Yes, affordable RV retirement is possible!
- Are you retired from work but not from life?
- Have you always wanted to travel?
- Have you always loved camping?
- Are you a nature lover?
- Have you dreamed of living in an RV and seeing our great country?
- Are you worried you don’t have enough money to make your dream come true?
Well, if you answered yes to these questions, I hope we can provide some help. An affordable RV retirement doesn’t mean breaking the bank. We do it on Social Security and a small (emphasis on “small”) investment account.
I should note that we’re not talking about living in a stationery RV. We’re talking about traveling the North American continent while living in an RV on a full-time basis.
Here are some ways to make your dream come true on a limited budget:
Work within your budget.
First of all, work within your budget. Going into debt at this stage of life isn’t a smart thing to do. There’s no need to buy a $250,000 Class A motor home to RV full-time in retirement. There are lots of great used RV’s out there; some that will be in your budget. Depending on what your requirements are, some for as little as $10,000.
Consider what you want and what you really need. Our first RV was a 38’ 5th Wheel. I couldn’t imagine downsizing from a house to anything smaller. Within 2 months of living in our 5th wheel we decided it was more RV than we needed, and we sold our truck and 5th wheel. Our new RV was a 32’ Class C with a small toad. This was a needless and costly sale/purchase. We lost a substantial amount of money because we didn’t do our research. Don’t make the same mistake.
You don’t have to buy a new RV. In fact, new RV’s depreciate just like new cars. When you drive them off the dealer’s lot, they’ve already lost thousands of dollars in value. Sadly, all RV’s have problems that need to be worked out on the first few trips. Buying a used RV means those bugs have already been taken care of by the first owner.
Is retirement a few years off? Do you have some handyman skills? If so, consider buying an older RV and renovating it. Again, this was a mistake we made. I wish we had gone this route.
There are lots of RV’s with good bones but are simply outdated. Some will only involve a little updating. Others require a lot more skills, time and money. Decide how much you can invest and how much work you can do on your own. The Internet is full of decorating ideas and how-to videos. Beware of RV’s with low mileage that have been sitting in storage for a long time. These RV’s can have major problems like water leakage, mold, and electrical issues because of rodents. Do your homework. You can find an affordable RV.
Assess what you already own.
Your first home on wheels doesn’t have to be expensive. Assess what you already own. You may not have to make a huge investment to live an affordable RV retirement.
- Do you have a truck that will pull a trailer? If that’s the case, start looking at travel trailers or 5th wheels.
- Perhaps you have a small, lightweight vehicle that would make a perfect toad. Maybe a Class A or C motorhome would be a good choice.
- How much space do you think you’ll need? Full-time RVing is about living a minimalist life—getting rid of unwanted, unneeded junk.
- Look at a variety of RV’s to get an idea of just what you think you’ll want.
RVs come in all sizes and shapes and prices. You can buy a used travel trailer starting at about $10,000 (sometimes less).
*Be aware that a large percentage of RVers change their minds about what kind of RV is right for them in the very first year. Like we mentioned above, it can be a pricey mistake.
Don’t go crazy buying RV stuff.
This was a mistake that Jim and I made. We bought new storage containers, new hand towels, new RV toys, etc. This was really a waste of money. In fact, half of what we bought is sitting in a storage building, waiting to be resold. Work with what you already have. When you do need something special, check out dollar stores. Be creative!
Avoid staying in expensive RV parks.
When you’re finally on the road, consider where you’ll be parking your new rig. What amenities are important to you? Do you want a swimming pool, laundry, gym, dog park, lake/beach access? If so, you’ll be looking at a big expense. RV Parks range from $30/night to over $65/night. Luxury Parks are even more.
State and national parks are great places to camp. Some provide full hookups while others have few amenities. The wonderful thing about these campgrounds is their great locations, i.e., in forests, on lakes, etc. An added benefit is that they’ll be less expensive than an RV park with lots of amenities. Keep in mind that some older parks cannot accommodate longer RV’s.
Another thing to consider if you’re over 62, an America the Beautiful Senior Pass to National Parks will offer half price camping at all federally owned campgrounds, including U.S. Corps of Engineers. That makes these campgrounds extremely affordable.
If amenities aren’t important to you, consider dispersed camping (also called Boondocking). Dispersed camping is camping for free on federally owned land like National Forests or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. These sites don’t have any amenities but it’s the way we prefer to see the country. You can park almost anywhere on these properties and some locations can be very remote. We love being alone in the woods!
Your style of travel will affect how much you spend on gas or diesel. If you move every couple of days, you’ll be spending a lot on gas/fuel. Consider spending a week or two in one place. You’ll notice a big difference in your monthly gas/fuel bill.
Cook at home.
It’s easier to eat out, but the dollars will add up. You can have great experiences without eating out all the time. Cooking your meals at home is always less expensive and healthier for you, too. You would have this same dilemma if you lived in a sticks-and-bricks house.
You’re not on vacation!
When you first start living in your RV it’s sometimes hard to remember that you’re not on vacation. Your RV is your home. The reason you live in an RV is because you want to travel and see the sites, but you can do that on a budget. There are lots of free or low-cost things to do when you visit a new location. Check out museums, window shop, take a hike or visit a local farmers’ market. Avoid expensive tourist attractions. They aren’t a necessity.
Travel with the seasons.
Don’t spend your summers in Texas and your winters in Maine! Electricity for air conditioning or propane for heat is an unnecessary expense. Enjoying comfortable weather is one of the reasons we chose to RV in the first place.
Don’t keep a storage unit.
This is another of our mistakes—one we’re still making. For example, we have a large storage unit that costs us about $1,000 a year. Yes, we do have things stored there that are worth more than that. Now consider that every year it costs us another $1,000. After four or five years, that means we would have wasted $5,000! Consider how valuable those items in storage really are when you look at it over a period of years.
Consider a side hustle.
Retirement doesn’t mean you always have to stop making money. There are many, many ways that people make money on the road. Do you have a job that you can carry over into your retirement and do remotely? You could be consultant, a park host, a writer, sell online, be a virtual assistant, or build websites. How about a hobby you can turn into cash? There are many part-time hustles that can bring in a little extra money. If working a few hours a week will enable you to live full time in your RV, then it’s worth the effort. Check out workampers.com and happyvagabonds.com for some ideas.
Have a safety net.
Don’t undertake an RV lifestyle if you don’t have some funds in the bank. We recommend at least $5,000. Like anything else, your home on wheels will have maintenance that needs to be done and unfortunate surprises will come your way.
Have an exit plan.
Be sure to have an exit plan before you start a full-time RV lifestyle. We’re all growing older and we have to recognize that we won’t be able to RV forever. At some point health issues will arise that could require that you stay put in one location. Consider what you will do when that time comes. Be prepared!
There are a lot of decisions you have to make before starting a full-time RV lifestyle. Whether or not you can afford it is one of the most important things to consider. Of course, that’s something you’ll have to consider when you think about retirement in general. Jim and I are so happy we made this decision.