When Sam and I first started our research and planning for our new lifestyle, it was hard to find information that applied directly to our situation. All of the RV literature was written for the retiree, not the rogue gypsy traveller. Not much online*, and no books at the library either. SO, for those interested in our living expenses, and the realities of the lifestyle, here are a few quick numbers and thoughts. Any questions, feel free to contact me I will be happy to help.
The Warrior cost us $4000. The initial repairs and improvements $2000. So for $6000 (and many hours of work) we had a home rent free. We figure since we’ve been living out of it for 8 months and our average rent being around $1000 a month (including our music studio) it has paid itself off in a sense. The biggest reasons we wanted to live out of an RV were 1) Freedom to travel without leases, contracts or responsibility to hold us back, and 2) To live without paying rent, freeing up many hours. This would enable us to do what we really wanted to do; travel, play music, eat good food, read, write and enjoy.
So, “rent free”, but still there are living expenses. If you are going to do something like this your living expenses can differ depending on how you use your RV. There are considerations on how you want to live and how much it will cost in propane, dumping and electricity/generator use, etcetera.
- Lights and heat: We do what’s called “dry docking” most of the time. That means we are not plugged into electricity or water. We do this in the woods and on city streets. When we are on the city street, we have to be incognito, as it is technically illegal, and cops get grumpy. So we rely on what energy our batteries hold from the times we are plugged in at a campground, and also driving around charges the batteries as well. Our heater works off the batteries to work its blower, and uses propane for the heat. Our stove is propane also. In the last 8 months we have filled up our propane maybe 4 times at around $20 each fill. Not sure how much our tank holds, most RV’s have a 20 gallon tank, and that usually lasts folks about two months, so ours must be around 20 gallons. So our propane for the last 8 months has been $80, so about $10 a month. We keep warm (and our AC keeps us cool when needed). We make coffee and tea every morning, and cook occasionally. When we are in the woods, we cook several meals a day.The propane is really cheap. If you want to live in a RV and use a bunch of appliances your energy and propane needs will be much higher. We live very, very simply and it is super cheap.
- Water: When we bought The Warrior, she had a leak, and a couple of valves that needed replacing. After looking into it, we found out it would be difficult to get the parts so we put it off (we had plenty of other things to take care of). After living without running water for a while we realized we didn’t need it. At the time we had health club memberships where we would go work out or just go to grab a shower. That particular health club in Portland cost us $80 a month. We used (and still do use) gallon jugs of water that we would refill wherever for free. We use that water for the little washing we need to do, cooking and drinking and “flushing” the toilet. Since we elected to do without running water, we avoid the energy drain it takes to pump the water to the faucets and flush the toilet. The other bonus for us was that we were able to remove some very large water tanks that freed up much-needed storage space under our dining table seats. A note on showering; different places have posed different shower options. You can get a health club membership, but that’s a commitment we don’t want to do while we’re traveling, but it’s one way. You can find campgrounds that will sell a shower. When we were living in Newport Oregon for a couple of months, dry docking out in the Drift Creek Wilderness, the state park there charged $2 for a shower. When we came into the bay area it was hard to find a shower, but we got creative and used the public pool in Berkeley, King Pool. We told them straight up we only wanted a shower and they charged us half price admission to get in ($3) and a couple of the workers wouldn’t even let us pay for the shower sometimes. So, sometimes you have to get creative, make some phone calls, and some visits to set that up. And don’t forget about the good old fashion sponge bath. Baby wipes are a quick on the go face wash, ect.
- Dumping your black and grey water holding tanks: Grey water is the stuff you put down your sink. Black water is the stuff that goes down the toilet. It sounds scary to have to dump it yourself, but it is very easy. It costs anywhere from $25 to $0. Also when you pay for camping the dump stain is included in the camping fee. We try to only camp in places that have a dump station here in the bay area because they charge for dumping everywhere. In Newport the state park dump station was free for anyone to use. We have to dump our tanks about twice a month. They don’t fill up very quickly since we spend our days playing music, out and about or working. So depending on how much you are home, you will have to dump more or less. Lately we just go camping 2-4 times a month so we dump then and it is not an issue. We figured here in the bay area, we could dump for $25 dollars, or go camping for $35 dollars. For only $10 more than the dump fee we can camp, take showers, have “open door policy” for Bella, and dump our waste water. Makes sense to us.
- Food: Our food expenses vary from $12 a day to $3 a day ($360-$90 a month for two people. Okay I know some of you are choking when you see $12 a day but we’re in the bay area and love food! Give us a break!). When we’re broke or trying to save money, we eat canned fish, beans, bread and raw fruit, tomato, cucumber. . . cookies and tea. Things like that. Things that don’t take a lot of cooking or time to prepare. But, one of the bonus’ of living rent free is you can splurge a little on food, and if you love food as much as we do, you spurge often, but smartly.We don’t eat in restaurants often (unless it’s Pho), but eat from taco trailers, and street side tamales venders for example. We love fresh seafood so we sometimes visit a fish market and get a nice piece of fish to go with a big salad. We love good cheese with bread and an apple. Anyhow, I could talk food for ages. . . Moving on. . .
- Gas: We figured out our gas costs .50 cents a mile in The Warrior. Considering when we drive we are moving, essentially, a studio apartment and all of our belongings, it’s not much. If we left from Oakland California for Miami Florida today, it would cost us around $1600, round up for good measure, to $2000, and we’ve moved two people, a house, a cat, and a full band’s worth of musical equipment cross country. Not bad. Our RV is a 1992, so if you get one of those new fancy models, it will cost much less. Or, if you don’t go anywhere in it but around town, or camp out in your friend’s driveway, that is super cheap.
- Insurance: Our RV insurance cost $200 for one year with Progressive. We also have AAA for breakdowns, that is $160 for the year covering both Sam and I. AAA rocks. We have used then so much, they are a lifesaver for the traveller. Plus, they cover the person, not the vehicle, so if you have trouble in your friends car; the tow, or gas delivery, or locksmith is covered (we could be AAA spokespeople for how much we love them).
- Rent: What? Why would you of this? Well, for us we’d rather not. But for some folks, you might want to get a spot at a mobile home park, $300-$500 per month depending on the area. Or find someone with a bunch of land you can park on. Or, find someone with a driveway you can rent, maybe chuck a couple hundred a month for it? There are rules and regulations that are broken when you are living on the street or even in someone’s driveway.We did our research, and are aware of the laws and ordinances we are breaking. So be aware of these things but don’t let it stop you. Everywhere we’ve been there are people living on the streets this way. The worst that has happened to us was twice, once in Newport OR and once in Berkeley CA, we were asked to leave town. Funny, both times we were eating soup.
- Extras: I don’t know about you folks, and your needs, but we are cheapos and don’t spend a lot. But stuff always comes up, or you’re still paying off debt, whatever. . . Laundry is a few bucks, new undies, new guitar strings, you know, stuff.
Okay, so for a quick monthly breakdown for two people, averaging where possible. . .
Lights/Heat (this ties into how you charge your batteries but lets just say propane only here): $10
Water (this includes showers so let’s just use the health club price to show the highest we’ve paid): +$80
Waste water dump (let’s say we dump at an average price ~$13, 2 times a month):
Gas (that really depends, lets just say for fun, that we’re traveling 150 miles that month):
Rent: No, thanks.
Extras (Let’s say. . .): +$200
So that’s about $646 per month for all our expenses. You could do it for more, you could do it for less. We are doing it simply but comfortably.
I tried to include everything I could think of, and I hope it was enlightening and helpful for those of you considering the lifestyle. This lifestyle is perfect for musicians, artists, philosophers and writers. Perfect for whoever needs to be mobile, and especially for those who love to look out there window and see a beautiful river, or a big, dry desert, or a new city you’ve never seen. Freedom and the road awaits!