More and more people are thinking about quitting their traditional lifestyle to try living in a camper as a way to save money. It sounds like a decent enough plan. You ditch a big mortgage payment or high rent, sell the stuff that causes you stress and mental clutter, and hit the road. Then the money you save on living expenses can all be put towards paying off your debt or saving for retirement.
Not only are you creating a better financial life, but you also get to do it all while you’re driving across the country and staying next to beaches or mountains or any number of beautiful locales.
But, let’s just get this out of the way… just like any other living situation, living in a camper is as cheap or expensive as you want to make it.
There are legit million dollar RVs that look like something a rock star would live in – heated marble floors, big-screen TVs, integrated sound system, even fireplaces.
Then there are people who pull out the backseats of a 1990-something Ford Astro van, throw in a mattress and hit the road. I met someone who had this exact setup, and they lived happily in their converted van with a bunny and a dog, for real.
We can all probably guess which of those two versions of living in a camper would be cheaper and help you pay off your debt.
The average person looking at living in a camper as a way to cut expenses is probably going to go for something in between that boujee RV and the Ford Astro van. And I would need more context before telling you that living in a camper was going to be cheaper than your more traditional living situation.
There are just so many factors that go into that equation, and here are the most important ones for you to think about…
11 financial factors for living in a camper
1. Cost of your camper/trailer/RV
This is going to be where most of your money goes when you start planning. There are several different options that range from $10,000-$300,000:
- Fifth wheel trailer – These ones have a U shaped hitch that attaches to the back of a pick-up truck, or other vehicle set up for towing.
- Motorhome/RV – This is a full-on home on wheels. You drive them and can often tow a vehicle behind you.
- Travel trailer – These attach to your tow hitch, and you’ll need a vehicle that can handle the tow behind weight.
- Camper – Typically the smallest option and these can be converted vans or dedicated travel campers.
Motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers will give you the most space, and that’s going to be a huge consideration when picking which kind of vehicle you’re going to live in. If you’re traveling with someone else, maybe even pets or kids, having a larger vehicle may be a necessity.
A camper or travel trailer will be much better options for anyone traveling alone. And because they’re smaller, they’re easier to park and get around in.
But, let’s say you did want the largest option and opted for the RV, you can easily spend upwards of $100,000 on a new one.
For those of you who want something less expensive, a newer used travel trailer can cost $11,000-$20,000. New fifth wheels can cost $35,000.
But then how are you going to pay for that? If you’re planning on selling your house, is your house paid off or do you have enough equity built up that your house will cover the balance on your mortgage and the cost of your coach?
Do you have enough saved for one of the less expensive options? Are you thinking about taking out a loan for your camper? These are all important questions to ask yourself.
2. Fuel costs
Living in a camper doesn’t mean you have to be constantly traveling across the country. You can realistically find a place to park it (more on that in a second) and stay there for months.
If you do want to travel… I would want to… fuel is going to be a large expense, and it’s obviously going to be more expensive the larger your rig. This article has some great examples of what it costs to travel in a class A motorhome that runs on gas.
If you’re wanting to live in a camper to save money, staying put or traveling slowly is going to be the best way to reduce your fuel costs.
There are two different types of insurance you’ll have to consider when figuring out the cost of living in a camper:
- RV insurance
- Health insurance
Let’s start with RV insurance…
If you’re driving an RV or camper on the road, it will need to be insured, and it can cost you from $1,000-$2,000/year. You also have to insure a rig if you don’t own it outright.
Now health insurance…
Most of the RVers I know, at least the ones who travel full time, use health care sharing ministries because it’s really freaking hard to find traditional insurance that will cover you when you’re living out of state. The good news is that health care sharing ministries are often less expensive than traditional insurance, but most have strict rules about who and what they cover.
Learn more at:
- Medi-Share Review 2019: A Less Expensive Option for Health Care
- Liberty HealthShare Review: My Alternative to Health Insurance
Living in a camper and dealing with repairs is just like any other home or car – stuff breaks and you have to fix it. For brand new campers and RVs, you might have some stuff covered under a warranty, but then you’re paying more because it’s new.
One of my blogger friends lived in a massive RV and there were only a handful of places in the country that would service their specific RV. That could be a major bummer if you’re out on the road and had an issue.
Whatever you choose, having a nice chunk of cash set aside for repairs is going to be a must-have if you’re choosing to live in a camper.
5. Where you park
Most people who live in a camper are going to need to pay to park their rig. Here are a few types of places you can park, and what you can expect to pay:
- RV parks and privately owned campgrounds $25-$80/night. Monthly rates are generally a little less expensive. RV parks and private campgrounds come with water and electric hook-ups and have a place to dump your waste. The more expensive places might even have a pool, rec room, golf course, etc.
- Public campgrounds usually less than $20/night. These are state and national parks, which can range in amenities from none to showers. Sometimes there are hook-ups, but not always.
- Boondocking $0. You can park your RV or camper on some dispersed BLM sites (Bureau of Land Management), Walmart parking lots, etc. These options lack hookups or amenities, and you have to be safe about where you park.
- Moochdocking/driveway surfing $0. This is when you park your vehicle in someone’s driveway, like a friend or family member.
Because you will have to refill with water and dump your waste, you will have to pay for parking from time to time.
6. Your job
If you’re going to travel while living in a camper, your job is going to play a major factor in how feasible this is in the first place. Working remotely is ideal, but if you don’t work remotely what will you do for money?
M$M tip: Read how Sarah from TinyVanBigLiving is working as a traveling occupational therapist and is destroying her debt while on the road at How Living in a Van is Helping Me Conquer $172,000 of Debt.
7. Storing your stuff
Going from a traditional home to an RV/camper/trailer means you’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s probably not going to fit in your new home. What are you going to do with all of your worldly possessions? You could sell everything and potentially pocket some cash that could go towards your rig, inevitable repairs, etc.
Your other option is storing your stuff. Unless you’ve got generous parents or family who’s willing to offer up their attic or basement, storage units are your next best bet. Storage units can run $60-$180/month for a standard unit and $75-$225/month for a climate-controlled unit.
8. Getting your mail
Even though you can pay most bills online, there are still some things that you need to be delivered by mail. Mail forwarding services can do that for you, and it costs around $85-$135 a year.
Here are some popular mail forwarding services:
No matter where you live, camper or not, you’re going to need a cell phone and internet service. Most RV parks and private campgrounds will have wifi. But, if you’re traveling full-time and working remotely, you may find yourself paying more for a cell and internet service provider that has a wider coverage map. There are other extras you may need to pay for too, like a booster or hotspot.
10. Traveling back home
Sure, living in a camper doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to travel far away from your family and friends. But if you are traveling any large distances, there’s a chance that you’ll be paying for visits back home.
Emergencies can pop up, events you don’t want to miss, etc. And even if you aren’t paying for airfare home every time, moving your rig sooner than you thought can be an unexpected expense.
11. Miscellaneous costs
Here are a few costs that I’ve left out:
- Laundry – RVs and fifth wheels might have space for a washer/dryer combo, otherwise you’ll pay for laundry or need to hand wash your clothes in the sink.
- Food – I know I would spend more on going out to eat because wanting to try new local food spots would be my downfall.
- Entertainment – Visiting local attractions.
- Extra gear – Tools, special equipment for outdoor activities, maybe a portable grill, generator, solar panels, etc.
The final word on living in a camper
I am more than willing to admit that living in a camper isn’t my thing. I might be willing to try it out, but I know it’s not something I could do full-time. My wife might actually divorce me if I even brought it up.
But, it can be a pretty cool set up for anyone who wants to try an alternative lifestyle that can potentially help save money or pay off debt. But before you sell everything and hit the road, please do your homework and find out how much you can actually save by living in a camper.