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.
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.
If 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 😉