It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°. We just completed our 16th month as full-time RVers.
When the month started, we were living in a 2014 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly, and we drove a 2004 Toyota Tacoma as a chase vehicle and daily driver. If you’ve been following our blog or our social media accounts, you know that in December we traded the Tacoma for a 2018 Ford F-250 XLT, and we bought a 2017 Grand Design Reflection 303RLS fifth wheel. Our beloved Chateau is currently listed for sale at PPL Motor Homes in Houston.
In this report we’ll be comparing our current month’s expenses to the same month one year ago, as well as looking at what our average expense has been for the past 12 months to see if we’re staying consistent from month to month. But obviously with all the big changes going on this month, our expense report is going to be very atypical; however, it may give you an idea of the types of costs you can run into when you decide to completely change rigs while living on the road.
This month’s report will NOT include the amount that we spent on the truck or the rig. And as usual, 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.
So let’s get started!
Camping fees + Electricity
December 2019: $607
Same month last year: $166
Average for last 12 months: $156/month
We got one free night of camping in a Pilot Travel Center parking lot on December 1, but the rest of the month we’ve been parked at Escapees Rainbows End RV Park in Livingston, Texas. We paid the weekly rate for three weeks on site #61 for our old RV before taking her to Houston to the consignment lot on December 23rd. Our new RV was already parked nearby in site #19, and when we started moving in on the 18th, we paid the monthly rate for that lot, knowing we’ll be here for most, if not all, of January. So we actually had five nights where we were paying for two RV sites simultaneously. The December number also includes our estimated electricity charge for our current site ($40), along with the prorated amount for our NM State Park annual pass.
Last year was much lower because we boondocked and dry-camped for the entire month except for a week that we spent at an RV park in Glendale, Arizona for Christmas.
For the last year, we’ve 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 the fall. Since we didn’t boondock at all this month, our expenses were higher than the 12-month average.
December 2019: $0
Same month last year: $16
Average for last 12 months: $33/month
Since we had sewer hookups this month, we didn’t have to pay to dump our tanks. We really only have to pay dumping fees when we’re boondocking.
Last December we boondocked for three weeks, so we had to pay to dump the tanks several times.
Over the last year, we boondocked on public land for a good portion of the year, which meant we had to drive somewhere and pay to dump the tanks (typically $10-15 a pop), making our yearly average higher.
Fuel for the RV
December 2019: $177
Same month last year: $367
Average for last 12 months: $117/month
The only driving we did this month in Lizzy was the relocation from Tupelo, Mississippi to Livingston, Texas, and then the drive to Houston to deliver her to the consignment lot for a total of 674 miles. We were required to leave her with a mostly full gas tank so potential buyers can test drive her. We bought 80 gallons of gas at an average price of $2.21 per gallon.
Last December, we moved more times and drove 767 miles from Columbus, NM, to Phoenix, AZ, and then to Winterhaven, CA (just west of Yuma, AZ) where we settled in for the winter. We purchased 139 gallons of gas at an average price of $2.65 per gallon.
Our twelve month average is still reflective of the long months we spent wintering in Yuma and summering in Flagstaff without moving the RV except for dump trips. But this will be the last month that we have RV Fuel expense (unless there are a LOT of people who want to test drive Lizzy). With the switch to the fifth wheel trailer, we will only have one vehicle to keep fueled up.
Fuel for the Truck
December 2019: $175 ($71 for Tacoma, $104 for Ford)
Same month last year: $221
Average for last 12 months: $114/month
This month we drove the Tacoma 568 miles from Mississippi to Texas before we traded it in on December 5. Since then we’ve driven the Ford 648+ miles, including a couple of trips to Houston. We purchased a total of 78 gallons between the two trucks, but the new truck did come with a full tank when we picked it up, helping keep our fuel costs lower this month.
Last December, we drove the truck 1688 miles, moving from Columbus, NM, through Phoenix, AZ and then to Yuma, AZ, plus all the daily driving for sightseeing and shopping. We bought 84 gallons of gas at $2.62/gallon.
Once again our expenses for the month were higher than the yearly average because of the move from Mississippi to Texas, and two long round-trip drives to Houston.
December 2019: $20
Same month last year: $32
Average for last 12 months: $38/month
This month we bought 6.3 gallons of propane for our new rig on December 31 . The tanks were not totally full when we moved into the rig on the 18th, so this expense doesn’t reflect our typical monthly usage–we didn’t use 6.3 gallons in 14 days. Since we’ve had hookups all month, we’ve been able to use more electricity than propane for our heating.
Last December we bought 10.1 gallons of propane at $3.15/gallon. Since we were boondocking most of the month, we used more propane than electricity for heat.
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. Over the summer in Flagstaff, we paid $2.83/gallon at Tractor Supply, which was nice!
December 2019: $446
Same month last year: $492
Average for last 12 months: $491/month
We managed to get our grocery bill back under control this month, even while cooking more of our meals at home. I think with all the stress we were under with the rig transition, we actually ate less, so we didn’t have to shop for groceries as often. Maybe we picked up some better habits! 🙂
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. We do almost all our grocery shopping at Walmart because of the prices and because the selection is consistent across the area in which we travel.
December 2019: $231
Same month last year: $253
Average for past 12 months: $270/month
We didn’t eat out quite as much this month, and when we did, we managed to find some lower cost options. Our most expensive meal out was at Green Vegetarian Restaurant in Houston ($37), and we also enjoyed a $34 meal at the Pizza Shack in Willis, TX, and we had two meals at the Patron Grill Mexican restaurant in Livingston. We enjoyed the weekly pancake breakfast here at the park three times ($10 each time), and we hit a few other fast food places and coffee shops.
Last year we were in the Phoenix area for Christmas, so we ate out a little more, not to mention the times we ate out while traveling from New Mexico to Yuma.
I’m tracking the 12-month rolling average, and I see that the numbers crept up initially but now seemed to have leveled off:
- September – $245
- October – $256
- November – $272
- December – $270
household / furnishings
December 2019: $667
Same month last year: $42
Average for last 12 months: $175/month
Ouch! This is where things start to get pricey. In addition to the usual paper products and cleaning supplies, this month we spent quite a bit on furnishings for our new rig, primarily bedding. We bought a mattress topper ($118) to cover the typically-uncomfortable RV mattress. We also had to buy new sheets (two sets) and a mattress protector (total $151) since the new rig has a queen size bed, where the old one was a full XL size. We spent $50 on towel bars, shower caddy and hooks for the hallway, all Command Hooks; and we spent another $198 on a toaster and other assorted furnishings for the new rig. We paid $54 to rent a storage unit for a few weeks when we traded in the Tacoma, since we had to remove the things we stored in that truck and keep them somewhere until we could move into the new rig.
Last year at this same time, we only bought the usual paper and cleaning supplies.
The average for the last 12 months also includes the purchase of a new memory foam mattress ($496) in April 2019 to replace the original mattress that came with the Chateau. That was one of the best decisions we made this past year when it comes to comfort and relaxation.
December 2019: $55
Same month last year: $246
Average for last 12 months: $49/month
This month we bought a new smaller-sized litter box ($21) for the kitties to fit the shower in the new rig (that’s where we store it). We found the Litter Genie litter box on Amazon, and I wish we had found it sooner. It’s so much easier to move in and out of the shower.
Last December’s expense included a vet visit for both the kitties while we were in Glendale, Arizona. They had both been checked out and had their shots the preceding August before we went on the road, but they had developed a couple of issues that needed to be addressed by the time we got to Arizona. Traveling with pets is definitely more expensive, but having the girls with us makes our travels more enjoyable and interesting.
verizon cellphone / internet
December 2019: $240
Same month last year: $286
Average for last 12 months: $271/month
We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop, Kindles and streaming video on the Roku. We are on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled.
At this time last year, we were still paying off our iPhones, so the monthly expense included a pro-rated cost of the phones. The were both paid off in October of this year.
As long as our phones are working properly, we have no intention of getting new devices, so our 12-month average should continue to decline as long as the plan rates don’t go up.
December 2019: $0
Same month last year: $37
Average for past 12 months: $24/month
One big advantage to being parked here at the Escapees headquarters is that we get to pick up our mail every weekday instead of having it forwarded to us in monthly batches. That’s been so convenient since we’ve ordered quite a few packages from Amazon over the past month.
In December of last year, we signed up for the scanning service for two months at $10/month, and we upgraded our plan to have junk mail weeded out from the first-class mail that gets forwarded to us.
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. And when we’re not staying here in Livingston, we pay an extra $30/quarter to have them scan the front of every piece of mail that arrives so that we can view it online, and then tell them to hold it for mailing or shred it.
December 2019: $30
Same month last year: $18
Average for past 12 months: $20/month
Since we were moving rigs this month, we decided to wash all the bedding, as well as our extra quilts that we were using in the old rig to protect the upholstery from cat hair. We’ve also done regular laundry twice while here at Escapees since they have convenient, cheaper laundry facilities.
Last December we did laundry once, but also had to do all the bedding, because one of our fur babies had an accident on the bed.
Since we’ve been on the road, we typically do laundry about every three weeks, unless there’s a cat pee emergency. When we have to wash all the bedding, the cost goes up. (Looking at you, Molly Ann!)
attractions / entertainment
December 2019: $130
Same month last year: $137
Average for past 12 months: $80/month
This month’s spending included our monthly subscriptions to Hulu, Spotify, Audible, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, etc. Also this month, I renewed my annual subscriptions to Geocaching.com (geocache locater and database app) and Evernote (my online notebook for storing almost everything). Most of our entertainment involves reading, hiking, geocaching–things that are low-cost or free.
And last December’s expenses were about the same.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve kept this line item fairly low by avoiding the temptation to slip into “vacation” mode just because we live in an RV. And we try not to load up on subscriptions to online services. For instance, when we bought the new truck, we got a trial subscription to SiriusXM Radio, which I didn’t think we would use. However, I soon found out that Ford Motor Company installs a crappy audio product in their truck when it comes to Bluetooth connectivity, so I can’t play my Spotify or Audible app over the speakers in the truck. So we decided to sign up for SiriusXM and drop Audible, since I typically only listen to audiobooks while driving. With our new rig situation, I won’t be driving alone very much like I used to when we drove separately on travel days. SiriusXM seems like a better alternative for us for entertainment in the new truck. The point is, if we get something new, we let go of something old.
December 2019: $0
Same month last year: $0
Average for the last 12 months: $32/month
We don’t have any membership renewals that come due in December.
Over the last year, this line item has included things like AAA Roadside Assistance, Costco, Sam’s Club, Escapees, and Amazon Prime. We are also members of Passport America which gets us discounts at RV parks, but we’ve already paid several years in advance.
Equipment for RV
December 2019: $4,502
Same month last year: $388
Average for last 12 months: $528
Yes, that’s a BIG number this month, but it’s part of buying a new rig and getting the truck equipped to tow it. First, our purchase of the rig included the seller’s hitch, along with some supplemental electrical cables and adapters that we’ll need when we stay in a park that only has 30-amp service. These items were valued at $2500 as part of the purchase price of the rig. To install the hitch, we had to purchase bed rails and a wiring harness for the pickup, at a cost of $752 (not including labor). We’ve also ordered a bed cover for the truck ($974) which should arrive and be installed this weekend. Finally, since we took our new Battle Born lithium batteries out of Lizzy and put them in Lizzy Too, we had to purchase replacement batteries for Lizzy, at a cost of $264.
Last December, we bought the final pieces to our solar system–the charge controller and the wiring supplies to connect everything. That investment enables us to spend a good part of the year camping off-grid free of charge on BLM and National Forest land, and is quickly paying for itself.
The yearly average is fairly high primarily due to this month’s expenditures to outfit our new rig. And we’re not done yet. We just ordered a backup camera system so we can see the hitch and pin from inside the truck when hitching up. And we still need to get a generator or two if we want to use our air conditioners or high-wattage appliances while we’re off grid. And who knows what else will come up??
RV Maintenance & REpairs
December 2019: $1,349
Same month last year: $472
Average for last 12 months: $224/month
As part of our due diligence in buying a new (to us) rig, we hired an inspector to take a look at the RV and test all the systems (at least the ones that he could) and provide us with a report of his findings. That cost us $649, and it was worth the cost, if just for the peace of mind that we were buying a great rig. Also included in this month’s number are the $500 in extended warranties that came with the rig, and $200 in labor costs to install the hitch and electric plug in the truck.
Last December, we had to replace our house batteries as well as the toilet in Lizzy.
Over the past year, in addition to replacing the water pump twice, we had some higher-than-normal expenses in August 2019 for generator repair, two new tires on the front, and an oil change and air filter.
truck maintenance & repairs
December 2019: $50
Same month last year: $0
Average for last 12 months: $16
This month we paid $50 to have nerf bars installed on our new Ford. For those of you like myself who have no idea what nerf bars are, they are similar to running boards, and provide a step for getting into the truck. Especially helpful to short people like me.
For the next year, the year-over-year comparisons will be between the Ford F-250 and our old Toyota Tacoma. That should be interesting!
December 2019: $180
We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. In our first year, we paid $57/month for the RV for full-timer’s insurance on the Class C motorhome. That increased to $60/month beginning in September 2019 for the next year.
We just picked up a policy for the new fifth wheel, and again it’s a full-timer’s policy to cover us living in the rig. The cost is $70/month, although we paid for a full year in advance to get a discount.
For the Tacoma, our insurance was $40/mo for the first six months, and then in March 2019, it increased to $49/month. When it renewed in September 2019, it went up to $51/month for the next six months.
We just got insurance through Progressive for the 2018 Ford F-250 XLT. It’s running us $99/month for the first six months.
With the trade-in of the Tacoma for the bigger, newer Ford, and the addition of the fifth wheel, our vehicle insurance costs increased significantly. We will be selling the Class C motorhome on consignment, so we’ll need to pay insurance on that vehicle until it sells. Insurance is going to eat our lunch for a few months! 😦
VEhicle License and registration
December 2019: $154
In addition to the prorated tag expenses of $134 ($11/month) for our Class C RV, this month we also had to pay $26 to have an emissions test done on Lizzy since she is being offered for sale in Houston (Harris County). We also paid $50 for the title and inspection on the new truck, and the prorated monthly amount for its tag is $11/month (total registration amount for the tag was $138 in Polk County).
So our RV living expenses for December 2019 & 2018 and the past 12 months were:
December 2019: $9,015
Same month last year: $3,309
Monthly average for the last 12 months: $2,794
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. Those types of expenses can vary wildly from person to person, so we don’t include them in this monthly report.
Yeah, this is an ugly expense report. But we are so in love with our new home!! We continually marvel at the amount of space we have to move around now, especially in the kitchen. It’s a little easier to take that hit to the wallet when you’re so much more comfortable in your surroundings.
Let me just say that we did not finance either the truck or the fifth wheel. We continue to be debt-free, and we would encourage anyone who is thinking about pursuing this lifestyle to make sure that you have your financial house in order before hitting the road. You MUST have a healthy emergency fund set aside for those inevitable maintenance and repair items that pop up, and I’m not just talking about the rig. You have to be able to take care of your health. And if at all possible, you don’t want to be worried about having your home or vehicle taken away from you if you can’t pay your bills, so go debt-free if at all possible. There are lots of different ways to live the full-time RV lifestyle. Just make sure that the way that you choose–rig, relocation frequency, boondocking vs. campgrounds– will work with your budget.
So for now we’re still parked in Livingston while we wait for the title paperwork on the RV to reach us so we can get her inspected and registered. We’ll also have the truck and trailer weighed to ensure that we’re not overloaded before we pull out of Texas. We’re hopeful that we can get all that done before the end of January, but it will be tight.
All of this transition will have major implications for our finances for several months until things settle back down. But we had a certain amount budgeted for the rig upgrade and we have managed to stay within that budget, so we’re comfortable with the process thus far.
Let us know if you have any questions about our monthly living expenses on the road, and we’ll be glad to answer if we can!
If you’re interested in our monthly expense reports or just our daily adventures, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts. We also have a YouTube channel where we post occasional short videos of things we’ve seen or done–you can check it out by clicking here!