We started our RV life with good intentions and a budget in mind. Then newbie excitement took hold and a late start in making plans and put a bit of a dent in our budget, but it was so worth it. Quite frankly, we didn't do too bad, considering.
Upgrades to Jack (the Ford F-250) and Betty Jo (the Airstream)
1. New tires for both.
Our truck is a 2018, when we bought it in December of 2020, it had less than 30,000 miles on it. Trucks were starting to get hard to find, especially trucks with tow packages, so when we found Jack we snatched him up. Someone put new (but really cheap) tires on it before selling it. We suspect the previous owner or the dealer traded the took the really good tires that was on it. The cheap tires did not handle the rain in Washington at all, this made them a danger when it came time to tow, so we replaced them right away. Cost $1600.00
They say don't judge a tire by miles on the RV, judge by age and a few other things. Betty Jo (the Airstream) had the standard Goodyear tires and 15" wheels. The Airstream is a 2018 Flying Cloud FBQ and the previous owners didn't really use her much, but over time the tires still looked a bit worn. We decided to upgrade to Michelin tires and while at it, upgrade to 16" wheels, give her a bit of a lift. A great decision, even better decision since we took her to Vinnie's Northbay Airstream Repair in California. Cost #2400.00
2 Upgraded the batteries.
The Airstream came with lead-acid batteries and they no longer held a charge well. We upgraded to Lifeline AGM batteries with a Victron Energy Smart Battery Monitor. We have 180 watts of solar on the roof and needed batteries that would hold a charge and last longer. Lithium batteries were a bit over our budget. Cost $1000.00
I read somewhere when you first start this RV life to budget close to $5,000 for all of the accessories and whatnots you will need (and want.) That need/want doesn't stop. They were pretty darn close in their estimates. It seems like everything you need (or want) comes with a price tag of $150 to $300 range. You can find a list of most of what we purchased on our website.
There are three major expenses when hitting the road...
2. RV Parks/Campgrounds
Gas (more specifically Diesel) - On average, gas prices fluctuated between $3.00 to $3.50 per gallon, California being the exception, they were on average between $4.00 to $5.00. For our first year, we spent $5,814, this includes when not towing, an average of $484.50 per month. Our highest month in gas cost was August, our first month on the road across country and we covered close to 1200 miles.
RV Parks/Campgrounds. There are a variety of ways to save money in this category. I learned pretty early on that the longer you stay at an RV park the more you might save. I would pick a location and plan for at least a week stay, sometimes 10 days. This offered two advantages - 1. nightly reductions. 2. A chance to kick back.
There are multitude of excuses/reasons why this category was a bit up for us in our first year.
1. Planning late. Sometimes I just had to go with what park I could find, and often it seemed to be the higher priced RV parks.
2. Locations - Popular locations usually cost more during their peak season. Summer is higher in Oregon, the Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains, and wintering in Florida. In our article - We racked up the miles - I point out that we visited 21 states and stayed in 46 RV parks/campgrounds and 1 Hipcamp. Nightly fees were anywhere from $10 per night to close to $130 per night. State parks were recommended when we first started but I found them to be almost as costly as an RV park and offered a lot less, they also often had smaller sites or tight turns. Our least expensive night was $10 per night at the COE (Corp of Engineers) campground - Clark's Ferry in Iowa. Our most expensive was Fort Wilderness at Disney World, Florida.
3. HEAT (weather). Our first year on the road, most of the country was experiencing a heatwave, even our beloved PNW. We were in 90 degree weather pretty much from June to October, this meant running our air conditioners (often times both of them) so we opted to stay where we could get power. It was not our time to try boondocking more often, not yet.
4. Water and Waste Management. This is a skill we still need to get better at before boondocking more.
5. Demand. With over a million RVers on the road and needing a place to park, the demand increase allowed RV parks to raise their rates, some of them substantially. The assumption being, if you want to park here it will cost you, and they are right.
Total spent for the year - $15,294.00, an average of $41.90 per night, which was actually close to where I budgeted.
This is where our budget blew up. The cost of food has risen, though I found some places, like the St Louis area, where food prices were reasonable and less than others. But it wasn't just groceries, it was eating out - A LOT!!! How can you not visit some of these amazing places and not explore the food? You can't. But eating out has become an expensive endeavor. We would try to minimize but it just was not always possible. One month, (I hate to admit this) but we spent close to $200.00 at Starbucks or other coffee locations. I don't drink coffee, someone who shall remain a husband, does. But it wasn't just coffee, we would often get snacks with his coffee, or I would get some sort of cold drink. After that month I cut us off, and luckily the further east we got, the less Starbucks and coffee shops with specialty coffees.
cell phones $60.00
Mobile hotspot - $60.00
Streaming (TV) - $45.00
Laundry - $60.00
Trailer - $1350 per year
Truck - $1350 per year
We did pretty good here, most of our entertainment is free, we just take our cameras and go for a walk.
Airboat Ride - $300
River Rafter down the Truckee River - $120
Mackinac Island (one day), includes boat ride, food - $250
Museums and Tours - $200
Overall our budget was a bit higher than planned, but it was our first year and we had so much to do. :-) Our second year, should be a little better.
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo