Many people dream of living on the road in an RV. The biggest hurdle can be figuring out how to afford full-time RVing. In this article, an RV living family of 7 years shares how they save money on the road to make this lifestyle possible.
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Is It Cheap To Live In An RV?
It all depends! Many people say that RV living is a cheap lifestyle compared to living in a house or an apartment. Plus, you can’t put a price on the incredible experiences you have while traveling.
Is RV living full-time really cheaper or a cheap lifestyle? It honestly depends on how you travel. For example, a stationary full time RVer in a campground is often a much cheaper way of living versus camper life traveling in an RV across the country.
Similarly, traveling while living in an RV full-time within one state or region will be much cheaper than traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast or from California to Alaska.
RVing full time in RV resorts will be much more expensive than those RVers that choose free boondocking campsites on public lands.
Costs are also all over the place depending on what types of activities you enjoy.
RVers that love to visit amusement parks, go to sporting events, or enjoy museums and other ticketed events will spend much more money. Sightseeing can get expensive!
While RVers that love to hike, paddle, and enjoy free or low-cost nature activities will have a much cheaper recreation and activity budget.
As you can see, the cost involved in full-time RVing varies a lot depending on where and how you choose to travel.
Keep reading for tips on how to enjoy living in a camper full time while also saving money.
Tips For Cheap RV Living
Although RV living full time isn’t always a cheap lifestyle, there are ways to keep costs down while you travel. Read on to find ways to save full-time RV living.
Hacks To Save Money On Gas For Affordable RV Life
Gas is one of the largest expenses in full time camper living. With large price increases over the last couple of years, it’s something you need to budget carefully for.
The price of gas also varies depending on if your RV or vehicle runs on regular or diesel gas. Diesel prices have increased even more than regular gas.
There are some ways to save money full time RVing on gas, so the prices don’t limit the fun. Keep reading for tips to save on gas!
1) Stay In Each Location Longer For Cheap RVing
Simply put, the faster you travel and the farther you go, the more expensive your RVing gas bill will be.
RVing and towing RVs take a lot of gas, and limiting the frequency of travel days can really help your gas budget.
In our first year of living in an RV full time, we traveled every few days trying to see as many things as possible. We quickly felt worn out because there wasn’t time for daily living.
Despite the exciting travel activities, you still need time to do laundry, go to the store, pay bills, and just plain rest sometimes.
Almost all full time RVers fall into this trap the first year or two on the road.
It honestly takes a little while traveling to find a travel pace that works well with daily living and your travel budget.
Now that we have been full time RVing for over 7 years, we have found that a good travel pace for us is to stay at least two weeks in each location.
That gives us enough time to sightsee and explore while also having enough time for daily living activities without being worn out.
Traveling every two weeks or so also means only two travel days per month which helps to save on our monthly gas budget.
If you have extra expenses and need to save money, slowing down your travel schedule can be a great way to get back on track!
2) Travel Shorter Distances For A Budget RV Month
I don’t know about you, but once we got into RV traveling, we quickly realized that there was more to do in most locations than we could ever see or experience.
In fact, I make huge lists of what I want to see at each stop and usually only make it through half of the list or even less most times!
My point is that every couple hundred miles you travel, there will always be tons more to see and do. You don’t have to travel long distances to enjoy experiences.
By keeping your miles down, you also keep your gas bill down without sacrificing the experiences found in travel. As a bonus, you won’t feel as worn out from long travel days.
A good travel distance for our family is 150-200 miles per RV travel day. We have gone as far as 370 miles in a day before and have found it just miserable to go that far.
Having two shorter RV travel days per month work well for our budget, our family, and our sanity. You will find the distance that works best for you!
3) Watch Your RV Weight
Overloading your RV is a problem for many reasons, but it can also decrease your gas mileage.
Many RV full time travelers fall into the trap of having way too much stuff in their RV. After all, most end up selling their home to begin RV living, so they have plenty of stuff.
An easy way to cut weight for travel days is to try to avoid driving with full RV tanks.
Dump tanks before you travel or wait to fill water tanks until close to your destination, so you don’t have extra RV tank weight to slow you down.
I know that we also struggle with being overloaded. We have tons of books for homeschooling, too many clothes, and lots of tools to fix things that break around our RV.
We, like others, have too much stuff. That is one difficult part of RV fulltime living. But keep in mind that the heavier your RV is, the worst gas mileage you will get driving or towing it.
4) Keep Your Speed Down
Do you have a need for speed? Unfortunately, driving fast doesn’t go well with the RV lifestyle. It’s easy to want to get where you are going faster, but it can cause a big headache.
Keeping your speeds low can significantly improve your gas mileage. It’s also much safer while towing a car or towing a trailer/RV.
As a bonus, not only will driving slower save you money on gas, but it also helps to prevent RV tire blowouts which can cause tons of damage to your RV and be unsafe.
When we are towing our large 5th wheel, we always keep speeds around 60 on the highway.
5) Use Gas Price Apps To Find A Cheaper Price
One of the best full time RV living tips to save money on gas is to pay less to begin with. The savings are worth it to look for cheaper gas locations.
Getting gas at Sam’s Club or Costco is a great way to save money if you have a membership. Some Costco’s even have diesel gas.
You can also use gas finder apps like Gas Buddy to look for the lowest gas prices in your area before filling up.
Note that sometimes these apps aren’t always updated or accurate, so we wouldn’t necessarily drive far out of our way based on an app recommendation.
6) Sign Up For Gas Discount Programs For Cheap RV Gas
Did you know that there are gas discount programs for RVers? These program savings can really add up over time, especially if you travel often!
One popular discount program is the Good Sam Membership camping club discount card.
This inexpensive yearly discount program provides 10% off Good Sam campgrounds and gives you a store discount at Camping World and Overton’s.
As a Good Sam Club Member you also save 5 cents a gallon on gas and 8 cents a gallon on diesel at Pilot Flying J gas stations/truck stops.
Also, check out the TSD fuel care for RVers. The TSD Open Roads discount fuel program provides savings for diesel gas which is great for many RVing full time.
Savings vary but you can save as much as 30-40 cents per gallon using this card at Travel Centers Of America and Loves. As a bonus, the program is FREE to join!
7) Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
Tire inflation is important both for gas mileage and for safety.
Keeping both RV and vehicle tires inflated to the recommended pressure will always give you the best gas mileage.
Checking your tires often can also lead to fewer RV tire blowouts. We check and adjust our tires before every RV travel day.
We also travel with a small air compressor in our RV, which makes topping off the tire pressure quick and easy since we do travel so often.
8) Limit Mountain Travel Days
Traveling on steep road grades and through mountain passes can be a white-knuckle kind of RV driving day. It can also really go through the gas.
Sometimes it can’t be avoided based on where you are, but if you can choose a different route, this will help save your nerves and your gasoline!
9) Stick To One Region A Season
We talked earlier in this article about keeping your distances down to save on gas.
One more specific idea to help with this is to keep your travels within one general area or region for each season.
For example, we love to just travel throughout the state of Florida in the winter. There are loads to do within this one state, and it helps to save money over the winter months on gas.
If we travel more during the summer months, then we can use the winter months to improve our budget and have more time to catch up on life during these slower months.
How To Save On Campgrounds For Budget RV Living
Campgrounds are often the most expensive budget category in RV living. Full-time RVers have to have a place to park their RV home every night, and it can really add up.
If you aren’t careful with finding savings with RV campgrounds or campsites, this category can end up being as much as a monthly home mortgage.
But no worries! We have learned some tips over the years to help you to save money on RV parking.
10) Boondock For Free Places To Park Camper
The US is full of free camping areas located on federal lands. This is the best way to RV cheap!
The most common areas to find these opportunities are on BLM (Bureau Of Land Management) land or in national forests.
Each area has its own rules and regulations, and some spots may require a permit. As long as you follow the rules, the campsite is free. Boondocking is by far the cheapest way to camp!
In most locations, you can also stay up to two weeks. Some spots limit the number of times you can visit in a season, so check the rules for each location.
Boondocking is also known as dry camping because, most of the time, there are no RV hookups or facilities available for RVers. You will need your own power source and water.
Not only are these campsites free, but they are also often in very scenic locations and give you plenty of space to spread out.
Boondocking can really help stretch your RV living budget!
11) Choose Free Overnight RV Parking
When needing a quick overnight stop on the way to your destination, consider a free parking lot option for cheap camping.
Some businesses allow RVers to park for free overnight in the back of their parking lots. This can be huge savings for full time RVers.
Businesses that often allow free overnight parking are Cabellas, Cracker Barrel, Walmart, Casinos, some rest stops, and some tourist information centers.
To find free overnight parking locations, use apps like Campendium. Always make sure to look for signs and ask the location’s manager for permission before staying.
Not every location allows RVers to park overnight, and it would stink to be told to leave in the middle of the night. Free overnight stays are a camping cheap hack used by many RVers.
12) Stay Longer At A Campground
Many campgrounds offer discounts for longer stays that can be much cheaper than the nightly rate. This can be a great tip for more frugal camping.
When booking a campsite, always ask if the campground has a weekly or monthly rate. Some have a buy 6 nights and get the 7th-night free discount.
Note that although monthly stays are often the cheapest rate, most campgrounds do charge for electricity on monthly stays.
Even with paying for metered electricity, monthly rates still often save quite a bit compared to staying short-term. With rising campground prices, there are still many cheap monthly RV parks.
13) Use Campground Discount Programs
A very common way that full time RVers save money on camping is through campground discount programs.
These inexpensive annual cards or programs can provide significant savings on RV camping. This is a hack for finding cheap campsites.
One of our favorite savings programs that is a no-brainer for every full-time RVer is the Passport America membership card.
Passport America is an inexpensive yearly program that saves 50% on campsites in privately owned campgrounds.
For most RVers, the card savings cover the Passport America price the first time you use it! It really is a great deal, and we have used Passport America campgrounds all across the country for cheap RV camping in our travels.
Another popular annual camping savings program is Harvest Hosts camping.
Harvest Host members stay at farms, wineries, breweries, and golf courses for free all across the country as part of the program.
Many Harvest Host locations offer dry camping, but some even have hookups. It is suggested to purchase something to help the business in exchange for your stay.
Harvest Hosts RV camping can be a great alternative to free parking lot camping for quick overnight stays on the way to the next destination.
Plus, many of these businesses in the Harvest Host membership have a great view and tasty products to try during your stay. Some also have tours.
Savings from this program often cover the Harvest Host membership cost after just using it for a few nights.
Good Sam Or KOA Discount Programs
Good Sam and KOA memberships are other options. Both save 10% off camping at Good Sam RV parks or KOA campgrounds.
The programs are inexpensive to purchase and are good for a year. The Good Sam membership or the KOA membership can be a good deal if you often stay at KOAs or Good Sam campgrounds.
14) Campground Memberships Are A Big Part Of Cheap RVing
Not everyone wants to boondock all the time! It can be very nice to find cheap campsites with electric hook-up or full RV hookups and amenities like swimming pools.
For RVers that are still looking for large savings on campsites but want to have hookups, a campground membership is a great option for cheap RV campgrounds.
Campground memberships have a larger buy-in cost and yearly maintenance costs to keep the membership. It’s similar to a timeshare to campgrounds.
You own the membership and need to sell it if you decide not to use it anymore. You can also keep it for life and transfer it over to a family member.
Each membership has campground properties included across the country that members can stay at as part of the program for cheap or free.
The most popular campground memberships for full time RVing are Resort Parks International (RPI), Coast To Coast, and Thousand Trails.
Tips To Save Money On Food While RV Living Full-Time
Food while traveling is another huge expense category on the road. It honestly takes a ton of discipline to keep food costs low when traveling.
Why do I say that it’s tough? Because when you are out exploring all the time and tired from being on the road, it’s much easier to want to grab food in restaurants.
Plus, many travelers love to try new foods and specialty local food items when traveling.
We did all of these things our first year on the road and found ourselves way over our food budget.
15) Pack Lunches And Eat At Home More
We had to embrace eating at home and bringing along our own snacks, drinks, and picnics to have meals when we were out and about.
Not only was this not a big deal once we started doing it, but it was also fun to eat in some beautiful outdoor areas! We also really enjoy grilling at home at our campsite.
Eating out is a food budget spoiler, and now we limit it at much as possible while RV traveling.
16) Grocery Shop At Discount Stores
Another reason it can be harder to stay within your food budget while traveling is that food prices are very different across the US.
Not only are food prices different, but the discount stores or grocery stores you are used to shopping at are not available in all areas.
When you are traveling near Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s, Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club, it can be helpful to stock up on more expensive items in bulk.
17) Avoid Grocery Shopping In Rural Areas
We have found that the best way to save on our grocery bill is to stock up on food at discount stores when we are in the bigger cities, so we aren’t buying as many groceries in more expensive rural areas.
When we are located in rural areas, we buy groceries at Walmart to save.
18) Consider Adding A Mini Fridge Or Electric Cooler If You Have A Small RV Fridge
Speaking of stocking up, I know some of you are wondering how it’s possible to have the room to stock up in an RV.
When you are looking for RVs to live in, always consider pantry space, the size of the refrigerator, and if there is an outdoor kitchen with a second fridge.
For those that have a small RV fridge and no outdoor kitchen, consider adding a mini fridge or electric cooler inside your storage bay for additional food storage.
Being able to stock up really increases grocery savings, and it is worth it to use the space in your RV to make this happen!
Tricks To Save On Activities Living In An RV
During your travels, you will definitely get out there and experience all you can in the areas you visit. I felt like I wanted to do ALL the things at each stop.
Not only was that exhausting, but also crazy expensive. This is another area of expenses where you can save money to stretch your budget while still enjoying your travels.
19) Choose Free Or Cheap Outdoor Activities
You can find activity savings just by exploring the outdoors. Outdoor activities not only help you to explore nature in the destinations you visit, but you can find many free or cheap options.
Hiking is by far our family’s favorite free activity. There is often great hiking nearby, just about anywhere you want to visit.
We also love paddling. Usually, canoe or kayak rentals are inexpensive. Or, if you find that you love this activity, consider investing in your own.
We have a large inflatable kayak as well as inflatable paddleboards. This makes it easy to get out on the water for free wherever we are staying.
Nature centers are often cheap or free places to explore with the whole family. They often have easy trails and indoor exhibits that anyone can enjoy.
Spending time at a lake or beach is another great free or cheap outdoor activity. It’s always a blast to pack a picnic and swim for the day or just relax.
There are so many cheap or free outdoor activity options to enjoy!
20) Search For Free Activities Or Free Days In Each Location
Did you know that many museums or other attractions have a free day once a month? We have even found a few places that have a weekly free day.
Free city walking tours are another fun family activity available in most areas. These are a great way to learn a little more about the history of the location.
Just by doing a quick search when you arrive at a destination for free activities can provide a whole list of fun to keep you busy.
21) Consider Reciprocal Memberships For Zoos and Museums
Museums, zoos, botanical gardens, and children’s museums often participate in a reciprocal admission program with other museums.
If you buy an inexpensive annual pass at one zoo or museum, this can also give you free or half-off admission to other zoos and museums across the country.
Some locations even fall into both the museum and zoo categories which allows you to have reciprocal benefits to both types of attractions.
We love museums and zoos, but admission can get pricey. This is a great way that we have saved money on activities while traveling.
22) Camp In State And National Parks With Entrance And Included Activities
State parks and national parks offer loads of free outdoor activities and programs. By camping within these parks, you have admission included in your stay.
We love participating in Ranger-led activities and Junior Ranger programs in the park.
There is always so much to see and do included when you stay in nature where the action is. Plus the camping itself is often cheaper and the campsites are larger.
23) Purchase A National Park Pass
Many RVers have travel goals that involve visiting national parks. Our family has a goal to visit every major national park in the lower 48. We have made it to 37 so far!
National park entrances can be expensive. If you plan to visit a few national parks a year, then getting an annual pass that includes your entrance fees is the way to go.
This will give you access to all the free outdoor activities and programs once you are inside the park.
Many state park systems also have an annual pass that you can purchase if you plan to stay a long time in one state during your travels.
Hacks To Save On Propane RV Living
Would you believe me if I told you that we live and travel full time in our RV and usually only fill up our propane tanks 2-3 times per year?
It’s true! Propane can get really expensive in RV living, but we have some hacks below to help you use less.
24) Keep Your Hot Water Heater And Fridge On Electric
Whenever possible, keep your RV refrigerator and hot water heater on electric.
Unless it’s very hot outside or you have a very long travel day, your food should stay cold for quite a while without needing to run the fridge on propane while traveling.
Keeping your travel days shorter can often help your food stay cold without needing to run the propane unless it’s in the 90s or so.
Using both electric and propane can heat your RV hot water tank faster, but as long as you turn it on a bit before your shower, you don’t need the propane.
25) Cook Using Electricity Versus Propane
Consider using electric appliances for cooking versus your gas oven or stovetop.
We use an electric hot plate for cooking instead of our stove. This allows us to also plug it in outside for cooking in our campsite.
For almost all of our daily cooking, we use a Ninja Foodi all-in-one cooker. It is an air frier, pressure cooker, and skillet all in one pot.
We even bake in it. Plus, we can use it outside to keep the heat down inside if we like. It’s fast and easy to clean up while also saving on propane.
Some RVs also have a convection oven microwave combo that you can use to bake or cook all on electricity.
26) Heat Your RV Using Electricity Instead Of Propane
The goal for most full time RVers is to winter in warm locations, however even in Florida, where we usually winter, it can get cold at night or for short spells.
Instead of using our RV furnace on propane, we have an electric fireplace in our RV that puts out quite a bit of heat with the blower turned on.
We also have an electric space heater that does a great job of taking off the chill in the camper.
When it gets below freezing or near freezing, we do have to use our RV furnace to keep the tanks and lines from freezing.
The furnace helps to keep the underbelly warm, and this is important to prevent damage or issues with busted pipes or frozen tanks.
27) Find A Better Price On Propane
When you do need to fill propane, it’s worth it to shop around a little to find the best price to fill your tanks.
We have found that campground propane prices are often higher than taking our tanks elsewhere to be filled.
Often the prices are lower at local hardware stores or Tractor Supply stores. Give them a quick call to check prices, and you can usually save some money on propane.
How To Save Money On Laundry
It’s insane how fast the laundry piles up when you live in an RV. It sometimes feels like dirty clothes are a constant battle.
We were shocked by the prices of public laundry machines while traveling. Laundry costs really add up quickly!
28) Skip The Campground Laundry
Sure it’s more convenient to use the laundry room at the campground, but some of the prices at private campgrounds are nuts.
You can often save quite a bit of money by taking your clothes to a local laundromat.
As a bonus, with so many more machines available, this could also save you some time by being able to do more at once.
We have found that state park campgrounds that have laundry facilities often have good prices on their laundry. The highest prices have mainly been privately owned campgrounds.
29) Consider On Board RV Laundry
I know what you are thinking, RV washers and dryers are super expensive!
They are expensive, but if you plan to RV full time for a long period of time, you may actually save money over time by having your own machine.
We have the all-in-one Splendide washer-dryer combo and love the convenience of being able to do laundry in our RV.
Since we have been on the road for more than 7 years, we covered the cost of the machine and began to see savings after year 2 or 3 of having it.
So it’s definitely worth considering your own RV laundry for the long-term savings or for the convenience factor alone.
FAQs How To Afford Full-Time RVing
Is It Financially Smart To Live In An RV?
It can be financially smart to live in an RV if you minimize debt when you launch into the lifestyle. RVs have terrible depreciation, so taking out large loans for RV living is not always the best choice. The goal is to have less debt than living in a house.
Is Living In An RV A Good Way To Save Money?
Living in an RV can be a good way to save money depending on how you travel. Using campground memberships, boondocking, and traveling short distances can all help you save money when living in an RV.
What To Know Before Living In An RV Full Time?
The most important thing to know before living in an RV full time is that it isn’t always easy or cheap. It can be a lot of work and expense to travel often. Things also frequently break, so you do need a budget for repairs.
Is An RV A Good Investment To Live In?
An RV can be a great investment to live in depending on how you view the word investment. It is an investment in quality time together and life experiences. Not every investment is financial!
Do You Now Have New Ideas For How To Afford Full-Time RVing?
I hope this article showed you some simple ways to save money while traveling. With these easy tips, we have been able to afford to live in an RV full time. The best part is that you can still enjoy all the adventures of traveling while saving money. We hope to see you out on the road!