The Economics of Fulltiming

So what does it cost to live on the road? Less than you would think, if you do it right. Let me break down my typical monthly expenses, before and after fulltiming, and you can decide whether it would be cheaper for you to hit the highways or just hang out after you retire. Working folks are welcome to read along as well – one day you too will get old 😉

Before I retired, we were renting a house, so figure $1000 for rent, $400 for utilities (said house was very stylish, but had no insulation), $150 for bundled phone/TV/internet, maybe $600 for groceries, somewhere around $300 for household supplies and miscellaneous junk, and about $350 for gas. It was a comfortable existence, but kind of boring for Sharon, who was sitting around waiting patiently for me to retire. Total cost of housing, utilities, food, supplies, and fuel was averaging around $2800 a month.

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Being unemployed and homeless has its advantages – now I'm averaging $1520 for the same necessities, and the scenery is MUCH better. Instead of rent, I typically spent $150 a month last year for campground fees – $190 a month so far this year, but much of that was a week in a hotel while the Roadtrek was undergoing… umm… modifications in Kitchener, which ruined my average.  Still beats the heck out of $1000 a month rent.

Instead of utilities, I buy propane and replace my RV batteries yearly – the electricity itself is free, thanks to the solar panels. Total domestic energy costs average $320 a year for propane and $250 a year for the batteries after the Federal solar energy tax credit, or less than $50 a month.  Again, this compares very favorably with my $400 a month utility bill in my sticks and bricks house.

Telecommunications is pretty much a wash – we're spending about $170 a month for our datacard, satellite internet, and satellite TV, compared to $150 a month before. Mobile technology is a bit more expensive, because the cheap and easy way to pump data and video is a fiber optic cable, which wouldn't do us much good in our current living situation.  It's more of a hassle to stay connected now with all the dish setup and transportation every time we move, but I need something to do and complain about, and staying connected is an essential part of our quality of life.

Groceries and supplies are also a wash. We lose some economy of scale by not having enough food storage to stock up on bulky items, but also tend to eat a bit less, which does us no harm. Supplies are about $100 a month cheaper because we have less “stuff” to keep supplied – I'm still maintaining my vehicle just as I was before, but I don't have a big house to keep clean and maintained like I did when I was stationary. No more dust mops, furniture polish, dishwasher detergent, lawn mower stuff, lawn fertilizer, watering the lawn… you get the idea. I spend maybe $30 a month on laundromats now, which offsets some of the gain.

Vehicle fuel costs were a big surprise – I was spending about $350 a month before and had budgeted $500 a month for our vagrant lifestyle, but we are averaging the same $350 a month, still putting about 15,000 miles a year on our Roadtrek. The difference is that we drive around the continent in a big slow loop as the seasons change, instead of dashing coast to coast and back twice a year as we did when I was working and we took semiannual vacations. Same fuel cost, and I get to see different scenery every day instead of the same old interstate out the the west coast and back.

That's how to do it right – now let me tell you how to blow up your budget while fulltiming. Number one – stay in commercial campgrounds. That $1000 a month rent I was paying looks like a bargain if you stay in KOAs – $50 a night is $1500 a month. Number two – drive like hell. Dashing around is a sure fuel waster. We take great pains to anticipate what the weather will be like in different places at different times of the year, and plot a smooth transition from desert lowlands in the early spring to the mountaintops or Pacific Northwest coast in the heat of summer. There are hundreds of great places to see on this continent, but if you start visiting them in random order your fuel costs will be astronomical, and you'll spend all your time driving instead of relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

I spent nearly $10,000 fixing my Roadtrek up so that I could boondock in style, but if I'm saving $1250 or so a month, I made my money back a long time ago, and after the first eight months on the road it's all gravy (this is the 37th month on the road, so I'm swimming in gravy). I could probably set up a dreary sedentary existence somewhere on the budget I'm living on now, but who would want to live in one place, where half the time it's either too hot, too cold, or raining, and the view never changes? Not me.

lupineIf you are contemplating the fulltiming lifestyle, my recommendation is to think long and hard about enhancing your boondocking capabilities – it will make a world of difference in your enjoyment of the experience. I spent the money, and y'all have seen where I spend my time. It sure ain't no KOA. I have been in two or three commercial campgrounds with a decent view, but the economics of building them dictate that they aren't going to be on the most desirable real estate in town. I, on the other hand, share my view with people who have spent literally millions of dollars for their houses. I open up my side door, and there's the ocean, There's Mount Hood, there's a pristine mountain lake. These locations are rarely for sale, and when they are it's not affordable to the average person – it's just too valuable.  These are public lands, and I mailed enough money off every April 15th all those years to feel entitled to use them.  Sharon has spent more nights sleeping oceanfront the last three years than most movie stars and retired dot-com millionaires do, so she's not complaining 😉





  • Tom Hopkins

    Thanks. You make it sound so inviting. Since I have a 8 mpg class a our fuel costs are more. Have spent some $$ on bigger more coach batteries so we can go unhooked for days. Thanks for the info.

    • John

      My wife and I are full timers and are need do batteries this year. The last ones I bought were from costco did not last very long what kind should I buy.

      • Campskunk

        i went with the $80 specials for the first three years, and they all died right on their one year anniversary. i cycle my batteries twice a day or more, so 700 cycles means i got my money’s worth. this year i am trying the genuine deep cycles for $140 apiece – if they last 20 months it’ll be about break-even with the other dual purpose cheapies. i buy mine at sears, auto supply places, or wherever – depends on what part of the country i’m in when they start to fade, and who’s running a special. i also get a 30% tax credit on new batteries, since they’re part of the solar power setup.

  • Mike Wendland

    I think even us “parttime fulltimers” can learn a lot from this. We are on the road two to three weeks a month… so we’re getting there. I drive, though, way more…almost 30,000 miles so far this year! Granted, we’re traveling around to do stories on people and places but my fuel bills are our biggest expense. And Campskunk is so right about commercial campgrounds…. we had to stay in them for two other groups of family members traveling with is on our most recent trip and, zowzer!.. we could find motels to stay in for what some of them charge.

    • Campskunk

      mike, i bet over half that mileage is on the interstate, to and from your home base to wherever you’re going. like i said in an earlier post, your mileage goes waaaay down when you don’t have to go to and from your base to the vacation spot. you aren’t GOING there – you ARE there, wherever you are.

    • Dody Dunning

      How do you handle online purchases and medical needs when full-timing? Parts and supplies for RTs need to be purchased and installed, which require an address and a place to work. Medical needs include prescription meds (an address, again) and occasional checkups, with a familiar physician. Oh, and don’t forget the vet visits and meds for our animals.

      • Campskunk

        dody, you have put your finger right on several of the challenges of fulltiming. our prescription stuff is mail order, and forwarded to us by the old folks at home to a nearby UPS Store. we have east and west coast dentists – fortunate for us, since we both had urgent dental needs recently and were glad we’d established a relationship with a dentist out here last year. i talked about these challenges in an earlier post here: http://roadtreking.com/fulltiming-whats-hard-and-whats-easy/

  • Gordon

    Very nice, well done, informative post. Thanks.

  • Tom Hopkins

    Also don’t forget CSRT ‘s advise on the new version of the Golden Age pass. Best $$ spent. Lots of nice Corps of Engineer parks and Fed campground savings if you wants change from boon docking.

  • Dave

    Another great article Dr Campskunk! There are some of us who are emotionally tied to our homes and will probably never sell them to travel full time. If we plan right we can keep our expenses at home low so we can travel too. When we boat or camp we look for the best spots and seldom stay in marinas or campgrounds other than state/national forests.For many folks the thought of boondocking scares them. Your articles have been enlightening to many who now understand the concept better. We have to catalog all of your campsites but promise to not share them Hi Hi. Keep up the great articles, Bigfoot Dave

  • Karsten Askeland

    I always thought that home ownership was the American … or in my case … Canadian dream. That is until I got my Class B a year and a half ago. I have been on my own for the past 16 years and my interest in maintaining the bricks and sticks lifestyle has declined very rapidly. Even more so now that I am recently retired.

    I have been contemplating and researching the pros and cons of going full-time. Thanks for your insight and information in this post. Two biggest challenges will be selling my house and making the Class B energy efficient (solar). I have never stayed at a commercial campground in the 1 1/2 years I have been travelling except for a RV Rally I attended earlier this year.

    I am looking forward to the carefree, full-time lifestyle of a Class B adventurer and having the world as my front yard.

    • Campskunk

      karsten, it IS the american dream. i don’t know about y’all’s families – maybe they were in banking or something – but mine were sharecroppers during the early days of the depression, and the lesson learned was if you don’t have your own land you’re going to get treated like dirt your whole life. go hungry if you have to, sew your own clothes if you have to, but buy and hold that farm at all costs. i went against an abundance of family wisdom when i took to the road, and it still nags at me occasionally – it must be in the DNA.

  • Steve

    Very Informative. For a full cost comparison, though, one should include the cost of the vehicle itself, either ~ $100k for a new Class B or, better, an estimate of depreciation (say $.50/mile). For someone with mechanical skills this cost can be brought down by purchasing used. For someone without skills, there are also additional costs for repairs and maintanance.

    • Campskunk

      steve, my depreciation on my used, self-maintained Roadtrek is about $100 a month, and you’re right, technically it should be figured in for a person who otherwise wouldn’t have an RV. me, i was paying for and maintaining my RV and other car when i was living in a regular house anyway, so i don’t figure it in. now i don’t have to worry about the other car.

  • Tony

    Your living my dream! I’m 47 so I’ve Got a Few years Left to work but cant wait to full time RV.

  • Pam Hicks

    Thanks for being so generous with your personal details, Campskunk. You & the Mrs. have the life….but we already knew that 🙂 Now you have provided a little more information so we can envision doing it ourselves. You are a tremendously smart, helpful & visionary man…funny, too. Thanks again for all that you give to us.

  • Skinny Badger

    I really look forward to your write-ups. I read this with much intrigue. I’m a long ways from retirement, but I’m doing as much camping as I can (racing up and down the freeway of course). I think it must be in my DNA. Its just right up friendly of you to share how you are making all this work. Keep ’em coming. I look forward to reading roadtreking.com everyday.

  • Angelique

    Dr. Campskunk, please refer me to your teaching on boondocking modifications. I recently purchased a 2006 RS Adventurous specifically for us as my “waterfront condo”. I’m a few years from fulltiming but want to be prepared. I am a single gal, but can be trained to do a few mechanical modifications.

    • Campskunk

      there’s a photo set of most of my modifications here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157619883460601/ many of these won’t translate exactly because we’re in different chassis – mine is a chevy and you have a sprinter, but it will give you some ideas. i have a home brew version of what is now called a solar upgrade – solar panels, big inverter, and extra batteries, plus a swap-out of the Onan for an engine generator. that’s what gives me the ability to go for months at a time without plugging in, and staying right here at the high tide line. the sun’s coming up now, and it looks like another wonderful day at the beach…

  • Bryan

    Interesting article. I think the yearly numbers would be a better comparison since your fuel costs will increase significantly, not so much for a class B, I suppose. In other forums, RV fuel and campground costs seem to be the issue for retirees.
    The cruise life is likely going to be more attractive now when deals of less than $100 per day are available for the seniors.

  • Unrealistic! Sorry.

  • Leslie Yost Miller

    Steve Miller

  • We travel for the summer and spend less money than staying home.

  • We can’t wait to become full-timers. The article was exciting and helpful.

  • Pat Mesic

    When I travel in my RV I only stay in a campground once a week to do laundry, have a shower and generally to pamper myself. The rest of the time I stay overnight in casinos or truck stops or Walmart.

  • Diana K. Simpson Dilbeck

    My hubby and I have dreamed of this lifestyle. Just not ready yet to ditch the country life and job he currently has. BUT someday!!!

  • Katherine Gallegos

    Cant wait to Roadtreck over to Lake Tahoe this summer… and true Bryce Canyon .

  • Cathy Dobranski Lodder

    Shutting my eyes and hoping I am there when I open my eyes!

  • iwas hoping for this kind of lifestyle too, maybe one day:-)

  • Love this idea . What was the upfront cost of the rv though

    • you can get used ones that are realy good for a few grand,…. or one that needs some work for a few hundred….. depends on how big and what it has in it…. i got a dodge camper van… i love it .. 1500.00 and every thing worked me and my big redbone hound gonna go see some stuff this summer 🙂

    • I paid 3000 for my first class b motorhome and drove it 4 years and sold it for 3000 and found a used 98 road trek with 18000 miles in 2008. like the road trek so will drive it for some time yet. good used ones are out there you just have to look.

    • Campskunk

      i paid 40k for a 3 year old Roadtrek back in 2007, and put about 10k into it. it’s depreciated down to about 25k now, so it cost me a bit less than $300 a month – $10 a day.

  • So you planned for a monthly income of around $2000? Once you have purchased the rv

  • beautiful pic!

  • Great lifestyle but you forgot to factor in RV payments. If you own the RV you’d have to assume ownership of house as well to make it fair. Good read though and a lifestyle I look forward too

  • BEAUTIFUL 🙂

  • good article

  • Just about right. We did it for 12 years.

  • Interesting.

  • 🙂 🙂

  • Wow! That’s a real eye opener! Way less than I imagined !

  • Back in 2003 I told my husband I wanted to buy an rv so it would be paid for when I retired. I now own my diesel motorhome. It’s about planning ahead.

  • my one to two month vacation average about 3000 but we travel some long distances.

  • Where was this pic from?

  • Thanks so much for the breakdown! The heck with waiting to get old, I’m trying to convince my husband agree to packing up our two kids and go now! I know people usually RV after retiring but what do u all think about going it with kids somewhat long term? Gypsy style I guess lol

  • Beartooth highway?

  • Great info..Would love doing that

  • Can u give a little more detail on where u boondock to average that $190 annually?

    • Campskunk

      mostly boondocking along the Pacific Coast Highway, and dispersed camping in national forests and on BLM land. We haave a Senior Pass so even when we do pay, it’s $5 or so.

  • Beartooth ?,

  • Beautiful

  • Youre livin my dream

  • Amazing

  • Awesome. Gods natural beauty.

  • Is there an APP or booklet that provides details on public land to boondock on? Do you have details on the upgrades you did to your RV to enhance your boondocking experience?

  • Kerry

    You didn’t factor in the cost of the RV and the replacement costs over time. That would give you a more realistic comparison.