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 February 2020, we completed our 18th 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 2019 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 our monthly reports, 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 February we finally got past the big hits to the wallet that came with transitioning rigs and traveling halfway across the country. We spent the entire month boondocking in the Pilot Knob BLM Long Term Visitor Area about nine miles west of Yuma, Arizona (just over the California state line). That allowed us to greatly reduce our spending on camping fees and gas for the truck. As it happens, that’s the same place where we spent February last year, so it makes an interesting comparison month.
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
February 2020: $104
Same month last year: $63
Average for last 12 months: $195/month
As I said, we stayed the entire month (except for the last night) at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA near Yuma. If you’re not familiar with the LTVAs, they are a fee area where you can buy a season pass for $180 that’s good from October 15 through April 15. But if you’re not planning to stay longer than two months, it’s more economical to buy the $40 two-week pass and just renew it as needed. That’s what we did–we bought a $40 pass on arrival on January 31 which was good through February 14, and then renewed it for another $40 to take us through February 28. That was the date that Andy had his last doctor’s appointment, and since it was starting to get pretty warm, we decided it was time to move on. We left the LTVA in the afternoon after his appointment and moved two miles eastward to the Quechan Casino Resort where we paid $10 to park overnight in their RV parking lot (no hookups). The February number also includes a prorated portion of our annual pass to the New Mexico state parks, which will come into play again in March/April. But excluding that amount, our average nightly camping cost in February was $3/night.
For comparison, in February of last year, we also parked all month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA, but we had 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 camping expenses fairly low by (1) boondocking on public land, (2) buying the annual or two-week passes for the BLM LTVA for the winter in Yuma, AZ, and (3) buying the annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks where we spend time in the fall and spring. But as you can see from the monthly average for the year, staying in paid campgrounds can push that average up quickly. 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
February 2020: $45
Same month last year: $48
Average for last 12 months: $27/month
Since we boondocked all month, we had to tow the rig to the nearby Chevron station to dump the tanks and take on fresh water. This year they are charging $15 per visit, and we dumped three times. With the new, larger rig we were able to comfortably go ten days between dumps as compared to six days in our old rig.
Last year in February at the same location, we had to pay to dump the tanks four times, as we could only go about six days without dumping. Last year they only charged us $12 per visit because the rig had smaller tanks and took less water to fill up.
The average monthly cost for the year is lower because of the months that we spent staying in RV parks that had sewer connections or complimentary dump stations.
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, for which we had to buy gas 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) – $140 (10.4 MPG)
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $10
- Total fuel – $150
Same month last year:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $0
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $113 (17.6 MPG)
- Total fuel – $113
Average per month for last 12 months:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $117/month
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $91/month
- Fuel for tow vehicle (Ford F-250) – $69/month
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $1/month
- Total average fuel cost per month – $278/month
Since we towed the rig less than 5 miles this month, all the fuel usage in the truck was attributable to our trips around the Yuma area for shopping, doctor’s appointments and entertainment. We bought 54.7 gallons of gas at an average of $2.56/gallon, and drove 567 miles. We spent $10 on gas for the generator to run things like the microwave and Instant Pot.
Last year was the same story for the previous rig. All the fuel usage in February 2019 was for the Tacoma, which also got better gas mileage than the new Ford F-250. In that month, we bought 49 gallons of gas at an average of $2.32/gallon, and drove 855 miles.
The average monthly fuel cost for the last 12 months includes those months when we were doing a lot of cross-country traveling, mainly to Mississippi for the holidays and then back to Arizona for the winter. It’s pretty obvious how much those few weeks of travel can skew our monthly fuel costs upward. We use a lot less fuel when we park the rig in one spot for an extended period of time, and we do that as often as possible.
February 2020: $90
Same month last year: $62
Average for last 12 months: $35/month
We didn’t buy propane at all in January, so the tanks were fairly low when we got to Pilot Knob. Nights get pretty cool in the desert, and this bigger rig takes a little more propane to heat it up. We also use propane for cooking and for the hot water heater. We filled up the primary tank three times and the backup tank once, for a total of 23.8 gallons at $3.76/gallon (California prices at the nearby Chevron station).
Last January we bought 16.4 gallons of propane at $3.76/gallon at the same location. The smaller rig definitely took less fuel to keep warm.
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!
February 2020: $387
Same month last year: $558
Average for last 12 months: $474/month
We did even better on our grocery budget this month than last month. I’m trying to cook more dinners that can be stretched into multiple meals (we actually enjoy leftovers). We also stopped buying so many sweets and chips, trying to snack on things that are a little healthier, like carrots and nuts. But probably the biggest reason for the lower number is because we ate out more often this month (see below).
Last year’s number for February was higher than usual because (1) we made a Costco run and stocked up on some things like coffee and black bean burgers, and (2) we made several trips to El Centro to visit the Cardenas market for fresh oranges and flan.
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.
February 2020: $383
Same month last year: $184
Average for past 12 months: $295/month
Yeah, we went a little overboard with the dining out this month. We made a weekly visit to the Quechan Casino breakfast buffet, which is a great deal at $17.38 for two, plus tips (that’s the price if you have the Player’s Card), and we tend to tip well. We visited some great places in Yuma–El Charro Cafe, Da Boyz Pizza, and Eduardo’s Mexican Food–as well as a couple of quick meals at Del Taco and Chipotle because they have plant-based meat substitute options. We had lunch at El Parisio in Algadones, Mexico, followed by street churros. And then we also ate dinner in the casinos on the two nights we traveled at the end of the month. On top of all that, we went to Starbucks and the balance on Andy’s loyalty card dropped below $10, so it automatically reloaded with another $25. But we enjoyed all these meals, and it could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t cooked so many meals at home.
Last year we didn’t eat out quite as many times, and the weekly buffet at the casino was less expensive (they’ve raised their prices from $5.99 to $7.99 this year). And since we weren’t traveling, we didn’t need those on-the-road breaks from cooking.
We do better on our dining out budget when we’re not camped close to a larger city, like Yuma. But sometimes even little small towns like Columbus, New Mexico, where we are now, have unexpected gems that must be experienced.
HOUSEHOLD / FURNISHINGS
February 2020: $117
Same month last year: $205
Average for last 12 months: $171/month
In addition to the usual paper products and cleaning supplies, this month we paid for the Turbotax online tax preparation service and state tax filing fee ($84) to file our 2019 returns. We got a nice refund, so that helped soften the blow.
Last year at this same time, we bought the $70 Turbotax software for our more complicated return, and then I had to buy a $43 external hard drive to install it. We also bought a $22 chair for Andy (can’t remember why).
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 and January 2020 to outfit the new fifth wheel, especially for bedding and organizational doo-dads.
February 2020: $29
Same month last year: $7
Average for last 12 months: $62/month
This month we just bought litter and cat food for the fur-babies. And in February of last year, we got by with just buying food for them. Both kitties are doing well, so there were no vet expenses.
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
February 2020: $240
Same month last year: $276
Average for last 12 months: $265/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. Our iPhones are critically important to us on the road as we use them for navigation and for previewing upcoming exits for gas stations that will accommodate our rig. 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. They 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.
February 2020: $7
Same month last year: $45
Average for past 12 months: $24/month
This month we only had mail forwarded to us once in Yuma. All our mail is first sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, where it is collected by the Escapees Mail Service to which we belong. They scan the front of the envelope and upload the image to their website, where I can then view it and indicate whether I want the envelope to be held for shipment to me, or for it to be shredded. This month I was waiting for all our tax documents to arrive, and once I knew they were all in our mailbox in Livingston, I went to the website and entered instructions to have the mail packaged and forwarded to us at General Delivery in Yuma. About five days later, we had our mail.
The scanning service costs us $10/month, which we pay quarterly (that’s in addition to the annual flat fee of $115 for the mail service). And that’s why last February our mail forwarding costs were so much higher. In that month we paid the quarterly scanning fee ($30), plus we had mail forwarded twice to us.
We typically have one, sometimes two, shipments of mail sent to us each month, although we’ve been going longer and longer between shipments as we handle almost everything electronically now.
February 2020: $37
Same month last year: $17
Average for past 12 months: $21/month
We had to do laundry twice this month, just due to timing. The first time we washed all the bedding as well, so the monthly cost was higher. But when you live with pets who insist on sleeping with you, your laundry costs are going to be a little higher.
Last February we only had to do laundry once.
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
February 2020: $49
Same month last year: $96
Average for past 12 months: $75/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. Of course, since we were parked so close to Yuma we got to enjoy the Super Bowl using our over-the-air antenna, with the television plugged into our solar-charged generator for power. We also attended one of Yuma’s free outdoor jazz concerts that featured the Ron Kobayashi Trio from Los Angeles. And for the past month we’ve been binge-watching M*A*S*H on Hulu–we’re now on season 9.
Last February’s expenses, in addition to the monthly subscriptions, included a visit to the historic Yuma Territorial Prison ($14), a puzzle book and pencils for me, and a book for Andy.
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. We can visit National Parks and Monuments for free with Andy’s lifetime Senior America the Beautiful pass. And we try not to load up on subscriptions to online services.
February 2020: $87
Same month last year: $40
Average for the last 12 months: $35/month
This month our annual Escapees membership payment was due ($40). In addition, we signed up for a one-year Diamond membership with Workamper.com ($47), the online service that helps match RVers with seasonal or even full-time jobs. Less than one week after signing up for the membership, we submitted our resume and had a job lined up for this summer, May through September, in Colorado where we’ll work 20-25 hours per week in exchange for a full hookup site in a small RV resort.
Last February, the only expense for the month was the Escapees renewal.
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
February 2020: $80
Same month last year: $28
Average for last 12 months: $732
After two months of spending money left and right to get our new rig and truck outfitted and ready for boondocking, it’s nice to have a sub-$100 month for a change! This month, the only equipment we bought was a new aluminum ladder to replace the heavier one that came with the rig, and a couple of wooden boards to use under the trailer wheels when we need a little extra leveling support.
Last February, all we bought was a new, fancy caulking gun.
The monthly average for the year 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. Our current 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
February 2020: $19
Same month last year: $28
Average for last 12 months: $224/month
This month the only maintenance expenditure we had was for a new gate valve that we purchased to add an extra line of defense against unintended leakage from the waste tanks when it comes time to dump the tanks. The new gate valve fits on the sewer outlet just behind the cap, allowing Andy to unscrew the cap and get the hose connected before anything that might have seeped into the outlet hose gets a chance to drip onto the ground. We think that the gate valve from the kitchen gray water tank is leaking a little bit, but this new gate valve buys us some time until we can get it seen about. I probably didn’t explain this very well, so here’s a video that does a much better job:
Last February, we bought a couple tubes of Dicor to repair and maintain the seals around windows, vents, etc.
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
February 2020: $0
Same month last year: $0
Average for last 12 months: $16
We had no issues with the Ford F-250 this month, although we did receive a recall notice related to a possible fire hazard in the seat belt pre-tensioner. We took the truck to the local Ford dealer to have the recall work done, and they even washed the truck while they had it.
We had no issues with the Tacoma last February.
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.
February 2020: $169
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 now, but goes up to $108/month in March.
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
February 2020: $26
The monthly pro-rated cost of the tags for the fifth wheel ($14) and the truck ($12) are $26.
So our RV living expenses for February 2020 & 2019 and the past 12 months were:
February 2020: $2,047
Same month last year: $1,904
Monthly average for the last 12 months: $3,097
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.
It’s nice to see our monthly expenses level out again after two months of rig transition. The rest of this year is going to be quite different from last year. Last spring and summer, we mostly boondocked for free on BLM and National Forest land with a couple of discounted campgrounds thrown in from time to time. This year we’ll be spending March and April in New Mexico, using our annual pass to camp for free or for $4/night with electricity and water. And then in we’ll move to Colorado the last weekend in April where we’ll have a full hook-up site through the end of September, in exchange for work camping 20-25 hours per week. That should really help keep our expenses lower this year, assuming we don’t have any unforeseen problems with the rig or spend too much on sight-seeing trips.
So right now we are parked in Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico. The weather is cool (it’s actually raining at the moment), and we have the electric fireplace going. We’ll be here for the two-week limit, and then we’ll have to move on to another state park. Then we rinse and repeat until we head to Colorado.
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!