My Month Living in an RV: A Shockingly Spendy Lifestyle Alternative

More like a toy than a house.

More like a toy than a house.

When Kevin first walked me through the RV he told me “When I’m in the RV, life just slows down. If I’m driving, I’m going pretty slow. I take turns slow. When I move around inside the RV it’s deliberately slow.” He went on to explain why “it’s because everything is fragile. You can’t just go banging around opening up cabinets, pulling levers, leaning on things. You see that cabinet? You can break that little plastic piece off that holds it closed real easy. Everything in here is custom; nothing is off-the-shelf. You can’t go to the hardware store and pick any of this stuff up. When I first moved in I thought I’d be saving so much money. You see that little refrigerator?”

I look at the refrigerator. It’s got an oak face that matches the oak cabinets around it. It’s about 1/3 the size of a regular refrigerator and it has a small freezer on top.

“That’s a $1,700 refrigerator.”

Then he shows me the toilet. It’s got a spring-loaded ball valve where normally there would be the drain at the bottom of the toilet. You control the ball valve with a small metallic handle that looks like its about to fall off the side of the toilet. When you push down, it opens the ball valve and lets water and waste out. When you pull up, it slowly fills the bowl back up with water.

“The water doesn’t come out any faster if you pull up any harder.” Kevin explains. I feel like maybe someone has broken this toilet before. “That’s a $700 toilet.”

We go outside. “You know how some fiberglass boats are super shiny and sleek looking, like they look new?”

“Yeah” I reply.

“Well that’s because they are waxed. This thing needs a wax as well.”

It’s a lot of surface area to wax. I’d guess two guys could knock it out in two 8 hour days. 2 guys x 2 days x 8 hours x $20/hour = $640, that’s probably conservative. Probably would cost double that to do it right.

“My son is like a bull in a China Shop in here,” he continues “when he gets out of the chair, he doesn’t get out like a normal human. He puts the entire weight of his body on the little armrest and pushes himself up. When he gets in the chair, he kind of full speed flops down into it.”

“You see the wooden handrail mounted vertically on the inside right next to the door?” I say I do “he doesn’t use that thing like you’re supposed to. He doesn’t just slowly ease himself down the stairs when he wants to go outside. Oh no. He uses that thing like a fireman’s pole and kind of Tarzan swings himself out.”

One of the mornings, as we were pulling out of the driveway, Kevin’s father mentions that some spring or something kind of broke off the coffee pot and disappeared. His father was not sure what it was. Kevin and I were already in the car on the way out of the RV park and as we pulled away he told me that the coffee maker, which is also custom, had at one point dislodged from its mounted location above the sink while he was driving, sending parts flying everywhere.

I will admit that I have considered living in an RV as a viable alternative to renting an apartment or owning a home. I work in construction management and often I need to go where the work is, and the best opportunities for professional growth aren’t always where I currently live. Being able to pack up and quickly drive my house and all my belongings to the next city where some sweet development is going on seems to offer a lot of freedom, and would enable me to quickly take advantage of professional opportunities.

My thoughts about RV living sounded something like this in my head: “If you had an RV, you wouldn’t have a mortgage. You wouldn’t have to mow a lawn. You could live wherever you want! If your neighbor was annoying, well, you just start the thing up and drive it over to another camping spot. If you wanted to go out to the woods on the weekends you could bring your whole house! If your job moved you to another state, no worries, you would be ultra-mobile!

RV’s are way cheaper than houses. They may be double the cost of a new car but they are more like a new car and a new house all in one. They can even be financed like a new car.”

However, after living in an RV for a month I have a much better picture of the costs associated with this lifestyle and my thoughts are more like: “living in an apartment is pretty sweet.”

Cost of living in an RV vs. Renting an Apartment

I am attempting to describe the difference in cost between living in an RV and living in an apartment for a single working professional. I have not included the costs for things that you’d have to pay for in either scenario if there is no difference. For example I have not included the difference in cost for a loan on your personal vehicle, as that would be the same regardless of where you live. I have not included the cost of Internet or cable, as those are optional items and would probably cost the same either way.

RV Cost

If you could park the thing close enough to your job to walk to work and you made a point of cooking in the RV rather than eating out, you could cut another $900 off and bring the cost more inline with living in an apartment. In that case it would cost only $233 more per month to live in the RV. It could also be argued that a single guy could buy a much cheaper and smaller RV, which is true. At a difference of $233 the harder-to-estimate intangible pros and cons of RV living come into play.

Intangible Pros of RV Living

Its quiet – there is not a lot of distraction around an RV. I wrote the entire “Life Reengineered Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles” during my time in the RV. It could have been the RV, or it could have been the lack of Internet that improved my productive habits. Not sure.

Freedom to move – you really can pack up your whole house within a couple of hours. You can get month-to-month rates at the campgrounds so there is no early move out penalty like there is in an apartment. This would be a huge benefit if the company you’re working for does not cover moving costs. However, most large professional organizations do cover moving costs, so this benefit loses a bit of weight.

It’s more comfortable than camping – if you want to access out-of the way campgrounds during wet/cold/hot seasons than an RV is ideal. Personally I would rather do traditional camping during good weather and stay home during inclement weather.

Intangible Cons of RV Living

Privacy – you feel a lot more exposed to your neighbors in an RV, especially with the windows open. Also, if you want to hang out outside, it’s a bit like camping where everyone around you can see what you’re up to.

It’s just not sexy – As a 30 year old male, It probably doesn’t improve your reproductive chances to live in an RV. I haven’t surveyed too many females on this matter but I can imagine the proposition “lets go back to my RV” would ping pretty loudly on most women’s creepy-dude radar.

Your neighbors – although you can move pretty easily I think you’ll generally find yourself surrounded by one of three groups of people: retired folk, loud families and/or wannabe off-the-grid Coors-light-pounding hillbillies. I’m just not at any of those stages of my life so I didn’t really connect with my neighbors.

Conclusion

For me, the cons outweigh the pros. The month-long RV-living experience was eye opening. It reminded me that an RV is a thing, and the things we own tend to own us. After awhile paying for the maintenance of the RV would start to annoy me. I’d rather be maintaining a home, typically an appreciating asset, rather than an RV, a depreciating asset, regardless of the freedom the RV offers. And I’d rather live closer to the center of cities than on the outskirts of town. I’m thankful for the experience, and the perspective it’s given me. It closes down one possible lifestyle alternative and allows me to feel more confident in the choices I’m currently making.

Some more resources:

This couple has decided to live and run their business from an RV. Their costs are pretty ridiculous.

Tynan writes about living in a small RV in his book The Tiniest Mansion – How To Live In Luxury on the Side of the Road in an RV.

  • Stephen

    Wow! Your estimates are all screwed up.
    I have liven in a nice RV for 6 plus years and traveled all over the USA.
    I have had class A-B-C and Travel trailers.
    The most beneficial all the way around is the Travel Trailer because you do not need to insure a motor home plus a towed vehicle.
    I live for @ $1100 per month plus gas and enjoy great cusien and wonderful wines everywhere I go plus the friendly folks I run into are quite enjoyable to meet and enjoy time with.
    We play guitars, play cards, go to casinos, hike, you name it.

    I retired at 52 after selling my business and have never looked back.
    First 5 years after retiring I just stayed in my home and played golf and got ‘bored’. So I opened up a couple of small hobby businesses that I can do on the road; golf club repair and being a process server. There are always golfers wanting something done to their clubs and attys all over Texas need a process server especially one in an RV that can camp out and wait for a person that is trying to hide from the courts.

    You can if you have the interest live for $1500 or less a month plus you can work camp and make $500 a month just helping out at different RV Parks and marinas.

    Got some goofy numbers in my opinion.
    CYA