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°. In January 2020, we completed our 17th month as full-time RVers.
When we started our full-time RVing life, 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. Then in January we sold our beloved Chateau at PPL Motor Homes in Houston.
We own both the RV and truck outright and have no debt.
In this monthly report we always compare our current month’s expenses to the same month one year ago, as well as look at what our average expense has been for the past 12 months to see if we’re staying consistent over time. In the month of January we were still going through the process and expense of transitioning from one rig to the next, including an expensive lesson learned when backing up the rig for the first time (stay tuned for that below!). So obviously, with all the big changes going on for the past two months, 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.
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
January 2020: $494
Same month last year: $68
Average for last 12 months: $192/month
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We have arrived safely at our campsite for tonight in Junction, TX, right on the Llano River. We unhitched the rig so we could then take the truck to get gas—much easier than trying to maneuver a fifty-foot train up to a gas pump. . . . #rvlife #fulltimerv #fifthwheelliving #lifeisgood
Yep, our camping fees were high this month. We were parked at Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas through January 18, paying their monthly fee plus electricity, while waiting to receive the RV title from the seller. Once we got the title and got her registered in our names, we were able to get on the road again, so we headed west. We opted to stay in RV parks along the way since we were stressed out enough just learning to tow the rig in traffic, so we paid for full hookups along the way using our Good Sam’s discount. Those parks (four nights) averaged us about $39/night. When we got to New Mexico, we were able to stay a week at Pancho Villa State Park for $4/night using our annual pass for a site with electricity and water. We parked for free one night at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson, and we got our first night free at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA because the host was not around to collect our fee.
On top of all that, since we were stuck in Livingston for so long, we had to cancel our plans to participate in the lint-picking project at Carlsbad Caverns, so we lost $50 when we cancelled our reservation.
For comparison, in January of last year, we were parked all month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (same place where we are currently parked), where we paid $180 for an annual pass that covered us for the entire 78 days that we stayed there–an average daily cost of $2.31.
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. So when you look at what we spent this month for camping, it’s easy to see why we prefer to boondock as much as possible to keep our expenses low.
DUMPING / FRESH WATER FEES
January 2020: $6
Same month last year: $70
Average for last 12 months: $28/month
For most of the month we were parked where we had sewer hookups. For the week we were in Pancho Villa State Park, we had access to their dump station. So we didn’t have to pay to dump our tanks all month, which does help to offset the cost of the campsite fee. The $6 charge for this month was the cost to fill up our fresh water tank upon arrival here at Pilot Knob LTVA where we’re boondocking.
Last January we boondocked for the entire month, so we had to pay to dump the tanks six times, as we could only go about five days without dumping. We’re hoping that with the bigger tanks in this rig, we can last for at least seven days between dumps.
Since we spent so much of December and January staying in parks instead of boondocking, our yearly average cost for dumping fees has gone down. That should reverse itself as we begin boondocking again and have to pay the dumping fees, usually $10-15 per dump.
This is where we’re expecting to see some changes in our year-over-year expenses. Last year we had two vehicles, the Class C motorhome and the Toyota Tacoma pickup, that we had to buy gas for when we traveled. The motorhome had an onboard generator that used gasoline from the motorhome’s fuel tank, so we just had to guesstimate the amount of fuel actually used by the generator as opposed to being used by the motorhome.
Now we only have one vehicle, the Ford F-250 XLT truck, that uses gas. We have a Honda 2200i generator that is fueled separately so we can know exactly how much fuel we’re pouring into the generator to power our built-in appliances in the RV.
We should be using less fuel on travel days since we only have one vehicle now. The gas mileage in the Ford while it’s towing is very similar to what the Class C motorhome was getting. But since the Ford gets significantly lower gas mileage than our Toyota got, we’ll be spending more on gas when we’re just doing our daily driving for grocery shopping, sightseeing, etc. Therefore, when we have the RV parked in the same spot for a while, our fuel costs will actually be higher than they were last year. It will be interesting to see how the numbers work out for the entire year.
That said, here’s the fuel breakdown:
- Fuel for tow vehicle (Ford F-250) – $582
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $5
- Total fuel – $587
Same month last year:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $0
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $59
- Total fuel – $59
Average per month for last 12 months:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $117/month
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $101/month
- Fuel for tow vehicle (Ford F-250) – $57/month
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $1/month
- Total average fuel cost per month – $276/month
As mentioned before, last January we were parked all month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA, so we didn’t have any fuel costs for the RV. We had filled up the fuel tank when we arrived in late December, and the only fuel we used was to run the generator for at least a half-hour on most days to use the microwave or Instant Pot.
But this year we did a lot of traveling in January as we moved from Livingston, Texas to Winterhaven, California (west of Yuma, Arizona), a distance of over 1,400 miles. Since we had electric hookups on 29 out of 31 days, we barely used the Honda generator at all. The $5 spent on generator fuel will actually be used in February.
January 2020: $0
Same month last year: $67
Average for last 12 months: $32/month
We didn’t have to buy propane this month since we had just filled up the tank at the end of December. Since we had electric hookups almost all month, we used the electric fireplace a lot for heating, reducing our propane usage.
Last January we bought 17.9 gallons of propane at $3.76/gallon (California prices). Since we were boondocking all month, we used only propane 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!
January 2020: $454
Same month last year: $480
Average for last 12 months: $489/month
We did pretty well on our grocery budget this month, thanks to those New Year’s resolutions about healthier eating (remember those?). We bought more fresh vegetables and less of the processed junk. We even packed our lunches to eat on the road on travel days.
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.
January 2020: $323
Same month last year: $230
Average for past 12 months: $278/month
We ate out a little more this month, not surprising since we were traveling. We had dinner at Lucy Tequila, a Mexican restaurant in Schulenburg, Texas that was recommended by the camp host. We also had the buffet at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson when we parked for free overnight in their parking lot (it just seemed fair). We also ate at Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen in New Caney, Texas before we left Livingston, and we highly recommend them if you’re ever in the area. While we were staying at Pancho Villa State Park, we paid a visit to the Pink Store in Palomas, Mexico (of course!), and we also ate at Irma’s Kitchen for breakfast one morning and at Borderland Cafe for lunch one day. All great food!
Last year we didn’t eat out as much since we were parked in one place and could easily prepare our own meals, so our costs were a little lower.
HOUSEHOLD / FURNISHINGS
January 2020: $75
Same month last year: $35
Average for last 12 months: $178/month
In addition to the usual paper products and cleaning supplies, this month we bought a knife tray and some drawer dividers to organize things in the kitchen. I think we’re finally about done furnishing 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. It also includes all the money we spent in December 2019 to outfit the new fifth wheel, especially for bedding and organizational doo-dads.
January 2020: $182
Same month last year: $40
Average for last 12 months: $60/month
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With the change in rigs, the kitties will no longer have the luxury of riding in the RV on travel days. Instead we will have to move them from the trailer to the truck, and then back again. We have travel crates for them, but on long travel days we’ll need to let them out to stretch and do their business. So we’re introducing them to halters and leashes. We finally got Maggie in hers—she’s not wild about it, to say the least. But Molly is gonna fight us tooth and claw, so I’m resting up for that battle. 😼😾 . . . #rvlife #fulltimerv #lifeisgood #forliz #kitties #catsofinstagram #maggie
This month, in preparation for having the kitties travel in the truck with us, we invested in halters and leashes ($78, still haven’t used them) and a large folding travel crate that holds both of them easily ($49, they hate being confined in it while we’re traveling, but they love lying in it when it’s sitting in the living room floor). We also bought litter twice–the first box we bought was a different brand since Walmart was out of our preferred litter. It was horrible, so we replaced it as soon as we could.
The average for the past 12 months includes a trip to the vet in November for their annual checkup and vaccinations. Traveling with pets is definitely more expensive, but having the girls with us makes our travels more enjoyable and interesting.
VERIZON CELLPHONE / INTERNET
January 2020: $240
Same month last year: $276
Average for last 12 months: $268/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 2019.
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.
January 2020: $40
Same month last year: $7
Average for past 12 months: $27/month
While we were parked at Escapees in Livingston, we were able to pick up our mail each day in person. But once we went back out on the road on the 18th, it was time to re-establish our mail forwarding and scanning service. We pay $10/month to have our mail scanned (we paid three months in advance) so we know when it’s time to have it bundled up and forwarded to us. This service is critical around tax time. Also while we were in Livingston, we had multiple orders from Amazon delivered to our Escapees address, and the mail handling facility charges $.75/each for receipt and handling of those packages that arrive via Fedex or UPS.
Last January we only paid to have mail forwarded to us once in Yuma.
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.
January 2020: $14
Same month last year: $29
Average for past 12 months: $19/month
We were able to do all our laundry at the Escapees campground facility this month, which was awesome because it was not only cheaper, but it was much more convenient than driving into town to do it.
Last January we did laundry twice, 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
January 2020: $56
Same month last year: $72
Average for past 12 months: $79/month
This month’s spending included our monthly subscriptions to Hulu, Spotify, Audible, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, etc. Most of our entertainment involves reading, hiking, geocaching–things that are low-cost or free.
Last January’s expenses included a visit to the Center of the World, along with parking fees for our visit across the border into Algodones.
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.
January 2020: $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 January.
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
January 2020: $2,394
Same month last year: $0
Average for last 12 months: $727
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Testing out the new generator for the first time tonight. Honda 2200i, doesn’t seem to be any louder than the onboard Onan 4000 we had in our Class C. We were able to run the microwave with no problem. It’s not enough to power the main A/C, but maybe the smaller one in the bedroom?? . . . #rvlife #fulltimerv #lifeisgood #fifthwheelliving
Another big number this month, and this one was particularly painful. First of all, we purchased the Honda 2200i generator ($1,092) to power our onboard appliances while boondocking. We also purchased an iBall wireless camera ($180) to use when hitching up the rig to the truck. Those were totally expected, budgeted expenses. The painful part came when we moved the rig for the first time to have it weighed and inspected. When we returned to our campsite and tried to back the rig up, the brand new bed cover got smashed by the cap of the rig (see pics here), and we had to replace it ($974).
Last January, we had a great month free from buying any equipment after we had spent quite a bit on our solar setup.
The yearly average is fairly high primarily due to two months of expenditures to outfit our new rig. At this point I think we’re pretty much done, with the possible exception of a new solar charge controller with Bluetooth capability. The controller is mounted out of sight in the front bay of the rig, and it would be nice to be able to use an app on our smartphones to monitor the state of the batteries. We’ll see.
RV MAINTENANCE & REPAIRS
January 2020: $122
Same month last year: $108
Average for last 12 months: $225/month
This month we had the rig weighed ($55 for both truck and trailer) to make sure we were not overloaded for travel. Fortunately, we came in just under the weight limit, so as long as we don’t get careless about acquiring more stuff, we should be fine. The outside bays and the back of the truck are pretty full, but there’s a lot of empty storage capacity inside, so that’s what we’ll need to keep an eye on. We also had to have one of the trailer tires repaired ($20) when we were in Fort Stockton, Texas. It had had a slow leak ever since we bought the RV, and when we actually got on the road it became more pronounced. They found a piece of metal stuck in the tire, “probably a nail”, and were able to repair it. We also spent about $34 on lubricants and seal conditioners to keep the rig healthy.
Last January, we had to replace our water pump in Lizzy (the first time).
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
January 2020: $0
Same month last year: $0
Average for last 12 months: $16
We had no issues with the Ford F-250 this month, and we had no issues with the Tacoma last January.
For the next year, the year-over-year comparisons will be between the Ford F-250 and our old Toyota Tacoma. We did purchase an extended warranty for the Ford since we bought it used.
January 2020: $217 (includes partial month insurance on the Class C until it was sold on January 10)
We have insurance through Progressive. 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.
VEHICLE LICENSE AND REGISTRATION
January 2020: $(40)
The monthly pro-rated cost of the tags for the fifth wheel and the truck are $26. However, this month we received a refund check for $66 from the Ford dealer where we bought the truck, and the only explanation on it was something about an adjustment to the registration amount. We’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
So our RV living expenses for January 2020 & 2019 and the past 12 months were:
January 2020: $5,164
Same month last year: $1,677
Monthly average for the last 12 months: $3,085
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.
Our expenses have been pretty high for the last two months as we’ve made the transition from one rig to the other, and then traveled over 1400 miles to our winter destination. If all goes as planned, we should be able to catch our breath for the next month or so before it gets too hot and we need to move on to a new location. We will continue to boondock as much as possible to keep our expenses low, and to have our home in the most beautiful surroundings we can find.
So for now we’ll enjoy our time in the Yuma area while we figure out just how long we can go between trips to the dump station in this larger rig. 😉
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!