Carolina: Cruising Past 70: There Are No Hidden Costs, Only Hidden Benefits, in Full-time RVing

Thursday, April 26, 2018

There Are No Hidden Costs, Only Hidden Benefits, in Full-time RVing

In my previous post, I talked about the three kinds of RV cruising one might choose as part of his lifestyle.  The common feedback I got was “We want to RV but it’s too expensive.” I wrote a piece about the subject of The Economics of the RV Cruising Lifestyle in 2011 but it was mainly to justify our upgrade to a Class A from our Class C. Fortunately, it also compared full-time RV cruising to living in a home base and using a car for road trips. Here’s my update on the topic to see if, in hindsight, we still arrive at the same conclusion-that RVing full-time is cheaper! 

Fuel Expenses

It was shocking to see that our fuel expenses were so high when we galloped around the country every three or four days using our Class C motorhome. Clearly, we had to stay at a campground longer, like two or three weeks at a time. This is logical because we were covering a lot more miles in shorter periods of time. Besides, driving around an area using the smaller RV costs a lot. This eased a little when we got the scooter but I found it a very inconvenient way to go for longer trips. I was surprised to find out that a bigger RV, with an even lower mpg, plus a car for driving around, was a cheaper way of full-time RVing. And I was ecstatic about the bonanza of a 350-sq.ft. living space! Obviously, keeping a home base and using a car for road trips is the cheapest option, however.

Vehicle Ownership and Maintenance

Unlike houses, RVs do not appreciate in value. They are homes on wheels that are regularly subjected to the rigors of the road.  Like cars, their values take a deep dive in the first year or two. Buying a brand-new RV, therefore, does not make sense. Bill thought it would be smarter to let other people take that hit. We bought a 10-year old Newmar Mountain Aire, one of the better quality brands. Besides, owning an RV at late in life also made perfect sense because investing in properties was, and still is, no longer high on our agenda.

All in all, our monthly cost of ownership (depreciation + maintenance) for a used home on wheels was around $500 per month, computing the life of our motorhome to be ten years. Not bad for a space of about 350 square feet, translating to less than $1.50 per month per square feet, just slightly above the cost of rented living space in Kent, Washington, from where we came, at the time. However, the condos that we own and are rented out will be there even after we pass on while the rig will most probably last only as long as we live or even shorter (we actually sold it after 8 years).

Campsite Fees/Utilities

When we started RVing, we joined groups that gave 50 percent off for camping fees, which ranged anywhere from $10 a night for parks to $70 for resorts. Camping this way, we averaged $450 a month. When we committed more to the fulltime RV cruising lifestyle and bought the Class A, we also bought a Thousand Trails membership. This allowed us to use their network of campgrounds around the US.  The membership resulted in camping expenses of a little over $6 a day or $200 per month over the more than four years we used it. It was a smart move. We saved on campground fees. 

Furthermore, included in the membership were power, water, and sewer. Sometimes even cable and wifi were included. Thus, the major expense for utilities turned out to be just for mobile phones. You may also need to maintain lawns when you own homes, stuff nonexistent with RVs. Plus association dues can be as high as $350 a month for homes. These are all included in campground fees.

Taxes and Insurance

An RV is a second home, or if you are full-timing, it is the primary home. Sales/excise tax on the purchase of the RV and interest on future payments are just like those on a traditional home or second home. However, since an RV is not real property, property tax is nil. Insurance on the trailer/fifth wheel is lower than on home insurance; but, since a motorhome is a motorized vehicle, insurance expense is higher and may equal that of a home.

Recreation and Entertainment

Entertainment and recreational expenses are not huge while RV cruising because cruising takes you to new places and new things to do all the time. Thus, this type of expenses while living in a home would be a lot more. There would be more out-of-town trips which would mean fuel costs for the car (or even airfare), lodging costs, and other charges associated with the place.

Food and Household Supplies

Food and household supplies can be considered the same for all the columns. Although, of course, food may be more for living in a home base because you may tend to eat out more often. In an RV, you actually feel like you are eating out all the time because grilling outdoors is so much fun and picture windows create a great ambiance. Household supplies may be less in an RV if it is compared to a larger footprint for a home base.

Health Maintenance

Although costs can be considered the same for health maintenance, it is definitely better, however, if you are at home, and more preventive in nature. You tend to postpone visits to doctors, dentists, or ophthalmologists when you travel so costs may be higher when serious health issues arise. This is the main reason we shifted to snow birding first, then getting back to a home base.

If cost were not an option, the best is to have a home base and escape with an RV. But, for most people, the cost is a major consideration. If you do not gallop around the country every three or four days, use a second-hand RV, and join a network of campgrounds, then full-time RV cruising is cheaper than living in a home and using a car for road trips. We have arrived at the same conclusion. We carved out several years from our life to cruising fulltime in an RV. We ended up having a home (the RV), financing our adventure with the rental of our condos, and getting to discover all of North America as a bonus. 

Here's a pinnable image:

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