Is RV Living Cheaper Than Owning a House?


Living in a motorhome is an awesome experience. You get to go wherever you want, whenever you want. But if you’ve never lived in an RV before, you might be wondering is RV living cheaper than owning a house?

Here’s what I’ve learned from living in mine:

Living in an RV is cheaper than owning a home. However, RVs depreciate in value compared to homes which generally go up in value. Annual insurance is comparable between the 2, but taxes and renting a campsite with utilities are often cheaper than the costs of homeownership.

But that’s not all there is to know.

Motorhomes are great, but there’s a wide range of RV types, and prices on long-term and short-term campsite rentals vary a lot from place to place.

So there are a lot more questions to answer and consider. So let’s dive in!

Does living in an RV save money?

Depending on the kind of living you are doing, living in an RV can be cheaper than renting or owning a home. You’ll save the most money by renting a campsite monthly or yearly rather than moving around a lot.

Purchasing an RV can sometimes cost as much, or even more, than buying a home.

The best RV to save money would be a smaller Class C RV or a 5th Wheel if you plan to stay parked for an extended time. These can usually be found for $50,000 or less.

But your spending habits will go with you wherever you go.

Living in an RV won’t change them. So you have to be realistic in the ways you manage your finances. If you are not careful with how you spend, you might actually spend more money living in a camper than you would in a house.

The best way to decide if RV living is better for you is to make a simple comparison. I am a fan of spreadsheets to see everything side by side, but do whatever method works for you.

How to compare expenses between an RV and renting/owning a home

Start by making a list of every single expense you currently have and a corresponding estimate of what you spend on each one. This will include things like:

  • rent or mortgage payments
  • utilities
  • repair and maintenance costs
  • home insurance or renter’s insurance
  • vehicle insurance
  • health insurance
  • medical and dental expenses
  • cable and/or streaming services
  • clothing
  • gas
  • incidentals and entertainment
  • any other recurring monthly expenses

Next, make a list of RV expenses.

This list may include some expenses from the list above. Don’t list anything that you’ll stop paying for once you move into your RV. Ideally, you won’t be paying rent anymore, so you should eliminate that. But you will add other expenses, like:

  • RV loan and interest payments
  • camping fees
  • repairs and upkeep
  • vehicle registration and taxes

Subtract the total cost on the second list from the sum of the first list. If it’s less than the first list, RV living could be a good option for you.

If you currently own a home, keep in mind that real estate gains value over time, whereas your RV will depreciate. It would be best if you consider this in your decision, too.

How expensive is living in an RV?

The most expensive part of living in an RV is the RV itself and fuel. Beyond that, monthly campsite rates can be as low as $400, and annual insurance can be as low as $500, depending on the type of RV you own.

Living in an RV has many similar expenses with home living.

If you finance your rig, you’re going to pay a monthly payment. Then you’ll have camping fees, food costs, phone, internet, and RV insurance.

Cost of the RV itself

But the cost of motorhomes can vary greatly.

You can purchase a good used Class C motorhome for as little as $10,000. Or you can purchase a used Class A for $150,000 or even more! Some are even in the millions of dollars.

But most people will spend around $60,000 for a decent RV that can easily be lived in.

But, actually, the RV doesn’t have to be the most expensive part. If you purchase a used RV with cash, you can eliminate the need for the monthly payment.

Fuel costs

Fuel is going to be the most expensive part of RV living, especially if you are moving around a lot.

On average, most RVs that are self-contained (Class A or Class C) rarely get more than 8 miles per gallon. And you can expect even lower numbers if you’re towing a vehicle.

But it’s also the expense that you have the most control over.

Just travel less or go shorter distances. You can expect to average about $250 per month. This would include months where you stay put in a single RV park, as well as months where you drive somewhere new every few days.

But I wouldn’t recommend simply parking it and never moving it. The lack of use can actually lead to repairs.

Next, you’ll have camping fees which range anywhere from $35-50 per night in camping fees. But you can actually save money by renting spots monthly or annually, or boondocking, which will be further discussed in the latter part of this article.

Food costs

Unless you’ve started eating more while out on the road, your grocery bill will be the same. But with that small fridge and limited pantry space, you may even spend less on groceries!

You will also likely have a propane stove in your RV, so while propane is cheap, you will occasionally need to fill up your tank.

You can expect to spend about $200 to fill up the average size RV propane tank from empty.

RV Maintenance

You should also have some money set aside for maintenance.

Living in an RV means that you’ll have blown tires, leaky windows, or leaky propane tanks. You will also need to do routine maintenance.

Oil changes and refilling propane tanks should be part of a regular schedule. The average oil change for a Class A motorhome (gas, not diesel) is around $170. Like your car, you should do this every 3,000 miles.

Even if you’re not driving it, you don’t want to just let it sit with 2-year-old oil.

If you budget $100 to $150 per month for maintenance, you will be able to avoid the anxiety that comes with surprise repairs.

RV Insurance

Finally, you’ll need RV insurance.

The cost of RV insurance varies as much as the cost of RVs. The nicer the rig, the more your insurance will be. But generally speaking, you can count on spending anywhere from $700 to $2,000 in insurance per year.

I have a 2020 Newmar Baystar RV, which is a 34′ Class A motorhome. Our annual insurance is $1,300/year.

All in all, you can expect to spend $1,200 to $3,000 per month, including an RV payment. But, you can spend more or less, depending on your spending habits and lifestyle.

When does selling everything and living in an RV make sense?

If you’re retired, working remotely, want to avoid paying property taxes, and like to enjoy better weather during winter or summer, then selling everything and living in an RV may make sense for you.

But there’s more to consider, especially if you have kids or grandkids.

Living in an RV can be wonderful and sounds dreamy. And really, there’s no wrong time to travel. With modern technology, it’s possible to work full-time, make sure the kids go to school. All while seeing the country.

My family and I just returned from 4 weeks of RV living and I can tell you as much as we enjoyed our trip, it’s nice to be home. It’s also nice to have a home base for all our stuff.

We also have friends (the couple who sold us the house we live in) who “sold it all to live in an RV”.

Guess what? After a year, they bought a small home for some of their stuff and so they had a place to occasionally take a break from RV’ing in.

But, everyone is going to have a different idea of what “makes sense” to them.

It’s important to remember that you can always go back to living in a home after you’ve lived in an RV for a while. So if you do sell everything and live in an RV and later decide that it’s not for you, that’s OK!

You can also use that RV of yours to scope out a permanent place to live.

How much does it cost to live in an RV park full time?

You can expect to spend about $400 per month on camping fees. Just look for parks with monthly or annual rates, as opposed to just daily rates. But you can save money if you don’t need 50 amps or water and sewer hookups.

As mentioned above, the average would be anywhere from $35-50 per night in camping fees.

That already includes access to water, sewer, and electricity at the campsite. You can save money by getting a site with fewer hookups, which allows you access to just water and electricity.

You can then use the dumpsite to dump your black and gray water on the way out of the campground.

You can also save money by boondocking.

Boondocking is where you can camp for free. You just park on public or private land, with permission of course, for free. You will likely have to use your own electricity and water and will have to find a place to dump your black water later.

But it’s free.

Walmart parking lots are one of the most common places to boondock, both for RV’ers, but especially for truckers. They even use the term “Wally-docking” to describe it.

But National Forests are also a great place for free camping anywhere in the US. Just don’t expect hookups.

What RV is best for full-time living?

The best RV for full-time living will be either a Class C motorhome or a 5th Wheel if you already own a pickup big enough to tow it. It needs to be big enough for the number of occupants, have a full bathroom and kitchen, and have some basic amenities such as a TV. 

Your first RV should only be “good enough.”

It should be just big enough and have just enough amenities to make you happy and take care of your basic needs. This is a great way to get started without breaking the bank.

By starting small and upgrading later, you can get introduced to RV living.

There are some great brands out there – Winnebago, Airstream, and Coachmen are all very popular brands. But they can get expensive.

If you spend $100,000 on an RV and decide six months later that the camper life isn’t for you, that’s a very costly lesson to learn.

Especially because, as with cars, RV’s lose 21% of their value the moment you buy it.

So by starting with something small, like a good, used Class C Motorhome, you can get the amenities you need while getting your feet wet to RV living. 

How do you know if the used RV you want is any good?

While it’s important to know that you will never find the perfect RV, there are a few things you want to look out for while shopping for an RV that is suitable for full-time living.

Things like sturdy furniture, solid cabinets with quality latches, a solid aluminum roof that overlaps the front and rear to prevent leaks, and dual pane windows, to name a few.

You’ll also want to choose a floor plan that feels comfortable to you. You’re going to want a full bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. Also, look for well-designed storage spaces and space-efficient kitchens.

Check out lots of floor plans and options. It may take some time, but each type of vehicle and floor plan will have its pros and cons.

Make sure it’s something you enjoy being in and driving. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on something you don’t want to be in!

What brands of RV should you avoid?

Based on when my wife and I were shopping around, the reviews we read, and the stories we got from the dozen or so RV salespeople we talked to, I will personally avoid buying any of the following brands for our future RV needs:

  • Thor
  • Fleetwood
  • Coachmen

The plus of buying a used one that’s about 2 years old is that most likely the kinks have been worked out and any warranty work needing to be done has likely been done.

It’s also important to point out that ANY brand of RV is going to have issues and none will be perfect. And the more you drive it, the more likely things are to come loose from vibration.

If you think you’ve found a Class A motorhome that you love AND plan to live in it during winter, check out this recent article.

There’s a lot of articles about winterizing RVs out there, but not many that address what to do if you’re living in it during winter. And there are things you’ll need to know.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about whether RV living is cheaper than owning a house?

Depending on the rig you buy and how you spend your money, RV living can be cheaper than owning a home.

You’ll have many of the same costs. Some costs you won’t have anymore. But you’ll add on some new expenses, like campsite fees.

If you love being on the road and aren’t tied down to a particular area, living in an RV can be a great option.

Living in an RV park full time is still cheaper than paying a mortgage and homeowner’s insurance.

Will you make the switch to full-time RV living?

 

Cassandra & Jeff Campbell

Cassandra and Jeff Campbell travel on and off with their 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. They write extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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