Is Owning an RV Cost-Effective?


Is owning an RV worth it? Most RV owners choose to live in an RV because of freedom. Imagine living according to your chosen lifestyle without being a prisoner to your 9-5 job just to pay your rent, mortgage, utility bills, and car expenses. Not to mention being able to visit and explore the places you’ve never been to, all the while traveling in the comforts of your motorhome.

So, is owning an RV cost-effective? Yes and No. In an RV, you have the power to control your expenses. You can live for as low as $350/month; living cheap starts at $1,500/month, and luxurious living is anywhere higher than $4,000/month.

The big switch is not an easy decision to make, and there are several things to consider. In this article, expect to read about the cost differential between old versus new RVs and the RV living cost breakdown. We will also discuss what RV owners do not tell you and your type of RV owner. Lastly, we will determine whether it is time for you to leave your home and jump into the RV bandwagon.

RV Purchase Decision: Old Versus New

Buying an RV will require thorough decision-making, not just if you’re up for it, but if your finances are too. You can either purchase an RV through a loan from the bank or buy an old or vintage camper for a much lesser price.

New RV 

Although you can say, it’s worth it because the thousands of dollars you spend covers not just the rig, as well as its up to date interior and exterior design, the maximum performance of its engine, and manufacturers warranty that could save you from spending costly repairs or replacement of factory-defect installed parts.

Not everyone has thousands kept in the bank. So if you are thinking of purchasing an RV but do not have enough money for it, you can always apply for an RV loan. You can either apply from accredited banks and RV credit affiliates. While the loan might sound good, this could be a possible burden in the future because of the interest rates and monthly fees that go with it.

Old/Vintage RV 

If you are a first-time owner, it would be a bit risky to start with a new RV, especially if you are unsure whether it is something you would like to commit to. Therefore, it is suggested that you start with an old or vintage RV and save roughly 80%-90% out of your motorhome budget. 

The good thing with old or vintage RVs is not worrying about where to get the money. This reason is that prices for these rigs are negotiable and provide a huge possibility of getting a B+ camper hybrid of Class B and C motorhomes.

With these rigs, saving money in buying the vehicle is out of the question, but it will require thorough checking on your end. This is because of certain fixes. These fixes include getting rid of old wallpaper and replacing it with new ones, repainting the exterior and interior of your rig, and the worst part, dealing with water damage. 

All these can lead to pricey renovation, restoration, and repair costs. Still, then again, it can be avoided if you buy the already renovated ones.

What They Fail To Tell You

What most people post on social media is a fragment of what’s happening behind the cameras. It’s not all about snapshots, touring the world, and living your best life. Those photos you see online are but the beautiful parts of RV life. Here are some things they don’t tell you that are vital before choosing to join the RV bandwagon.

Taxes and Registration

Purchasing and owning an RV has its own rules than the usual way of purchasing an automobile. In fact, owning and driving one requires a license from your governing state. You must comply with your state’s requirements on RV ownership, the registration process, and its renewal regulations, which are done every 5 years in some states. 

There is also this thing called Sales Tax that you have to pay upon buying and registering your RV. Mind you, this isn’t just for new RVs, but for second-hand RVs too, and your sales tax will depend on the state you live in, which on average is about 4%-9%.

Because of this, some RV owners try to evade this by registering it to states that don’t require one and then use their rig in the state they live in. 

Saving thousands from not paying the sales tax has its wonders, but this is just another Pandora’s box! Evading your responsibility will only cause greater damages. As it happens, one Louisiana taxpayer ended up paying $16,000 in fines and penalties. 

That price is on top of his more or less $30,000 sales tax evasion. This is because of forming a liability company in Montana that had no sales tax.

He asked the LLC to purchase the RV in its name, then had it registered in the said state. In return, he paid no Louisiana sales tax and only paid a $174 registration fee. Little did he know, he was going to pay more later.

RV Insurance

RVs are susceptible to damage and repairs, which is why choosing the right RV insurance is essential. Take time to review and inquire regarding their insurance coverage, especially with liability and collisions.

Another thing you need to know about is what they call Full-timer’s RV insurance. It usually costs more but offers broader liability coverages, such as vacation liability coverage that covers for injuries that occurred in or around your RV during your trips. 

Overall, insurance cost starts at $1,000-$2,000+ annually, depending on the rig and state you live in. So far, the highest reported RV insurance fee is in Michigan, which is $4,490.

Loan Interest

So, the good thing about RVs is it’s so popular that there are several RV loan options to choose from. The rule of thumb when purchasing an RV on installment is to give a downpayment of 15% and leave the bank or credit company the rest while you pay them based on the approved terms. 

RV lenders often allow the owners to pay within 10-15 years, some at 20 years. It might be very tempting but bear in mind that the downside of loaning cash is its interest rate. It’s business, so if you choose to loan, be prepared. The interest rate starts at 4.59% and could be as high as 9%.

Getting the RV you have always wanted but paying it monthly for the next 20 years is no different from paying your monthly rent and mortgage. 

RV Storage

Not all RV owners buy RVs for full-time use, and some of them still have their 9-5 jobs. RVs range in all sizes, which means if your rig does not fit your garage, then you’ll have to park it elsewhere. Good thing there are RV storage facilities you could pay daily, weekly, or monthly. 

Average RV storage starts at $50 to $500 per month, depending on the care your RV needs. Before buying an RV, though, measure your garage, and if it doesn’t fit, search for RV storage facilities near your area. Here are 3 types of storage you can choose from:

Outdoor

If you want something affordable, look for Outdoor RV storage. It’s a large parking lot or an unpaved open lot. Since the area is uncovered, your rig won’t be protected by elements that might cause damage. 

But hey, rent starts at $30-$50 per month depending on the size of your rig, and if you’re confident with the weather, then storing it here is pretty efficient. 

Covered

If you want to protect your rig from harmful elements such as the sun’s rays, rain, and other harmful ones like dust, a covered RV storage facility is more ideal. Plus, it can accommodate larger RVs and a storage fee that starts at $60/month but still depends on the size of your RV.

Indoor

Suppose you don’t mind the monthly price and simply want to keep your RV protected from all sorts of harmful elements. In that case, you can park it in Indoor RV storage. It’s a huge leap from both of the other storage’s prices, but with a starting price of $75-$500 per month, again, depending on the size of your RV, it is cheaper than risking paying for more repairs.

Suppose you are thinking about parking your RV on the driveway rather than spending an additional monthly fee, well. In that case, you might have to consider it again. Although the average driveway is large enough for a car, some RVs, especially Class A, require more space. Town Officials, Municipal, Country, or Homeowners’ Association ordinances ban parking of RVs on the street or driveway. 

RV Living Cost Breakdown

Purchase Cost

RV price varies depending on the year and model. Most Vintage RVs are sold for a lower cost, and some are upsold for a higher price when restored.

For example, a vintage airstream from 1940-1981, when purchased at its current state, can be bought anywhere from $900-$5,000. Still, when restored and renovated, it can be more or less than $50,000.

Old/Vintage RVs 

Old and Vintage RVs are becoming quite popular because of their low cost. The catch is, RVs for sale in the market are from the 1960-the 1990s, and frankly, these rigs are not at their best. Most of it requires restoration, renovations, and repairs that could cost you a few thousand.

Suppose you’re thinking about buying an old/vintage motorhome. In that case, it should be anywhere between $6,000-$10,000, while RV trailers cost way less with a starting cost of $1,000. However, few sellers want to get rid of it and accept payments as low as $500. Just a reminder, do not be deceived because low prices often come with thousands worth of renovation and repairs.

Restored Old/Vintage RV

If your time is worth more than your money, you can purchase restored old/vintage RVs. It usually comes with the latest machinery, up-to-date appliances, interior, and exterior, with an average price of $9,000-$50,000 depending on the RV model, size, and renovations.

New RVs

If you want a newer one, Class A RVs are known for their gigantic size, and available space should cost around $90,000. Class B, also referred to as campervans, starts at $60,000, while Class C Rvs, a hybrid of both Class A and B, start at $50,000.

It will cost you thousands, but you wouldn’t worry about renovation or repair costs for a year or so as long as you give the maintenance it needs. 

Maintenance and Repairs

Just like keeping your home clean, maintenance and repairs are important to keep your RV in tip-top shape. Not doing so could lead to damaging effects and will cost you expensive repairs in the long run. Mind you, parts for RVs do not come cheap, and there are still labor costs you need to pay for. 

For example, engine-tune-up and minor repair can cost between $150-$400, with a labor rate of $40-$150 per hour. Axle repair is essential in your chassis system, and replacement cost is between $170-$1,100, with a labor rate of $140-$200. 

Of course, no one wants a hot RV, and air condition repair and replacement will cost you anywhere between $600-$3,500 with a labor rate of $00-$600 per hour.

Travel Expenses when Owning an RV

Whether you like it or not, your lifestyle creates a big impact on your daily expenses. This includes the campsite or park you’ll be staying at if you choose not to boondock, the amount of gas you need for the trip, and the utilities you need.

Gas 

Your RV will need twice the amount of gas to fill up compared to a car. On average, RV owners spend around $350-$2,000 per month. This is because your gas expense depends on your rig’s size and gas mileage, the current gas price, and the distance of your travel.

Here is the formula to calculate your RVs gas cost:

Distance of the trip (miles) divided by estimated miles per gallon of your rig, then multiply the answer to the current gas cost.

For example, gas prices start at $2.40 per gallon, so if you’re on a 333-mile trip, let’s stay from Harrisburg to Watertown, and with15 gas mileage, your gas cost should be no more than $55.

333 miles/15 mpg = 22.2 gallons * $2.40= $53.28

Your gas expense will depend on your RVs gas mileage and its durability on the road. Always consider the distance of your trip to regulate your costs. Really, it would be nice to save money on fuel and spend more on food and enjoy other amenities the area has to offer.

Parking/Campgrounds Cost

If you don’t want to worry about your water tank or electricity running out, there are RV camps and Campgrounds you can stay in. Most campgrounds and parks offer full amenities. These amenities include RV hookups that provide electricity and water to your rig, a private beach, and free wifi, which will cost you about $35-$50 per night.

If we calculate your stay for 30 days in a campground worth $35 a night, you should expect a monthly parking cost of $1,050. It’s a bit much, especially if your goal for RVing was to save money, but it’s okay to splurge on what makes you happy once in a while. 

However, if you do feel like offsetting the cost, you can always park at Walmart, the church or search for free camping sites in the area you’re visiting. You can also try this popular thing called boondocking.

Boondocking is parking in a specific area or campground for free, safely, legally, and comfortably without amenities and hookups. It is cheap and easy because you wouldn’t worry about spending money on parking and electrical fees. 

One popular way of boondocking is looking for a beach where you can park and wake up next to a million-dollar view without spending a dime because, yes, it is free.

Utilities

RV HookUps

The reason why some RV lifers choose to stay in parks and campgrounds is because of RV hookups. Sometimes, you just don’t want to think about whether you have enough water for the night or which dumpsite to go to. Some campgrounds include this in their package and will cost you $50 per night.

However, if you only need electricity, then that’s okay too. Electricity is metered and will depend on the applications you have, including the size and model of your RV. Not all campgrounds or parks ask for an extra charge, but it’s about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour if they do.

For example, if your appliances need 40-50kwh, that’s $5 per day and $35 per week. Your utility cost for a month on average should be around $100-$300 per month. 

Laundry

Most RV parks have laundry shops available where you can wash and dry your clothes. The average cost for washing is $1.75 per load and $1.25 for drying. There are also drop-off or pick-up laundry services where washing, drying, folding, and iron is part of the services. On average, it costs about $1.50 to $2, depending on the load the shop requires. 

However, suppose you’re not staying in any campground or park. In that case, there are laundry shops around town you can utilize, or you can save money by buying a small washing machine instead. 

RV Living Versus Home Living: Owning an RV

According to 2020 RV statistics, over 11% of US households own an RV, where 1 million of them are living in it full-time and spending a total monthly cost of $1,400-$3,000 a month.

In a new study conducted by CBRE Hotels Advisory Group, a four-person travel party can save 21%-64% of their costs. In contrast, a two-person travel party can save around 8%-53%, depending on their RV type and lifestyle.

When you are living in a house, you see, you worry about the utility bills and mortgage fees on top of the daily necessities such as food consumption and items to refurbish your home.

For example, if you’re renting a one-bedroom apartment, it should cost you around $1200 per month. If you multiply that by 12 months, you pay as much as $14,400.

In RVing, you can choose the lifestyle you want to live. If you feel that you’re spending more than what you earn, you can choose to boondock and utilize the free amenities of nature. If you choose to live a bit more than you normally do, you can always stay at RV parking sites or campgrounds. 

Consider this, let’s say you decide to live in an RV, and you bought a renovated vintage camper; that should cost about $9,000. So, out of the $14,400, you still have $5,400. RV requires repair and maintenance, but that’s no different from your car expenses. 

That amount is enough to spend half or a year on gas, repairs, and food. There are campgrounds where you can stay the night for free or for lesser pay, and places you can boondock should you feel the need to cut your costs. When you are at home, you have no choice but to pay those bills. You can choose to cut your food expenses, but your utility bills and the rent will not be waived just as easily. 

Types of RV Owners

After all this talk, you must know what type of RV owner you are and what lifestyle you will most likely adopt. A consumer feedback was conducted last 2016 to better understand consumer attitude towards RVs and perception of the RV lifestyle. 

According to that research study by Nielsen, comfort, cost, and safety are the top factors considered by prospective RV purchase. In addition, 40% of them (US population) is segmented into three categories:

Active Family Adventurers

If you’re family-focused, have traveled domestically, rented a camper, trailer or cabin in the past 2 years, then you fit perfectly in this category. Because it’s a family trip, it’s the children who influence trip decisions. On an ideal trip, 72% of them would rather spend it near a lake than on the seashore and near the mountains.

According to statistics, 73% under this category are married, 56% have kids, and travelers are equal in both the male and female gender. In an ideal trip, 66% would travel with their kids, while 86% would travel with their spouse or significant other. 

Nature Lovers

These people are independent travelers and environmentally conscious. They have likely gone tent camping or rented a cabin in the past 2 years and visited natural beauty, unknown destinations, or outdoor sports and recreation locations.

They find RVing convenient because they get to tour the country and make weekend getaways so much easier. According to statistics, 68% of them are married, 32% have kids, and travel is more of the female gender than males.

However, it is found that nature lovers would travel more with their spouse or significant other and would prefer camping near the mountains than a lake and on the seashore. 

Kid-Free Adult Adventurers

They are considered traditional travelers, meaning they travel with their friends or significant other, and are environmentally conscious. They take leisure trips like romantic getaways, spending time in nature, and attending sporting events. 

Most of them would find it ideal for spending their time on the seashore rather than the mountains. According to statistics, only 15% are within the single or divorced category, and travelers are more of the male gender. Ideally, 72% of these travelers would do so with their spouse or significant other. In comparison, 40% will travel with their friends on the seashore rather than at a resort.

Conclusion: Is Owning An RV Really Worth It?

Again, choosing to live in an RV is a tough decision to make. This requires a whole lot of dedication and cash, which is why you need to consider every bit of factor before doing so. It is no question that living in an RV gives you the comforts of home while seeing the wonders of the world. But if you want to do this mainly because you want to save money, first ask yourself what lifestyle you are willing to adapt to. If you are not careful, RVing can cost you more than you should.

Ash

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