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 March 2020, we completed our 19th 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.
Since our last monthly expense report, the world has changed drastically with the COVID-19 outbreak. And just like everyone else, we’ve had to scramble this month to make adjustments to the way we live, which also meant finding a safe place to hunker down for the foreseeable future. As we reported earlier, we had to leave Pancho Villa State Park a couple of days earlier than we had planned when New Mexico closed all their state parks to overnight camping on March 13. Fortunately we already had a monthly site reserved at the Escapees Dreamcatcher RV Park in nearby Deming, so we were able to find safe refuge there. We plan to remain in Deming until it’s safe to travel again. Right now we’re in a comfortable place with full hookups, easy access to essential supplies and groceries, and plenty of open space to walk and exercise. We also have a good supply of hand soap and toilet paper.
The only not-so-great thing that’s happened is that I just came down with a case of shingles, even though I had the vaccine just two years ago. I went to the local urgent care clinic two days ago and got a prescription for medications. So far my case seems to be milder than what Andy had in 2013, or what my brother Mark had. I’m hoping the medications caught it in time so that it begins to heal quickly.
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. Since we’ve been under a stay-at-home order here in New Mexico for most of the month of March, we’ve seen some interesting changes in our monthly expenditures, which you’ll see below.
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
March 2020: $250
Same month last year: $68
Average for last 12 months: $211/month
We started out the month of March staying at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus, New Mexico, where we were paying $4/night with our annual pass for a site with electricity and water. We had planned to stay the entire 14 days that they allow, but on the 13th day the park was closed to camping. Everyone had to leave on just a few hours’ notice, so we moved to Dreamcatcher RV Park in Deming (read the details here). Our monthly site here is $225/month plus electricity, so the March figure includes the prorated portion of the monthly fee, and an estimate of our electricity usage based on the meter reading. It also includes a prorated portion of our NM State Park annual pass (it will be interesting to see if they extend these annual passes when the parks reopen).
For comparison, in March of last year, we were parked at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA through the 14th, but we had paid $180 in December for an annual pass so our camping was free. After we left Pilot Knob, we boondocked for free for 14 days on BLM land near Wickenburg, AZ, and then spent 3 nights parked on some friends’ property in Yarnell, AZ. So the March 2019 figure only includes the prorated portions of the LTVA annual pass, plus the prorated portion of the NM state park annual pass.
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. We had planned to spend the summer work-camping in Colorado in exchange for a free full-hookup site; but at this point in time, with the pandemic and the travel restrictions, it appears that we’ll be paying for a campsite here in Deming for awhile.
DUMPING / FRESH WATER FEES
March 2020: $0
Same month last year: $56
Average for last 12 months: $23/month
Since we were in the state park and the RV park all month, we didn’t have to pay any additional dumping fees this month.
Last year in March we were boondocking the entire time, so we had to pay to dump the tanks and take on fresh water every 6-7 days.
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) – $212 (10.2 MPG)
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $0
- Total fuel – $212
Same month last year:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $141
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $92 (18.9 MPG)
- Total fuel – $233
Average per month for last 12 months:
- Fuel for RV (Class C motorhome) incl. generator – $106/month
- Fuel for truck (Toyota Tacoma) – $84/month
- Fuel for tow vehicle (Ford F-250) – $87/month
- Fuel for generator (Honda 2200i) – $1/month
- Total average fuel cost per month – $278/month
We towed the rig 277 miles this month, beginning with our March 1 move from our overnight stay at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson, AZ to Pancho Villa SP, and then our move to Dreamcatcher in Deming on March 13. When we were towing, we got about 8.8 MPG (had a good tailwind), and when we’re just driving around without towing we’re getting just over 12 MPG. For March, we paid an average of $2.33/gallon, as most of our fuel was purchased early in the month before the prices started dropping so much. Also, since we had electrical hookups all month, we did not use any generator fuel.
Last March we made a couple of moves during the month, totaling 250 miles on both the RV and the truck, and then additional daily driving mileage on the truck for exploring and running errands.
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.
March 2020: $29 (10.2 gal, average $2.85/gal)
Same month last year: $56 (17.4 gal, average $3.22/gal)
Average for last 12 months: $32/month (9.1 gal, average $3.52)
We filled up the primary tank twice this month, although the second time, it wasn’t quite empty (with everything being so uncertain right now, we’re keeping our fuel tanks topped off more often). Since we’ve been in a spot with electricity all month, we’ve been able to use the electric fireplace to heat the rig when needed, so we’re not using as much propane for heating. The propane is primarily for stovetop cooking.
Last March we bought most of our propane at $3.76/gallon at the Chevron station next to the LTVA (California prices). Once we left the LTVA and started boondocking on BLM land in Arizona, we found propane for $1.99/gallon. Since we were without electrical hookups all that month, we relied solely on propane for heat, as well as cooking and heating our water, thus the higher expense.
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 past summer in Flagstaff, we paid $2.83/gallon at Tractor Supply, which was nice!
March 2020: $552
Same month last year: $540
Average for last 12 months: $475/month
Our grocery bill was higher than average this month because, like just about everyone else, we were following instructions to have at least a two-week supply of food on hand in case we had to be quarantined. We bought extra non-perishable foods like brown rice, dried beans, noodles, pasta and sauce, and some frozen goods. These are all tucked away for an emergency, since we generally eat mostly fresh produce on a daily basis, and so far (knock on wood) we’ve been able to get fresh fruits and vegetables fairly easily. We also ate at home more, practicing social distancing.
Last year’s number for March was higher than usual because we spent most of the month in an area where there wasn’t a Walmart, so we had to buy groceries at Safeway and Basha’s, where the prices were higher.
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.
March 2020: $206
Same month last year: $243
Average for past 12 months: $292/month
With all the social distancing going on, we didn’t eat out nearly as much this month. Before things locked down, we did have lunch in Palomas, Mexico at the Pink Store, as well as several dine-in meals in Columbus and Deming. After the lock-down, we ordered take-out twice from Irma’s in Deming (our favorite Mexican place) to help support them, and then we ordered pizza from Domino’s on Tuesday after I came down with shingles and just didn’t feel like cooking.
Last year we ate out a little less in March because we were boondocking in a fairly remote area most of the month.
Right now, we’re a little torn when it comes to restaurants. On the one hand, we’re trying to keep our distance from any possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus, but on the other hand we want to support these local businesses that are really struggling. We will probably continue to occasionally order take-out, but on a much less frequent basis, especially since our favorite Deming restaurant, Irma’s Mexican, has closed its doors for the time being.
HOUSEHOLD / FURNISHINGS
March 2020: $199
Same month last year: $192
Average for last 12 months: $171/month
In addition to extra paper products (toilet paper, paper towels) and cleaning supplies, this month we paid for our annual subscription to Dropbox. The annual subscription price increased to $119, up from $99 last year, but the storage limit doubled from 1 TB to 2 TB. Dropbox is our online cloud storage for all of our scanned documents and photos. Using Dropbox allows us to minimize the amount of paperwork that we store in the rig.
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.
March 2020: $58
Same month last year: $46
Average for last 12 months: $63/month
This month we bought litter and cat food for the fur-babies. Because we can’t get to a Costco right now, we had to start switching them to a different dry cat food, and we selected a good quality food that’s available at Walmart. We’ve been mixing it half-and-half with their remaining Costco dry food, and so far they’ve adjusted to it with no problems.
In March of last year, we got by with just buying food for them.
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
March 2020: $270
Same month last year: $276
Average for last 12 months: $265/month
In addition to our monthly cellphone bill, this month we paid for the in-park wifi here at Dreamcatcher RV Park ($29) since we’ll be confined to our rig and will be online a lot more for entertainment. 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.
In March of 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.
March 2020: $7
Same month last year: $10
Average for past 12 months: $24/month
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. The scanning service costs $10/month which is paid quarterly. When I’m ready to receive my mail, I go on the website and give them the local zip code, and they package my mail and send it to me by Priority Mail with a tracking number. A typical shipment is $7.25.
This month we only had mail forwarded to us once in Columbus.
Last March, we had mail forwarded once, but we also paid the nearby Chevron station to accept an Amazon package for us ($3) while we were boondocking at the LTVA near Yuma.
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.
March 2020: $8
Same month last year: $25
Average for past 12 months: $19/month
We did laundry once this month, and were fortunate to have access to the laundry room here at Dreamcatcher RV Park where the cost is much lower than the local public laundromat. The park management is wiping down the machines hourly with bleach water to help keep everyone safe, and we only go to the laundry room when there’s no one else there.
Last March we only had to do our regular laundry once, at the laundromat in Yuma. But we also had to wash all our bedding while we were in Wickenburg when one of the cats 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
March 2020: $65
Same month last year: $103
Average for past 12 months: $71/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. For the past few months we’ve been binge-watching M*A*S*H on Hulu–we’re now on season 11. Fortunately we’re parked in a place where we have good over-the-air TV reception, so we’re able to have plenty of entertainment options while we’re required to stay at home. Also, while we were at Pancho Villa State Park, we were fortunate enough to catch the annual commemoration of the famous Pancho Villa raid on Columbus, NM. There was a horse parade, music, dancing, food and art vendors. We had a blast! Here’s a little video we put together of the day’s festivities:
Last March’s expenses, in addition to the monthly subscriptions, included a visit to the old Vulture Mine site near Wickenburg (overpriced, IMO). I also purchased a new hiking pack with water bottle for desert hiking.
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.
March 2020: $0
Same month last year: $136
Average for the last 12 months: $24/month
We didn’t have any membership renewals due this month.
Last March, we renewed our AAA Roadside Assistance membership for $136. Since then, we dropped that membership after they let us down when we needed them in Flagstaff. We have since switched to Good Sam Roadside Assistance.
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
March 2020: $0
Same month last year: $35
Average for last 12 months: $729
Finally!! No new expenditures for equipment for the rig. I think we finally have everything that we need, especially since it looks like we’re going to be in an RV park with full hookups for awhile.
Last March, we just bought a few random items needed to maintain the rig.
The monthly average for the year is fairly high primarily due to two months of expenditures in December and January 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
March 2020: $4
Same month last year: $24
Average for last 12 months: $222/month
This month the only maintenance expenditure we had was for a tube of clear silicone to temporarily patch a crack in the wall of the rig. A little background: When we bought the rig, we already knew that there was a minor dent in the bottom of the street-side wall in the rear of the RV. When we were towing the rig from Arizona to New Mexico this month, part of I-10 was extremely bumpy, and when we arrived at Pancho Villa State Park we noticed that there was now a small crack, maybe 2-3 inches long, in the wall just above the previous damage. We think the wall was weakened from the previous damage. Andy patched the crack with the silicone to make sure that no moisture could intrude until we can have it permanently fixed.
Last March, we had to replace the air admittance valve under the bathroom sink to keep out black tank odors, and we also bought some shop rags and mineral spirits.
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
March 2020: $0
Same month last year: $70
Average for last 12 months: $10
We had no issues with the Ford F-250 this month.
Last March, we got an oil change for the Tacoma and had her washed.
Right now, 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.
March 2020: $178
We have insurance through Progressive. The vehicles are licensed in Polk County, Texas, if you’re looking for comparisons.
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 now have a policy for the 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 old 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.
Our insurance through Progressive for the 2018 Ford F-250 XLT is running us $108/month.
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
March 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 March 2020 & 2019 and the past 12 months were:
March 2020: $2,063
Same month last year: $2,258
Monthly average for the last 12 months: $3,080
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.
With everything being so uncertain right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard, if not impossible, to predict what life is going to be like for the foreseeable future. We are 99.9% positive we will not be going to Colorado for the work-camping job. We may have an opportunity to do work-camping in exchange for a full-hookup site here in Deming for the summer, based on a conversation that Andy had with the owner of a nearby park when he went there to get the propane tank filled.
Honestly, we would love to start moving toward cooler climates; but we’re afraid that if restrictions are lifted and we leave this spot, and then there’s another flare-up, we might not be in a place where we can get to a long-term parking situation like we have here. This time we were very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
We’ve started talking seriously about purchasing a small piece of land somewhere here in the Southwest to use as a home base in situations like this when we need to get off the road for an extended period. We would just need a lot where we could have electricity, water and sewer so we could hook up the rig, and maybe have room for a small storage shed. We need to do some more research into property values, deed restrictions, development costs, etc., before we make a decision, but it’s something we’re definitely looking into.
The entire RV community has been rocked by this pandemic as we’ve scrambled to find a place to ride this thing out. If you are thinking about starting your own full-time lifestyle right now, I’d advise you to wait. Many state parks, national parks, and both private and public campground and RV parks are closed, and the ones that remain open are often restricted to guests who are either long term residents or who just happened to be in the park at the time shelter-in-place orders were issued. Even the BLM office in Quartzsite is urging people to stay away from the boondocking areas out there as they are already crowded, and Quartzsite does not have the infrastructure to support that many people.
Hopefully, you’ve already found a place to hunker down safely. Stay in place, stay off the road, and use this time to do those little maintenance chores around the rig.
Above all, stay WELL!!
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!