Originally posted 12/8/2012
Lest anyone assume that this RV/camping-on-the-cheap misadventure is a great way to see the country for pennies, this post is your wake-up coffee. Aren’t I now living well within my $41/day budget? Oh yes, these days. But getting to this point has been pricey, and the expenses vary wildly by the season, or more properly, location and activity level. Annual averages are everything, and looking at monthly or weekly costs can be very misleading – you’ll quickly become either needlessly horrified, or unjustifiably smug.
Take the travel trailer. Acquiring and outfitting it for my kind of abuse has totaled some $13,700 so far, and that phase of work has been completed, fortunately. That’s not part of my annual budget. I set a separate “capital” budget for that, and it’s just within that. Yes, yes, I could have purchased a much newer, more deluxe trailer for that amount, but not one able to boondock for long periods that includes a full working office, 800 watts of solar power, and the ability to quickly deal with water and waste without having to break camp. This thing meets the challenge nicely.
Maintenance and repairs are part of the annual living expenses budget, though. Service and unexpected repairs have totaled $870 to this point, and aren’t a further threat until my great migration back up north this Spring. Maintenance on the mighty Ford F-250 has been zero, but it will soon be due for a $100 oil and filter change. Tires are still looking good, which is a fine thing since load-rated replacements would cost about $1,200 a set! I’m driving like, well, an old man.
It’s really too soon to tell for groceries, which range from $170-$300/month, depending on what needed to be purchased when. Food shopping is sporadic enough that even a monthly assessment is too frequent a gauge.
Diesel fuel is the roller coaster. It averaged $260-$300/month when I commuted to work in my former life. Hauling the trailer out here in October however, popped that up a bit to $1,340! Brutal! I had expected the trip fuel cost to be closer to $850, but that was before I extended the route to Indiana and Ohio to see long-lost relatives. Either way, that eats heavily into a $900/month total budget, and makes staying put in a low-cost camping area a near-holy virtue, financially speaking. It pounds down the annual overall average. November’s fuel cost was happier at just $160, the price of driving to Phoenix and Blythe for computer servicing and package pickup. With a typical single refueling costing $130, it will take a long and pastoral stay in the Quartzsite area to pay back the fuel cost to get here.
Fixed costs (more or less) like vehicle insurance, propane, medical visits and meds, RV clubs, laundry and similar are parasitic and add up, but are much less spectacular. My campsite fee stay at this location will average out to about $36/month. Fresh water and waste disposal are included and predictably, my electrical costs are zero.
The big question of whether my $15,000/year budget is workable can’t really be answered yet, unfortunately. The very lumpy nature of costs makes such an assessment impossible until late summer 2013. The fuel cost to return to the Midwest, plus its sobering campsite costs, will offset the comparative savings down here. That’s why it’s critical to save every buck while I’m down here, and avoid the trap of thinking that I can afford to splurge on useless frippery because I’m spending so little at the moment.
Many other full-timers make do on a much more meager budget, but they migrate from here to higher altitudes in neighboring states for the summer, saving the costs of fuel and wear. That would be a last resort for me, as I see it as a privilege to occasionally observe my children meet the daily challenges of life, and to offer them the sage and no-longer-applicable advice that I never had much interest in, either. Besides, it’s my only chance to be a significant nuisance, and to serve as a role model for their families. Clearly, it’s a role model of what not to do, but it still works for me. A bad example can be just as useful as a good one, no? “Stop that, child! Your grandfather does that! You don’t want to wind up like him, do you? I didn’t think so.”
My opinion? I’m optimistic that my budget will hold on an annual average basis. Naively optimistic perhaps, but optimistic. It’ll probably be a squeaker!