Expense Report – February 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed our sixth full month on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We have been boondocking (camping without hookups) since December 27 at the Pilot Knob LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s located in southern California, about seven miles west of Yuma, Arizona. When we arrived here in late December, we purchased the annual pass for the entire winter season for $180, which allows us to camp for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs through April 15, 2019. The only time we have moved the RV since we arrived is to drive it one mile round-trip to the nearby Chevron station to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water and propane tanks. We do that about every six days.

Another beautiful sunrise this morning at Pilot Knob LTVA

Staying in one location for the entire month helps keep our expenses low to help offset travel costs later this year when the weather starts to warm up further north. It’s been really nice being able to hunker down in the sunshine and low humidity while the rest of the country is shoveling snow and fighting floods.

Here are our expenses for February.

Camping fees + Electricity

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

January: $68 – Entire month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA. We actually did not spend any money at all this month for camping fees, but for monthly reporting purposes I am prorating the cost of our annual camping passes for New Mexico State Parks ($225 for 13 months) and BLM LTVAs ($180 for December through April).

February: $63 – Still in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA, so no actual expenditures, just the prorated cost of our annual passes.

Six month average: $199

DUMPING FEEs

December: $16 While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.

January: $70 – It costs us $12 to dump our tanks and fill up our 50-gallon fresh water tank at the nearby Chevron station, although one time they only charged us $10 for some reason. We dump our tanks every 5-6 days depending on how often we shower.

February: $48 – Dumped our tanks and filled up with fresh water every 6 days @ $12/visit at the nearby Chevron station.

Six month average: $22

Some next-level rock stacking along Sidewinder Road where I hike

Fuel for the RV

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

January: $0 (Stayed in place all month, 21.9 generator hours and we still have almost 3/4 of a tank of gas left from the last time we filled up in December.) We also started using our solar panels which drastically cut down the number of hours we need to run the generator.

February: $0 (Stayed in place all month, 20.4 generator hours and we still have about half a tank of gas left from the last time we filled up in December.)

Six month average: $160

Fuel for the Truck

December: $221 (20.0 MPG)

January: $59 (17.7 MPG)

February: $113 (17.6 MPG)

Six month average: $141

PROPANE

December: $32 (10 gallons)

January: $67 (19 gallons) – Propane was our sole source of heat in January since we were never connected to electricity, but we only used it early in the morning until the sun warmed up the rig. Right now propane is $3.49/gallon at the nearby Chevron.

February: $62 (17.7 gallons) – The weather got a little cooler in the middle of February, but then it really warmed up in the past week, so our heating costs remained about the same, as did our cooking usage. Propane is still $3.49/gallon at Chevron.

Six month average: $32

groceries

December: $492

January: $480

February: $558 – This month appears higher but it’s kind of a timing thing as we did a big Costco haul on February 1, and we also bought weekly groceries on February 28. We’re not eating or drinking any more than usual.

Six month average: $492

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.

The pastry display at Cardena’s in El Centro

dining out

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

January: $230

February: $184 – We go to the nearby casino every Friday morning for their $5.95 breakfast buffet. We had lunch in Los Algodones (Mexico) once this month, and we also had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Yuma called Chretins (family operated since 1946). We had our Valentine’s Day dinner at an Asian restaurant called Sesame’s Kitchen because our first two choices were overbooked.

Six month average: $215

These numbers include coffee and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

On Friday mornings you’ll find us at the Quechan Resort and Casino for the $5.95 breakfast buffet

household / furnishings

December: $42

January: $35

February: $205 – Includes purchase of Turbotax software, an external hard drive for my laptop, a new chair for Andy to use when working on jewelry (someday), and a new vegan cookbook which was authored by some of our favorite full-time RVers.

Six month average: $82

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

January: $40 – Stocked up on cat food, treats and litter.

February: $7 – Kitties are doing very well!

Six month average: $69

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

Molly and Maggie spend a lot of time soaking up the sun and enjoying the breeze by the window

verizon cellphone / internet

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

January: $276

February: $276

Six month average: $264

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by $66/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

January: $7 – Had mail forwarded once early in the month, but with the new scanning service we were able to just check online to see what mail had arrived in Livingston throughout the rest of the month. There was nothing that was time-sensitive so we decided to wait until early February to have the next packet sent, which should include all the tax-related forms that arrived in January.

February: $45 – Had mail forwarded twice to get all the tax documentation. Also extended the scanning service for another three months at $10/month.

Six month average: $20

One month’s worth of mail, just in time for tax season

Laundry

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

January: $29 – We did our regular laundry once in Yuma, but then we had to make a second trip to the laundromat to wash the quilts and blankets again. Another little kitty accident (or are they just trying to punish us for something??). The laundromat here in Yuma is more expensive than any we’ve seen, but it’s also very well-maintained.

February: $17 – One trip to the Yuma laundromat, three large loads.

Six month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

January: $72 – We visited the “Center of the World” which cost us $10.

February: $96 – We visited the Yuma Territorial Prison Historical Site, which cost us $14. Also includes parking fee and tips for musicians for our daytrip to Los Algodones, a puzzle book for me, and a Kindle book for Andy.

Six month average: $88

These numbers include our subscriptions to Netflix, Audible, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

Andy found himself behind bars at the Yuma Territorial Prison

memberships

December: $0

January: $0

February: $40 – Annual membership dues for Escapees (they handle our mail service and we get discounted rates in their parks).

Six month average: $25

Equipment for RV

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

January: $0 -FINALLY, a month when we didn’t buy any new equipment for the rig!!

February: $28 – Andy ordered a new high-tech caulking gun to take care of some maintenance on the rig.

Six month average: $486 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

January: $108 (replaced the water pump and strainer)

February: $28 – Hooray, nothing broke on the rig this month! We bought two tubes of Dicor lap sealant so Andy can do a little preventative maintenance on the rig.

Six month average: $113

truck maintenance & repairs

December: $0

January: $0

February: $0

Six month average: $2

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Another fun lunch in Los Algodones

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last three months:

December Total: $3,309

January Total: $1,677

February Total: $1,904

Six month average: $2,565

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. In January and February, we had much better months in terms of our pocketbooks while eating well, entertaining ourselves, staying warm and dry and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and interesting culture along the southern border.

Since we purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, we are allowed to boondock for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. It was pretty cool for most of February, but this past week it has started to warm up significantly, with highs in the low 80’s. It is supposed to cool off a little bit in mid-March, but we’re thinking it’s time to start moving north. We have some items on order from Amazon that are due to arrive in the next week, but as soon as those come in, we’ll probably be pulling up stakes and be on the move again. Any time we decide to move, it will impact our expenses for fuel, so stay tuned to see what happens. Most likely our next destination will be the Imperial Dam BLM LTVA.

View of the reservoir from the Imperial Dam BLM LTVA

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, 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.

The News is Out! Full Steam Ahead!

For the past few months we’ve been a little vague about our future plans here on the blog, but as of today we can share what’s going on and where we’re headed.

Yes, we are on our way to becoming full-time RVers, living in our 24′ Class C Thor Chateau 22E and driving our Toyota Tacoma with camper shell as our chase vehicle. We plan to spend the foreseeable future traveling and exploring the United States (and maybe Canada and Mexico as well) for as long as we’re healthy, happy and enjoying the experience. Our plan is to be on the road by the time I turn 60 in mid-October.

And those plans took a HUGE leap ahead today!

This morning I submitted my resignation at my job with Humana. I gave them four weeks notice, and my last day of work will be Friday, July 27. These remaining four weeks will be extremely busy as I do a lot of traveling around the northern third of the state for work, but fortunately most of it will be day trips with only one, maybe two, overnight trips. And by the end of the day on July 27, I will officially be retired!

I didn’t want to say too much in a public forum about our specific plans until I had formally announced my resignation at work. The timing was driven by my becoming fully vested in my company 401(k) plan. Humana matches the first 6% that employees contribute to their plans at a rate of 125%, but you have to work two years to be vested in the matching funds. My two year anniversary was this past Tuesday, and that was the date that we were waiting for to put all this plan into motion.

So now that I’ve turned in my notice at work, what’s next?

We have an appointment with a Realtor next Thursday evening for him to come look over our house and property so he can give us an idea of what we might expect to sell it for. This is the same Realtor that we used when we bought this house, so he’s familiar with the property and the area. We hope to have the house on the market by the third week of July.

Because I still have four weeks of employment left, Andy has to shoulder most of the burden of getting the house ready to sell. We’ve done a lot of decluttering, I’ve digitized hundreds of photos, we’ve already had one big yard sale, we’ve sold some furniture and my piano–but there’s so much more to do. I’ll help out as much as I can in the evenings and on the weekends, but until I’m free from my job, Andy will be tackling most of this stuff on his own.

As far as the furnishings and other possessions go, we’ll be having at least one more yard sale, and we’ll be listing larger items for sale in all the usual places. If you’re in the Tupelo area and you’re looking for a dining room set, a large entertainment center, a big screen TV, a leather sofa, blah, blah, blah…..hit us up!

We will be selling my beloved 2007 Toyota Prius as soon as we get a contract on the house. It’s a wonderful vehicle, has about 139,000 miles on it, runs like a top, and still gets around 46 MPG. Make us an offer!!

Andy will have a lot of tools to sell, and he’s liquidating a lot of his jewelry-making inventory. He does plan to keep some tools and materials so that he can continue to do some filigree work on the road, but doesn’t plan to continue the lapidary work (stone cutting and polishing).

We’ve had these plans for about a year now, and it’s hard to believe that we’re almost at the point where we’re totally committed. Quitting my job, selling our house and almost all our possessions–those are serious decisions. But every time we let something go, we feel lighter and less burdened by all the “stuff” that we’ve accumulated. We look forward to having the bare minimum in terms of material possessions so that we can have the maximum number of hours together accumulating experiences and memories.

Instead of having a lawn to be mowed and tended, our front yard can be anything from the Grand Canyon to the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains to the Sonoran Desert–it will just depend on where we decide to park the RV that week. Instead of being stuck in the same location through a hot, humid Southern summer, we will chase the good weather, moving to the warm Southwest in the winter and to the cooler mountains and Pacific Northwest in the summer. And of course we will be free to travel to where we can visit family members at any time without having to wait until I have enough vacation days accrued on somebody’s payroll.

Making that phone call this morning to my boss, setting these wheels in motion, it’s been a very exciting day. Just the first of many, many more to come, so stay tuned! We’ll be posting much more regularly from now on since we don’t have to keep things on the down-low anymore, so be sure to subscribe! It’s gonna get CrAzY!! 🙂

 

Must a TOAD be Towed?

One of the most important decisions we’ve had to make as we prepare to enter full-time RV life has to do with what auxiliary vehicle we’re going to use while we’re on the road. Those vehicles are commonly referred to as “toads” because they are typically towed behind the RV, usually Class A and Class C motorhomes.

While there are many RVers in smaller rigs who don’t use a tow vehicle, most of those with rigs of our size or larger do have a toad. It just makes sense to have a vehicle that can be used for running errands or sight-seeing while the large motorhome is parked at a campsite, possibly connected to electric, water, cable and sewer service. Nobody wants to disconnect all that just to run to the grocery store!

We’ve considered several different scenarios as we’ve made our plans for full-timing. We actually did consider not using a toad–but only for a few minutes, and then moved on. Last year on most of our trips, including our week-long trip to Tennessee for the RV Rally, Andy drove the RV and I followed behind in our Prius. We did not want to invest any money in a tow dolly for the Prius since we had no plans to use the Prius as our toad in the future. The only drawback to using a separate vehicle is that we did get separated once or twice when driving in heavy traffic around Chattanooga, and the walkie-talkies were no help at all once we got over a mile or so apart.

After doing a lot of research we decided that we definitely wanted a vehicle that could be towed flat, also known as “four down”, since it seems to be less hassle and less expensive than using a dolly or a trailer. We found out that not every vehicle can be towed flat (neither our Prius or our Tacoma pickup qualify), so we started looking into the possibility of buying a used Jeep and selling our current vehicles.

Jeeps are well-known for being reliable, easy-to-handle toads. Both the manual and automatic transmission models can be easily put into tow mode, unlike most other vehicles. We originally decided on the Jeep Compass, but later became more interested in the Jeep Wrangler Sport. Andy even visited a Jeep dealership to check out a few, and we found one on CarMax that looked very interesting. We were just about ready to pull the trigger.

But part of our transition to this new lifestyle is learning to look at our spending and purchasing decisions much more critically, especially when it involves thousands of dollars. While we would be able to pay cash for a Jeep and the towing setup, it would be a big chunk of change. We have to remember that my retirement income stream will not start for several more years, and while we have enough savings to be comfortable until that time, we don’t want to burden ourselves unnecessarily.

So after we discussed it further, we changed direction again, and this time it’s our final answer (unless something totally unforeseen happens!). We are going to use our Toyota Tacoma Pre-runner as our toad, but we’re not going to tow it. One of us will drive the RV, the other will drive the truck.

Our un-towed TOAD will be our Tacoma pickup with camper shell.

Here are some of the advantages that we see in this decision:

  • The Tacoma is a 2004 model with less than 100,000 miles on it. It has always been very reliable.
  • It has a camper shell on the back which will provide us with more storage space while we’re on the road.
  • It has the off-road package which will allow us to do some of the back-country exploring that we were planning to do with the Jeep.
  • The cost of insurance and registration will be lower for an older vehicle.
  • It already has a tow hitch on it in case we ever need it for anything.
  • When looking for boon-docking sites in the desert or on forest roads, the Tacoma can go ahead as a scout vehicle to make sure it’s safe for the RV to follow.
  • There will be less stress on the RV engine when climbing mountains, and less weight on the brakes when descending.
  • RV will get better gas mileage if it doesn’t have to tow anything. And the Tacoma will get better mileage traveling in the slip-stream from the RV.

The downsides to this solution are:

  • We don’t get to ride together when moving from location to location–but we’ll be together every other minute of the day, and we don’t plan to make many long drives anyway, probably a max of 250 miles in a day. Most days we won’t be moving at all.
  • If one of us gets too sick or injured to drive, we could be stuck in a location for longer than anticipated if we can’t figure out how to move both vehicles with one driver.

The only thing that needs to be upgraded in the Tacoma is the audio system. It currently has a radio/CD player, but we’ll be replacing it with a system that includes Bluetooth connectivity so we can connect our iPhones for music, audiobooks, navigation and hands-free phone conversations.

We’re not the first couple to decide to use an un-towed toad. Here’s a link to a great video from Duet Justus that explores all the options for toads.

So, it’s nice to finally have that decision made so we can move on to the other 999 decisions that we still have to consider this year! We’re so antsy to get on the road!