After three years of living in our motorhome, last year was the first time we properly kept track of all our RV-related expenses for the entire year.
The results surprised us a bit because RV life wasn’t as cheap as we thought it was (even after three years of living it).
In 2021 we spent $12,817 on RV-related expenses, as a couple living and working full-time in our Class A motorhome. So that’s technically $1068 per month for anyone who’s counting.
At the beginning of the year, we made a huge one-time investment in a solar charging system for our RV so that we could spend more time off-grid and camp for “free”.
We saved up for this, bought one lithium battery at a time, and paid cash for our installation right at the start of the new year. We had big dreams of cutting the cord and were excited about how much money we would save.
What’s Included In This Full-Time RV Budget?
So among the many disclaimers, I feel necessary when writing about how to full-time RV on $1000 a month, is this big one: we were trying to live for free.
We structured many of our travels around dry camping and really getting our money’s worth from that solar system.
I realize there are a million ways to budget and calculate expenses, this is just how we chose to do it, and we are not accountants. We focused on RV-related expenses only.
We wanted to know how much it cost us to live in the motorhome, as compared to say, an apartment in Phoenix.
Therefore, we excluded all personal expenses that we would also have if living in a sticks and bricks. This budget does not include cell phone plans, internet, health insurance, or food and drink.
It also does not include our Jeep tow vehicle. We debated this one for a while and decided that if we were living in a regular house, we would still have at least one car, so including it as an RV expense did not make sense.
We also did not include the solar installation cost as this was a one-time expense.
This budget could vary greatly depending on the type of RV you have, from motorhome to campervan to travel trailer to fifth-wheel.
This budget could vary if you have a loan on your RV versus owning it outright. But we hope it’s a good starting point for consideration if you’re thinking about going full-time in an RV and wondering about how much it will cost.
Essentially, you should compare this total to what you are paying for rent or mortgage. This will help you “compare apples to apples” when considering the RV lifestyle from a financial perspective.
Let’s dive into the specific numbers
With those caveats out of the way, it’s time to jump into the weeds and see what our numbers actually looked like for 2021.
RV MAINTENANCE, PARTS & REPAIRS: $329/month [$3,947/year]
This figure will vary depending on the age, condition, and type of RV you have. It may vary depending on how big your RV is, how many slides you have, and your towing setup.
For reference, we have a 40-foot 2004 Motorhome that was well taken care of when we bought it.
ENGINE – $415 per year
Our RV does have a big engine, as opposed to a smaller RV like a truck with travel trailer. All expenses related to maintaining this big engine are included in this figure.
We have a mobile mechanic do all of the annual maintenance on our engine, including the oil change, lubrication, and filter.
The engine oil and filter is $350/year. A new fuel filter is $50. He also does the generator oil & filter for only $65 if you have a built-in generator.
It’s also worth noting with a big diesel engine that we must service the transmission every five years as well, and that’s an extra $580 each time. If you’re in the Southern Arizona area and need mobile service, call Jim at Onsite RV Oil Change.
SLIDE-OUTS – $1455 per year
We have four slide-outs and while they make our RV feel humungous, they’re also a big potential expense. This was the “year of the slide” for us, as we had to make repairs to all four slides, each with different problems.
We installed Guardian Plates by TALIN to help with some slide floor separation on the exterior bottom of our living room slide. A set of custom-sized plates was $455, plus we paid $200 to have a professional do the installation. This should hopefully extend the life of our biggest slide.
Next, our kitchen slide got stuck in the “in” position and wouldn’t go out. We were afraid we were frying the slide-out motor by trying to put it out, so we called a mobile mechanic.
He found that the exterior arms on the slide topper had bent back and were preventing it from rolling out easily. This was luckily a quick $100 job as he just had to bend the arms back into place.
In the back of the bus, we have opposing slides in the bedroom. The wardrobe slide just barely came in one day, it sounded like the motor was dying a slow death.
Nervous that we’d get stuck with a slide out one day, we ordered a new motor at the painful price of $650. Fortunately, we were able to do the install ourselves.
The slide that our bed sits on has rollers and it slides in and out on top of these rollers. The support the rollers are on was bending and causing the slide to have issues rolling smoothly.
So we paid a welder $50 while we were in Mexico to reinforce the support structure. The rollers have been doing fine ever since.
EVERYDAY SUPPLIES – $1832 per year
This year we had a few one-time expenses for everyday RV life:
- Expandable ladder to be better able to service the RV ourselves ($256, worth it)
- Replaced all of our lights with LED lights ($500, expensive).
- AC shroud covers replaced ($234)
- Maxx Air Fan and Vent Hood ($325)
- Wiper Blades ($64). We replaced our wiper blades for the first time this year, not sure if this will require annual replacement.
And here are our regular, ongoing RV supplies and expenses:
- Water Filters – $282 per year
We replace our regular whole-house Clear2O water filter every three months ($148/year). We also have the Clear2O DirtGuard that we’ve only purchased once so far ($42/year). We replace our in-line drinking water Pentair Everpure Cartridge every six months ($92/year).
- Air Filters – $146 per year
The air filters for our Dometic ACs are from RV Air and get replaced about twice a year at roughly $18 each. We have two AC units, so that’s four a year at $72/year. We also run a Dyson air purifier and replace that filter once a year ($74).
- Tank Treatment – $25 per year
We use Happy Campers for our RV tank treatment, and find that one standard size tub lasts us a year ($25/year).
COSMETIC FIXES – $245 per year
We have done only minimal cosmetic upgrades to our RV since we purchased it, but we did buy some paint, fabric, and a new faucet this year.
While we know the specifics of these expenses will change from year to year, we feel confident that $329 per month is a good number to budget for RV maintenance, parts, and repairs going forward.
We’ve talked to many other full-time motorhomers about their monthly maintenance and there’s a consensus around $300-400/month as a good budget figure.
I’d imagine that towable RVs without an engine would be much less expensive, but then you may have to figure in expenses for your tow vehicle since the trailer can’t move without it.
FUEL: $295/month [$3,450/year)
The amount of fuel you consume obviously depends on how much you drive, and the fuel economy of your vehicle.
We drove the motorhome 8,817 miles in 2021 and used 1,088 gallons of diesel fuel. The average cost of fuel was $3.25/ gallon and therefore we spent a total of $3,450 on fuel or $295/month.
We make use of the TSD Fuel card and Open Roads app to save on diesel at truck stops.
We recommend finding whichever fuel programs, discount cards, or apps can help with your fueling up and joining them all! We also use our Good Sam card for discounts at Pilot Flying J when applicable.
PAID PARKING (RV PARKS, ETC.): $178/month [$2,136/year]
While we strived to find as much free camping as possible last year, we still had some paid parking expenses.
Having the ability to dry camp without hookups reduced our costs greatly, but we still paid to stay at State Parks, National Forest campgrounds, Army Corps parks, Hip Camps, County Fairgrounds, and standard RV Parks.
If you’re planning to stay primarily at RV parks, you’ll certainly want to budget more for that. When we used to stay at RV parks, we reduced the cost by staying for one month at a time and getting discounted monthly rates.
Obviously, staying longer in one location also means that you will reduce your overall fuel expenses as well.
INSURANCE: $121/month [$1,452/year]
If you’re living in your RV full-time, we recommend having full-timers’ insurance. This will better cover your RV and belongings should anything happen in your travels.
If you can, choose an agency that understands the RV lifestyle like Miller RV Insurance.
RV RALLIES & EVENTS: $58/month [$700/year]
Let’s face it, life on the road can be lonely. If you’re looking for other full-time RVers to share your travels with, attending RV rallies or events can help you find your travel tribe.
PROPANE: $50/month [$605/year]
Propane heats our home, creates hot water, powers our fridge, and is what we cook with most of the time. Heating the RV by running the furnace definitely uses the most propane of any draw.
Therefore, this cost could vary greatly depending on how much time you plan to RV in cold temperatures.
DUMP & FILL: $8.50/month [$104/year]
We estimate that we have to dump and fill our tanks about 30-35 times per year (about every 10-12 days), and in 2021 we had to pay for that service 10 times.
The average pay-for dump and fill stations cost about $10-15 for both dump and water fill. We try to find free services or time it with entry to a state park, RV park, or any paid parking with a free/ included dump station.
TOLLS: $5.50/month [$66/year]
The amount you can expect to pay for tolls will depend on the size of your RV (how many axles) and what region of the country you primarily travel in.
We didn’t pay for any tolls in 2020, but in 2021 we went to the East Coast to visit family and that’s where we racked up these costs.
We discovered the Uni Pass which is compatible with toll passes in 19 states and found it to be so convenient that we never needed to stop at a toll booth or have cash for tolls.
Is the RV Lifestyle Worth the Cost?
After crunching all the numbers, we were surprised that our first year of (what we thought would be) “free” RV living actually cost us $1000/mo.
But most people pay more than $1000/month in rent, so we feel like it’s a pretty reasonable cost for a lifestyle we love so much.
Part of the reason we got into the RV lifestyle in the first place was to reduce our overhead so that we could work less and enjoy little moments of retirement every day, as opposed to waiting until we were 65.
Now we know, $1000/month is probably about the best we can do without sacrificing our ability to do the things we love.
If you’re considering full-time RV life, we hope this helps you with a starting point for your budget, and we wish you all the best in getting started with life on the road if you decide it’s a good fit!
Kristen Bates lives & works from her RV, primarily boondocking off-grid. She owns and operates a women-led travel company, Legit Trips. Kristen loves to explore new places and inspire others to do the same. If she’s not typing away on her laptop, she’s off on an adventure- hiking, biking, or SUP boarding. You can follow her RV adventures @PerpetualMoves and learn more about her travel company at LegitTrips.com.