Living In An RV – Save Money And Crush Debt

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living in a camperThere are lots of reasons to consider living in an RV. The best one in my opinion, is that it’s CHEAP. If you have a lot of debt to pay off, or want to save up some big money (cough…down payment…cough) you should consider living in a camper.

RV living can save you hundreds of dollars per month to accelerate your debt repayment and cut years off of your loans, or sock away some serious money. It’s a more complicated and difficult life than living in a house, but if you’re motivated, it can be just the right thing to get your finances under control.

Our Story

My wife and I lived in a fifth wheel trailer for four years shortly after we were married. I don’t know exactly how we arrived at that solution, I think that we were just young and adventurous and didn’t have kids yet so we thought ‘what the heck!.’

Honestly, I was a little reluctant at first. The thought of moving all of our stuff into less than 400 square feet was overwhelming. After a few months however, I really started to enjoy it. We spent more time together and got to know each other really well early on in our marriage. We learned how to live with less and of course, saved a ton of money.

After years of living in our RV and and making payments, we were able to accumulate about $16,000 in equity. It was more money than either of us had ever handled before and we used it to cover some of the expenses associated with buying our home…something which we likely couldn’t have done otherwise.

Why you should consider living in a camper (or other RV)

It’s cheap

Living in a camper or RV is cheap. Even if you finance your rig and pay to rent space to park it, it’s still possible to have your housing expenses ring in at under $1000/mo. That’s a bargain in our area these days.

You want to pay off debt

Cheap living translates to more money in your pocket. Money that you can use to pay off debt and get your finances on track. If you want to get out of debt, living in a trailer can be a great part of your repayment strategy.

You’re building equity

If you live in an expensive city like we do, home ownership can definitely feel like it’s out of reach. The great thing about living in a camper is that it’s like a forced savings plan. If you do your diligence and buy a good unit at a good price, you will retain some of the value when it’s time to sell. On top of any money you’re able to save, you will have some capital when you sell your trailer (provided you stay in it for long enough).

It’s simple

Being in a tiny space forces you to keep life simple. You can’t accumulate a ton of crap because you won’t have space for it. We learned early on to make tough decisions about what we really needed and wanted in our lives, and didn’t get into the habit of accumulating lots of stuff because it wasn’t an option.

It’s versatile

When you live in an RV, you have the option to travel and take your home with you. Not only that, but you can settle in different places. If you’re parked somewhere and it’s just not a good fit, you can go somewhere else and take your home with you.

What’s The Best RV To Live In Full-Time?

Best: Fifth wheel trailer

Fifth wheels are the best type of trailer for full time living. They have a higher ceiling than most travel trailers and come in many different configurations. These units tend to have more useful interior space than other types of campers. Living in a 5th wheel trailer is generally more comfortable and home-like than other types of RVs.

The downside to a fifth wheel trailer is the same as the upside, they’re really big. This makes them more difficult to move around. If you want to be able to move around a lot a fifth wheel might not be the best choice. You will also need a 1-ton truck to tow most large fifth wheels.

Good: Travel trailer

Travel trailers tend to be less expensive than fifth wheels and since they tow from the bumper rather than a fifth wheel hitch, you have more towing options than you do with a fifth wheel.

A word of warning, living in a travel trailer isn’t for tall people. Many of them have lower roofs than fifth wheels and can be uncomfortable for tall people. Most of the ones that we’ve looked at have a ceiling height of less than 7 feet which makes a 6’1” guy like me feel pretty cramped. If you’re not very tall it could be a good choice.

Good: Motorhome

Motorhomes are a good choice for full time living if you want to be able to move around a lot or travel long distances. Like travel trailers, they tend to have a lower ceiling height. They can range well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars new but you can find a good 15-year-old class C for much less.

Ok: Camper

Living in a camper is really only suited to a single person, or a very adventurous couple. Campers are quite small inside and can easily feel cramped. The plus side is they’re usually much more affordable than a trailer or motorhome and you don’t have to fuss around with parking and disconnecting a trailer.

Not Great: Camper Van

Living in a camper van is a challenge suited to a single person. Two people in a van gets really tight, really fast. They’re small and lack the bathroom and kitchen that you will find in larger RVs. Definitely not recommended for full time living unless you’re single and traveling regularly.

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Where to park your RV

If you’re going to live in an RV, you’re going to need a place to put it. There are a lot of options and what you choose will depend on how mobile you want to be. If you’re going to be in the same place for a long time, I suggest finding somewhere with a power, water, and sewer hookup. It makes a huge difference in comfort.

Here are some ideas for places to park your RV while full-timing.

With family

Most campers don’t take up much space. If you have parents, in-laws, grandparents or other family that has some spare space in their driveway, that might be a good fit. If you’re going to stay long-term you can negotiate having some services put in.

Pro Tip: If you’re staying long-term and do not have access to septic, negotiate having a 100 gallon or larger plastic waste tank put in the ground near your trailer. This will give you somewhere to dump your black water without having to haul it away in small loads every week. Most septic companies can pump out this type of tank.

On your own property

If you own a home, why not just park it on your own land? If you live somewhere that is a good market for VRBO or AirBNB, you could rent your house out while you live on the property. This would cost you very little and dramatically accelerate your debt repayment.

At an RV park

RV parks tend to be a the most expensive option, and unless you’re moving around a lot, I’d view them as your last choice. On the positive side, there’s almost always full services including septic hookup and laundry, but you’re going to pay for it. Most parks are still far less expensive than rent would be but there are better options in my opinion.

On rented land

You could always try to rent a piece of unused land. If somebody in your town has some property that they’re not using they might be willing to rent it out to you as an RV parking spot. This type of arrangement may result in you having limited access to water and power however.

Living in an RV with a family

I’m going to give it to you straight here – family RV living can be tough. There are several reasons for this. First off, there just isn’t much space. There’s not really anywhere to go to get away when you need some alone time.

Additionally, if you’re living with kids, you’re probably going to want them to have their own bedrooms. Trailers with a second bedroom tend to have very little living space. You’re going to have to be comfortable in close quarters.

That said, it certainly can be done and I know families who have full-timed. I would approach it as a temporary arrangement however. Just my $0.02.

Cost Of Living In An RV Full Time

The cost of living in an RV or camper full time can vary dramatically depending on two things:

  1. Whether you own your unit or make payments on it
  2. Where you have parked your unit.

If you own your RV, you’re in good shape. Not having to make a monthly payment is going to reduce your costs considerably.

Parking or “pad fee” as they call it around here, can range from $200/mo for a simple place to park with no services, to $800 or more. In the high range you can expect to have access to electricity, water, and sewer hookup and in some cases, internet, cable and laundry.

If you’re setting up a long-term situation, take the time to make sure that you have access to all of the services you might need.

Can you save money living in an RV?

Absolutely. If you are willing to reduce the number of things that you have in your home, have a bit of adventure in you and really want to focus on saving, you can save money by living in an RV.

The best way to save money is to find a cheap place to park as pad fees can add up quick. I think the best way to find a cheap place to park your RV is to find an arrangement where you’re doing some property management/yard work in exchange for the space. This will make it possible to save money up more quickly than if you are living in a trailer park.

Living In An RV In The Winter

I’m not going to sugar coat it, winter is hands down the toughest time for full-time RVers. You will need to first buy a unit that is appropriate for winter. Here are some things to look for:

  • Does it come with a skirt?
  • Does it come equipped with dual-pane windows?
  • Does it have a “winter kit” – some RV retailers sell trailers that are specifically set up for full time living

There are some issues that you will have to learn to manage. When you open the front door for example, you’re immediately in the weather. There’s often an awning on RVs, but most are unsuitable for use in winter weather.

Second, temperature and humidity management can be difficult. We had to run a dehumidifier full time in the cold months. It’s not the big a deal but it costs a pretty penny to buy, takes up space, makes noise and needs to be emptied every couple of days.

The last issue that we had was lack of an entryway. When you come in from the rain or snow BAM you’re right in the middle of your kitchen. It can be tough to find a place to put your mucky boots and wet jacket.

That said, if you’ve got a bit of adventure in you, RV winter living isn’t all that bad.

Do you have any tips for RV living to pay off debt? Tell us about them in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “Living In An RV – Save Money And Crush Debt”

  1. I’m trying to convince my wife that this should be our early retirement plan to travel the country in an RV. She’s not convinced… Maybe this post will help 🙂 I liked the ideas on the best places to stay!

  2. Great article! I’m planning retiring in 5 years from a government contracting position. My husband, Fred Leamnson @ “Money with a Purpose”, and I are planning on selling our home, storing a few items, then traveling around the country to decide where we want to end up for retirement. I’ve been doing research on RV living, recently we met this guy who turned us on to this sight “Harvest Host”. The owner made a bunch of money in the tech industry, sold his business got bored and started this business. You pay $49.00 a year to become a member, then you have access to all these unique overnight stops at wineries, farms and attractions. There’s basic ground rules to follow, but very doable. Check it out and tell me your thoughts. Thanks Momma Lemon

  3. I love it. I’ve hiked a few long stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California. Every time, I’ll meet people who are hiking the entire thing (from Mexico to Canada). I’m always a little jealous because it takes months to do it all in one year.

    Anyway, some of the thru-hikers I met were officially homeless, but it’s hard to tell the difference between hikers and homeless people when everyone is sleeping in tents in the mountains every night. Not exactly the same as the camper, but a similar philosophy! Their expenses are next to nothing besides occasional food and lodging whenever they decide to pop into a town to resupply along the way. Not a bad strategy if you have some money working for you while you’re hiking.

  4. That all sounds great, but how and where do you get a good insurance policy for full time living. The towing vehicle no longer covers liability and personal property . Any ideas???

    • Head to your insurance broker, that’s what we did. Most of them offer some sort of mobile home policy that will cover any sort of full-time RV living arrangement.

    • Ive been living in a fifthwheel full time for a year now from the coast to Estacada ,jantzen beach,kalama and rest stops inbetween. We love it but hate it more if you dont get a spot in a park full time (good luck) any where near PDX you will bounce from park to park looking. Not fun reservations are a must plan ahead weeks …good luck..your gona need it lol

  5. My wife and I are considering this as an option. We live in Alabama and my job is in Atlanta ga, my current position and travel times are keeping me from my family. The only thing keeping us from making the keep are our 3 children. Two of which are in school. I’ve read where people home school kids while living full time in an RV. What are your thoughts on this?

    • I have never been to Alabama so I’m not sure how much my feedback is worth. That said, I don’t know of an RV that would be comfortable for 5 people to live in full-time. Is it possible? Absolutely! If the weather is consistently warm there and you could make use of some outdoor space as well I’m sure you could make it work!

    • I can’t say with US Mail as I’m in Canada. If you’re at a residential address, Canada post will deliver to the main house. If you’re at a trailer park, you can have mail delivered to the office and collect it there. If you’re not at an actual address, you will probably need to either have mail forwarded to the home of a friend of family member or rent a box at the nearest post office.

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