10/15/2012 4:00 PM ET|
Can you live in an RV full time?
Those who dream of living year-round in an RV might find it's easier than they'd imagined. Here's how to hit the road in a permanent home on wheels.
Have you ever thought about chucking it all and taking to the road full time? My husband and I have, although we can't seriously consider it until my daughter is out of high school in a few years. But if you're free to roam, you could join some 1.3 million Americans who are full-time RV'ers.
To find out what it takes to afford becoming a full-timer, I spoke with Kathy Huggins. She and her husband, John, have been "living the RV dream" for more than seven years and hosted a radio show by that name. (Podcasts are available here.) . I interviewed Kathy for my radio show, "Talk Credit Radio." Here are the Huggins' financial tips for a life on the road.
While you're traveling, you'll need to have someone receive and forward your mail to you. That could be a friend, relative or a mail service. The Huggins use a mail service located in South Dakota (more on that choice later) that forwards their mail twice a month.
They also rely on online banking and bill pay. Their phone, credit card and satellite dish bills are all paid online. If there is a bill that can't be handled that way ("a hospital bill, for example," says Kathy), "I leave them a note that I only get my mail twice a month, that I may be late and please do not charge me (a late fee)," she explains. She's never had a problem, she adds.
For banking, they use direct deposit and a debit card. To avoid ATM fees, they chose a bank that refunds ATM fees and often get cash back at the cash register when they make a purchase on their debit cards.
Have a (flexible) budget
Does living in an RV cost less, or more, than living in a traditional home? For the Hugginses, it's less. Kathy rattled off her monthly expenses: rig payment, phone bill and satellite television, for starters. Campsite fees can range from free to $60 to $70 per night, though she says they try to keep theirs at $20 per night.
To keep your electric bill down, avoid staying in one place for months, because long-term campers usually have to pay for their own electricity.
"Stay for less than a month, and they pay the electric bill," she says. Even when the Hugginses do pay for electricity, it's pretty inexpensive: about $40 per month, or $80 a month if it's cold and the electric heaters go on.
"Remember, we're living in 400 square feet," she adds with a laugh.
And while many campsites have free Wi-Fi available, the Hugginses spring for their own wireless Internet connection because they need Internet access for their website and blog.
Cooking their own food and limiting meals in restaurants also saves them a bundle.
As with any budget, there are always surprises. For the Hugginses, it's been rising gas prices, which went from $2.99 a gallon to almost $4 a gallon at the time we spoke. "That's been a big change in our lifestyle," Kathy says, "but we just spend more time in a campsite. We'll travel maybe 250 miles a day at the most, and we might stay (in one place) three or four weeks. We use our car, which we tow, to go see all the things that are around here."
Save up for your rig, shop for the loan
I asked Kathy what it costs to buy an RV that would be comfortable to live in year-round. She says a used motor home will run "right around $100,000 if it's a diesel pusher and about $80,000 for a gas rig. And they're pretty comfortable." The other option is to buy a "fifth wheel" that is pulled by a truck. "You're talking about $40,000 to $60,000," she says, but "then you have to buy a truck to pull it, which can be up to $40,000 for the truck."
Before hitting the road, the Hugginses sold their Florida home at the height of the market, which allowed them to get rid of all their debt and put a healthy down payment on their rig. Still, they took out a 20-year loan at 4.35% for the balance. That was a few years ago, though, and since then, full-time RV'ers have found it more difficult to get loans.
"Try a credit union," suggests Kathy. Or buy your rig before you quit your job. "If you're going to be a part-timer, they don't seem to have a problem giving you a loan," she notes.
Get a tax break
One of the advantages of living on the road is that you can call any state home.
The Hugginses, like many other full-timers, chose South Dakota as their home base because of the tax benefits. There is no state income tax and, as Huggins points out, no property tax since they don't own a home. "South Dakota probably has half a million people that don't live there but are full-time RV'ers because of taxes," she says, laughing. Tax rates and other details are available in the book "Choosing Your RV Home Base."
Bring in some bacon
You don't have to stop working when you start traveling. Many RV parks hire full-time RV'ers to handle reservations or park maintenance. When I interviewed her, Kathy was working as a reservationist while her husband was doing pool maintenance, which earned them a free site and an allowance of $100 a month toward their electric bill, plus enough spending money to cover their food budget.
Around Yellowstone, she notes, you can work at a hotel and have a parking spot for your RV while employed there. "Even Alaska has jobs for you," she says. "You (can) guard the schools during the summer. Park your RV in the schoolyard with two or three other RV'ers, and you just keep an eye for the schoolyard, and that's it," she says. She recommends the website Workamper.com for employment opportunities.
Entrepreneurial opportunities abound as well and are limited only by your imagination. A couple that Kathy suggested: Watch other full-timers' pets while they fly home for holidays or take day trips. Or make jewelry to sell.
Don't wait too long
Do you have to be out of debt to take to the road? It helps, says Kathy. But even if you aren't, you may still want to find a way to make it happen.
"I think almost anybody can do it," she says. "The cost can range from $200 a month to $12,000 a month, depending on what you want to do and how you want to spend your money. That's the best part about this -- it's your choice about . . . how big of a rig you actually buy, how much money you want to spend."
The Hugginses' only regret? That they didn't do it earlier. '"When we first started doing this, we interviewed a lot of full-time RV'ers, and everyone said the same thing: 'I wish I'd done it 10 years sooner.'"
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Welcome to "Trailer Park trash!" (Joke). My wife and I, and my son have been living in an RV for 4 years and it isnt bad. It does take a bit of work though. A leak here and there, a broken handle, slight sewer etc. But as far as a home? Its an 04 36' triple slide and very very comfortable. The "WOW" factor is it is our home and paid for, and we never have to worry about yearly land taxes, payments, forecolsures, etc. In other words, we have never stressed whether or not we will end up losing our home. Trust me, almost everyone has lost a home or two! We can take it anywhere. And we have upgraded in just a few years, so don't think we look down on people in old RV's. My first was a 1970 Aristocrat, then though it was smaller, I upgraded to an 85 Six Pac Camper with gray and black tanks, shower etc. Then a Toyota Dolphin which was awesome, and on to a 5th Wheel with no slides.
My advice for anyone wanting to try it, Get an RV with Slides! lol. The room is phenominal and now we have a condo on wheels! And for everyone who thinks you cant do it until you retire? Wrong. Though I am in my 50s, you dont have to wait. I suggest you start in your 20s or 30s. We live like a kings on less than 1000 a month, and I can travel too. Retirement for RVing is only a myth. Many many people RV travel and work. We have settled in one of the nicest parks in our state and we meet "Travel Nurses" Road Worker Rv'ers, Rich vacationers and poor people who sometimes have to park at Wal Marts or rivers, lakes or just out in the country. Home is with you at all times, and "homelessness" isn't nowhere close. Though you meet strange and deranged people at times, most of the people and families have affordable housing, and are just like us.
Its a really cool life is you want to call it that. The only difference between people who own actual houses, and people who own RV's is........... Nothing except our bills are way way lower, with serious extra money to spend on stuff. Not to mention going places you've never been before!
After work, I come home to my Lazy Boy, satellite tv, internet, and with technology, a mobile land line (home phone). RV,s for some is a way of life, but for us? I dont see it any different except I can hook up my home and take it thousands of miles with the push of a button at a gas station. I have a full size fridge, huge shower, queen bed etc. No foreclosures, no 10,000 roofing, no $1500 plumbing etc. And my entire house now can be powered off my truck! Push a few buttons, and my house compacts itself. Turn a few knobs and I am ready to cook, eat, sleep, watch dish network etc. Also, where a huge bus is nice and luxurious, in my 5th Wheel, tires are normal. Tires on a huge bus are about 600 a piece Maintenence is cheap, and 5th Wheels are easy to park, maneuver etc. You get the point. Find a way of you are young, and buy one. You can never go wrong. When you are done traveling, you can park it and live in it full time! Too old to travel? Millions of people live in RV's permenantly, and RV parks are far better and so much cheaper than Mobile Home parks! You can move yours unlike Mobile Homes!
These good folks are on to something.
It's the journey, not the destination that counts.
And all of us chained to mortgages (first and second), property taxes, and the city compliance officer (Big Brother and The Man), fining you cause the hedge is to high, could learn something from the road.
And by the way, your house, in a future of a stagnating economy, part time work, and high taxation to pay run up debt - isn't anything but a depreciating heap, either!
The Eagles had it right. We live our lives in chains, when we never even know we have the key.
I am an aviation contractor and have lived in an RV for 18 years. Starting out in a tag along that was 17 ft.,that was small but it was less than a motel. sold that one and bought a 30 ft tag along, living in it for 5 years,then upgraded to a fifthwheel, 37 ft with 3 slide outs.I hav pulled it cross country several times.
I got tired of the colors inside so changed out all of the window decor,covered the sofa with leather.the standard dining table took up too much space so I had someone build a custom table to my specs.
This has been like living on vacation with a job.Always some place to explore.
have and would love to again. It's simple living and the cost is so much less stress than owning a house.
No lawn or up keep of a home, none of the extra expenses that comes along with owning a home ect.
I hav all the kuxuries of home in a 400 sq ft. 5th wheel. wsher/dryer. home theater surround sound, corian counters ect.
I could clean it in a snap and be done!!
Lots of people live full time in RVs provided they are big enough. I know of people with and without kids living like gypsies in RV's. Wyoming has a lot of RVers because the work many do moves them around. It often is not the easiest life, but cheaper than renting an apt, buying a home etc, just in a couple years turn around and move again.Privacy is one thing always available. Many have a home base with a family member to have mail go to and things stored. It can save one money living in a RV,space is limited to collect anything. One is not constantly on the move, so once the RV-home is in place it will be in place for a month or a year. Least one can call it their own castle. People who work on pipe lines, mines, construction, medical, teaching, etc or retired it can be adventurerous. Time limits and space can be tight. More and more RV places are allowing longer stays. I like RVing it has conviences even on the road, stop to rest, eat a decent meal, etc most are self contained. Cheaper than spending hundreds on a hotel, pet convient--watch for heat and cold use ac properly and heater.Used RV's one can be found cheaply, make great temp homes or even permanent. Being an RV gypsy is not a life for everyone. But once started it may be lot cheaper and easier than than dealing with a house upkeep or payments on costly apts--neither can't be taken with you, $$ loss to someone else, (RV Lot rent,cheap and varies) where you may have more in your pocket, plus claim it on your taxes as your home besides plates--check it out for full time living.
My husband and I are RVers and we love it! Just the two of us as kids are all grown. Just 2 small dogs live with us. He is a contracting aircraft mechanic so whenever we get tired of one place we find another job and move. I do nature photography and paintings that I sell online so my job moves with us. Keeps me busy and makes us extra money! With the lower cost of living it is easy to save money so we took 6 months off this summer and just traveled. It's nice having your home to travel in!
KOA is another good campground membership. VERY inexpensive. Get automatic 10% discount and can earn free nights very quickly. Only around $35 per year for basic membership and KOA's are everywhere. We have stayed in KOA's from Texas to Colorado and as far west as Illinois. All KOA campgrounds we have stayed in have been nice, clean, family friendly, and they even offfer VERY reasonable monthly rates if you decide to do extended stay.
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