If you’re thinking about getting an RV, it’s absolutely critical that you first do some research into the costs – up-front and long-term – before you make any decisions. RVing is expensive, there’s no doubt about it and having an RV ownership cost calculator will help you look closely at what you’ll need and choose options that are in line with your finances, you can make sure you’ll have the budget for it.
You can plan your budget in three easy steps (using our cost calculator method):
- Write down all of your current expenses.
- Subtract the ones that won’t apply while you’re on the road, such as utilities, car expenses for vehicles you won’t be using, house maintenance costs, etc.)
- Add the new expenses you’ll have while you’re in your RV. What are these expenses, you ask?
Well, let’s delve into them …
The RV Ownership Cost Calculator
Obviously, your first step in the RV ownership cost calculator is buying the RV. The costs vary wildly – you could spend about $50,000 on a base model Class C motor home or anywhere around $200,000 on a Class A motor home with amenities galore. You’ll get much better deals on used RVs, but the peace of mind in knowing your RV shouldn’t need repairs for the first few years is worth its weight in gold.
Need a little more explanation on RV classes? Motor homes are designated as Class A, Class B, or Class C. Class A is the largest; they can be as long as 45 feet. They’re also the most expensive, averaging around $200,000, not to mention they come with the highest fuel costs. Full-time RVers will generally purchase a Class A.
Class B’’s, which average around $120,000, are the smallest. These are essentially camper vans, and they feature the best gas mileage.
Class C’s are mid-sized RVs typically built on top of a van or large truck. They run from about 20 to 33 feet, and they average around $100,000. The miles per gallon a Class C gets is typically in between those of Class A and Class B.
In all reality, the largest cost of RV ownership is the annual depreciation of the vehicle over time.
In a five-year period, a brand new rig will typically lose 30% to 50% of its value, and by the end of a decade it will be down to 25% to 40% of its original MSRP. If you take the difference between what you paid for the RV and the amount you sell it for at the end, and then divide that by the number of months you used it, you’ll see your monthly loss. But that’s pretty depressing, so maybe don’t do that part?
Furnishings and accessories also need to be factored into the original RV cost. Things like rugs, kitchen necessities, patio mats, grills, and camping chairs like these will need to be purchased. When budgeting, it’s a good idea to assume the first three months will have a monthly cost of about 50% more than subsequent months.
RV insurance costs can also widely vary. The price will depend upon how often you use your RV, where you live, the type of RV, the coverage you need, your age and driving record, and more. The annual cost can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Always shop around because the difference in premiums can be truly incredible. Reviews.com offers this handy tool that will allow you to request quotes from several companies at once.
This is a big one! The MPG rating is the biggest factor: the MPG for RVs can range anywhere from about eight for a larger Class A to 25 for a smaller Class B. But it’s also a matter of your RV’s make and model, engine size, whether you’re driving city or highway miles, and the speeds at which you drive. An easy way to guesstimate the cost of your trip is to take the mileage of the total distance of your trip and divide it by your miles per gallon to get the number of gallons of gas you will need. Then multiply that figure by the current price of gas. (You can find the average price of gasoline nationally by checking websites like Gasbuddy.com or asking AAA.)
In your first year, maintenance isn’t much of a factor. You may need oil changes and tire rotations, but any unexpected repairs should be covered under your warranty. (Always read your warranty though!). After the first year, you should always set aside funds for routine work and unexpected problems. Costs can easily range from a minimal amount to several hundred dollars per year; experts recommend you budget between $50 and $100 a month. Repair and component replacement costs shouldn’t be too outrageous in the first several years, but they can raise substantially when the vehicle is in its fifth to seventh year of service. Think tires, batteries, burst water lines, busted toilets, window and roof leaks, etc. An extended warranty can help keep unexpected repair costs within an affordable range; just be sure to read the fine print.
If you’re in a cold-weather state, you’ll also have to pay to winterize your vehicle. The service varies from dealer to dealer but can be performed for as little as $100.
RV parks and campsites
Yep, you gotta have somewhere to stay. Costs are all over the map when it comes to RV parks and campgrounds. It will depend on where you go, what size lot you need, what hook-ups you require, etc. You could boondock and potentially pay nothing or go to a beachfront location that will run you more than $100 a night. To budget this cost, simply get the rate of the park or campground you’ll be going to and multiply that rate by the number of nights you’ll stay at each place.
You’re going to need to store your RV when it’s not in use, especially if you live somewhere cold and snowy. There are many options available. You can go the cheaper route and use an RV cover or tarp (covers range from $100-$300). You can also rent an indoor storage unit— many of which provide indoor, temperature-controlled environments — for about $30 to $100 a month.
As the years progress, you’re probably going to want to make improvements to your RV, just as you would your home. This could include things like mattresses, flooring, solar panels, backup cameras, lighting, shower/faucet heads, a WiFi extender, better stabilizers, improved shelving, an upgraded sewer system, and more. If you know there are things you want to enhance, start setting aside some cash for upgrades in your budget.
You’ll need propane in your RV to keep it warm, cool the refrigerator, cook with, and for your water heater. Costs will depend on the local market price, what the weather’s like, and how often you use your appliances. If you have an electric hookup, you will generally pay less because your fridge won’t need to be propane-powered.
We got the big ones out of the way, but there are plenty more things you’ll need to budget for. This includes food (groceries and dining out), cable/satellite hookups, WiFi, laundry, cleaning and household items, tools, any camping/RV club memberships you may have, entertainment, mail and postage, and more. Make yourself a checklist of these items and anything else you think you’ll need and try to estimate what each will cost. This will help you plan in advance and will also make you feel great if you stay under budget!
RV living isn’t exactly cheap, but having an RV ownership cost calculator will help. You have to remember that many of your costs are offset by the amounts of money you won’t have to be spending at your “sticks and bricks” home. And yes, there’s a large depreciation involved in RV ownership, but consider that the cost of being free to explore and enjoy a new lifestyle. You can’t put a price on that!