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Is It Cheaper to Live in an RV Than a House?

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The allure of RV living has hit an all-time high. Shows like Nomadland and Van Life have romanticized the idea of ditching the 9 to 5 grind, hitting the open road, and living mortgage-free. RV sales skyrocketed during the pandemic as remote workers realized they could work from anywhere with an internet connection.

But is RV living actually cheaper than buying a traditional house? At first glance, RV life seems like an affordable escape. RVs provide mobility and freedom without the huge down payment of homeownership. But when you crunch the numbers, RV living may not save you as much money as you think over the long run.

Is It Cheaper to Live in an RV Than a House

How Much does an RV Costs?

The cost to purchase a new RV can range quite a bit depending on the size, features, and luxury. Smaller, basic travel trailers and camper vans can start around $10,000, while large Class A motorhomes with high-end finishes can cost $500,000 or more. The average price for a new Class C motorhome is around $60,000 and a mid-size travel trailer averages around $20,000.

Purchasing a used RV can provide significant savings over buying new. The initial depreciation on RVs is steep, with models losing 30-50% of value in the first 5 years. This allows buyers to find 5-10 year old RVs for often half the original sticker price or less. Thriftiness and willingness to accept an older RV can lead to models under $5,000. However, maintenance costs tend to climb with age so very old RVs may not save money long-term.

RV Ownership Costs

Owning an RV has ongoing costs beyond just purchasing it. These include monthly financing payments, insurance, and maintenance.

Financing an RV can really add to your monthly expenses. New RVs often cost between $75,000 and $150,000, sometimes even more for luxury models. Financing this amount over 10-15 years leads to payments of $800-1500 per month typically. That's a huge recurring cost that makes RV living far less affordable.

You'll also need RV insurance which runs $1000-2000 per year for basic coverage. Then there's maintenance and repairs which average $2000-4000 per year. Replacing tires or appliances can really add up quick with an RV. Between loan payments, insurance, and maintenance an owned RV can easily cost you $1500-2500 per month - on par with mortgage payments on a home.

So while the RV itself may be cheaper than a house, the ownership costs are not necessarily low. Unless you purchase with cash, you take on a large monthly finance payment that makes living in an RV much less affordable long-term.

RV Rental Costs

Renting an RV for a short trip or extended time can give you a taste of the lifestyle before fully committing. Rental costs vary widely based on the RV type, size, age and amenities.

Class A Motorhomes tend to be the most expensive, with rates from $150-$500 per day. These bus-style RVs offer the most space and luxury features. Weekly rates for a Class A generally range from $1000-$3000, while monthly rates stretch from $3000-$9000.

Class B Camper Vans are more affordable to rent, with average rates of $100-$200 daily. Their small size and basic amenities make them a budget-friendly rental option. Expect to pay $600-$1200 weekly and $1800-$3600 monthly.

Class C Motorhomes fall in the middle price-wise, with daily rates around $125-$300. Their moderate size and family-friendly floorplans come at a lower cost than Class A. Weekly Class C rentals run $800-$2000, while monthly will be $2400-$6000.

Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels are the cheapest RV rentals. Expect rates from $60-$150 daily, $400-$1000 weekly, and $1200-$3000 monthly. Just be sure your vehicle can tow the trailer weight.

No matter which RV type you choose, watch out for additional fees like generator usage, extra mileage over the limit, cleaning fees and taxes. Thoroughly review rental terms to avoid surprises. Renting an RV first can help determine if you take to the lifestyle before buying.

RV Park/Campground Costs

The cost of an RV park or campground can vary widely, from free boondocking in public lands to luxury resorts charging over $100 per night. Location and amenities are the main factors impacting nightly, weekly, and monthly rates.

In general, expect to pay $25-60 per night for an average RV park or campground with hookups for electricity, water, sewer and decent amenities like a pool, clubhouse and laundry facilities. State parks and national parks tend to fall on the lower end of around $20-40 per night. Privately owned parks in popular destinations or with premium amenities like water slides, golf courses and concierge services can charge $60-100+ per night.

You'll usually get a discount for booking weekly and monthly rates vs the standard nightly rate. Weekly rates typically offer 10-20% savings while monthly rates can be 30-50% cheaper. Monthly rates at an average RV park with full hookups tend to range from $500-1200 depending on location and season. Higher end resorts can charge $2000+ per month.

Boondocking or dry camping on public lands like National Forests and BLM is entirely free, but you won't have hookups. Staying at harvest host sites on farms and wineries is often free too in exchange for purchasing local products. Joining camping clubs that some can unlock 50% discounts at participating RV parks. Choosing parks outside big cities and tourist hotspots yields cheaper rates too.

The bottom line is RV site costs can fit nearly any budget. With savvy planning and flexibility, RV living can cost a fraction of traditional housing expenses.

RV Living Utilities

Living in an RV requires planning for electricity, water, and sewage needs. Many RVs come equipped with electrical hookups, freshwater tanks, and blackwater/graywater tanks. However, you'll need access to resources to replenish these systems.

Electricity is essential for lighting, appliances, and electronics. Some RVs have solar panels or generators, but you'll still need shore power connections at campsites. Expect to pay $15-50 per night for full hookup sites. Boondocking off-grid is free but you'll drain batteries faster. Consider investing in a portable solar generator like the Growatt INFINITY 2000 to harness renewable energy.

RV solar generator

Water can be refilled at most campgrounds for $5-10. RVs have 40-100 gallon freshwater tanks. Take short showers, use water sparingly, and visit dumps frequently. Joining an RV club which provides half-priced overnight stays and water fill-ups at participating campgrounds.

Sewage disposal means regular dumping of waste tanks at RV dump stations. These are found at most campgrounds or truck stops for a $10-15 fee. Get a sewer hose and tank treatment liquids to manage odors. Learn proper blackwater system maintenance to prevent costly repairs.

Monitor tank levels closely and reduce usage during boondocking. With planning, you can live comfortably on the road while optimizing your RV living utilities.

RV Life Transportation

One of the biggest costs associated with RV living is transportation, especially if you plan to travel frequently or cover long distances. For many full-time RVers, fuel is by far their greatest ongoing expense. Fuel efficiency varies dramatically based on the type and size of RV, but you can expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $400 per month on gas if you're logging several thousand miles. This doesn't include costs for maintenance, repairs, tires, registration, and insurance.

If you plan to primarily stay parked in one spot for longer periods, you'll avoid the high fuel costs of frequent travel. However, you'll still need to account for transportation costs to get groceries, run errands, or go sightseeing. Some RVers rely on bikes, public transportation, or ride shares to reduce transportation spending. Carefully selecting where you station the RV can help minimize driving needs as well.

Overall, fuel and transportation costs need to be a major factor when budgeting for RV living, especially for full-time travelers. But choosing to stay in one area can dramatically reduce this expense.

RV Life Extras

Living in an RV requires adjustments that homeowners may take for granted. While RVs have basic amenities like a bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, there are some additional expenses to factor in.

Laundry can be a hassle without an in-unit washer and dryer. Expect frequent trips to the laundromat, which costs $3-5 per wash/dry load. For a family generating a few loads per week, this can add up to $50-100 per month. Some campgrounds have shared laundry facilities to cut costs. Washing clothes in the shower helps reduce laundromat runs.

Entertainment like cable TV and internet typically costs extra in an RV. Many parks charge $20-50 per month for cable/WiFi access. With limited space, gaming consoles and large TVs are impractical. Outdoor activities become the main form of entertainment. Movie streaming and portable tech help provide entertainment without taking up space.

Maintenance is critical for RVs. Expect to budget $1000-3000 per year for repairs like generator service, tire replacement, and appliance issues. DIY skills come in handy but major repairs require professional technicians. Routine maintenance like checking seals, filters, and fluid levels prevents bigger issues down the road. Exterior washing also needs to be done manually since RVs don't fit in typical car washes.

Home Buying Costs

Buying a home comes with many additional costs beyond just the purchase price. For most buyers, a mortgage makes up the largest chunk of homeownership expenses. The national median price for a single-family home is around $320,000. With a 10% down payment, that's a $288,000 mortgage. The typical 30-year fixed mortgage rate currently sits around 6.5%, meaning a monthly payment of nearly $1,700. And that doesn't even include property taxes and insurance, which can add $200 or more to the monthly costs.

Property taxes vary widely by state and county, but typically range from 0.5% to 2% of the home's assessed value. On a $320,000 house, that equates to $1,600 to $6,400 per year. Homeowners insurance costs around $100 per month on average to protect against risks like fire, theft and liability. When you add it all up, the monthly costs to own a home often exceed $2,000 once you factor in the mortgage, taxes, insurance and basic utilities.

Owning a home also means you're responsible for all maintenance and repairs. Things like roof replacements, new HVAC systems, and renovations can cost tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Even basic upkeep like lawn care, snow removal and minor fixes add up. It's estimated homeowners spend 1% to 4% of their home's value annually on maintenance and repairs. That's $3,200 to $12,800 per year on a $320,000 house.

While buying a home has many financial perks like equity and appreciation, the carrying costs make it considerably more expensive than renting or RV living in most areas. Those looking to minimize housing costs may want to consider alternatives.

Home Rental Costs

Renting a home or apartment comes with its own set of expenses. The obvious main cost is rent, which can vary greatly based on location and amenities. For a 2-3 bedroom apartment or house, expect to pay $1000-2000 per month on average for rent. This doesn't include utilities, which will tack on another $100-300 per month depending on your usage. Renters insurance is also a wise investment, costing around $15-30 per month.

Unlike owning a home, renters don't have to worry about property taxes or maintenance costs. However, there are still expenses involved with renting that can add up over time. Most rental agreements are for 12 months, so you're locked into paying that rent every month. Landlords may also require a security deposit equal to 1 month's rent.

Renting provides more flexibility if you don't plan on staying in one place for long. But you also have to abide by the rental contract terms, landlord rules, and don't get to customize the property. The costs of renting are generally lower than owning in the short term, but you don't gain any equity over time like homeowners do.

RV Living Pros (Allure and Freedom)

Many who choose the RV lifestyle do so for the flexibility and freedom it offers. While a traditional home anchors you to one location, an RV allows you to roam freely and live wherever you please. With your home on wheels, you can chase perfect weather, mountain views, coastal beaches, or whatever scenery inspires you.

The RV lifestyle also enables simplicity and minimalism. Rather than filling a large house with possessions, you only keep what you can fit inside your RV. This frees you from clutter and encourages a pared-down, intentional lifestyle. Without a huge mortgage or property taxes, you can work less and focus more on experiences over material goods.

RV Living

Waking up to a new backdrop every morning is a constant source of excitement. The open road ahead offers unlimited possibilities. You chart your own course and go wherever your heart desires. The journey itself becomes part of the adventure.

Many RV enthusiasts cherish the people and places they discover while roaming. They form connections and communities with fellow travelers. The memories made while crisscrossing North America create lasting joy.

The RV lifestyle provides the flexibility to follow your dreams. You design each day instead of falling into a repetitive routine. You answer only to yourself and the road ahead.

Homeownership Pros

Owning your own home has several advantages over living in an RV full-time. Here are some of the biggest pros of homeownership:

Appreciation - One of the best financial benefits of owning a home is that it will likely appreciate in value over time. This allows you to build equity as you pay down your mortgage. The average home appreciates 3-5% per year, so your $200,000 house could be worth over $260,000 in just 5 years. This gives you a nest egg to tap into later. RVs depreciate quickly and lose value each year.

Space - Houses offer much more room than even the largest RVs. You can customize and decorate multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a finished basement, and more. Entertaining is easier with a large kitchen, dining room, and backyard. Kids can have their own bedrooms and space to play. Storage is plentiful with attics, garages, closets and more. An RV simply can't compete when it comes to square footage and storage.

Customization - Since you own the home, you have the freedom to remodel, redecorate, and add upgrades like you want. Paint colors, flooring, cabinets, landscaping - it's all up to you. RVs offer very little customization other than small decor items. You can't knock down walls or finish a basement. Homeownership allows you to put your own personal touch on everything.

RV Living Cons

While RV living offers alluring benefits like mobility and low monthly costs, there are some significant downsides to consider as well.

RV Depreciation

One of the biggest cons of RV living is rapid depreciation. Unlike a house which often gains value over time, RVs lose a significant chunk of their worth as soon as they're driven off the lot. Within the first year alone, an RV's value can decline 20-30%. After 5 years, your RV may only be worth half of what you originally paid. This makes RVs a depreciating asset rather than an investment.

Limited Space

RVs max out around 400 square feet, with smaller models less than 100 square feet. This tight space often means sacrificing amenities most households take for granted - like a full kitchen, separate bedrooms, large bathrooms, and storage. Clever organization and minimalism is required to make the most of the limited square footage. Multi-purpose furniture and outdoor living spaces help, but RVs will never match the spaciousness of traditional homes.

Frequent Maintenance

As a home on wheels enduring bumpy roads and shaking journeys, RVs require far more maintenance than stationary houses. The chassis, engine, plumbing system, roof seals, slide outs, appliances, and other components need frequent inspection, cleaning, winterizing, and repairs. DIY skills are essential to avoid expensive shop bills. Neglected maintenance leads to rapid deterioration and costly damages.

Homeownership Cons

Owning a home comes with significant costs and responsibilities that RV living does not. Here are some of the major cons of homeownership compared to RV living:

  • Higher Total Living Costs: As outlined in the home buying costs section, the annual cost of owning and maintaining a home is significantly higher than RV living in most cases. Expect to spend $15,000-40,000 per year on your mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and repairs. That's 2-4 times more than even luxurious RV living.

  • Property Taxes: Homeowners must pay annual property taxes to their local government, typically 0.2-2% of the home's assessed value. That can add up to $2,000-10,000 per year depending on home value and location. RVs are exempt from property taxes in most states.

  • Maintenance and Repairs: While RVs require regular upkeep, homes come with significantly more maintenance like lawn care, gutter cleaning, exterior painting, pest control, and more. Homeowners also face major repair costs averaging $1,000-2,000 per year for issues like roof leaks, HVAC repairs, plumbing problems, and replacing appliances. Those big ticket repairs don't happen with RVs.

The financial responsibilities and headaches of repairs and renovations make homeownership less carefree than RV living for many. While RVs depreciate, homes require constant investments to maintain their structure and value. Those looking to minimize living costs and responsibilities often find RV life to be more affordable and convenient.

Conclusion

For many, the allure of RV living is the lower monthly costs and freedom of travel. However, RV living is not for everyone. Before diving in, consider if the lifestyle is a good fit.

Aspect RV Living Homeownership
Initial Purchase Cost RVs: $10,000-$500,000+ (average new Class C: $60,000; used: under $5,000 possible) Homes: National median price ~$320,000; Down payment 10% = $32,000
Financing RVs: $800-$1,500/month for $75,000-$150,000 RV Homes: $1,700/month for $288,000 mortgage at 6.5% interest rate
Depreciation High: 30-50% in first 5 years Homes typically appreciate 3-5% annually
Insurance $1,000-$2,000/year ~$100/month for homeowners insurance
Maintenance Costs $2,000-$4,000/year 1-4% of home's value annually ($3,200-$12,800 for a $320,000 house)
Monthly Costs $1,500-$2,500 including financing, insurance, maintenance $2,000+ including mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities
Rental Costs Class A: $150-$500/day; Class B: $100-$200/day; Class C: $125-$300/day; Trailers: $60-$150/day Renting a home: $1,000-$2,000/month + $100-$300 utilities + $15-$30 renters insurance
Campground Fees $25-$60/night ($500-$1,200/month); Free boondocking available N/A
Utilities Electricity: $15-$50/night for hookups; Water: $5-$10 refills; Sewage: $10-$15 dump fees Average utility costs: $100-$300/month
Transportation $200-$400/month on fuel; higher with frequent travel N/A
Space Limited: 100-400 sq ft Spacious: Multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and storage
Customization Limited: Basic decor changes Extensive: Remodeling, landscaping, upgrades
Flexibility High: Mobility to travel and live in different locations Low: Fixed location
Equity None: RVs depreciate Builds over time with home appreciation
Tax Benefits None Mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction
Maintenance Frequency High: Frequent checks and repairs needed due to mobility Regular but less frequent compared to RV
Lifestyle Minimalist, mobile, adventurous Stable, spacious, customizable
Entertainment Outdoor activities, streaming, portable tech Home entertainment systems, yard space
Community RV parks and fellow travelers Neighborhoods and local communities

RVs depreciate significantly over time, so buying an RV may not make financial sense long-term. Renting an RV first can help determine if you enjoy the smaller space and RV maintenance. Traveling full-time requires adapting to a minimalist, mobile lifestyle.

Carefully weigh the pros and cons of RV living for your situation. Homeownership builds equity and offers tax deductions, but comes with higher monthly costs. With an RV, you save on rent/mortgage but take on other expenses like campground fees.

RV living can provide cost benefits compared to traditional housing. But don't assume it will be cheaper overall unless you're prepared to boondock, limit travels, and maintain the RV yourself. Take a test drive by renting an RV to see if the lifestyle suits you before taking the plunge.

Disclaimer: The data mentioned in this article are for reference only. Some price data will change in different places and at different times. You need to make judgments and comparisons based on the actual local conditions.

 

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