Home > Personal Finance > Can You Afford to Be a Full-Time RVer?

Comments 8 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Have you ever thought about chucking it all and taking to the road full-time? My hubby and I have, though now we can’t seriously consider it until my daughter is out of high school in a few years. But if you’re free to roam, you could join some 1.3 million Americans who are full-time RVers.

To find out what it takes to be able to afford becoming a full-timer, I spoke with Kathy Huggins. She and her husband John have been “living the RV dream” for over seven years and host a radio show by that name at LivingTheRVDream.com. I interviewed Kathy for my radio show, Talk Credit Radio.  Here are the Huggins’ financial tips for a life on the road.

Get Organized

While you’re traveling, you’ll need to have someone receive and forward your mail to you. That could be a friend, relative or a mail service. The Huggins use a mail service located in South Dakota (more on that choice later) that forward their mail twice a month.

They also rely on online banking and bill pay. Their phone, credit card, and satellite dish bills are all paid online. If there is a bill that can’t be handled that way, “a hospital bill, for example” says Kathy, “I leave them a note that I only get my mail twice a month, that I may be late and please do not charge me (a late fee),” she explains, adding that she’s never had a problem.

For banking, they use direct deposit and a debit card. To avoid ATM fees, they chose a bank that refunds ATM fees and and often get cash back at the cash register when they make a purchase on their debit cards.

[Free Resource: Check your credit score for free before applying for a credit card]

Free Tool: Credit Report CardHave a (Flexible) Budget

Does living in an RV cost less, or more, than living in a traditional home? For the Huggins, it’s less. Kathy rattled off her monthly expenses: rig payment, phone bill, and satellite television for starters. Camping site fees can range from free to $60-70 per night, though, she says they try to keep theirs at $20 per night.

To keep your electric bill down, avoid staying in one place for months because long-term campers usually have to pay for their own electricity. “Stay for less than a month and they pay the electric bill,” she says. Even when the Huggins do pay for electricity, it’s pretty inexpensive: about $40 per month, or $80 a month if it’s cold and the electric heaters go on. “Remember, we’re living in 400 square feet,” she adds with a laugh. And while many campsites have free Wi-Fi available, the Huggins spring for their own wireless Internet connection because they need Internet access for their radio show. Cooking their own food and limiting meals in restaurants also saves them a bundle.

As with any budget, there are always surprises. For the Huggins, it’s been rising gas prices, which went from $2.99 a gallon to almost $4.00 a gallon at the time we talked. “That’s been a big change in our lifestyle,” she comments, “but we just spend more time in a campsite. We’ll travel maybe 250 miles a day at the most and we might stay (in one place) 3 or 4 weeks. We use our car, which we tow, to go see all the things that are around here.”

Save Up For Your Rig, Shop For the Loan

I asked Kathy what it costs to buy an RV that would be comfortable to live in year round. She says a used motor home will run “right around $100,000 if it’s a diesel pusher and about $80,000 for a gas rig. And they’re pretty comfortable.” The other option is to buy a “fifth wheel” that is pulled by a truck. “You’re talking about $40,000 — $60,000,” she says, but “then you have to buy a truck to pull it, which can be up to $40,000 for the truck.”

Before hitting the road, the Huggins sold their Florida home at the height of the market, which allowed them to get rid of all their debt and put a healthy down payment on their rig. Still, they took out a 20-year loan at 4.35% for the balance. That was a few years ago, though, and since then full-time RV’ers have found it more difficult to get loans. “Try a credit union,” suggests Kathy. Or buy your rig before you quit your job. “If you’re going to be a part-timer, they don’t seem to have a problem giving you a loan,” she notes.

[Related Article: How Mark Boyle Lives on $0 a Year]

Get a Tax Break

One of the advantages of living on the road is that you can call any state home. The Huggins, like many full-timers, chose South Dakota as their home base because of the tax benefits. There is no state income tax, and as Huggins points out, no property tax since they don’t own a home. “South Dakota probably has half a million people that don’t live there but are full-time RV-ers because of taxes,” she laughs. Tax rates and other details are available in the book Choosing Your RV Home Base.

Bring in Some Bacon

You don’t have to stop working when you start traveling. Huggins says many RV parks hire full-time RV’ers to handle reservations or park maintenance. When I interviewed her, Kathy was working as a reservationist while her husband was doing pool maintenance, which earned them a free site and an allowance of $100 a month toward their electric bill, plus enough spending money to cover their food budget.

Around Yellowstone, she notes, you can work at a hotel and have a parking spot for your RV while working at a hotel. “Even Alaska has jobs for you,” she says. “You (can) guard the schools during the summer. Park your RV in the schoolyard with 2 or 3 other RVers and you just keep an eye for the schoolyard, and that’s it,” she says. She recommends the website Workamper.com for employment opportunities.

Entrepreneurial opportunities abound as well, and are limited to your imagination. A couple that Kathy suggested: Watch other full-timer’s pets while they fly home for holidays or take day trips, or make jewelry to sell.

[Credit Cards: Research and compare rewards credit cards at Credit.com]

Don’t Wait Too Long

Do you have to be out of debt to take to the road? It helps, says Kathy. But she says even if you aren’t, you may still want to find a way to make it happen:

I think almost anybody can do it. The cost can range from $200/month to $12,000/month depending on what you want to do and how you want to spend your money. That’s the best part about this, it’s your choice about how much money you actually want to spend, how big of a rig you actually buy, how much money you want to spend.

The Huggins’ only regret? That they didn’t do it earlier. ‘”When we first started doing this, we interviewed a lot of full-time RV-ers and everyone said the same thing, ‘I wish I’d done it 10 years sooner’.”

Listen to the full interview with Kathy Huggins here: Listen online; Download the interview to listen on your smartphone or other device; or listen on iTunes.

Are you a full-time RVer? Share your tips for saving or making money in the comments. 

Image: David~O, via Flickr

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team