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A different way to talk about fulltime expenses


GR "Scott" Cundiff

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I may change the way I respond to posts asking about fulltime RV expenses. I got to thinking earlier that, while it's true that monthly costs for specific RVers are all over the place that, in general, the costs I've seen from those who report their expenses generally in the same range as ours. Then, just for fun, I looked up the national retiree household expenses as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. To my surprise, even though the specifics are different, the annual total came in right in the same neighborhood as our numbers and what I've seen others report. I'm thinking that if you want a ballpark figure for being a retired fulltimer that it's about the same as that of any retired household: about $41K. Again, this is an average - some are higher and some are lower. Do you think that maybe it's a better answer than just saying "it depends"?

 

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/retirement/the-high-costs-of-the-retirement-dream/ss-BBgiRMg

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Average numbers are always interesting but for many folks on a tight budget that average is going to look scary and likely much higher than they are spending to live in a house or apartment.

 

You can have a very comfortable RV lifestyle for a lot less than $41K and that needs to be given as an option along with tips on how to do it.

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Average numbers are always interesting but for many folks on a tight budget that average is going to look scary and likely much higher than they are spending to live in a house or apartment.

 

You can have a very comfortable RV lifestyle for a lot less than $41K and that needs to be given as an option along with tips on how to do it.

 

But an average is an average. For every person on a tight budget who wants to live on $1000 less than that there's another who expects to spend $1000 more. If someone posts that they are looking for ways to fulltime on a very limited income there will be people who will proudly line up to tell them how they do it. But when someone asks, in general, what fulltimers spend, I'm thinking the national average is a pretty good number to give them. It gives them a number to think about and work off of.

 

Anyway, as I say, when I've looked at other people's expenditures I'm surprised at now many are in the same ballpark as us and as in the national average for retired people in general.

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Anyway, as I say, when I've looked at other people's expenditures I'm surprised at now many are in the same ballpark as us and as in the national average for retired people in general.

Regardless, it will still "depend".

 

There are so many ways to mitigate expenses that it's impossible to give them one figure because they can always find a way to go over it or stay under it.

 

I have the feeling that a lot of people full time on less than $30,000 a year, frankly. I wonder where you got the $41k figure.

 

Edit: On further thought, I think your $41k figure would be better if you could better describe how you RV. Did you buy a new rig and do you have payments? Do you boondock at all or prefer the "resorts"? Eat out often? Lots of driving or six months parked north and then six months south? I think then that people could see whether they'd be above that number or below it depending on how they plan to do this. :)

 

WDR

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Scott I tend to personally have that being a good median figure from extensive studies prepping our budgets, whilst still allowing for contributing to our TFSA's, albeit hard to really know until we physically have a year or two behind us out on the road, we have a $1,000 per month spread, our goal obviously being to try to hit the lower end but having some wiggle room "just in case". Of course as is always mentioned "it all depends", and there is a big spread as with most things in life between the lowest to the highest, nonetheless ......

 

In the spirit of a different way to talk about full time expenses:

 

Out of curiosity can anyone share assuming for this exercise that all modes of travel, overnighting, style of everyday living, health costs etc remain identical, what would be a realistic and most importantly "fairly safe" figure as an annual increase to a budget one should allow. We'd like to extrapolate out our budget for at least 5 years as a best guesstimate. Of course no one can predict 21%-22% increases year over year on bacon and ground beef, an anomaly of a non typical annual occurrence.

 

Anyone willing to share if they've carefully monitored as fully retired (not allowing working for free sites) on the road what changes % wise, they've seen to their actual expenses for Year 1 versus maybe Year 3, 5, 7 etc assuming everything equal for those years.

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$41K seems excessive to me. But I don't tend to stay at high priced RV resorts. It greatly "pains me" when we occasionally pay $40+ a night. But just that alone could push you into the $35-40K category. So, given no "controls" I can see how you could spend $40K a year. Especially if you move a lot which means more fuel and daily/weekly rates instead of monthly. We typically spend under $30K, but I'm not counting the RV in that. So if you do, we probably get near the $40K.

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I would first ask, the prospective FTer, "How much money do you have available?" You can fulltime on practically any budget, but you will always spend what you have, adapting your lifestyle to available finances.

 

After we learn their proposed budget, they can then learn from others FTing on this amount (or less) how they do it.

 

What they really want to know is what's the best way to FT on what I have? Or possibly what are some FTing options for me within my budget? And, what will I have to sacrifice to get the lifestyle I think I want?

 

Obviously someone wanting to FT on limited resources knows they won't be able to buy a new Prevost, stay in RV resorts and move every couple days. That's a given. But I'm sure they would like to hear from different folks "livin' the dream" with various types of RVs, learning what supplemental vehicles they take with them, (if any) their hobbies and interests, how frequently they move, where they stay, what percentage of the time they boondock, what and where they eat, how often do they shop and tour the area, etc.? Also a rough idea of RV specific costs that affect us all, such as the costs involved in dealing with health care on the road, keeping in touch with family and friends, mail forwarding, vehicle registration and maintenance, fuel costs,TV/Internet/cell phone costs, etc. They can then pick and choose from this info components to build their lifestyle of choice within available resources. They might decide to press their current PT RV into service to explore the lifestyle before jumping in with both feet, selling the homestead, etc. I've seen many FTers living a very minimalist, back to basics lifestyle because they love it, while for others it would be a living hell as each person's personality is different. Roughing it to some is 30 amps, and an unheated pool, while others are content in a class B, truck camper or a converted van pulling a cargo trailer, boondocking in the desert - and just as happy as a pig in - well, you know.

 

There can be no simple answer to their question, because everyone's answer will always be unique, based on their budget, physical limitations and lifestyle choices.

 

Chip

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[...] You can fulltime on practically any budget, but you will always spend what you have, adapting your lifestyle to available finances.

 

There can be no simple answer to their question, because everyone's answer will always be unique, based on their budget, physical limitations and lifestyle choices.

 

Chip

 

I have to disagree with your first point Chip. Many people "spend what they have", but that is not always true. Many people can control their spending habits and live below their means by not spending everything they have. I don't know what percentage spends it all and what percentage spends less. I've known people that spend more than they have. Admittedly, it's possible that 90+% spend all they have, but it is controllable to a great extent, if they choose to do so.

 

I absolutely agree that there are no simple answers. If I was interested in $41K being the average, I'd like to also know what the mean is. In fact, the mean might be a better answer than the average, if either number is useful.

 

Don

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Just to advance the subject a bit - I think people (like me) who ask about fulltimers' expenditures are the ones who have limited incomes. Had I a deep pool of resources I wouldn't have come to Escapees trying to find out what others spent in the first place. I'm guessing that we often hear from people who need to be at the lower range of "average" and seldom, if ever, hear from those who operate well above it.

 

Beyond that, I'm guessing that when it comes to actually keeping records, that those who are tracking expenses because if they don't they will run out of money are more accurate than those who know they are comfortable financially and are only interested in the bottom line at tax time.

 

Because of these two factors (1) those who ask are asking because they have a limited financial situation and (2) those who answer are also those who have a limited financial situation -- because of this the discussion often becomes a race to the bottom.

 

In addition - I do think there's value in giving people a ballpark figure. Obviously, a detailed budget is more helpful at mid- and later-stage planning but at the beginning it's actually less helpful. Imagine the conversation:

"Honey, I'd like for us to think bout going fulltime in retirement."

"Maybe, but can we afford it?"

"I think so, the folks on Escapees say an average is $41K with lots of people operating well below that."

 

That's much better than, "I looked at Escapees but none of them will tell what they spend - they all hide behind 'it depends' and won't even state an average, ball park figure."

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I very much agree with Jack that the $41K as an average income for retired folks is far too high. When you deal with an average of anything you must first define who is in the group being averaged. There are folks who travel in a new Newell or Prevost whose average income would be far above the $41K but it is very rare to see any of them here as they have never been the target market for the Escapees. Being historically a group of working people, my observation is that the vast majority of Escapee members are those from the middle income range and that there are more members in the lower income group than in the higher one. I have seen far more small budget RVs in Escapee gatherings than I have those with half million dollar and higher prices, but we probably have a few members from any given group.

 

I have followed posted budgets for RVing for many years, starting back in the 80's when we first began to consider doing it and continuing up to this day as well as reading many posts on the subject. Back in the 80's most were reporting expenses that would have ranged between $1000 & $2000/month. Over the years that has risen just as fuel and healthcare expenses have along with most other things. The actual cost also depends upon what lifestyle you are comfortable with. Some folks that we know "need" to have enough budget to be able to pay admission into a constant series of entertainment venues, while others spend time on free public lands and do things like hiking and photography that have very little expense. Even within the active group of Escapees which we just saw at Escapade, the lifestyle was very wide ranging and so difficult to pin down. Even so I will hazard a guess because I was involved in a couple of evening gatherings at campsites on that very subject. I'd bet that the current budget of an average Escapee, if there is such, would fall between about $2500 & $3500/month but with some notable exceptions both above and below those figures.

 

In my opinion, there is a column that was written by the late Gaylord Maxwell and published in the June 2001, Motorhome Magazine that very much still applies to this subject today.

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I very much agree with Jack that the $41K as an average income for retired folks is far too high. When you deal with an average of anything you must first define who is in the group being averaged. There are folks who travel in a new Newell or Prevost whose average income would be far above the $41K but it is very rare to see any of them here as they have never been the target market for the Escapees. Being historically a group of working people, my observation is that the vast majority of Escapee members are those from the middle income range and that there are more members in the lower income group than in the higher one. I have seen far more small budget RVs in Escapee gatherings than I have those with half million dollar and higher prices, but we probably have a few members from any given group.

 

I have followed posted budgets for RVing for many years, starting back in the 80's when we first began to consider doing it and continuing up to this day as well as reading many posts on the subject. Back in the 80's most were reporting expenses that would have ranged between $1000 & $2000/month. Over the years that has risen just as fuel and healthcare expenses have along with most other things. The actual cost also depends upon what lifestyle you are comfortable with. Some folks that we know "need" to have enough budget to be able to pay admission into a constant series of entertainment venues, while others spend time on free public lands and do things like hiking and photography that have very little expense. Even within the active group of Escapees which we just saw at Escapade, the lifestyle was very wide ranging and so difficult to pin down. Even so I will hazard a guess because I was involved in a couple of evening gatherings at campsites on that very subject. I'd bet that the current budget of an average Escapee, if there is such, would fall between about $2500 & $3500/month but with some notable exceptions both above and below those figures.

 

In my opinion, there is a column that was written by the late Gaylord Maxwell and published in the June 2001, Motorhome Magazine that very much still applies to this subject today.

 

 

Interesting to me is that the upper limit of your guess near the end of your post actually comes out higher than mine. Just for fun I revisited some of the blogs I mentioned in the opening post. A number of them, including mine, arrive at numbers surprisingly close together. If you made the target amount reasonably wide, say $300 a month, and centered in on the national retirees household average of $41K you would be giving people a ballpark figure of $3300-3600 a month.

 

Also I'll throw this in: if a person workamps they can save a bunch of money - however, when they enter into a discussion on expenses, they need to either include an estimated value of their hours worked or at least include the fact that they are workcamping. Otherwise, they are skewing the number downward.

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I just checked my Quicken for the last 15 years I have been Full time.

My income has been around 41K a year and I have spent around 28K a year of it including everything.

 

That includes buying a 3 year old DP MH, new HHR, new MKS and a portable garage to put it in(winter spot), all health cost, campgrounds, all types of Insurance, food, 46K spent on all repairs/add ons/maintenance/replaced chassis & House items on the DP. 15K spent on fuel, gifts for friends & family etc.

 

I never stay in high dollar campgrounds using Passport America for overnight stops.

So I have never spent close to what my income is as a average. But I have went way over spending my income average on a few years.

 

 

 

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The cost of RV parks was one of the reasons that we bough an RV lot in a co-op park in the UP of MI. We also like it there

and enjoy the social life with other lot owners. Annual cost, park fees $360 and real estate taxes just under $200 plus electricity.

Where the park is located the weather only allows for a May 1st opening and it closes on October 15th. If we are ever short on funds we will still have a nice place to spend our summers

at a very reasonable cost.

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I think the bottom line is that using this approach we can say to people that basically they can expect to swap the costs associated with owning a stix and brix house with those associated with living and traveling in a RV . If they need/want to they can more easily dial back the cost of fulltiming than they could dial back the stix and brix expenses.

 

In other words, it usually doesn't cost people more to go fulltime and it can, if they work a bit at it, cost them less.

 

Again - a better answer than "it depends."

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...Because of these two factors (1) those who ask are asking because they have a limited financial situation and (2) those who answer are also those who have a limited financial situation -- because of this the discussion often becomes a race to the bottom...

If you read enough of these type of posts and pay attention to an individual's posts in other topics, you might conclude (at least I have) that several of the repeat responders to these type of topics are living below and possibly well below their means. Nothing at all wrong with that, but it is likely far easier to handle emergencies and other unexpected expenses than when living monthly check to monthly check where one major unexpected expense can be devastating.

...Also I'll throw this in: if a person workamps they can save a bunch of money - however, when they enter into a discussion on expenses, they need to either include an estimated value of their hours worked or at least include the fact that they are workcamping. Otherwise, they are skewing the number downward...

In accounting terms, I would view this as an entry in the income column and an identical entry in the expenditures column. As said this is sometimes not even mentioned and for places like National Wildlife Refuges and others that do not have a campground with an established fee; setting a value is not that easy.

 

Employer provided healthcare insurance could be viewed the same way. Even Medicare part A represents an income and equal expenditure compared to having to pay all the costs of Healthcare insurance prior to age 65. Same for healthcare insurance subsidies.

...Anyone willing to share if they've carefully monitored as fully retired (not allowing working for free sites) on the road what changes % wise, they've seen to their actual expenses for Year 1 versus maybe Year 3, 5, 7 etc assuming everything equal for those years...

Our healthcare insurance premiums (for two) went from $400/month to $980/month between 2012 and 2014 and that was just our share of an employer provided plan. Fortunately, our employer offered more than one choice and we were able to switch to a less expensive plan (which of course provided less coverage) that we felt was adequate for our needs.

 

Fuel costs have been both up and down in the past 10 years. I think it was 2009 when diesel was between $4.00-4.50/Gal in the mountain states. So far this year, diesel has been in the $2.40 to $3.00 range on the East Coast.

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While you certainly can spend every bit as much to live in an RV as in a house, the RV does offer the opportunity to live on far less than in a Stix'n'Brix. And far more versatility. Just the ability to travel to a geographical location where the weather mitigates heating and cooling costs, for instance. And the chance of finding workamp position where all the costs for a parking spot are covered. Those who take advantage of these opportunities will spend less.

 

But it still depends...

 

WDR

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While you certainly can spend every bit as much to live in an RV as in a house, the RV does offer the opportunity to live on far less than in a Stix'n'Brix. And far more versatility. Just the ability to travel to a geographical location where the weather mitigates heating and cooling costs, for instance. And the chance of finding workamp position where all the costs for a parking spot are covered. Those who take advantage of these opportunities will spend less.

 

But it still depends...

 

WDR

 

I've laughed as I've read the "it depends" response to the question "What do you spend?" Yeah, it depends on what they spent. I'm guessing a more honest response is "We don't keep records so we don't know what we spent."

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Chip, with all due respect, I also tend to disagree with your comment that "people will always spend what they have", assuming you are referencing spending not saving a portion of that. If we all did that living paycheque to paycheque, then none of us would have accumulated any savings towards our retirements, and quite clearly whilst not all do by any means, several do so to enable for them to go on the road in the first place.

 

It's interesting that the odd figures being generally referenced around here are in fact hitting within plus or minus that $3400 average per month that Scott originally referenced based on BofL Stats, and his general observations. Kirk you referenced for example $2500-$3500 per month being your overall general observation. Jack referenced being in that $2500-$3300 range lower end without allowing his capital purchase and higher end taking that into account.

 

Biker56, you reference an average over 15 years. Could you kindly share maybe based on having so many years data, and not allowing for any capital purchases what difference in every day cost of living based on your consistent lifestyle you've seen change wise over the years. IE; Year 3 over year 1 did you see a 3% increase in your average expenses or maybe 8%? Have you seen a consistent 3 or 6% increase year over year based on your experience the past 15 years.

 

Likewise Jack, you've been FTing for quite some time. Can you generally comment what you've seen as an annual average increase to your expenses percentage wise, without adding any capital purchases/change over the years. I appreciate that I can look at general inflation rates, but they are really not FT RVing lifestyle wise specific which would be the minority in such a broad group. I do think that this type of information would help many others besides myself.

 

Kirk, for your several years backlong on the FT road, albeit you did volunteer for free sites if I recall a lot which will skew things somewhat, what typically did you see percentage wise when comparing apples to apples on the way you lived year over year as an average increase percentage wise?

 

As for most people asking the question having limited income. Doesn't that apply to the majority of the population whether they be working and on a set wage (income) or have investments on a set return/drawdown (paycheque/income). That limited income could be anything from $1200 per month (living one of the very frugal ends of the spectrum typically, although some in the slabs say they are doing it on $600/mth!) to well over others on 5 figures a month. The latter of which don't all drive Prevosts! They are all limited/fixed income, and all folks asking these type of questions here are trying to achieve is ensuring some peace of mind, the best way to make it work based on "their" limited income. What luxuries (CG's, Resorts or Boondocking) they can expect to afford, and what they can't - if based on the research our availability of monthly income indicated we'd be held up in something like the slabs to make it "work", then for us personally, we'd shelve the idea, as that's not what our dream of hitting the road FT looks like.

 

Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows there's no one size fits all budget, but do you really think it helps anyone trying to be responsible by composing a FTing budget that hopefully meets "their dream" idea of FTing when we just make statements that say "it depends", "whatever you've got", or "the same it cost you in your SnB". We know for sure many others we've spoken to and ourselves that our expenses won't be anywhere near the way we've lived in SnB. Yikes if it were we'd likely end up at the Foodbank, and there's nothing wrong with that when needed, but personally we'd like to know if that's the direction we could end up in 5 years down the road! Less mouths to feed, smaller square footage, travelling more etc etc how will our expenses be the same as when living in a SnB?

 

At least when kind folks share their current budgets and maybe a bit of their historical budgets in recent years backlong and some info about how they roll ie; summer travel we average 'x' amount cover 'x' mileage in our 'x' set up, staying 'x' type of places overnight typically but winters we host for a free site or we work for 'x' months at amazon getting free site plus $12 an hour x 40 hr week, others can get a reasonable idea how their costs might pan out.

 

For us right now, and believe me it took us a long long time to pull the range together, from info shared by others gone before us, we know where our budget per month needs to be to hit the road how we envision we'd like to live and travel, in today's dollars. However, what we don't know is typically what percentage should we be increasing this each year or every three years as costs change. Wish we could live on what we did just 3 to 5 years ago today, our house insurance went up over 70% in just one year over year for heavens sake, and we haven't ever had a claim!

 

Just saying FWIW :unsure:

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my observation is that the vast majority of Escapee members are those from the middle income range and that there are more members in the lower income group than in the higher one.

 

I've been thinking about this observation and think it's insightful. I certainly don't think Escapees are just "poor folks" but I wouldn't be surprised if there are more folks who are in the mid- to just below mid-range financially. I also think that the average fulltimer across the board probably fits that profile too.

 

So with that in mind, the national figures I quoted might be a bit on the high side. Apparently, looking at the numbers several are citing, the $41K wouldn't be excessively high but it can probably be lowered by $1000-2000 and be a bit more accurate.

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I've laughed as I've read the "it depends" response to the question "What do you spend?" Yeah, it depends on what they spent. I'm guessing a more honest response is "We don't keep records so we don't know what we spent."

We kept records but we don't share them. We are honest people but we don't think you have a right to the details of our lives.

 

Linda Sand

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I guess "spending what they have" was a poor choice of words. What I meant was they budget for what they have. "Spending" may mean contributing a percentage of their earnings to a retirement account, an emergency fund, etc. but at the end of the month, all monies will be accounted for. If I contribute 10% of my earnings into savings, this money is "spent" as far as I'm concerned (except for emergencies, of course.) For someone who is budgeting for retirement (the subject of this thread) we're not generally talking about people who are earning anymore (other than activities, like workcamping to stretch their retirement dollar.) I doubt many will be taking money out of their social security check to fund a retirement account, only a little savings for emergencies, rig maintenance and repairs, etc.

 

If planning to live mainly or entirely off social security during retirement (as would be the case for a budget conscious retiring FTer) there will be little money dedicated to investments at this stage in life. If however one was fortunate enough to have accumulated a substantial nest egg for retirement (and didn't have to spend it all on medical expenses to save the life of a loved one, as many here have done, including myself) then these folks would naturally gravitate to a more comfortable lifestyle, spending much more in retirement than those who simply don't have the funds.

 

Bottom line, if you have a $1,000/mo. retirement check you will live off of that (including some savings, of course.) If you have a 10,000/mo. retirement check you will live off of that (hopefully including a larger percentage of savings than the former example.) Both of these folks can live fulltime on the road. The former will be a minimalist lifestyle, primarily boondocking in a van (or something similar) - see this forum: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/index.php The latter in a Diesel pusher or luxury fiver, possibly pulled by a custom HDT. They will usually stay in RV resorts with all the amenities (possibly moving weekly rather than monthly or seasonally) with a nice toad, and possibly some toys like a boat, ATV, motorcycle, etc. But lack of funds will usually not stop a person from FTing, just change the style in which they do it.

 

Chip

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