Budget Advice for RV Life from full-time RVers: Wander Free and Queer

Budget Travel

The Basics

Budgeting can be tricky even when you aren’t moving your home-on-wheels every so often, going to different parts of the country, and changing your spending habits regularly. RV life, just like sticks-and-bricks life, can fit almost any budget, but the way you allocate your income to expenses, and the differences in monthly budgeting requires more knowledge and planning. It takes a bit more effort to be mindful about finances when you are on the road!

When We Started

We definitely didn’t understand what kind of budget we would need when we began traveling full-time in our RV. Over the first year, we made changes constantly to our budget spreadsheet, until we abandoned that financial method altogether. It just didn’t work with our new lifestyle. Instead of rent, we were paying for campgrounds. We no longer had a monthly electric or water bill, but our cost for gas and propane was significantly more. We increased our cell phone and internet budget, but cut out an entire car payment by selling our second vehicle before hitting the road.

The first year was all about learning how we spent money as we went along. We saved from our weekly paychecks and sold almost all of our belongings before starting out on the road, so we had a savings account to pull from when we needed to…and we needed to on more than one occasion. For example, the day we got our first RV, we needed a specific tow kit to pull our Jeep Cherokee behind our Class A, which cost us a hefty $3,000 before we even left the dealership!

Adjusting to a New Normal

After a while, we settled into the monthly flow of income and expenses. We set aside money for repairs, travel changes, and surprises. Our RV broke down on our drive south and had to be towed from the campground. Fortunately, our insurance covered the costs for the repair, but we ended up having to stay in a hotel for a few nights in the interim, which was an out-of-pocket expense. These types of things are pretty typical for RVers, but not everyone thinks about how often they will occur or where the money will come from to tackle these challenges.

What we came to understand is that, when traveling, we couldn’t rely on a consistent monthly expense budget. During this time, we also didn’t have a consistent income since we were just starting to build our business, and we were working temp or seasonal jobs to help us fill in the gaps. This time was financially unpredictable for us, but we did learn a valuable lesson: with our rolling home, we could adapt our income and expenses to fit our budget. With our home-on-wheels, we could choose a cheaper campground, or even boondock to save a little bit of money. We could choose low cost or free activities for fun. We had everything we needed to experience new places, but also return to our home to cook or spend time.

RV Life is Your Life

There is often a misconception that the RV lifestyle is either money-saving or money-draining,  but the reality is that it can be either of those…or something in between. It is so versatile that you can spend little to no money per month on your living expenses. This may mean having an older or smaller rig, staying off-grid and sticking to free activities. You can also spend as much money as your budget allows by choosing an expensive rig, staying at luxury RV resorts, and going out for dining and activities that are more expensive.

We have had months where we spent significantly less than our sticks-and-bricks life. We didn’t move around much, we ate at home, and enjoyed local hikes that didn’t require fees. We have also had months where we broke the bank by booking epic excursions, going out on the town more than a few times, and staying somewhere with a pool and hot tub.

Finding a balance doesn’t mean you have to go without experiences or fun in full-time travel. When we started, we felt the urge to do as much as possible and travel as fast as possible, but quickly we learned that we enjoy a slower pace, need more time at home to take care of day-to-day tasks, and we steer away from large tourist type activities. For example, one of our favorite things to do when traveling is visit the local farmers markets. This means we get to experience the local community, support farmers and artisans, as well as get some of our groceries while there!

Tips and Tricks

Similar to our advice about choosing the right rig for you, we also suggest finding a budgeting system and flow that works for you. Every RV family is different, but we all share the same passion and drive to experience more through travel. When we think about our monthly budget we ask ourselves these questions:

  1. What does our income look like next month? Running a small business full-time means that we do not have a consistent income. Some months we have more money to take a trip or enjoy an experience, while other months we use our income to pay our bills and save for future plans.
  2. What are our goals for next month? Do we want to save some money for a future goal? We are currently working towards buying a new home-on-wheels so we always consider how much money we can tuck away for that each month. Do we want to go white water rafting or spend a day in the city? Do we need to put some money aside for big bills, such as our annual vet visit for two pups?
  3. Draft out your expenses. We do this through a Google Doc and Sheet, but you can use any method that works well for you. Some of our friends use budgeting apps, while others use a post-it method.

Before you get to these questions, we suggest spending a few months tracking your spending. We did this back in 2018 and it was helpful to see where we were already spending money before we decided how to break down our budget categories and choose what to put money aside for.

Back to Basics

Life means having to re-evaluate our budget once in a while. We usually do a quarterly check in to see how we have been spending our money, but also to look at the bigger picture of our finances. There is the day-to-day financial budgeting, but also the longer term budgeting. We not only manage our personal finances, but also our business budget. One of the most important things we have learned is to take time to talk about finances. No matter what your financial situation is, having a clear picture and communicating that within your family can mean you are all on the same page when you set out on the road!