How much does living on the road cost?

It’s budget time! Finances are different for all campers and RVers, just like no house dweller has the same budget as the next and spending priorities differ. It’s a question of curiosity that we get asked and had asked others before hitting the road, and while we set a monthly budget before the trip, we have been surprised at where our money is most spent compared to what we expected…and how hard it has been to hit that budget. We quickly learned that treating the adventure like a long-term vacation is expensive (duh) and that we couldn’t try all the local cuisines and attractions of our endless destinations if we wanted to reach our monetary goals. This meant a lot fewer meals and cocktails at trendy restaurants and a lot more sandwiches and cheap beer enjoyed in the confines of the camper. We also learned that we spend a lot less on lodging and gas than we anticipated yet a lot more in the broad food and miscellaneous IMG_8945.JPGcategories. That’s mostly due to boondocking instead of paying for campsites whenever possible and purchasing healthful foods/preparing almost all our meals ourselves. We cut corners where we can, but we don’t have an appetite for possums and squirrels or rely on Carl’s impressive hitchhiker’s thumb to get us from place to place. In a post like this, we tried to transparently show the numbers and hope that anyone dreaming of such a mobile life could benefit from a review of our finances. We created a monthly snapshot for our time on the road for two adults and a pet and broke it into 5 categories: lodging, fuel, food and personal items, miscellaneous, and unexpected expenses.

Monthly total expenses: $3,709 monthly expenses

Lodging: $267    IMG_7846

While this averages to be almost $9/night for 30 days, it would be difficult to find a campground that only charged that much and that allowed you to stay for a month. We boondock when we can to save lodging costs and choose cheaper campgrounds rather than staying at the $35-$50/night campgrounds. U.S. Forest Service campsites are frequent and cost effective, and public land camping is free. We’ve successfully found cheap and free camping by using different apps and sites, including US Public Lands, ParkAdvisor, Freecampsites, and Allstays, and by talking with area park rangers.

Fuel: $420         IMG_8949    

This category includes filling up the diesel truck, scooter, and generator. The scooter is an excellent alternative for driving at 80 mpg. To provide perspective, this last month we traveled around 1,175 miles, and that’s a conservative estimate. We use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest fuel prices in an area so that we don’t curse ourselves for filling up at a gas station only to find miles later the price to be dramatically different. We’ve found savings from shopping around for fuel prices are often greater than using a gas rewards card.

Food and Personal Items: $1,156              

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We limit eating out to once per week on date night and load up with whole foods at the grocery store for the rest of meals. But, something like a bag of fresh spinach costs more than a bag of Doritos, so healthful eating takes its toll on your wallet. It’s also tough to anticipate the range of food costs at local grocery stores, especially in areas with only one market available where often items are more costly than stores we’re familiar with, like Wal-Mart and the various Kroger chains. We also pay more for local brews and meat and produce at farmers’ markets to experience local food cultures. The personal items in the category include everyday items like shampoo, dish soap, laundry detergent, etc.

Miscellaneous: $1,054                 IMG_7939 - Copy

This is a vague category and encompasses everything from truck and camper maintenance to cell phone and auto insurance to propane refill costs and haircuts to experiences like whitewater rafting and festival admissions.

Unexpected expenses: $812       IMG_7996

This category is for rare and unexpected costs like purchasing a new battery for our camper – we assumed the one we started with would last the trip – boarding our dog so that we could backcountry camp, and repairing various items that always seem to break in our living space. Oh, the joys of living in a poorly manufactured camper.

Well, that’s a brief glimpse of our monthly spending. Fingers crossed that we don’t run out of dough before the next post.