Is Living in an RV Cheaper Than a House?

To some people it sounds like a dream come true. Ditch all the responsibilities and expenses associated with renting – or owning – a stationery home and hit the road, for good, in their RV, becoming a modern-day nomad.

The rise in remote work has made this dream a possibility for a lot more people than before, when, in the past, it was perhaps only retirees who could consider making an RV their full-time home. However, if all you need to work is a laptop and a decent Wi-Fi connection, the possibility is something you could consider.

The biggest question many have, however, relates to finances. Is living in an RV cheaper than a house? Is it possible at all?

On the cost question, there is no easy answer, which is why we are going to take the time to explore the issue in much greater detail here.

A retired woman enjoying RV living, camping outdoors in a beauty spot.
About a million Americans live full-time in RVs.

RV vs. House: Initial Costs

There are initial costs involved in moving to any new living space. If you rent a home, there will be down payments to make – although it varies the norm is now two months’ rent plus security plus extra deposits (and then extra monthly rent) for pets if they are allowed.

With the average national rent hitting $1,468 in 2020 (and in many places it is a lot more) needing at least $5,000 to move into any rental home is the norm these days.

Buying a home calls for a lot more, and you need rather good credit to get a mortgage in the first place. It’s still the American Dream for many people, but in 2021 it is increasingly out of reach for many too.

Buying an RV can vary significantly in cost too. A small one-bedroom trailer can cost as little as $15,000 (less if used) ranging up to $75,000 or more for larger, high end models. So, there is a significant initial financial outlay, and you may still need to deal with financing.

An RV loan, like a car loan, tends to be easier to qualify for than a standard mortgage though and the length of the loan is usually shorter too.

RV vs. House: Day to Day Costs

The amount you pay for your home itself is hardly the only expense associated with it. If you rent many costs are built into the rent, but you will usually have to pay for utilities and for day-to-day expenses not associated with your lease. You should also consider renter’s insurance to cover your belongings because your landlord’s insurance will not.

Homeowners are responsible for land and state taxes, mortgage insurance, home content insurance, general upkeep and more. The additional expenses involved in owning a home can add up fast, which is something first time homeowners do not always realize until it is too late.

If you opt for RV living then you will need to pay RV insurance, you will need to pay for vehicle registration, vehicle maintenance, gas, water and campsite or lot rent. If you intend to travel the country, there will be tolls involved too.

A travel trailer parked at an RV campsite.
Equip your rig to do more dry camping to save money.

The Hard to Come By Averages

As across the 52 states of the US costs for all these things vary wildly – the average rent for a Manhattan apartment, for example, was just under $5,000. $4,000 in LA, $3,500 in Washington DC and Philadelphia but as little as $900 in the Midwest and more rural areas in the Northeast and Southwest.

House prices are the same, although the pandemic has seen house prices rise almost across the board. And taxes vary from district to district and even street to street, not just by city, town, or state.

One of the other things that is appealing about RV living and boondocking is that you can exercise greater control over costs. You get to choose where and when you travel, which campsites you stop at (thereby controlling the amount paid in rent) and the maintenance costs associated with an RV tend to be lower than those associated with a traditional home.

The Address Complications of Living in an RV

The biggest hurdle many people face when choosing to live in an RV is the lack of residential address.

Sure, you can rent a PO Box and there are even PO Box forwarding services that can send mail on. You may not even get much mail if you do most things – like banking – online.

But to get insurance of any kind, to vote, to receive social security benefits and more, you need a real residential address, a PO box just will not work.

The best way to get around this is to use someone else’s address. Your parents, your siblings, close friends you can trust, these are all options. Just ensure you have this in place before you even consider making an RV your full-time home.

Mailbox
Get a fixed address.

7 Great Hacks to Cheaper RV Living

So, RV living may indeed be cheaper than living in a traditional house or apartment. And there are ways you can make it even cheaper. Here’s a look at of the best of them.

Buy a Good Used RV

If you do not have an RV yet consider buying a used, rather than a new model. Just as is the case with car buying this can save you lots of money, and you will often be able to get ‘more RV’ for your money than when buying used.

Just make sure you shop as carefully as you would for a used car when considering a used RV, including checking the warranty status not just of the vehicle itself but of all its associated parts.

Make Sure You Have the Best Price for RV Insurance

RV insurance is something you must have, but you can save money on it if you take the time to comparison shop. Some insurance providers offer exclusive deals to RV owners, especially if they have certain RV associated memberships like KOA.

Taking the time to shop around and ensure you have the best deal can save you a lot!

Drive Less

Gas prices tend to fluctuate a lot, not just in general due to various political issues but also according to where you are. If you are in a popular vacation destination, for example, you will usually pay more for gas than in many other places.

Choosing one spot and staying a while is the most obvious way to save on gas, and if you choose a spot where you can walk to things like grocery stores, you will save even more.

Check out RV Trip Wizard, it will give you a snapshot of your travels for the year, tracks your expenses and helps you find campgrounds and points of interest on your route. If you enter your RV’s dimensions and weight it will route you to avoid hazards such as tunnels, low clearance bridges and dirt roads.

Save on Gas with a Comparison App

If you do prefer to hit the road on a more regular basis, you can still save money on gas by making use of an app like Gas Buddy that will help you find the cheapest prices on gas close to you. These apps offer pricing in almost every US zip code and, for the most part are free to use.

Comparison Shop Campsites

There are a lot of campsites in the US you can take your RV to, and they will also vary significantly in price. You will usually pay the most for campsites with lots of ‘bells and whistles’ and those located in extremely popular tourist hotspots.

To save money consider making use of campsites that offer fewer amenities or choosing an area that is not as popular.

There are all kinds of online resources that will help you find and compare campsites by cost, including KOA, Yelp! and even travel sites like Trip Advisor and Booking.com.

Cook More Of Your Own Food

Almost every RV has basic cooking facilities, and outdoor grills are often an option too. While it might be easy to hit local restaurant and take-outs for dinner every night the more you cook your own food, the more you will save.

Embrace the Art of Handwashing

Trips to the laundromat can add up in terms of money too. If you are a couple or small family then embracing the art of handwashing and line drying can save you lots of money and, to be honest, line dried clothes and bedding always smell better than those dried in a dryer.

If it is cold and wet outside this may not be an option, but if you have embraced RV living to chase the sun, which many do, why waste its power?

Use as Much Solar Power as Possible

Speaking of the sun, solar-powered gadgets can save you a lot too.

Lights, shower units, even phone chargers can all be found in solar powered options, and if you are up for a larger initial investment and a little DIY installing solar panels on your RV to power it general can not only save you lots of money in the long run but also allow you to head off grid more often and discover those out of the way beauty spots you might have overlooked otherwise.

So, Is Living in An RV Cheaper Than a House or Apartment?

It can be, and it sure is different. RV living is certainly not for everyone, but as a cheap alternative to being tied to a traditional home if you love to travel, and can, it may be an idea well worth your consideration.

Happy RVing!

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