One of the most frequently asked questions from people curious about full-time RV living is, how do you make money and pay for your travel lifestyle?
When we started planning this adventure, this was naturally one of our biggest concerns – could we make it work financially? There were a lot of financial factors to consider, and it took a while to put together a comprehensive plan that we were comfortable with.
First, you have to realize that different RVing styles can cost drastically different amounts of money. If you are constantly on the move, many of your expenses will be higher (fuel, RV campground fees, etc), and you have less time for work. Our goal was to “slow travel” in our trailer, staying stationary for ~3 months at a time with periods of movement in between. The main reason for this style of travel is Carrie’s work – she arranges 13 week assignments ahead of time, and we head to where her latest temporary job is located. Staying in one place for a little while also gives me more mental space to focus on my remote work on the computer.
Instead of frequent fuel-ups at the gas station and nightly rates at RV parks, we can take advantage of lower monthly rates and not move at an expensive and frenetic pace – and at the same time Carrie has the benefit of a semi-regular income.
Because we don’t plan to be living this lifestyle indefinitely, we also decided it would make the most sense to keep our house, and to rent it out while we are gone.
We also planned to buy both our truck and trailer used, and to DIY as many things as possible. We are both practiced in the art of frugality, and we made the conscious decision to bring that practice with us on the road.
After making a few of the bigger decisions, a clear plan started to form. The main pillars of our financial plan were:
- Completing extensive research on costs, choosing the right rig
- Forecasting *our* monthly expenses
- Making realistic plans for paid work, for both of us
- Saving cash buffers for flexibility
- Thinking about back-up plans
There are innumerable factors that can affect the overall cost of living in an RV – the biggest is probably what rig you choose. We chose a lightly used, mid-range 5th wheel trailer, and a truck just big enough to tow it. By being patient and finding the right deals for both of these purchases, we limited our baseline cost to live in and move our traveling home.
We also researched all of the other costs that come along with the RV lifestyle, and started mapping things out. This “research” was basically a lot of evenings spent poring through Facebook groups and message boards and absorbing knowledge shared by those who did it before us.
Luckily, while RVing you can choose to do things expensively or cheaply – and by choosing more mid-range or affordable options you have a direct impact on your monthly expenses.
Fortunately, this part came naturally to me – I have a long history of budgeting and a passion for personal finance, so once we understood the specific costs of RVing it was easy to put together a monthly budget. Some of the categories can vary wildly from month to month, but we at least had a range that we were fairly certain would cover us while we were away.
It was also helpful to know that our mortgage and other house-related costs would be covered by our tenants, and we might even have a small income from the rental.
Plans for Work
As I’ve already mentioned, we had some confidence Carrie could get work as a traveling medical professional, and she buckled down and started forming the necessary relationships and talking to recruiters about the actual process of landing a position.
At the same time, I was setting myself up for self employment. I wasn’t super confident that I would immediately be able to cover my expenses with freelance work, but I had a number of side clients already, and knew it was possible. By leveraging my network from 10 years of work in my career, it seemed I had a reasonable chance of drumming up enough business. Also, I dubbed this year of entrepreneurship my “self employment experiment” – meaning, it might not work out and if that was the end result, I was okay with it. At least I would have given it a try, and had a fun adventure along the way! (learn more about my business here)
Saving Cash Buffers
The most important part of the financial plan was probably saving money for flexibility. There is nothing worse than persistent anxiety about whether you’ll have enough income to survive, and we saved enough cash to cover us for a while if everything went sideways. We struggled with a lack of open work positions for Carrie in our first two months, and otherwise we’ve both done well, but it was very nice to have some extra money saved up in case we didn’t.
The last factor in our financial plan was having at least a vague idea of what our back-up plans were. We signed a 14 month lease with our tenants, so we knew that we would be out of our house for at least that long. But even if we failed miserably after a few months and decided to limp home in the RV, we knew we would be fine.
Our backup plan in a worst-case scenario was basically to come home and rent a place locally, sell the truck and trailer, and get on with life. Alternately, we always have the possibility of finding a work camping job, or working temp jobs to cover expenses. It definitely helps to have a healthy cash buffer and other investments that can be sold in the worst-case scenario.
How’s it Going So Far?
So the big question is, are things going to plan? For the most part, yes! Carrie has worked semi-consistently, and she has been able to cover her expenses and save a little between each job. I am doing better than I thought I might on my own, and recently things have been getting even busier for me.
During our most recent gap between positions for Carrie (~1.5 months), we arranged the very fortunate opportunity to save money by staying in a family member’s driveway.
We’ve discovered that our original budget was fairly accurate, but some factors were different than expected, including traveling a lot in our first 2 months, spending 5+ months in the very expensive state of Maryland, and staying too far North as winter approached (propane and electric heating expenses went through the roof!). We’ve made the necessary adjustments as real-world experience demands, and overall I expect the numbers to average out, especially now that we are in the much more affordable south-east (and winter is ending).
Our biggest challenge now is forcing ourselves to actually spend a little more, to get out and explore our surroundings, and enjoy each location we land in without worrying too much about the cost. Do you have any questions about full-time RV financials? Go ahead and ask in the comments!