transaction looked like:
- Truck sale price: $26,999
- Trade-in allowance: $6,500
- Trade-in balance owed: $14,500
- Down payment: $9,647
- Extended service agreement: $2,175
- Financed amount: $30,119
- Monthly payment: $498
- Truck name: Benny
And Now, The Rest of the Story
Oh, you came here for the selling part of the story? Well, I guess I should get to that part, but the buying side factors into the selling side so much that I felt you needed all of the details and reasoning possible.
My goal with this entire story, the financial details of our full-time experience, is to help you make the best decision possible for YOU. The path we chose may be the opposite of what you need, but I hope that seeing our details helps you feel confident in whatever direction you choose with your full-time RVing experience.
Truthfully, I feel pretty uncomfortable laying all of this financial information out there. It doesn’t feel safe, because I know that some will consider us “foolish” for the financial decisions we made. Some will choose to judge us and critique us. I’m not looking forward to that part, but it’s fine.
Because if I can help one person make a better decision for their family by sharing these details, then it will be worth it.
Selling (Trading In) the Truck First
Believe it or not, this section should actually be much shorter than the buying section. It’s pretty straightforward but would not have been of any value to you without the details of how and why we bought what we did in the first place.
Once we made the decision to go back to the stationary lifestyle (you can read all about the reasons we stopped full-time RVing here), it became clear pretty quickly that hanging onto the travel trailer and truck just didn’t make any financial sense.
While Julie and I talked early on about keeping the travel trailer and enjoying some nice weekend escapes, our 15-year old son was completely uninterested. Apparently, 17 months of RVing had given him his fill; all he wanted now was space and ALL the people.
Understanding that it would probably take a little while to get the travel trailer sold, we went ahead and listed it for sale as I was actively shopping for a fuel-efficient family vehicle to trade the truck in on.
Facing the Reality of the Miles We Drove
As you saw above, I bought the truck with 35,887 miles on it. When it was time to trade it in about 19 months later, it had 84,157 miles on it. Yes, we had driven the truck 48,270 miles in that period. (Did I mention we moved around much faster than we should have?)
You can imagine that this impacted the truck’s value rather significantly:
- Amount owed on truck: $24,203
- Assessed trade-in value: $15,000
- My equity: -$9,203
Ouch! There’s no doubt about it, that stung quite a bit. But again, I had accepted this as a likely outcome at the beginning in the event that we left the RV lifestyle and had to get another vehicle. I tried to be a big boy about it and make the best decision possible, given our circumstances.
I don’t think I need to go into all of the details of our next vehicle, but I will say that we came out of pocket another $3,500 to get into another vehicle. That was not a requirement of the financing we were offered; we chose that amount to keep our monthly payment at a manageable level. Again, not a perfect situation, but it didn’t completely rock our world financially either. We were able to move into the next phase of life and I still do not regret the decision to purchase that truck.
I simply looked at this as part of the price we paid for the memories of a lifetime.
Selling the Travel Trailer
*Note: When you list your RV for sale online, you will be contacted by an unfathomable number of entities claiming they can get your RV sold faster, and for more money, if you will just pay them $300-500. I was tempted, but I resisted and I am glad I did. The online reputation of the vast majority of these companies is atrocious. I do not believe they will actually be a help in the end to more than a tiny fraction of folks. So be careful and do your homework before you decide to believe what they want you to believe and hand over your cash.*
Around the same time that we traded in the truck in early December, we went ahead and listed the travel trailer for sale on the following platforms:
- Facebook Marketplace (Free)
- RVTrader.com ($69 for 3 months, I think)
You’ll never guess where my buyer ended up coming from. Yup, the free option. I did have several interested parties through the RV Trader listing online (including one from California that was ready to make the drive), but we eventually sold to a family that lives just about 25 minutes away from us.
(Even though we listed in December, it was pretty quiet until January. Then the number of contacts started picking up significantly. Keep that in mind if you try to sell your RV: It seems that buyer interest really begins to pick up in January, so plan your listing accordingly, especially if you are paying for a specific duration.)
The Details of the Sale
I’ll have to apologize here, because I don’t have all of the specific numbers for the travel trailer sale available to me as I write this. I will have to use some estimates instead which should still accurately reflect the situation.
- Amount owed on travel trailer: Approx. $19,200
- Sale price: $17,500
- Sale price of extended warranty transferred to buyer: Approx. $1,300
- Total sale: $18,800
- My equity: -$400
So, we paid $6,000 up front to get into the travel trailer, we paid approximately $6,300 in monthly payments over 19 months, and we walked away $400 additional in the hole. And I was fairly relieved.
Look, I didn’t have any illusions going into this about the possibility of recouping the down payment or monthly payments on my travel trailer. I assumed these were the costs of making this crazy thing happen. It was a cost we were willing to bear, and I was just pleased not to be paying a huge additional sum out of pocket in order to transfer ownership.
What’s the Bottom Line Here?
And with that sale, we officially ended our first venture into the world of RVing. That first venture cost us some money. We learned some valuable lessons. And I wouldn’t give up a second of our experience for the chance to try and “do it better”. We did it, we loved it (struggles and all), and we are unspeakably grateful for the opportunity.
There’s a good chance we will step into Phase 2 of full-time RVing when our nest is empty in a few years.
What Did We Do Right?
As far as the RV lifestyle goes, I believe our actual purchase amounts for the travel trailer and truck were fairly moderate. It’s not uncommon to see towable RVs selling in the $60K-$80K range. Even used, many of them would be more than what we paid for a new rig. And the trucks can easily reach into the $45K+ range. We steered clear of those extremes, and I am very glad we did. I would not have been comfortable with higher up-front costs or monthly payments, even if it meant we might have a chance of recouping more on the back end.
Did we do this whole thing “smartly” from a financial perspective? No, I wouldn’t necessarily try and make that argument. (Refer to my opening remarks about the cost of spontaneity and speed in this process.)
But we reined in our desires for more space, and an increased level of comfort, in order to allow this grand adventure to happen at all. And we did it in a way that did not put us under extreme financial stress while on the road or ultimately wreck us financially.
Obviously, some of these expenses we incurred are offset by the fact that we didn’t have a mortgage to pay, we didn’t have car #2 and #3 to fuel and maintain, etc.
But even if those costs were not offset in the slightest, it would totally be worth it.
We’ve got one life to live. One chance to “seize the day” and “suck the marrow out of life”. Overall, I’d say we’re doing okay in that department.
So the question is: What life will you choose?
If you’ve got any questions, I’m here for you.
Todd Bonner is the slightly quieter half of the dynamic TREKKN duo. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at breathtaking pictures of Glacier National Park, probably his favorite spot on earth.