Home ownership is a cornerstone of the American dream. After all, is there a more iconic symbol of success than the beautiful home with the white picket fence?
In reality, home ownership is extremely expensive and increasingly unattainable for a lot of us. The average American household carries over $180,000 in mortgage debt, that’s a staggering number.
The Problem: Some of us don’t want to be tied down to a massive mortgage or single property, along with all the stress and trouble those things entail. Nowadays, many Americans are choosing an alternative way of living: living in an RV.
A Possible Solution: While it might sound crazy at first, living in an RV with kids is indeed possible, and tens of thousands of American families have made it work for them. It’s unusual, for sure, but for the right kind of family, it can be an incredibly liberating, fun, exciting, and frugal way of living.
A Great Advantage: Living in an RV with kids can save you a significant amount of money, if you make the right choices and spend wisely.
Today, we’re going to discuss 11 money saving tips for living in an RV year-round.
Bonus Starter Tip: Did you know that you can save money on gas, food and groceries near you for free?
Tip 1: Purchasing your RV: Consider Used
While there is nothing sweeter than the feeling of buying a new vehicle fresh off the lot, purchasing a new vehicle is probably the single worst financial decision you can make.
Good to Know: A vehicle’s value depreciates significantly the moment it’s off the lot, and it will only continue to plummet as time goes on. This holds true for RVs and motorhomes as well as cars.
- There are many resources for finding used motorhomes online, and by opting to go used over brand new, you can save yourself thousands. Resources such as RV Trader.com have listings for thousands of used RVs to choose from.
- Next you’ll need to decide what kind of RV you’re interested in. The two most popular kinds would be motorhomes vs. fifth-wheel trailers.
- A motorhome, as the name implies, is an RV where the living quarters and the motor vehicle portion are all part of the same vehicle.
- Alternatively, with a fifth-wheel trailer the RV portion is a separate trailer which is towed by a pickup truck. While fifth-wheels are generally less expensive than motorhomes, you’ll have to factor in the cost of the pickup truck.
- If you already own a pickup, great! If not, you’ll need to include the cost of one in your budget.
This brings us to our next money-saving tip for living in an RV with your kids: budgeting!
Tip 2: Budget, Budget, Budget!
One of the biggest appeals of living in an RV year round is the prospect of saving money. However, it will be very difficult for you to save money if you don’t have a solid budget in place first.
Keep in Mind: Budgeting isn’t fun, but it’s extremely important if you want to save money while living in an RV. It’s essential that you understand RV living costs so that you can create a monthly budget that will save you money in the long run.
Here are some rough estimates for expenses that an RV dweller must be aware of.
- RV/Car payment: It’s best if you have enough spare cash to buy your RV or truck outright, but if you don’t than you’ll have to budget for a loan or lease.
- RV and Car Insurance: before moving into your RV, do your research and make sure you understand how much your monthly vehicle insurance will be. This number can vary greatly depending on your vehicle, driving history and other factors.
- RV Parks and Campgrounds: we will discuss this in more detail later, but unless you plan on camping for free outdoors (otherwise known as “boondocking”), you need to consider how much it will cost stay in an RV park. Costs at parks can climb quickly, so research fees in your area and account for it in your budget.
- Repairs: you should put aside at list $100 – $200 per month to account for regular repairs and maintenance.
- Propane and Gas: RVs run on fuel; gas for the engine and propane for heater/stove. Estimate your usage and compare with local rates to get account for this in the budget.
- Internet/mobile data: if you require an internet connection for your work or entertainment, anticipate how much your data consumption habits are going to impact your budget.
Tip 3: Boondock for Free
One of the most fundamental considerations with living in an RV with your kids is where to stay for the night. RV parks and campgrounds can be very expensive and will drain your budget quickly if you rely on them.
Keep in Mind: Of course, the best part of living in an RV is that you can set up your home virtually anywhere, and there are lots of places where you can set up in the wilderness for free. This is called boondocking or free camping.
You need to understand where you can and cannot set up. Any private property is off limits, and this will include most of the property within cities and towns.
Pro Tip: To free camp you’ll need to venture out of the city and seek public land. Public land is mainly managed by the US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both organizations will allow campers to stay on public land for free, provided that you find a spot that is accessible and suitable for camping.
Warning: By contrast, you must understand that free camping is prohibited in US National Parks.
Pro Tip: When in doubt, look for signage along the highway or park entrances that indicate whether camping is allowed, ask locals in nearby towns for suggestions, or seek advice from fellow campers. As a general rule, you don’t want to stay in any one site for more than 14 days, and of course, you should always leave a site as pristine as when you arrived.
Tip 4: Save Money with RV Memberships
If boondocking isn’t right for you, or you just want to treat yourself to some more amenities for a few days, than an RV park can be just what you need. However, if you plan on staying at RV parks and paid campsites with any regularity, you should consider signing up for an RV park membership program.
Good to Know
These memberships can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you plan on living in an RV year round.
- Passport America is one RV membership service worth considering. For an annual fee of $44 you will receive a discount card that will earn you a 50% discount at hundreds of participating campsites around the US and Canada.
- Thousand Trails is another campground membership program. Thousand Trails charges an annual fee starting at $499. While that is significantly more than Passport America, it provides unlimited camping at thousands of campsites with no nightly fees.
- Boondockers Welcome is kind of like Airbnb for RVs. For a yearly fee of $30, you can connect with hosts who will let you stay on their property for free.
Essential Advantage: This can be a great option if you’re looking to make friends and connections within your local RV community and keep your RV living costs down.
These are just a few of the many memberships available. Choose the right membership, and you can save a lot of money while living in an RV with kids.
Tip 5: Save a Lot by Buying in Bulk
Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, and this is especially true if you’re looking to keep your RV living costs down. The amount of storage you have will vary depending on the RV or motorhome you choose. It will certainly be less storage than you’re used to with a conventional house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still save a significant amount.
- Costco and Sam’s Club are the two biggest bulk retailers in the US, so try to develop a schedule wherein you can stop by one of these stores once every month or so.
- Another great tip is to organize group buying with fellow RV campers.
- When you’re staying at an RV park or campground, ask around and see if other campers are interested in splitting bulk goods. Chances are you’ll all require the same basic staples such as toilet paper, canned goods, laundry detergent etc.
The more people join your group buy, the more money you can all save.
Tip 6: Cook at Home to Save Lots
While on the road you might be tempted to just pop over to the nearest restaurant with the family instead of preparing your own meals, but your budget will suffer for it.
Good to Know: Studies show that eating out is typically five times more expensive than cooking at home. That’s a lot of wasted money!
Pro Tip: When looking for an RV, choose one with adequate refrigeration and kitchen appliances. The cost of paying for these amenities at the RV-purchasing stage will save you a lot of money from eating out later down the road.
- If your RV doesn’t have a stove or oven, consider purchasing a portable, gas-powered BBQ or burner.
- What’s more, a lot of campgrounds and RV parks have communal cooking and eating areas complete will grills and picnic tables.
- This is a great opportunity for you prepare your own healthy meals, while saving a lot of money in the process. What’s more, it will give you the chance to socialize with other campers in the area.
Extra Tip: There are a lot of resources for recipes and cooking tips while living in an RV, so you should have no shortage of inspiration for what to cook next. Plus, you can get the whole family involved. Take it as an opportunity to teach your kids how to cook, helping them to develop healthy and frugal habits for their adult life.
Tip 7: Find Cheap Internet on the Road
Let’s face it, in the modern world most of us can’t live without an internet connection, and if you plan on living in an RV with kids, you’re going to need to keep them entertained on those long highway drives.
Good to Know: One way to obtain internet access on the road is through free Wi-Fi from campgrounds and RV parks. Of course, it’s not strictly free, because you must pay to stay at the campground or park, but it will usually be included in the regular fees with no extra charge.
- If you must have internet while on the road, especially if you have a large family, your best bet would be a mobile 4g hotspot from a telecom provider.
- All the big US telecoms offers mobile 4g hotspots, and many of them offer unlimited data plans with these devices. This is an ideal solution for a family, as multiple family members can share the same mobile hotspot.
- Another option is to get a shared data plan for your family, with this service you pay for a pool of data which is shared across multiple devices and pay one monthly fee for it. Depending on your family’s data use habits, this could be a more economical solution
- Either way, if you’re going to rely on mobile data or a mobile hotspot most RV dwellers find that investing in a good quality cellular signal booster is a good investment, and makes a big difference when improving cell reception from your RV.
Bonus Tip: Did you know that you can save money at local gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants 100% for free?
Tip 8: Locate Tax Breaks for RV Dwellers
If you are living in an RV year round, there are a number of tax deductions which you may be eligible for to help save even more money. Firstly, an RV is considered as a home, that means you can claim it as a home on your tax return, making it a qualified tax deduction. If you still own a physical home, your RV can even be considered as a second home for tax purposes.
Good to Know: It is worth noting however that this deduction can only be applied to motorhomes, towed RVs and fifth-wheel trailers are not considered homes by the IRS.
- If you work from your RV, you can also claim the RV as a business expense. This could apply to a wide range of tax deductions including home office, business expenses, mileage, insurance premiums and more.
- RVs are eligible for sales tax deductions, so if you bought your RV in a state with sales tax, you can apply for this deduction.
- If you decide to rent out your RV for profit, this can also be used for tax deductions related to depreciation, maintenance and repairs for business.
There are a lot of ways your RV could help you earn deductions come tax season. Visit your local tax professional to find out exactly what deductions you’d be eligible for.
Tip 9: Look For RV-Based Work Opportunities
Living in an RV with kids can present some unique work opportunities to help you earn and save even more for your family. A lot of campsites and RV-parks will hire RV dwellers for full or part-time positions, offering discounted rates as part of the employment contract. This is a great way to save money on your campsite fees, while also providing the convenience of living right next your workplace.
Good to Know: There are also websites designed for connecting RV dwellers with RV-related work opportunities, such as Workamper. Just because you’re living in an RV year-round, doesn’t mean you can’t earn some extra money on the side.
Tip 10: Avoid Unnecessary Charges by Managing Your Mail and Banking Properly
One thing RV dwellers need to keep in mind is how to manage their bills and finances to avoid unnecessary fees and charges. Most RV campers set up P.O. boxes or utilize mail-forwarding services to receive their mail.
- Try to use services that support online statements and bill payment to avoid missing bills through the mail and getting penalized with late fees.
- Some bills cannot be sent or paid online, such as in the case of most hospital bills. Be aware when cases like this come up.
- If you explain to the bill provider your living situation and negotiate with them, you can sometimes change due dates and gain late fee exemptions. You’d be surprised how compassionate some vendors can be if you explain your situation and kindly ask for some flexibility with your bill repayment.
- Choose a bank account that has free ATM withdrawals, or one that refunds ATM withdrawal fees from using ATMs of other banks. This is essential if you’re on the road a lot and never know what banks or ATMs will be available.
Tip 11: Get Entertainment for Cheap
Entertainment can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Arguably the best part of living out of an RV is that you’re always just a few minutes away from glorious mother nature.
- Hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and hunting are all great pastimes that cost very little to get started.
- They’re fun, affordable, and provide keep your family healthy and active.
Living in an RV with kids can be the best way to see the country, save money and have fun with your family. Who could ask for more than that?