See My Budget: I'm Living Full-Time in an RV
Want to dive into full-time RV living but wondering the details of the financials? See how a full-time RVer traveling the country is making the most of her monthly inflows without sacrificing her financial goals.
- Name: The Wanderer
- Age: 38
- Location: Traveling the country’s national parks in an RV
- Job: Instructional Designer & Business Owner
- Living situation: Single and living solo in an RV for the past 18 months
Income: $89,000+/year (variable depending on business)
- Day job: $66,000/year
- Veterans disability pay: $14,000/year
- Business income: $9,000+/year. This is changing rapidly. The business is ramping up but in flux getting off the ground. I’m guessing I’ll net $50K this year.
- I got the payout from the house as part of the divorce. When I left 18 months ago, I had $400 in a checking account and that’s it.
- Before the payout two months ago, I usually kept about $5K in my account.
- Trailer: $31,500 (at 4.3% interest)
- Truck: $31,000 (at 3.6% interest)
I debated paying off my loans when the house payment came in, but after talking to a wise friend, they said it might be nice to keep my options open with that cash. So, I see it as FU money—it’s a year’s worth of expenses. My side hustle is doing well and this might allow me to go full time.
Average Monthly Inflow: $5,000+/month
- Day job: $3,163
- Veterans benefit: $1,146
- Business profit: $500-$4,000
I’ve been a YNABer since March 23, 2020: the day I moved out. I’ve got a lot of categories, but I like having them all split out so I can see how costs are broken down.
|Insurance for storage unit||$9|
|Crashplan||$10||Software computer backup|
|Computer ink||$3||Subscription service|
|Google Fi||$70||Erratic. $48-$80 paid by usage|
|Verizon internet hotspot||$54||Having multiple internet providers is important so I have coverage to work from wherever|
|AT&T internet hotspot||$25||I sold my soul and it was worth it for this rate.|
|Spot||$12||Emergency beacon so I can go hiking alone and I won't die alone.|
|RV Insurance||$125||You have to have special insurance if you're a full-time RVer.|
|Food & Intoxicants|
|Booze and Weed||$40||I buy in bulk in Colorado – definitely the best value.|
|Campsite fees||$1,000||I keep it at $30/night average cost between BLM land, friends, and public and private campsites.|
|Diesel||$600||Ranges from $50-$800 depending on how far I drive.|
|Haircut||$30||I clip and cut my own hair and then spend $200 every six months at a salon to get professional bleach and color.|
|Postage||$10||I have a mailbox in Florida to manage mail while I travel.|
|Hardware||$42||Phones, computers, replacements|
|Games/Books/Movies||$5||I've got $38 saved. Maybe I’ll get a cookbook!|
|Vinyl||$40||New category. It used to be credit card interest. I transferred that into buying records.|
|Outdoors Gear & Supplies||$50||Saved $250 so far.|
|Outdoors Services & Tickets||$10||State park fees|
|Event tickets||$0||Concert tickets (if I bother filling it up with money at all)|
|Souvenirs of Life||$50||Things I get myself when I travel the national parks.|
|Weird Shit||$100||Stuff I forgot to budget for|
|Emergency Fund||$110||Bank automatically skims off the top every few days to help build savings. House money payout is in this category too.|
|Retirement/Roth IRA||$500||Saving up to max out my Roth IRA.|
|Annual Costs (RV)|
|Tax Prep fees||$13||My life got complicated enough, I got a tax accountant this year.|
|Alaska Air Card Fee||$7|
|Mail forwarding||$16||I pay $200/year to have my mail forwarded to me.|
|AAA||$10||And may I never need them.|
|Marcell||$8||Trailer Monitoring app – temperature. Helpful when I had my cat.|
|Best friend’s wedding||$200||Have $600 saved, but I’m going to spend it soon!|
|Taxes and Registration||$60|
|Divorce Expenses||$1,000||I hope this goes away soon. But this is for my lawyer.|
|Side Hustle Business|
|Income taxes (40%)||$0||I keep track in the notes how much I need to add, but it varies wildly. I've got $3500 so far.|
|Total Needed $6,174|
Expenses Specific to Full-Time RV Living
There are a bunch of things in my budget specific to full-time RV living:
- Special insurance. When you’re living full-time in an RV, you pay for more expensive insurance compared to a person who takes their RV out three times a year.
- A mailbox forwarding service. I use a mailbox in Florida as an address for packages and mail, and they forward me my stuff wherever I’m at.
- Three internet subscriptions. I have to be connected to do my job, and not all providers have equal coverage. That means I pay for a Verizon hotspot, an ATT hotspot, and I can hotspot off of FI.
- I use an app that shows a Wifi coverage map that I use frequently.
- It’s often worth it to stay in a nearby town for the wifi instead of always camping inside a park. Parks usually don’t have good enough reception for work. Sometimes, they have none. For the record, Death Valley has no service. At all. Plan accordingly.
In late March 2020, when the world was shutting down, I finally called it quits on my marriage. Best decision I will make in my life. There were a lot of issues in our relationship, but the worst to me was his total disconnect and denial about spending within our limits. In five years, we spent $115k more than we brought in—burning through my $75k in pre-marriage savings and accruing $40k in credit card debts.
I moved out with less than $400 in the bank, almost $20k on credit cards (we split the $40k credit card debt equally), and assumed the responsibility for the loan on our one-year-old RV. He kept the house, the car, and the majority of our stuff. I just wanted out.
My plan was to move into the RV and travel the US seeing National Parks. In addition to the debt I already had, I had to buy $37k worth of a big diesel truck to make those dreams happen. I also needed to build an emergency fund.
I work for an educational non-profit making $66k/year and I get $1,100 a month in Veterans Disability Pay. That’s less than $4,800 a month in take-home pay. I wasn’t even making it paycheck to paycheck.
RV life isn’t cheap if you are on the move, so I cut my expenses down to the bare bones to make ends meet and started hustling hard:
- I worked full-time at my day job.
- Hustled stuff on eBay.
- Found a camp host gig for seven months in central California where I took care of a campground in exchange for a free site.
- Started a consulting business with a couple trusted friends that began work in October but didn’t start leaking out tiny profits until this April.
- I scrabbled tooth and nail for months to get my stimmies and tax refunds from the IRS who automatically flags anyone who changes their legal name (this problem is only an issue for women).
- There were unclaimed funds found from my dead grandmother being held by the state of Alaska.
- A lawyer was hired to get my ex-husband to finally pay me for my own house!
- I did everything I could to make money and pay down my debts.
With all that hustling and scrimping:
- I paid off $28,000 in just over a year.
- I’ve built up two months worth of expenses in my checking account
- I’ve built up another month of expenses in my emergency fund.
Between my hustling and the house settlement, it’s all about $87,000 total between paying off debt and cash saved since the divorce. That’s not counting my retirement funds, where I unintentionally managed to max out my 403b last year. Combined with a truly bumper year on the stock market for me, those accounts have increased about $80,000 as well in this time period.
I traveled to 26 National Parks (some multiple times), visited every member of my family across the West during a pandemic, lost 60 pounds, and generally just crushed it. I can’t give YNAB credit for the weight loss or the National Parks, but I can say it’s been the central tool in almost every decision I’ve made, kept me on course, allowed me to achieve so much more than I could have imagined in such a short time.
Thanks, YNAB, you’ve earned your $84.
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My Financial Goals
Before my next birthday, I want to:
- Clear $100K from a single income source.
- Quit my day job.
- Reach the $250,000 in retirement accounts (I’m at $215K).
I follow a lot of FIRE stuff but I don’t think I actually want to quit and never work again because I like what I’m doing with my side business. I want to see it succeed.
Do I want to work my business 40 hours a week? No—I want to travel, quit my day job, and have the ability to generate income to support my lifestyle.
I don’t have goals to buy a house, I’ve been doing the RV thing for 15 months. I can see myself doing this for another three or four years. Maybe somewhere along the way I’ll meet someone who’s worth stopping for. Or, I’ll say OK cool, maybe not. And I’ll live overseas and travel Europe. Either way, it’ll work out.
I would rate my current financial situation: 5/5
A Financial Counselor Reacts
I’m Rachel, a writer and an Accredited Financial Counselor® here at YNAB. I had the pleasure of talking to The Wanderer for this YNAB Snapshot.
First, I just cannot even put into words how impressive this turnaround has been. And in such a short amount of time! If I could just have an ounce of the wanderer’s grit…whew what could we even accomplish?!
I really liked hearing the thought process behind The Wanderer’s financial decisions. She really thinks through all angles and makes the choice that’s best for her situation: take the cash inflow and the outstanding debt, for example. Advice from other financial gurus might be to go headfirst, or four-legged-graceful-creature intense to knock out that debt. BUT, she’s choosing to keep it and keep her options open.
I really liked that, and I love that she’s making a bet on herself. The interest rates on the truck and RV are reasonable (sub 5%), and it’s also not unlike having a mortgage payment, as her RV/truck setup is her primary residence. Sure, it probably won’t appreciate like a house (though who knows…car prices are crazy this year), but thinking of the expense as an accepted sunk cost: I can get behind that.
For The Wanderer, I really had to dig to find something, I really like her budget setup, I like her approach to saving and maxing out those retirement accounts.
My two thoughts:
1. Not saying one is better or worse, but with that $50,000 in cash, have you considered a high-yield account? While it’s not much interest (likely about $200-$300/year on that amount), it’s also not nothing if you leave it for a few years.
What matters more: earning an extra $200-$300 this year, or having a simplified bank account setup?
The Wanderer: “Yeah, I’ve definitely thought that through. The rates are so piddly, I don’t know that it’s worth it to add another bank account. If interest rates improved? Eh, maybe. Now? Probably not.”
2. Is there any further way we could simplify your financial life? You’ve got three credit cards you just paid off (HUZZAH!!). What’s your plan there for keeping them open or closing them? If you get to a point where you don’t really need to take out a big loan in the next few years, consider closing two of the three and just leaving one open. By the way, what is your credit score?
The Wanderer: “820.”
Ok, then! It doesn’t get much better. Absolutely nothing to worry about there. Credit scores take a bit of a hit when you close down a line (or three) of credit, but honestly—the more you use YNAB, the more you realize credit scores aren’t as important as you might’ve believed. Buying a house or a business loan would be the exception: you want to keep that perfect score for a large loan like that. Each fraction of a point adds up there!
The Wanderer: “Yeah, the Alaska card annoys me with its yearly fee. But having them all is doing great things for my credit score, and I make occasional purchases on them. More likely, I’ll keep them open.”
And with that, this money snapshot reaches its end. Who knows what The Wanderer will do next—rafting down the Grand Canyon? Driving Porsches on a test track? We’re not sure—but her Wish List is full so it’s just a matter of time before those things become a reality too.
Want to gain total control of your money? Get started with your own budget and make your full-time RV living dreams come true!