Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Costs of Traveling Full-time Over the Past 22 Months

I know I'm a week late with getting this published, but with doubling up on posts after Hurricane Irma, I figure it balances out. But the real reason is that it took me a little longer than I anticipated to compile the figures I needed for this post. The paragraph headings are things related to traveling full-time.

There are certain things I will leave out of the main part of this post... such as the cost of vehicle excise tax and tag fees, which are going to be totally different for everyone. Our personal insurance will also be left out, as well as our vehicle insurance, as those, too, will vary. However, I will touch on those subjects at the end.

Our own costs of traveling full-time over the past 22 months will likely be much different than yours. What I show will be typical expense categories that others "might" run into when starting their full-time traveling, but should only be used as gentle reminders. The actual costs for each person or family will vary widely. No two travelers or couples will be doing things exactly alike, and your own expenses could be well below ours... or well above. This year's expenses can only be tallied to the end of September, so monthly figures have been prorated accordingly. So let's get started.


Maintenance and repairs...vehicles only

2016 = $2901.40, avg. mo. = $241.78
2017 (9 mo. only) = $1075.65, avg. mo. = $119.52
Currently budgeting = $120/mo.

Note that this does not include "household maintenance", a separate category. Nor does it include the expenses we incurred in late 2015 ($2764 for a new Jasper transmission for the Chevy van, $531 for Air Lift air bags, $324 for a new inverter, or any of the other incidental startup expenses before we could ever leave home. All of what was included is just normal (?) repairs on the vehicles starting on January 1, 2016.

Typical things include a 150-amp breaker for between the batteries and the new 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter in the trailer (purchased in 2015 but not installed until 2016), a diagnostic fee at a Chevy dealership to check for a suspected problem, repacking (with grease) of the trailer bearings, a new scissors jack for the trailer (since the one we had been using from the Chevy van went with the Chevy when it was traded), new front shocks and tires on the RV, plus the installation of front air bags and a wheel alignment, a new tire and labor for the trailer, and an oil change on the RV. Of course, there were a lot of smaller, miscellaneous expenses, too. 

Vehicle fuel only... (no propane)

2016 = $2510.63, avg. mo. = $209.22
2017 (9 mo. only) = $1075.65, avg. mo. = $116.19
Currently budgeting = $120/mo.

For some, this fuel expense (all gasoline) may be lower, and for some it might be higher. It includes wandering back to east Texas from western Arizona and then changing our minds about residency there and immediately heading to Rapid City, South Dakota. From there, we wandered west into Wyoming, down through Colorado, Utah, and back to western Arizona. All that was in 2016.

In 2017, the quest was getting from western Arizona to Florida. Since we have arrived in Florida, our average monthly fuel expense has dropped to about $20 per month, only because we have parked the RV and not yet started venturing out to do any sightseeing with the new van, which is rated at 27 mpg highway. However, we are still budgeting $120/month for fuel, because next year, we plan to head north with the van, travel extensively, and stay gone for up to five months. We can't spend that money now and then expect to be able to make that trip later.



Cell and Internet 

2016 = $2414.73, avg. mo. = $201.23
2017 (9 mo. only) = $2335.58, avg. mo. = $259.50
Currently budgeting = $110/mo. (2 phones)

We started out with a Samsung Galaxy 6 Edge phone for me (which serves as a WI-FI hotspot for our other computers) on a Verizon contract (that contract ended in July of this year, so the monthly fee went down for August and September). Sharon carries a simple clam-shell TracFone. We currently have no plans to upgrade phones unless something goes bad on one of them.

Last fall, we decided to try a 3G unlimited device that we bought off an eBay seller, but which was supposed to only cost $5/month for service. This was supposed to be mostly for Sharon's convenience when I was gone with my phone, as well as watching TV on the web. However, due to complications with renewing service every month, I let it expire this past July, and now the number isn't even recognized by the service. The device was about $75, and we got several months of use out of it, so I figure it was a wash as far as the expense, but not worth the hassle of renewing every month.

If they had made it as easy as Verizon, which is now on an automatic ACH payment every month, I might reconsider it as a second source of Internet. But I will NOT jump through the kind of hoops that they expected, nor deal with shady "hush, hush, don't tell Verizon anything or they will cut you off" kind of tactics. It just sounds like something illegal to me!

Since then, Verizon came out with a new unlimited plan, which we immediately switched to, and we have been very happy with it. For us, it has worked everywhere we have traveled and with no noticeable drop in speed... other than when I exceeded 90 gigs in a month. (We did have to use our cell phone booster in one location, rural Louisiana).

Verizon is claiming to slow it down after 15 gigs/month, but I haven't noticed a problem... and we watched (until recently) a LOT of TV on the web! We still do, when TV programs come on at the same time on different networks, as we go back to watch them on the web later. We now have both cable (provided by the park here for free) and over the air broadcast digital signal, but we pay nothing for subscriptions. With this, we hope to reduce our data usage.

Propane and butane in cans (not the RV itself)

2016 = $312.36, avg. mo. = $26.03
2017 (9 mo. only) = $107.71, avg. mo. = $11.97
Currently budgeting = $7.50/mo.

When we started out, we were using mostly the single burner Coleman butane stove for cooking in the trailer. We also used one-pound propane cans for the Big Buddy heater. We did that until January of last year, when we ended up in Kingman for four months with power available, during which time we used the microwave and electric space heater more.

After we left Kingman in late April of last year, we also acquired this motorhome, and boondocked again (except for the short times we stayed at a friend's place in Payson for 9 days, and in RV parks... a month during June, and a short stay at the Escapees home park in Texas for about ten days). Upon returning to western Arizona in the fall, we also bought a 30-pound propane canister, mostly for the Big Buddy heater. The RV propane tank was used for the furnace (until it quit totally last spring), the water heater, the stove, and (only when boondocking) the refrigerator.



RV propane (85# underbelly tank) (85# / 4.2#/gal. = 20.24 gallons X 80% fill = 16.2 gal per fill.

2016 = $280.59, avg. mo. = $23.38
2017 (9 mo. only) = $129.35, avg. mo. = $14.37
Currently budgeting = $5.25/mo.

When we have hookups, we switch the refrigerator to 120-volts, and we use the electric space heater most of the time. We find that it does quite well at 750-watts (half-wattage), as long as we run it consistently, and even then, it only runs about 50% of the time, shutting off when the thermostat says it's warm enough in the RV. As long as we have power available, we only use the catalytic heater if the electric heater can't keep up and that is very rare. As of late spring of 2016, the furnace on the RV refuses to light, so we have stopped using it. Besides, it's too inefficient.

On April 1st of this year, we filled the RV propane tank before coming into this park, where we have remained. Our tank is just now to the 1/4 mark at the end of September, so I anticipate we can probably go until at least November 1st before refilling again.

We use the microwave a lot, the stove/oven occasionally, and the furnace and refrigerator (on propane) none. I haven't figured up any actual savings, because we DO pay for electricity here, since we are on a monthly site rent plan. However, using electricity saves us from having to take the RV out to refill the tank so often, and that's worth something itself (in the hassle of having to move it).

Although we got raked over the coals on propane expense in Louisiana (at $3.79/gallon), our local hardware store here has been charging only $2.10/gallon. All other places in our travels were between $2.79 and $3.25/gallon.

Small batteries 

2016 = $125.93, avg. mo. = $10.49
2017 (9 mo. only) = $38.83, avg. mo. = $4.31
Currently budgeting = $3.00

Although typical RVers won't use "a lot" of batteries, other than for flashlights, a boondocker in a van or cargo trailer (and without solar) will find himself using quite a few more. Although we had "some" solar power when we started out, we found it wasn't sufficient for our needs. Also, the "under cabinet" LED lights we chose for the trailer were strictly battery operated, using 6 penlights each, times five lights. They lasted about 6 weeks depending on what fixture it was. The ones over the sink lasted about a month, while the one in the closet lasted over six months. I was going to rewire them to operate off the trailer batteries but didn't get around to it.

Our Big Buddy heater has a circulating fan on it which uses two D cells (or an A/C adapter), our flashlights use D cells and penlights, and we also bought two O2Cool fans, one of which runs exclusively on D cells, while the other one can run from D cells or the A/C adapter. Obviously, if we have power, we use that, but are totally prepared to boondock on batteries when the need arises.

In an effort to see what our electrical expenses were for boondocking, I have kept track of the small battery cost, as well as the self-generated electricity cost, just for comparison to "shore power" costs. I will eventually use this data to get a better idea of how our living in an RV park compares to being on the road.

Self-generated electric (does not include initial cost of the solar setup)

2016 = $306.49, avg. mo. = $25.54
2017 (9 mo. only) $0.00
Currently budgeting = $0.00

Solar power is definitely convenient, but also definitely not free. I didn't include the initial setup costs here, which was roughly $1700, and I designed and installed it all myself. And even then, it wasn't enough, so an additional $279+ was spent on a third 100-watt panel in December of 2015. Yes, I could have bought cheaper ones, but I won't buy junk.

When I hear people talk about "free power from the sun", I can only think what fools they must be. Even the cost of the setup has to be averaged out over the expected life span of the equipment. In addition to that, the equipment itself is subject to fail within that time, so there will be repair expenses. None of that is cost free! Still, the silence and low upkeep of a solar system beats the hell out of a noisy generator any day!

Just last year, I had to replace a charge controller to the tune of $240.86. I also decided to buy a battery selector switch ($56.15), so I could divert the solar power to the trailer, to the RV, or to both (or vice versa using charging power from the RV or other towing vehicle).

However, this year, there has been no expenses on the system, nor do I expect any at this point. As of April, the trailer and solar system has been parked, and we are not using it at all, nor do we intend to through at least April of next year. In fact our future plans may not require any solar at all, in which case I would have to average out the cost of nearly $2000 total, over the roughly 14 months that we actually used it. That brings the actual cost per month to over $142... less whatever value it adds to the trailer when we decide to sell it.

On one hand, we probably couldn't have boondocked for as long as we did the way we went about it, so having that power was necessary. For future travels, by doing away with the compressor fridge, increasing the battery amp-hours available, and going to a much smaller vehicle that we will likely be using for sightseeing every day (where the batteries can recharge while going down the road), I don't anticipate a need for the amount of solar we installed on the trailer, if any at all.

If secondary batteries can recharge from the vehicle, and it is driven on an every day basis, there is no need for solar. However, for staying parked for days at a time without any other means of charging (such as boondocking with a trailer), solar is a necessity.

As always, I try to adhere to the philosophy of "no more than you need"... which applies to size of your RV, as well as capabilities. When you start to go with more (of anything), it costs you money that you don't need to spend!


Purchased electric (while on monthly rates at parks we have visited) 

2016 = $258.72, avg. mo. (over 12 months) = $16.17
2017 (9 mo. only) = $460.30, avg. mo. (over 9 months) = $51.14
Currently budgeting = $60.00

Our 27-foot coach is using electricity most constantly for its charging system, the refrigerator, our computers, and one 120-volt LCD TV, in that order. The interior lights are all LED and come through the secondary coach batteries. This summer when it got over 90 degrees around mid-May, we started using the air conditioner. As of mid-September, we have already shut down the air conditioner, except on rare days that exceeded 90 degrees again. Anything below that, and we can get by just fine.

As it gets cooler, we may use the electric space heater occasionally, but it typically runs fine at half-wattage and about 50% duty cycle to keep it comfortable in the RV... at night. We rarely use it during the day because the sun hitting the roof generates enough warmth, even with highs of only in the 50s. Our RV's propane furnace will not light, so it is currently not being used at all, and waiting for repairs. It's very inefficient, so I haven't been in any rush to spend money on repairs.

Our highest electric bill this summer was about $94, with the temp set at 78 degrees. We expect that to drop to about $35 - $45 per month this winter, provided we don't use the electric heater too much. With it being warmer here than in western Arizona during the winter, we are not anticipating needing near as much heat. Still, when one is budgeting for future expenses, one still has to allow for an average amount to go into savings, so that one will have it for the months when the expense goes up!

Water (drinking water) 

2016 = $150.40, avg. mo. = $12.53
2017 (9 mo. only) = $65.46, avg. mo. = $7.27
Currently budgeting = $0.00

We never used to buy bottled water when we had a house, but we started buying it when the consistency of the water between RV destinations was so variable. In the area east of Albuquerque, the water is so bad that we wouldn't even use it for washing clothes without filtering it! Even after buying two huge filters (one yarn wound for sediment, and one carbon filter for taste and odor), we still couldn't stand the water around Albuquerque! Even the filtered water refills available at Walmart still had a sulphur taste and odor to it! That was when we started buying bottled water religiously, and continued buying it until recently here in Florida.

We finally decided that the water here in our park is good water (not the absolute best we have ever had, but tolerable for drinking), so we have stopped buying bottled water. We may start again when we travel next summer.

We have NEVER paid for water to fill our RV tanks! Most places that charge for dumping waste tanks have provisions for fresh water filling as part of that, but they do not charge extra for it!


Dump fees 

2016 = $90.00, avg. mo. = $7.50
2017 = (9 mo. only) = $10.00, avg, mo. = $1.11
Currently budgeting = $0.00

We have never paid more than $10 for a dump fee, and even then, only on rare occasion. When in Ehrenburg, AZ the last two winters, there wasn't a free place to be found nearby, so we had no choice. The local quick mart charged $5 for porta-potties and $10 for RVs, which we considered reasonable. Most other times, we found free dumping (which includes fresh water fill) at Giant gas stations, at rest areas, city parks and other places in our travels.

Now that we are stationary for awhile, we have a sewer hookup which is included in our monthly space rent (as is the water and basic cable TV), so we hope to not ever pay another dump fee again (unless we move this coach down the road again... an unlikely situation).

Knowing what we know now about boondocking and needing dump fees, I would sooner go to a composting toilet for future travels. In most places, gray water (sink and shower) can be dumped on the ground, especially out in the desert. A "compost bag" can be disposed of in any trash receptacle... at no charge. And trash receptacles are a hundred times easier to find than dump stations!

Postage and Mail Forwarding Costs

2016 = $195 (paid in 2015), avg. mo., = $16.25 + postage fees
2017 = $201.29, avg. mo., = $16.77 + postage fees
Currently budgeting = $16.77 = postage fees
(Postage fees have varied, but usually run about $6-$8/month, usually in a Priority Mail package. We only request a forwarding about once a month.)

Many full-time travelers have other means to handle mail. Sometimes a trusted relative or friend, or a mail facility that will forward their mail to them. All one has to do is search for "mail forwarding companies" in your state of choice, and you will likely find many of them, at at several price range
Most RVers that no longer own real estate are savvy in ways to know what state in which they wish to have residency, and how to handle everything from voter registration to vehicle tags, and from mail delivery to mail forwarding.

In our case, we have no family that can be trusted to handle it, nor would I impose that responsibility on friends. We NEED a professional service that will handle all that we need handled, exactly when we need it handled! We can't be enroute across the country and have someone forget to send it out until after we have already left the area we needed it shipped to!

There are three main states that are recommended by RVers for residency and mail forwarding. Those seem to be Texas, Florida and South Dakota, with the latter being the best. I won't go into all the reasons, but it is easily researched. There are many companies in every state that can handle mail forwarding, but if you have to pay for it, get the best.

Before we left our real estate behind, we joined Escapees RV Club to have access to their very well-known mail forwarding service that has been around for years. We also thought we would prefer something in the south for various personal reasons. However, after revisiting Texas in the middle of summer, and then dealing with their red tape on vehicle inspections and bureaucratic nonsense, we changed our minds. So even though our mail forwarding was good until September, we headed for South Dakota! That was our original choice, and one we should have stuck with!

We chose Americas Mailbox, in Box Elder, South Dakota (an eastern suburb of Rapid City). They come highly recommended and are far more professional than other places because the owners are full-time RVers themselves and are extremely knowledgeable of what RVers need as well as being very "hands on" in managing their business! Their company handles everything from establishing residency to going to the DMV to obtain vehicle tags for you, and even arranging voting registration. The only thing they can't do is obtain your driver's license. You have to be there yourself to do that, but only once every five years!

And to accommodate their customers they also have their own RV park and motel on the premises, as well as a repair facility!

So last year, we actually paid for overlapping service on mail forwarding, but the two months of overlap allowed us time to get everything moved to the new address, including our vehicle insurance and licensing.

Keep in mind, there are setup fees and yearly fees, as well as postage fees for forwarded mail with any company you choose. In the figures above, I did not include the deposit required during setup. Go their web sites and check out their fees. They require a deposit for postage costs, and they will use that to cover the cost of getting your mail to you. When the balance runs low, you can have them hit your credit card automatically for a set amount, or you can go online and replenish the deposit manually. Americas Mailbox will even handle other things, such as vehicle titling and registration, obtaining vehicle tags, assisting with establishing residency and voting registration, and sometime other things (at additional cost, of course).

Once established, you can either send an email or call them to have them forward your mail any time you choose. You can set it up to send at regular intervals to a long term address, or you can just have it sent to a different address every time you contact them.

In our case we just send an email with our PMB number on it, and request that they forward to a specific address given to them in the email. They usually respond with confirmation the same day, and our mail goes out the following day with a tracking number, which they again email to us after it is sent out. Easy peasy!

When on the road, we Google the Post Office in the city where we expect to be when our mail would arrive and make sure that they accept General Delivery Mail. Not all POs do, so make sure! You can get the exact zip code for General Delivery Mail for that PO on their web site. Then I send an email to Americas Mailbox with the exact address on it, which looks like this:

(Both our names)
General Delivery
City, State and zip

That's all there is to it! We know by the tracking number when it arrives, and then we go to the PO to pick up our mail at any teller window.

Now that we are stationary for awhile at an RV park, we just have the forwarding package sent to this address with our site number on it. A lady who lives here volunteers to pick up the mail at the office and delivers it to our site! That's a nice bonus that few parks offer! Some won't even accept personal mail, so always check that out when choosing a long term RV park!

Camping/lodging fees 

2016 = $1170.95, avg. mo. = $97.58
2017 (9 mo. only) = $761.25, avg. mo., = $84.58
Currently budgeting = $227

The camping fees we spent in 2016 were only spent from February to June. Near the end of February, we used the boondocking area at Ehrenberg, AZ (owned and managed by River Lagoon Resort) for a few days while we dealt with our storage unit across the river (and state line) in Blythe, CA. During January and most of February, we were at Sharon's cousin's place in Kingman. From there, we went a few blocks away and paid the Kingman KOA $330/month for March and April. In retrospect, we would have been money ahead to just go back to the desert southeast of Ehrenberg, where we could have camped for free all that time, but at least we got our '94 minivan sold while there.

Also, in April, we spent $30 for a FHU site at Desert Gardens in Quartzsite, because it was dark by the time we got away from the dealer with our (new to us) RV, and we (1) didn't want to drive at night, and (2) wanted to check out all the systems before we got too far away. Later that month, we also spent two days at the North Ranch Escapees Resort (Congress, AZ) in the boondocking area ($15.95 with tax) while we killed some time before moving on to our next destination in Payson, AZ, where we spent nine days at a friend's house with full hook-ups.

In mid-May, we spent $8 for a night at Elephant Butte State Park near Truth or Consequences, NM, just to see what the area was like. We also spent a few more free nights at the Walmart there before heading toward Albuquerque to get our generator repaired. Also around mid-May we decided to settle into an RV park east of Albuquerque at $310/month, as it was the most convenient place for me to get Sharon the airport with our RV to fly out for her Alaska cruise. We arrived a couple weeks early at that park, but left there as soon as she returned from her cruise in mid-June. From there, we boondocked all the way to Texas.

In Livingston, TX we spent $126 for a FHU site at the Escapees Rainbows End headquarters resort while we attempted to take care of business for about 10 days. This is where we got new shocks and tires on the RV, but stopped short of getting license tags there. At the last minute, we decided Texas wasn't where we wanted our domecile, and we headed toward Rapid City, SD, boondocking all the way there.

When arriving at Americas Mailbox to get set up with residency, tags, drivers licenses and voting registration, we paid for a few days ($234.26) at their FHU campground, but later had to move to the overflow area because of others needing previous registrations. We paid another $70 for a few more days at the overflow area with only electric service. We didn't really need air conditioning, so again, we could have saved money with free parking a block away at the Pilot truck stop, and only using the dump station at Americas Mailbox. Hind sight is always better than fore sight.

But after we left there, we had no camping fees all the way through Wyoming, until we got to Colorado, and that was only because we wanted to try our new home resort of Blue Mesa Ranch west of Gunnison, CO, in the Western Horizon Resorts membership system. With our level of membership we still had to pay a minimal $5 a day, so we paid $70 total for two weeks there. The park itself was nice, but in the end, we were disappointed in the lack of cell and internet service, so we could have saved our money and continued to boondock elsewhere.

After we left there, we had absolutely zero camping fees for the rest of the year. We continued through Colorado and Utah, down to Arizona, where we stayed at Coconino NF west of Flagstaff for roughly seven weeks, and then down to Sedona for two weeks, followed by Cottonwood for two weeks, and then nearly another two weeks back at Sedona. From there, we headed to the open desert southeast of Ehrenberg again in late October, where we stayed free of charge until after the holidays.

From there, we decided to head across the country again to Florida, and had no camping fees the entire trip until we got to Ocala NF, where we opted for a couple weeks of boondocking in Fore Lake Recreation Area at $6 a night ($84 total). We left to go to a friend's place at Inverness (free of charge) for a couple weeks, and then returned to Fore Lake until April 1st. We paid an additional $150 in two separate payments for an extended (end of busy season) stay until April 1st. On that day, we moved to our present location in an RV park where we pay $227/month (plus electric), and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Household maintenance 

2016 = $1224.50, avg. mo. = $102.04
2017 (9 mo. only) = $1065.70, avg. mo. = $118.41
Currently budgeting = $120

This category is only for what you spend to maintain your household... nothing to do with what is permanently attached to the vehicles. This includes appliances, cookware, tableware, furniture, linens, computer equipment (unless written off as a business deduction), and any anything else that is used to keep your household functioning properly. Basically, if it attaches to the vehicle and will be sold with it, it's vehicle maintenance. If it's anything portable that does NOT go with the vehicle, then it's household maintenance.

In starting out to travel full-time, there will be many things that you will find you need to make your living easier in this new lifestyle. Even the best planners won't be able to think of literally everything until they get out there and experience their new lifestyle to see what they really need. And every time you change RVs, there will be "non-attached" things needed to bring it up to what you want it to be. Some things will break or wear out, and need to be replaced. Electronics will go bad or become outdated and need to be replaced or updated.

This year, we have had two laptops go bad, a tablet screen crack, and a mobile power cord go bad. Last year, the thermocouple on the Big Buddy heater went bad. We bought a shower mat. We bought a new digital antenna, and will soon buy an A/B antenna switch. By next year, we will have a new 12-volt digital TV. There is a never ending list of things within a household that costs money to buy and/or maintain.

This is also an easy category to misjudge when you plan a budget, unless you actually keep track of those kinds of expenses for at least a year. I can guarantee that you will end up spending WAY more than you anticipate, without a previous year's figures to guide you for the following year.

Laundry 

2016 = $106.50, avg. mo. = $8.88
2017 (9 mo. only) = $63.50, avg. mo. = $7.06
Currently budgeting = $10.00

Note that the figures above do not include laundry detergent or softener, as those are included in the grocery bill, since we buy them at the grocery store. Here, we know our machines cost $1.25 per load, and they provide outside drying racks if we choose not to use the dryers (we usually don't). But in other places, we have paid as much as $2.75 per load to wash and another $2.75 to dry. Some weeks we may have one load, and other times, maybe two or three. If you travel with more than two people, you'll obviously have more loads to wash and dry, so your expense could be much more. When we travel again, we may have to double the amount we expect to spend per month, just because we will be forced to use the dryers.

All of these expenses have been at laundromats. We used to have a washer/dryer combo unit in two of the RVs we owned, but they were almost a waste of time. The 34-footer only had a 32-gallon fresh water tank. The 40-footer had a 100-gallon fresh water tank, but even though we had the fresh water available, it was still a waste of time when boondocking, because the generator has to be running the entire time you are washing and drying! And if you are in a park, why spend a thousand dollars on your own equipment and then have to pay for repairs on it, when the park has them available for (normally) under a couple dollars per wash?

We typically do laundry about once a week on the average... sometimes one load, and sometimes two. The only time we might have a third load is when washing large items like blankets. For what we currently spend per month, it would take us 100 months (over eight years) to pay for the cost of a washer/dryer combo unit... plus we would have all that weight to carry around, as well as the space it takes in a larger RV, plus the loss in fuel economy just to get it down the road every time we moved! The more weight you have, the less your fuel mileage is going to be!

Simpler is always better, and again, I refer to my "no more than you need" philosophy. It has never failed me.

Groceries (two people) (includes sundries, but no water, batteries, or pet supplies) 

2016 = $3243.80, avg. mo. = $270.32
2017 (9 mo. only) = $2194.64, avg. mo. = $243.84
Currently budgeting = $250.00

The paragraph header is pretty much self-explanatory. We do buy some of the other stuff at the grocery store, but I separate it out on the receipt before I enter it all into my spreadsheet. I could separate the soaps, paper goods, health and beauty supplies, and other things, to get a more accurate food cost, but I haven't found it necessary. We may occasionally have a business related item, like packing tape, copy paper, envelopes or other things, and I DO pull those out as tax deductions for our business.

We eat most meals at home, and we don't use a lot of convenience foods. We also don't buy a lot of expensive meats, but we do buy meats. We rarely pay more than $4/pound for any meat, and when we do it's usually on a very rare splurge to treat ourselves to steaks. It doesn't happen often.

We hardly ever throw anything away. There's nothing wrong with leftovers, and sometimes they get tossed into a freezer container to be added to home-made soup at some future date. We both grew up on farms, and learned to make the best use of everything, and not to be wasteful with anything.

We realize everyone has different eating habits, and different incomes to allow higher budgets when it comes to food. Some even get by on less. But we learned a long time ago NOT to be picky eaters. Being picky limits so many other experiences in life, especially when it comes to eating out and enjoying it. In most cases we buy the store brands of foods, and find that they are just as good as the name brands that cost much more. After all, most of them are produced under contract by the same canning companies, with only a different label on them. (I know, as I used to be a plant electrician for a canning company in my early days.)

Just recently after Hurricane Irma, we made a new discovery. Our local store has been out of Folgers Crystals since before the storm, so we bought a smaller jar of Maxwell House. I was surprised, but we couldn't tell any difference in taste. The last time, they were out of both of those brands, and so we bought the store brand of instant coffee. Again, we couldn't taste any difference, and it's about $4 less expensive for the same large jar! Guess which one we will buy from now on!

On other things, there IS no substitute... one of those being Brooks tangy hot catsup! It's not sold west of the Mississippi River for some odd reason, and not all stores carry it, so when I find it, I will buy a case at a time and carry it wherever we go! It's THAT good! I'm sure there are a few other things if I think about it long enough, but for the most part, there's nothing wrong with store brands!

But we know that no two people are ever going to agree on what to eat, or what should go on their grocery lists, and therefore there is going to be a wide discrepancy in what people spend on food. So you do your own thing, and we'll do ours. That's why we prefer to meet people at restaurants. We don't have to cook for their picky habits, and they pay their own check for whatever they want to order! That brings us to the next category...

Eating out 

2016 = $724.59, avg. mo. = $60.38
2017 (9 mo. only) = $295.91, avg. mo. = $32.88
Currently budgeting = $60

We enjoy eating out maybe more than most people. When we were still working, we often ate out four to five times per week (and that's counting evening meals only, as nearly EVERY lunch was eaten out), mostly at our local hangout. I never kept track back then of how much we actually spent eating out as opposed to what we spent on groceries, but I'll bet it was well over a $150 per week. We also lived less than two miles from the restaurant, and it was on the way home from work for Sharon.

When you get out traveling more, there isn't any "local hangout", unless you take comfort in a fast food place that is consistent across the country. It takes awhile of being in a place to discover where your favorite restaurant is going to be... to the point where you call the owners by name and they know what you like before you get there.

We also like to try whatever the local specialty is, or at least a local restaurant. In northern Michigan, we had to try to the "official" pasties. On the coast, it's usually seafood of some kind, like shark steak. In the lower Midwest, it's Catfish. In the South, it's BBQ or steak. In the Southwest, it's Mexican fare.

Sometimes it's just the restaurant itself. In Detroit it was the top floor of the Pontchartrain Hotel, the Ontario Room, where we had shrimp scampi grilled table-side. In Baltimore, it was an East Indian restaurant. In Savannah, it was the Pirate's House (rated as a top ten in the nation by Playboy Magazine at that time). In Florida it was a small restaurant near Sanibel Island that serves the "largest hamburger in the world" (dinner plate size). We also ate lunch at the Brass Elephant Restaurant inside the Hilton Hotel near there.

And those are just the highlights that I can remember on short notice. It doesn't even count all the "fair food" we have tried, which is an experiment in culinary delight all by itself! I pity the picky eaters out there who go through life afraid to try different things. They are missing out on so much of life!

But again, everyone has their own habits (and budget) when it comes to eating out, so all I can say is that we have cut WAY back on eating out. These days, we tend to reserve those special times when we meet friends at a restaurant, for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  Also, it's harder to get out of this park and drive the 6 miles into town and it could be even farther (and more expensive in trying new restaurants) to find that one special place that feels like home. We'd have to eat at a lot of restaurants before we could decide on one to go to regularly!

Pet expenses

2016 = $944.55, avg, mo. = $78.71
2017 (9 mo. only) = $252.89, avg. mo. = $28.10
Currently budgeting = $60.00

We thought we were doing good at an average cost of $25/month when we first got Angel. That was all food, treats and toys. Then he hurt his leg in 2015 and had to go to the vet, so while we were there we figured we might as well get his shots up to date before leaving our real estate behind. Oops! There went $362 all in one day!

Then in 2016, in May we had to get his shots brought up to date again while in New Mexico, another $188.25, and while in Flagstaff in August, he acquired an intestinal infection and was passing blood. Another vet visit plus antibiotics, and we dropped another $313.34.

But Angel is our "baby" and we committed to him when we allowed him to become a part of our family. To treat him as anything other than family would be an injustice to him, and to us. We can't understand how ANYONE could treat a family pet as anything other than family! A pet has the mind of a two year old child, and yet we constantly see people let their animals run around free in all kinds of circumstances, often to get hurt or killed. You wouldn't let your two-year-old child run around unsupervised, and ignore them to the point where they were untrained! Education is a legal requirement for humans! It's against the law to let pets run loose in urban and public areas! So why would you let your pet (that you claim to love) run around unsupervised and untrained?! We see no difference!

Entertainment and travel 

2016 = $618.71, avg. mo. = $51.56
2017 (9 mo. only) = $211.71, avg. mo. = $23.52
Currently budgeting = $30.00

We haven't been stopping at tourist traps in the last couple of years, partly because of this RV and the expenses on it. But Sharon did go to Alaska last year on a cruise southward on the inside passage from Fairbanks with her sister. You can read about that on her blog.

This year, she went to Indiana for five weeks to attend to family matters while I stayed here in Florida with Angel, and she had airfare and limo expense. We probably won't be making any more long trips this year, but we definitely plan to next year. In the meantime, we will be making more day trips, now that we have a minivan with much better fuel economy for a daily driver.

This category is for such travel expenses... airfare, limos, entry fees, tickets, etc.  It has nothing to do with watching TV at home, which would fall under household maintenance.

Even though we aren't going anywhere for awhile, we still have to budget a monthly amount for it and set that aside in savings. Not only will the interest add to that amount while it is waiting to be spent, but when the time comes that we do go somewhere, we won't have to worry about how we'll pay for it.

Clothing 

2016 = $136.38, avg. mo = $11.37
2017 (9 mo. only) = $84.48, avg. mo. = $9.43
Currently budgeting $15.00

We are not big on fancy clothes or trendy styles. We weren't, even when we were in the working world, although Sharon did have to pay a certain attention to it because of her position. I was either in casual clothes or work uniforms. Nowadays we buy what is on sale, and what looks good and fits well, unless we want something specific. We're camping 99% of the time... not attending meetings! No one cares what we look like, nor will they care what you look like!

In our casual lifestyle, I no longer have need of the seventeen 3-piece suits and shiny shoes that once filled my closet or the fancy work-ware and party dresses that Sharon once had. Today, we carry (at most) three pairs of shoes each and a week's supply of casual clothes. For me, that's mostly jeans and shirts. And I like my jeans in sets. My current jeans were bought back around 1999, and have lasted this long (still good for awhile yet). I just recently ordered another set of five matching jeans online and they were delivered this morning. That single purchase is the most either of us have spent on clothes since the early 2000s! Maybe this new batch will last longer since I'm not working in them.

Everyone has their own tastes, but remember, those name brand sneakers and clothes aren't going to be noticed by the other campers you are going to be around, so smarten up. Save your money for experiences... not material possessions that no one cares about but you!

Camping Memberships 

2016 = $89.95, avg mo. = $7.50
2017 (9 mo. only) = ( haven't paid any yet)
Currently budgeting = $7.50

At one time, we were All Season's President's Club members, which we bought into and upgraded and finally became park managers for them before we parted company with them in the 90s. During that same time, we also bought into a private park that was convenient to us and our needs, and which soon was taken over by Western Horizon Resorts, which we upgraded to also be able to use AOR and Sunbelt Resorts (which we never did use). Altogether, I estimate (only because I lost track) that we have close to $25,000 invested in totally useless camping memberships and maintenance fees over the years.

Back in the 70s and 80s, these seemed like the way to go. After all, the Internet hadn't been invented yet! We bought while we were still working so that when we retired, we would be able to pull into any of the parks within their systems and stay up to two weeks at absolutely no charge.

Well, in theory it all sounded good, but then the parks started running into financial problems, and suddenly started adding extra charges for utilities. "Upgrades" were always in the sales packages, and finally some systems (including All Seasons) went totally bankrupt and closed down all their parks, while others tried to readjust by charging discounted fees to continue using their parks. Now some of those parks are charging nightly "membership rates" that are more than the fees for state and national forest camping!

As of last year, we dropped out of the remaining membership system (WHR) that we belonged to. We simply don't need it anymore. So this year, we only have our Escapees RV Club membership (no commitments and no maintenance fees and only $39.95/year), plus our Good Sam Club membership. Note that these are "clubs"... not the kind of memberships that charge you exorbitant joining fees and then ongoing maintenance fees!

We haven't found Good Sam to be useful for the camping fees, because we rarely pay campground fees at all, unless we are staying long term, in which case the parks won't give you a discount on already discounted services! And the monthly rates beat the hell out of any 10% discount you would get through Sam's Club! But we occasionally buy a huge lot of supplies at Camping World, and in case we ever need an RV financed at some point in the future, we might want a quote from them. We don't use their road service or any of their other features.

When BoondockersWelcome started up, I joined immediately. It was free if you owned real estate with which you could reciprocate stays, and we still had real estate. Someone actually stayed with us for a few days in Arkansas. But after we sold our real estate, we couldn't reciprocate stays anymore, and now they want a fee. I thought about paying it, but for right now it isn't something that we would use. Maybe next spring when we take off in the van, that might change, and we'll reevaluate the matter at that time.

We are also RVillage members (which is free), but even that seems to be a waste. Most of the people we see coming in "near" us aren't near to us at all. Very seldom have we seen anyone in the same park as we are, because we don't typically use RV parks! Also, it seems the majority of people are in much larger and much more expensive RVs than what we use for camping. The site doesn't seem to cater to normal camping at all, or state forest, national forest or COE users. Some people that we know that ARE in large RV's don't want to be social and would rather act like hermits, so they won't even be a part of it. And there are still many people who refuse to own a smart phone or even learn to use a computer properly, so "they don't know what they don't know". I'm sure it's a great service to those who travel in large RVs and stay in over-priced RV parks and resorts, but that just isn't our style. We refuse to be that wasteful with our money.

We have mixed emotions about Passport America. Since we prefer to be out away from over-priced campgrounds or RV parks and have the resources now to be able to find thousands of places to boondock at no charge, and don't need any utilities to be able to do so, the membership would be a waste for us, as they cater to only higher priced RV parks. We can camp for far less than their 50% off rates, and don't have to have other people within a car width from us.

I never could figure out why people want to pay money to be able to save money, and then still end up paying exorbitant fees to campgrounds anyway... when there are countless sources (some free and some paid) to tell you where you can camp for free and save even more money! It doesn't logically compute with my brain! If you want to save money... then DON'T pay camping fees any more than you absolutely HAVE to! Besides, if you do choose to stay in a park, the monthly rates are far less than you will ever gain through these clubs! They aren't going to discount their rates to a monthly figure AND give you an extra 10%. It never works that way!

Other unrelated costs 

Things that I didn't touch on, because the figures have been bouncing all over the place lately... are things like our vehicle insurance. We pay that through a monthly ACH (automatic) deduction on our checking account. Since we left our real estate behind, we have traded a van for a motorhome, and then recently gained another smaller and newer van. Our State Farm Insurance has now leveled out again at $143.12/month, for all three vehicles, and full coverage where we could get it (since the trailer is not a drivable vehicle).

The trailer isn't always attached to a towing vehicle to be insured with it, so it carries it's own comprehensive insurance against things like a tree falling on it, fire or other damage. The drivable vehicles also cover car rental insurance in case ours are undrivable, plus towing and motel expenses if we are stranded. They also carry other "road protections", which is why we don't need Good Sam or Triple A, or any other insurance of that type.

Please don't come back at us and say how much we could save by going elsewhere! We have been with State Farm for over 35 years, and we have non-cancellable policies in writing! They have been more than good to us, even going after our $500 deductible from someone who hit Sharon and then tried to evade paying for over two years! I wouldn't think of going with another company, so save your typing skills for someone else!

I also didn't mention our own personal insurance. I know many of you are still struggling with how to get affordable health insurance. Thankfully, we are past that. We have Medicare. We also went with a supplement plan right from the first day, of Plan G through Mutual of Omaha. That covers us in any state, by any provider, for any reason, with a maximum out of pocket per person per year per event, of only $140. Neither of us are on any prescriptions, nor do we ever want to be!

In addition to that, we have a "steady premium/decreasing equity" term life insurance plan that covers us until age 90. By keeping the premiums level, it assures us that the cost won't go up drastically so that it remains affordable. As we age, the payout amount decreases to a minimum level which will still cover funeral costs at age 90 no matter what. After that, we're on our own. It works for us.

I also didn't cover storage costs, but we have had three of those (but only two at a time). The first one (a 10 x 10 for $35/month in Arkansas) we started before we left our real estate. We hope to do away with that one by next fall. We also had one in Blythe, California for about a year. That one was obviously more expensive because of its location, and we started there with a 10 x 10 and then moved to a 6 x 10 a couple of months later. It was emptied out last October. We brought that stuff all the way to Florida, where we rented another unit, a 6 x 10 for awhile. Both of these last units were well over $55/month, and both are now emptied. The one in Arkansas is the last one, and it will be gone before October of next year.

As far as vehicles, our trailer was bought and furnished for cash as we had the money to build it out. In April of 2016 we traded the Chevy van and bought the motorhome for cash, with a little help from a credit card, and now our newer and nicer Chrysler van is the only official vehicle payment we have... which is still one too many... but one must do what one must do within what the lenders will do. I would have preferred an older van, but they wanted us to have a newer one that was more dependable, even though it comes with a much higher payment... but also has a warranty. Who am I to argue with them? Besides, we've been used to driving luxury vehicles.

The reason we paid cash for the RV was because the dealer couldn't find a source to make the loan without us owning real estate! Apparently that is a fluke they added to the lending laws after 9/11. We discovered it doesn't apply to private lenders or credit unions, but we had already borrowed the balance on our real estate mortgage from our credit union on an unsecured line of credit so that we could release the real estate title to a new owner. That came about because the auction company could not get our entire balance out of the bids, but we wanted it gone! We paid the difference ourselves to accomplish that, and therefore we didn't want to go back to our credit union for another loan. And we're still paying on that. "Nuff said".

So that pretty well covers our costs of traveling full-time over the past 22 months, and what we expect to spend going forward. I know some will think we are made of money, while others think we are down and out. Everyone is broke on a different level, and I gave up a long time ago trying to keep up with the Jones's, or worry about what "the Smiths" don't have. I realized it depends on which family of Jones's or Smiths I am being compared to. It will always be better than some and not as good as others, and that will never change. I'm perfectly fine with that.


Thank you for reading along, and I hope you got something useful out of all this. As always, if you have questions or comments, please let me know. And thank you for clicking on our links and our ads, as we do sometimes make a small commission from such actions, and every bit of it is appreciated.

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