Andy and Kris live full-time in their RV, exploring the United States with their two boys and a baby on the way. Andy works a remote job in software while Kris roadschools the kids. The Murphy family loves taking pictures and writing about their adventures as they go.
Important Budget Considerations For RVers
ANDY & KRISTEN MURPHY
There are many things to consider when it comes to RVing—type and size of RV, tow vehicle, where you want to go, how long you want to be on the road, and what activities you want to do. So, it’s no surprise that setting a reasonable budget for everything is an important step in the process.
After RVing for nearly five years, we’ve had to make some critical decisions to ensure that our RV experience is safe, fun and, most importantly, doesn’t break the bank. Here you will find six categories that we have learned to budget for over the years: campgrounds, fuel, maintenance, food, recreational activities, and connectivity. It’s important to remember that everyone’s setup, family size and style of travel is unique, and these factors can greatly impact spending in some categories. However, these budget considerations are the key areas we’ve learned to prioritize, and we hope the information and advice offered will help you master your own RV budget.
Campgrounds And RV Parks
We like to look at campgrounds and RV parks in three tiers: free, budget and full-service. They each have their own pros and cons, and we regularly stay at all three. Free camping can come in many different forms, from staying overnight in a parking lot to moochdocking on someone’s property to boondocking on public lands. Budget campsites typically offer some form of hook-ups, either full or electric and water, and cost roughly $20-$40 per night. They also usually cap your stay at 14 days. We consider campsites in state and national parks to be budget-friendly. And lastly, full-service sites are generally the most expensive, but they offer the most amenities and resort-style features.
We choose which type of campground to stay at based on where we are going and how long we plan to be gone. Location and time of year are also big factors, as summer months and popular tourist destinations tend to mean higher prices. We like to do weekly stays at budget or full-service sites, as they often provide discounts for extended stays. As camping and RVing have gotten more popular, we’ve had to increase our campground budget over the years. We currently set aside $2,000 per month for campgrounds and RV parks. We try to keep our average nightly rate to $60, so if we can find a place that’s $20 per night or less, this really helps!
National campground memberships can also be a great way to help reduce the cost of campgrounds. Thousand Trails, Passport America, Good Sam Club, and KOA Rewards are a few that have helped us save money on nightly rates. Do some research on what works best for your budget, travel style and family needs.
Fuel prices can go up and down, so you may need to be flexible when setting this budget. However, in our experience, we’ve seen gas prices fluctuate greatly depending on the region of the country we are in. When traveling out West, everything is much farther apart. Cities are more spread out, destinations require more driving and everything seems to have more distance in between. This requires more vehicle usage, which leads to more fuel and a bigger budget. This is much different when we are in the Northeast, where states and destinations are much closer. We used to spend about $350 per month on fuel, but depending on what part of the country we are in and if we plan to travel a lot that month, we may need to increase this budget to $800 or even $1,000 per month. You also need to factor in how much you’ll be driving once you reach your destination—will you want to drive around the local city or check out a nearby spot? Our biggest recommendations for budgeting for fuel is to be flexible, plan your travel as far in advance as possible and consider where in the country you’ll be visiting.
Repairs And Maintenance
Budgeting for repairs and maintenance can be challenging but it’s absolutely necessary. Like with any vehicle, issues and complications will come up and you’ll want to be mentally and financially prepared to address them. We don’t have a strict monthly budget for maintenance, but we like to set aside some money just in case. An emergency fund that you regularly contribute to is a great way to cover things that you can’t plan for. As your RV gets older and you spend more time out on the road, this fund becomes even more important. Doing regularly scheduled maintenance checks and updates will help keep major repair costs down.
Dining And Meals
Food expenses can range a lot based on dietary restrictions, how many people you travel with, and how much you like to dine out versus cooking in your RV. Your food budget might also be impacted by your RV’s kitchen space, the appliances and storage capacity. We typically spend more in this category because trying new restaurants and experiencing local cuisine is important to us. However, if we are staying at a national park or a more remote area, we’ll bring and cook most of our own food, as it can be hard to find affordable restaurants or grocery stores. We currently spend about $1,000 per month on groceries and limit the number of times we eat at restaurants for both budget and health reasons.
Activities And Recreation
This is a fun category because it’s one of the main reasons we started RVing in the first place! Fortunately, we don’t have to spend much to enjoy some of our favorite activities—we’ve budgeted about $200 a month. We love visiting state and national parks, and these are generally lower in cost. We prefer to buy annual park passes, which helps keep costs down. We also take advantage of reciprocal museum memberships. This allows you to buy a membership at one museum and gain access to numerous other museums across the country. This is a great way to save money while still being able to explore really interesting places in multiple different locations.
In addition to parks and museums, we like to do a big, special activity twice a year. This could mean renting a boat for the day, going on a snowmobile tour or visiting an amusement park. These activities add a bit more to our monthly budget, but we’re still able to keep our $200 average since other months are much less.
Connectivity And Internet
This category might surprise some people but it’s an important consideration if you plan to work from your RV or want basic access to the internet from the road. You probably don’t think twice about the internet at home, but in an RV, it feels like something we are constantly aware of. Cell phones work great until you’re in a remote location that doesn’t have any service. And while many campgrounds offer WiFi, you’ll often find that the connection is slow or unsecure. Depending on where you’re traveling to and how often you plan to move around, adding a cellular antenna and dedicated router to your RV could be a good option. You may even want to add a larger data package as well, especially if you plan to work or roadschool from your RV. For most RVers, a good data plan is going to cost about $150 per month. You could also get a satellite TV but that could cost an additional $100 per month, plus the cost of the hardware. We prefer to use streaming services and the internet for television. This is much cheaper than a satellite TV (about $30 per month) and still gives us access to all the entertainment we need. MobileMustHave is an excellent resource for figuring out what systems and hardware you might need depending on your unique situation and RV.
Regardless if you’re new to RVing or a veteran, RV budget considerations are a critical piece to the puzzle. Costs are always varying, so adjusting and readjusting your budget can help you allot your spending where you need it most. Depending on your travel style, type of RV, distance traveling, and how long you’ll be on the road will all impact your budget. So, before heading out, be sure to consider these six categories when budgeting for your next RV trip!
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