Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Logistics of RV Living on any Budget

Money can easily be perceived as an obstacle to almost anything you want to do, including living in an RV, but it isn’t the only one.  If you are considering making the transition to a mobile lifestyle, here are some considerations that can help you minimize the uncertainty.

Chances are that if you can afford to live in a house or an apartment, you can afford to live in an RV.  However, besides setup costs, there are a few other potential expenses to take into account that may offset the savings of a rent-free existence.

I didn’t consider living in an RV for a long time because it didn’t occur to me that I could afford to buy one.  But when someone suggested that I might be able to find one for $500 I began looking, and ended up buying my first RV for $1,000.  Granted, this is definitely the low end of the market, and a lower price upfront inevitably translates to less functionality and greater costs in repairs and deferred maintenance, so my recommendation is to buy the best one you can afford and make maintenance a top priority.  This pays off in lifestyle quality and peace of mind as well as future maintenance costs.

Now that you’re not paying rent you can save a great deal, but you will have to consider how to handle the other necessities of living that landed folk may take for granted.  If your RV is fully functional you will be able to cook, eat, and bathe at home, but if it is not you will have to arrange for other ways to meet these needs.  Eating out consistently can cost almost as much as paying rent, and your food storage may be limited to nonperishable items.  Also, the gas mileage of an RV is much lower than that of a standard vehicle, so fuel costs can be high, especially if regular commuting is a necessity.

Where will you be staying in your RV?  Will you be stationed close to your regular haunts?  Or will you be nomadic and travel widely?  California is an RV-friendly state and for the most part an RV is just another vehicle as far as the laws and public opinion is concerned, but this may not be so in some locales.  Generally speaking, if there are other RVs around then the path is probably well-beaten, but in locations where RVs are sparse you should be aware of local laws and sensitive to the perceptions of others.

How long will you want to lead this lifestyle?  And if temporarily, how will you manage your transition back to a landed existence?  It is much better to plan ahead or at least have some idea of your goals than to let blind fate lead you (unless that is your goal).

What will you be doing with yourself?  Will you be taking an extended vacation or mini-retirement or seeking your livelihood?  If you are not already financially free, how will you earn your living?  If you already have a job or are self-employed, how will you continue to meet the needs of your work?  For example, I am self-employed as a freelancer and tutor, which does not require me to have a permanent residence.  I also have a university job, which not only doesn’t require a house, but also gives me access to all the resources of the university, including parking, Internet access, and gym facilities.

Are you vulnerable to social prejudice?  Are you comfortable dealing with the possible disapproval of close friends and family, and are you confident in explaining your alternative lifestyle to other people when necessary?  Would there be a true need to keep any part of your life a secret from anyone, and if so are you prepared to do so?

Can you drive your RV everywhere you need to go?  In California and most other states, an RV can stay parked on the street for 72 hours, just like any other vehicle, but driving long distances or in crowded conditions (i.e. downtown LA) can be challenging.

There is nothing illegal about living in an RV, and the best way to not run afoul of law enforcement is to not break any laws.  If asked, there is nothing wrong with telling the police that you live in your RV, which is protected by the same fourth amendment rights that a house would be, so it cannot be searched without your consent.  And one great thing about living in an RV is that most complaints can be solved by simply moving to a different location.

If you have a functional kitchen and refrigerator then you can prepare meals at home.  If not then you have to plan to eat out and/or subsist on nonperishable food items.

If you have a functional bathroom then your only concern is locating a dump station.  If not then you have to plan to have access to a bathroom most of the time.  My first RV didn’t have a functional bathroom, so I stayed close to coffee shops and other places where I could plug in my laptop and use the bathroom whenever I needed to.  For taking showers and doing laundry, you might get by with a little help from your friends, or you might rely on laundromats and fitness clubs.

Living in an RV is ideally suited to living a minimalist lifestyle, but if you have lots of stuff that you want to keep then you have to figure out how and where to store it, because filling up your precious onboard storage space with stuff you don’t use is a sure way to cramp your style.  When you’re living in an RV you should only keep around things you need and will use.

The world is becoming more and more wired, so if you have a laptop you can get online in coffee shops and other places that have free wifi, which worked for me for a long time.  Nowadays I have a netbook with mobile broadband so I’m always online.

If you are going to have a limited geographical range you can receive mail at a PO box or a mail service station.  If you don’t want to be bound to such a geographical anchor you can receive mail at a virtual mailbox, which will scan your mail and upload it or email it to you, and also forward packages.  This is one of the tricks recommended by Tim Ferris in The Four Hour Workweek.

If you want to have guests, make sure you have space for them to be comfortable.  As long as this condition is met, guests, romantic or otherwise, should enjoy visiting.

The best way to be prepared for emergencies is to have cash on hand, ideally set aside for this purpose.  Essential items include a toolkit, jumper cables, tow rope, spare gas can (kept full), flashlight, and a spare battery or jump starter.  These things will not only be useful for getting yourself out of a bind but also allow you to play the good Samaritan if need be.  Roadside assistance is essential, and should be included with full coverage insurance, which is highly recommended.  Full coverage insurance for an RV will cover not only collisions but will also cover contents, including losses from fire, theft, and other unfortunate occurrences.

If you are curious about other aspects of RV existence, leave a comment below for my take on your question.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, living in an RV is more affordable than buying or building a new home. It also means less home maintenance in the long run. All you need to do is to choose the right RV that will fit your needs. If you have a big family, you may opt for a bigger RV with more amenities and more space; if you’re living by yourself, you may opt for a smaller RV that has just enough room for you and your faithful dog.