It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.
And since we just celebrated our one-year anniversary as full-time RVers, we’ll also be looking at our expenses for the full twelve months to see what our annual cost has been for our new lifestyle.
First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.
This month we’ll review (1) expenses for the most recent month, (2) total expenses for the past 12 months, and (3) average monthly expense. We’ll also look back at months with higher-than-normal spending where it might have skewed the averages.
So let’s get started!
We’ve spent all of June, July and August in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.
Because we stayed in one spot again in August and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our camping expenses were again lower than average. But this month we finally had to shell out some money for a few maintenance and repair items on the rig, and we’re also coming up on annual renewals for things like our mail forwarding service, vehicle registration and insurance. It was a tough month on the pocketbook, but that’s why every full-time RVer should have an adequate emergency fund and/or savings socked away.
So let’s see how we’ve done this year:
Camping fees + Electricity
August: $17 – We actually camped for free all month, but this figure represents the prorated monthly amount for our annual camping pass for the New Mexico State Parks, which is good through the end of October. We’ll be using it again in September!
Yearly total: $1,691
Monthly average: $141 – We kept our monthly expenses fairly low by (1) boondocking on public land, (2) buying the annual pass for the BLM LTVA for the winter in Yuma, AZ, and (3) buying the annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks where we spent last October and November.
Highest month: September 2018, $439 – Our first month was spent entirely at the Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas while we went through the process of establishing our Texas domicile (getting a Texas address, drivers license, vehicle registration, registering to vote, setting up a bank account, etc.). We got a cheaper rate by paying for an entire month, but our electricity usage was extra.
August: $50 – Five weekly dumps @ $10/each.
Yearly total: $412
Monthly average: $34 – When we stayed in RV parks (rarely after last September), or in the New Mexico state parks (last October and November), we did not have to pay dumping fees, which kept the average lower.
Highest month: January 2019, $70 – We were staying at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) for the winter, and dumping our tanks at the nearby Chevron station where they charged $12 per dump. While staying there, we had to dump the tanks about every five days instead of weekly because, unlike where we are camping now, there were no trees to hide behind so we couldn’t pee outside. That’s one big advantage to camping and peeing in the forest–the black water tank takes a lot longer to reach capacity so we dump less often!!
Fuel for the RV
August: $102 – This figure actually includes our fuel for July as well, since we had not filled up the tank since June 26. The only driving we did in the RV for the summer was just to go into Flagstaff every week to dump the tanks, about a 28-mile round trip. The fuel also powers our generator which we use most nights to run the convection oven/microwave or the Instant Pot for cooking.
Yearly total: $1,517
Monthly average: $126 – Our style of travel is to pick a place we like and then stay there for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer, while we explore the surrounding area in our pickup truck. That goes a long way toward keeping the cost of fuel on the low side for us as compared to a lot of other full-timers.
Highest month: October 2018, $452 – In October, we pulled out of the Escapees RV Park in Livingston, Texas and drove all the way to New Mexico. During the month we moved to 7 different locations across Texas and New Mexico, including a couple of state parks and an RV park in Albuquerque. We drove a total of 1,335 miles that month, and the average gas price was $2.85/gallon.
Fuel for the Truck
August: $52 – Camping so close to Flagstaff has helped keep our daily driving fuel costs lower. There’s plenty of nearby shopping and things to do so we don’t have to drive the truck as much.
Yearly total: $1,374
Monthly average: $114 – Our fuel costs have definitely been lower than average for the past few months since we’ve been staying in one place so close to Flagstaff. Earlier in the year, gas prices were higher and we had to drive further to get groceries or go sight-seeing.
Highest month: October 2018, $245 – Again, this was the month that we left Texas and drove all over New Mexico (same as RV Fuel costs above).
August: $31 – Propane used for cooking on the stove, running the refrigerator and hot water heater, and for running the furnace for a short time each morning to take the chill off in the rig.
Yearly total: $458 – We actually didn’t buy propane until November 2018, more than two months after we hit the road, because we spent so much time in RV parks and state parks where we had electrical hookups to run the refrigerator, hot water heater, and small electric space heater.
Monthly average: $38 – Propane costs per gallon have been all over the board this year, depending on where we were staying. Over the winter in Yuma, it was $3.76/gallon. In May when we stayed just south of the Grand Canyon, it was $4.80/gallon in Tusayan since there was only one provider. This summer in Flagstaff, we’ve paid $2.83/gallon at Tractor Supply, which has been nice!
Highest month: May 2019, $76 – This was the month we boondocked south of the Grand Canyon, and were held hostage by the single propane supplier in Tusayan. Oh, and it snowed twice while we were there, so it was cold.
Yearly total: $5,879
Monthly average: $490 – We do almost all our grocery shopping at Walmart (don’t judge, we all do what works best for us).
Highest month: April 2019, $575 – In addition to our normal grocery shopping, we stocked up on some bulk goods at Costco, Sam’s Club and Sprouts.
NOTE: We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes, both salt-free.
August: $286 – This was Andy’s birthday month (the big 7-0), so we ate out a little more than usual this month. We found a Mexican restaurant, MartAnne’s, that we really liked because they have crunchy seitan tacos as well as some other vegan and vegetarian options on the menu. Their salsa rocks, and their margaritas are excellent. We also had to try the new dairy-free ice cream flavors at Baskin-Robbins (yes, they are awesome!!). And, hallelujah, Burger King came out with their Impossible Whopper this month–we’ve had three already! Yes, we know that fast food isn’t good for us, but you have no idea (unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian) how exciting it is to go to a chain fast food restaurant and order a burger off the menu. When we’re on the road, often times the chain restaurants are the only ones available, and it’s nice to have this option!!
Yearly total: $2,921
Monthly average: $243 – We really don’t eat out as much as we used to when we lived in our sticks-and-bricks house. Much of the time we’re boondocking out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s just easier to cook our meals in the rig. But when we do decide to splurge, we try to pick places that have great meatless options, and then we become repeat customers.
Highest month: May 2019, $464 – This is what happens when we go sight-seeing in Sedona, Williams, Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, all in the same month. So many good food and drink options at tourist-trap prices!
NOTE: These numbers include coffee and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂
household / furnishings
August: $73 – In addition to the usual paper products, etc., we bought a new runner rug to replace the one that has become thoroughly embedded with dirt while camping here in the forest over the summer. We’re keeping the new one rolled up in the truck until we get out of here.
Yearly total: $1,514 – One third of this was for the new mattress that we purchased in April.
Monthly average: $126
Highest month: April 2019, $546 – We purchased a new memory foam mattress ($496) to replace the original mattress that came with the RV. That was one of the best decisions we made this year when it comes to comfort and relaxation.
August: $26 for food and litter
Yearly total: $654 – includes vet visits
Monthly average: $55
Highest month: December 2018, $246 – In addition to food and litter, both kitties got a checkup at the Apollo Animal Hospital in Glendale, Arizona while we were there for the Christmas holidays. Both got good reports, with just the usual effects of getting older (Maggie is 11 and Molly is 9).
verizon cellphone / internet
Yearly total: $3,242
Monthly average: $270
Highest month: December 2018, $286 – We upgraded our cellular plans to the one with the most data before getting throttled.
These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.
August: $151 – This month we had to renew our annual membership in the mail forwarding service ($115), and also paid for the next three months of mail scanning service ($30) which allows us to see what mail has arrived at our box in Livingston so we can decide if it’s urgent enough to request that it be forwarded, or if it can be shredded by them. We also had one shipment sent to us in Flagstaff this month since it contained our new vehicle registration stickers.
Yearly total: $337
Monthly average: $28 – We typically have one, sometimes two, shipments of mail sent to us, although we’ve been going longer and longer between shipments as we handle almost everything electronically now.
Highest month: August 2019 (see above)
August: $37 – We had to wash the bedding twice due to a cat who shall remain nameless who has decided to punish us for some reason.
Yearly total: $262
Monthly average: $22 – The cost of doing laundry is definitely lower when staying in an RV park like Escapees. We typically do laundry about every three weeks, unless there’s a cat pee emergency.
Highest month: August 2019 (see above)
attractions / entertainment
August: $57 – Just the monthly subscriptions to Hulu, Spotify, Audible, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, etc.
Yearly total: $949 – We made good use of Andy’s “America The Beautiful” lifetime senior pass for all the National Parks and National Monuments that we visited, including the Grand Canyon. We got free admission to all of them. Andy bought the pass for $10 before we went on the road, and it’s been awesome. We’ve been able to visit some amazing places without spending a lot of money.
Monthly average: $79
Highest month: March 2019, $103 – We did a walking tour of the Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, and I also bought a new hiking pack.
Yearly total: $411 – This includes things like AAA Roadside Assistance, Costco, Sam’s Club, Escapees, Amazon Prime. We are also members of Passport America which gets us discounts at RV parks, but we’re already paid several years in advance. We were also members of Harvest Hosts this year, but elected not to renew that membership since we only used it once.
Monthly average: $34
Highest month: March 2019, $136 – Renewal of our AAA Roadside Assistance (which we finally got to use this month).
Equipment for RV
Yearly total: $4,700 – The majority of this figure is from the purchase of our solar system, which is comprised of three 100-watt solar panels and a 100 amp hour Kodiak solar generator which we purchased as a kit, two 100 amp hour Battle Born lithium batteries, a Morningstar solar charge controller, and all the cables and wiring to connect everything. It was a big investment, but this system is what allows us to boondock and dry camp without hookups, saving us thousands of dollars in campground and RV park fees.
Monthly average: $392 – This monthly number is greatly skewed by the purchase of the solar system. If we disregard that one-time purchase, our monthly equipment purchases are closer to $50 for the year.
Highest month: November 2018, $2,215. This was the month we order the kit with the solar panels and the Kodiak generator.
RV Maintenance & REpairs
August: $853 – After being on the road for a year with fairly routine maintenance expenses, we took a good hit in the wallet this month. First, our generator stopped working (on Andy’s birthday no less, so I couldn’t bake cinnamon rolls for him). We spent $160 to have it repaired (carburetor removed and cleaned, dipstick replaced because it didn’t fit right and was leaking oil, had the oil changed). Then we had the oil changed and a new air filter put into the RV. And last but not least, we replaced both front tires on the rig after one of them split between the sidewall and the tread (you can read the details here). The two new tires cost us $555, including roadside hazard insurance.
Yearly total: $1,685
Monthly average: $140
Highest month: August 2019 (see above)
truck maintenance & repairs
August: $0 – We did take the truck in to have the brakes checked because they were (and still are) squeaking a lot. They checked the pads and said they were still good for at least another year. They cleaned them up, and didn’t charge us anything. Thanks, Meineke!
Yearly total: $83
Monthly average: $7
Highest month: March 2019, $70 – oil change and car wash
NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 108K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.
We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. For this past year, we paid $57/mo for the RV for full-timer’s insurance. That is increasing to $60/mo for the next year.
For the Tacoma, our insurance was $40/mo for the first six months, and then in March, it increased $49/mo. When it renews this month, it’s going up to $51/mo for the next six months.
VEhicle License and registration
Our annual license and registration for the RV when we first registered it last September was $260 (prorated at $22/mo on our monthly reports). For the truck it was $201 ($17/mo). Since this was the first year we registered the vehicles in Texas, there was an extra $95 charge on each vehicle to transfer them from out-of-state. Based on the renewal notices that we just received, the expenses for the next year will be $134 ($11/mo) for the RV and $75 ($6/mo) for the truck.
So our RV Living expenses for August and the past year were:
Yearly total: $29,767
Monthly average: $2,481
Like I said, this does not include personal expenses like gifts, charitable contributions, grooming and haircuts, clothing, medical expenses or health insurance–things that really aren’t a function of our RV lifestyle, per se. Those types of expenses can vary wildly from person to person, so we don’t include them in this monthly report.
Tomorrow is Labor Day, and it will be our last day here in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, for this year at least. On Tuesday, we will be pulling up stakes and heading to New Mexico as we begin our slow journey back to Mississippi for the Thanksgiving holiday. We might also do a little boondocking in Colorado before it gets too cold, but for at least a few days we’re going to stay in the Bluewater Lake State Park near Gallup, New Mexico where we’ll have electrical hookups. I’m going to spend a day or two getting the rig cleaned up from all the dust we’ve collected from being parked beside a well-traveled forest road. We may even have to run the air conditioner for a change, depending on the weather. We hadn’t run it at all since last summer, until this week when Andy took the rig to get the tires replaced, and he ran the A/C while waiting in the parking lot so he and the kitties would stay cool. Fortunately, it still runs well!!
So that’s our annual report for our first year on the road! We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments, and we’ll get back to you.
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