It’s easy to look at RV living and assume that it must be much cheaper than owning or renting a home. An RV costs less than many homes, though high-end vehicles rival the less expensive home prices in some areas.
Living in an RV is typically cheaper than living in a house or apartment, but a lower start-up cost doesn’t necessarily mean a lower cost of living overall.
This discrepancy is because many factors go into the expense of living in an RV full-time. For example, whether you travel or remain stationary and the age of the RV affect the cost.
Is it cheaper to live in an RV than a home? It can be if you do everything correctly to keep the costs low. But in some situations, it can cost more. Living in an RV has advantages and disadvantages like any other choice.
How Much Does it Cost Being a Homeowner?
It’s impossible to give a number that represents the cost of being a homeowner everywhere for every situation. Every home is different, certain regions of the country are more expensive than others, and individual circumstances play a part.
However, the average cost of a home in the United States by mid-2021 was $374,900, over 16% higher than a year before. In addition, the average mortgage payment people have each month is 29.5% of the US median income, which was $67,521 in 2020.
On average, homeowners pay $20,000 per year on their mortgages.
The average US rent cost is $784 per month, which puts the average cost of renting at a little less than half the cost of owning. Some rent costs thousands per month, though, and when apartments and homes for rent are in short supply, that cost increases.
Of course, the cost of homeownership doesn’t stop at the mortgage payment. Buying a house includes many extra fees like closing costs and legal fees. Annual property tax bills can add thousands of dollars to the cost of owning a home. In addition, Homeowners Association fees can add up if you live in a neighborhood with an expensive HOA.
Insurance to protect your property investment can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars a year, too. The national average cost of home insurance is $1,400 per year for a $250,000 policy. The more expensive the home, the more the insurance expense will be.
Repairs, upgrades, utility bills, the cost of furniture and major appliances will factor into the cost of homeownership, too. Repairs and upkeep alone can cost thousands per year, and utility bills can be unpredictable and expensive.
How Much Does Full-Time RV Living Cost?
Living in an RV, by comparison, generally costs much less on a day-to-day basis. Utility bills and other expenses shrink or disappear, but you’ll pay rental fees and costs for using the water and waste hook-ups.
The average cost of RV life ranges from $1,500 to $5,000 per month, but many people keep their expenses as low as $1,000 or less per month. Most RV bloggers travel and chronicle their adventures on their blogs, but others offer tips on living as cheaply as $700 per month in an RV.
The cost of renting a spot at an RV park is usually at least a few hundred dollars less per month than the average rent in a given area.
Stationary RV life involves renting a slot at an RV park and staying there for several months to years at a time. The daily cost of renting a spot is less when you rent long-term than if you traveled there and stayed for a few days.
You won’t use gas in a stationary RV, so you eliminate that expense immediately. The typical costs in a stationary RV include things like:
- Monthly rent
- Propane or gas
- Repairs and maintenance costs
The cost of buying an RV includes the purchase prices, insurance, appliances and anything needed inside it, registration fees, and any other initial expense. The cost of these expenses varies wildly by state.
You can buy an RV that costs more than the average home price in the US, but most new RVs will cost less. For example, pull-behinds and fifth-wheels can range from $20,000 to $40,000, but a new motorhome will cost at least $100,000. Used RVs can lower the initial investment in this lifestyle, but older vehicles will require more maintenance and upkeep costs.
Traveling in an RV will be more expensive than stationary living unless you boondock and your gas costs for traveling are low. Extra expenses when traveling in an RV include:
- Gas costs
- Toll roads
- High camping rentals
- Higher repair and maintenance costs from being on the road, which can include vehicle maintenance if you use a pull-behind or fifth-wheel instead of a motorhome
Otherwise, gas costs, tolls, higher rent at different parks, and repairs and maintenance will cost more than a stationary setup.
Some travel bloggers who live in RVs keep expenses under $1,000 per month, while others average about $2,500 monthly.
Don’t forget to consider the cost of a storage facility. If you need to store furniture and belongings from home while you’re on the road, you’ll need to pay for storage space at least temporarily.
How Cheap Is Living in an RV?
You can cut the cost of living in an RV by purchasing one in the cheapest state to buy RVs .
Montana doesn’t charge state sales tax, and its counties and cities don’t charge taxes, either. As a result, most large purchases will cost less in Montana. No matter where you buy an RV, you’ll save more and get a bigger and better rig for less if you can wait to buy an RV from October through the end of January .
Summer months are the peak time for RV sales, so prices are higher. When buyer interest wanes during the winter, the prices drop.
The cheapest way to live in an RV can cost as little as $500 to $700 per month, maybe less in some situations, including groceries and amenities. You’ll give up a lot of comforts to reduce the expense much more.
Some of the ways to keep costs as low as possible include:
- Solar panels instead of electricity. This option costs more initially but drops monthly electricity expenses for years.
- Boondocking by staying in places with no dedicated RV parking and hook-ups.
- Learn to repair and maintain your RV to avoid garage and mechanic fees.
- Find an RV park with a discounted membership.
- Stay in one place to limit gas costs and other travel expenses.
- Eliminate the cost of using laundromats by purchasing a small washer or washing system.
- Invest in kitchen appliances to cook more at home instead of eating out and buying convenience foods.
Keeping costs to the bare minimum won’t be a lifestyle that suits everyone, but if you’re committed to saving money by living in an RV, you can cut costs in these ways to reach your goals.
Pros and Cons: RV Living VS. House
Living in an RV costs less on an ongoing basis than homeownership. Some of the pros of living in an RV, whether you travel or remain stationary, include:
- Lower monthly rent and expenses
- If costs get high, you can move somewhere cheaper quickly and easily
- No property taxes or high property insurance costs
- No HOA regulations to worry about
- If you get bored with your surroundings, you can leave
One drawback of RV life many people don’t consider is the value of a motorhome vs. real estate. If you factor the value of assets into your net worth, the regular savings on a mortgage or rent, utilities, and property taxes might not counteract the depreciation of your RV’s value.
Unlike real estate, an RV’s value depreciates like any other vehicle’s value. After a few years, an RV can be worth less than a third of its original value.
Owning a home, on the other hand, often increases overall wealth. Real estate can appreciate, and holding a valuable asset like a home gives you the ability to get loans. The higher cost of ownership comes in exchange for a long-term investment. RVs don’t retain their value as long-term investments.
The value of a home is something you should consider before opting out of homeownership and living the RV lifestyle. Other drawbacks include lack of space, less ability to have guests, monitoring battery and waste levels, and the inconvenience of using a laundromat.
Owning a home has several benefits:
- A value that can increase over time
- The ability to secure loans based on the home’s value
- More options for improvements and decorating
- More space for yourself, visitors, and gatherings
- A lower tax rate because of deductible mortgage interest
Some of the drawbacks of homeownership include:
- Much higher cost of living
- Higher up-front costs
- Property taxes and ongoing fees
- More regular maintenance and upkeep that cost more and take more time
- The risk that property values will drop
- The need for long-term ownership to see equity increase
Is It Financially Smart to Live in an RV?
If you’re comfortable with trading space and permanence for lower expenses and more freedom, it can be a wise decision to live in an RV. Financially, an RV loan will be easier to repay than a home loan.
The terms of an RV loan are longer than most other vehicle loans like those for cars or trucks. You’ll probably need to pay off the loan within 15 years, though some loans have shorter terms.
A mortgage typically has a 30-year term, so it’s a longer-term expense that will be harder to pay if your financial situation changes and harder to get from underneath. Selling an RV if you need to make a change will be easier in most cases than selling a home.
The money you can save with lower RV living expenses can be a financial benefit in your life, helping you pay off debt or save money and get your finances in order.
Whether you’re retired and ready to see the world or you want the ability to travel without the expense of maintaining a home and property, living in an RV can be the answer.
If you work remotely or plan to stay near your workplace but want the ability to travel when you can, life in an RV can provide the freedom you want.
Some of the most frequently asked questions about living in an RV have answers that depend on each unique situation.
Is it legal to live in an RV full time?
Yes, it’s legal to live in an RV full-time. However, zoning laws, HOA rules, and other regulations can make some areas unsuitable for permanent living in an RV. You can’t set it up in your backyard, for instance, unless you want people knocking on your door to tell you the RV needs to move.
The RV is a recreational vehicle for camping in the government’s eyes. Therefore, to stay within related laws, you should move the RV from time to time unless you rent space in a dedicated RV park for long-term living.
Can families live in an RV?
Families can and do live in RVs. However, smaller families will have more space and privacy in an RV than bigger ones.
People who prefer to spend leisure time outdoors and limit the amount of time they’re in the RV during the daytime will probably enjoy family life in an RV more than those who stay inside most of the time.
Can you homeschool your kids in an RV?
Yes, you can homeschool your kids in an RV as you would anywhere. If you need the internet and live where you can’t get DSL, satellite internet might work. You can also visit the local library for computer time.
Can you make your RV your primary residence?
Yes, you can claim your RV as your primary residence to establish residency in most states and for federal tax purposes.
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