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Right now with the scary economic situation, many folks are looking into becoming RVers. The RV lifestyle is a cheaper way to live, yet there things to keep in mind before making that lifestyle leap.

Even if a Full-Timer doesn’t own a stick-house, doesn’t mean they don’t have monthly payments to make on their rig and/or tow vehicles, as well as credit cards, food and medical expenses and any other regular bills. Even used RVs can cost more than the average house. And unlike thirty-year mortgages  for stick-houses, you can usually only extend your payment to ten years on a RV.

Campgrounds or RV resorts vary in monthly or annual rates – some can be as low as $150 a month (in Texas, if you’re curious!) and exceed $2800 a month (Key West). Keep in mind this is just “rent” you pay to park your RV. It should include sewer, water, garbage service and electricity. However, electricity may be metered – so you may find yourself with a monthly electric bill. Extra amenities, such as Cable TV or SAT TV, WiFi and park activities are usually free, but many parks are now charging modest fees for monthly and annual stays. Always check into this before committing to a particular campground or RV resort.

And don’t forget you need fuel and propane. Right now the prices on both are going down, but that is always subject to change and does vary area-to-area. We paid $5.29 for diesel leaving California and are now paying $1.89 for it in Texas. Big difference! Propane in Washington was $3.50 and in Texas we have been paying $2.20. So it makes budgeting difficult.

Yet you can save money while RVing or living the RV lifestyle! The most popular is to be a Camp Host or work at a campground or RV resort to get a free (or reduced) site space and utilities. Often these positions come with additional perks, such as free Cable TV, WiFi, discounted propane, laundry allowances and even pay. This alone can say you hundreds to thousands of dollars each month and basically give you free living.

If you find a camp hosting position that provides discounted propane or provides a propane allowance (meaning you are allowed so many free fill-ups per month), then that helps reduce propane costs. Another way to save on propane is to shop around. Some campgrounds provide propane services and often this may be more expensive than traveling a few miles into town. If you have a motorhome and rely on a propane truck to come into the campground to fill your tanks, you should consider getting a spare that you can take elsewhere to refill until you can drive your motorhome to propane dealer. For example, our motorhome neighbors who have to rely on the propane truck are paying $3.50 for propane and we take our tanks into town (6 miles) and pay only $2.20.

Another thing to mention is if you are not paying for monthly electricity and have everything on propane (hot water heater, refrigerator, furnace) then you should switch it to electricity to save your propane. If your not in an extremely cold climate, consider getting a ceramic heater to help reduce use of the furnace. If you are paying for monthly electricity usage, then you may want to do the opposite and switch them over to propane. It depends on what it is costing you in the long run. Do the math and see which is best for your situation.

You can save money on fuel several ways. First and foremost – pay cash! Most fuel stops are now charging for credit card purchases. It may be faster to put your credit card in to pay, but if you’re barely making your credit card payment… the interest is going to increase your fuel costs even more… so keep this in mind when you pay at the pump. Secondly, consider joining frequent fuel-er programs. Many are worth the saving involved. Most larger truck stops and travel centers have some sort of program. And often there are additional perks to these programs. For instance, Flying J has a frequent fuel-er program, but if you upgrade to the RV card you also get a discount on propane! And the more you fuel up, the more savings you get. Some programs include other services, such as store purchases and restaurant visits. Nothing beats a fuel stop than the clerk telling you that you have a free pizza owed to you or you just saved $15 with your card! And if you are planning to make a long haul through remote regions, consider purchasing a few fuel cans. When you arrive at a place with cheaper fuel, fill them up. This way when you travel and see the insane “only gas station for 300 miles” prices, you can toot your horn and keep driving by.  Even if you aren’t making a long trip, filling up your extra tanks before prices rise (especially at the holidays) can save you a few extra dollars. Just make sure your extra tanks are secure and if visible, have some sort of chain-lock through them. If your rig or tow vehicles don’t have locking gas caps, you should look into that as well. While parked in the campground you can save money on fuel by car-pooling with a camping neighbor. This sort of arrangement is always appreciated and can be alternated between neighbors. If you’re close to town consider using local transportation, such as a shuttle or bus service or ride your bike.

Camping supplies can be costly, especially if you buy them from a camping store. Shop around! For instance, those quick-flick lighters RVers love to ignite their gas stoves can cost $5 in a camping supply store, $3 at Wal-mart and only $1 at the Dollar Tree. It’s pretty much the same thing – may not be the designer color you want – but still fits the same purchase. If there is something camping-related you need – such as a folding bike or lounge chairs – check your campground bulletin board. Often RVers upgrade (or downsize) and have items to sell or even giveaway. If you need some sort of part for your rig – contact your RV dealer and see if you are still under warranty. You would be surprised how many people forget that certain items are guaranteed longer. If not, ask the dealer about a customer discount. Sometimes they will take a percentage off your bill for purchasing a RV through their dealership. They recognize your patronage and want to keep you as a customer.

Campground pecans - free food!

Campground pecans - free food!

Food expenses have been a recent concern for folks as fuel prices have fluctuated. Many campgrounds offer coupon exchange areas (usually located in the laundry areas). Don’t be too proud to use coupons! And if  you have extra, share them with your fellow Campers. If you belong to a wholesale or discount club, make sure you really are getting a deal. Sometimes you’ll find that they are actually higher on bulk items. If bulk is a better deal, but you have no extra space, consider going in with a neighbor on the deal! Most Full-Time RVers belong to either Costco or SAM’s Club and love sharing deals with other Campers. And sharing a meal or having a weekly potluck with your camping neighbors is a great way to help cut food costs.

Also, take advantage of local farmer’s markets and flea markets. If you are getting ready to move on, stock up on the local fare. While in Washington we bought twenty pounds of potatoes for only $2. Before we moved on, we made sure we had plenty. Our next stop we found that twenty pounds potatoes would cost us $6. When we left California, we made sure we had plenty of citrus and olives on hand. Before our next move we will have about five pounds of Texas pecans (free for the picking here in the campground) ready to go with us.

Living the RV life can be more affordable if you keep your eyes on the road ahead and wisely manage (and limit) your expenses.

 

I have been noticing  a number of RVer forums and billboards with flaming posts about digital conversion. Some folks are even saying that it will not bother RVers because all campgrounds have Cable TV (this is not true) or that RV TVs are already equipped for this (again, not necessarily true). This is an issue for everyone who has older TVs and those without additional services, such as Cable or Satellite, and does indeed effect many RVers.

What is Digital TV?

Digital TV involves advanced broadcasting technology that will allow broadcasting stations to offer better sound and picture quality, as well as multicasting ability. Multicasting means the bit stream can be split offering more than one channel. That’s a mouthful, but basically it means a broadcaster can offer more channels.

I have an older TV that I refuse to part with (it has a built in DVD player that I love) and I had to purchase a digital converter box as most of the campgrounds we stay at are not located in areas with Cable TV. I currently pick up a San Antonio channel on box channel 5.1. Multicasting has allowed the broadcasters to turn 5.2 into a local weather channel. Another example is I get a local religious channel on 23.1. The following channel 23.2 is a religious children’s channel. After that, channel 23.3 and 23.4 are religious movie and educational channels. Instead of one channel “23”, I get four channels from this broadcaster. The same with the Spanish channels (one for news, one for Soaps, one for movies). Now this is on our regular RV TV antenna, plus my digital converter box. This is not Cable TV! Right now I get twenty-six channels on my TV with the digital converter box. Before I hooked up the digital converter box, I only received four local (analog) channels at this campground!

There are a few different types of Digital TV, but the most common is Standard, Enhanced and High Definition (HDTV). My converter box is just a SDTV (Standard). It’s not the best quality of the bunch, but quite honestly, I can’t tell the difference between my SDTV and our HDTV!

More information on this can be found at http://www.dtv.gov/index.html.

Digital Converter Box and Antennas

For RVers with newer TVs, you don’t have to do anything. Your TV should be ready for digital. Dig out your owner’s manual or flip through your TV menu and see what options you have. Some TVs are simple, some may involve some reading. Our living room TV (that came with the fifth-wheel) is a flat-screen HDTVand is rather intimidating. It has us digging out the manual just to autoscan channels!

If you are like me and dragged your old TV into your RV, then you will need a converter box. This is no different than hooking up a VCR and if you follow the steps in the manual, you should be watching Digital TV in a matter of minutes.

I was amazed at the features my little Magnavox converter has! I now am able to display a TV guide, digital closed caption and a handful of other great options. Since the digital transition is still taking place, some channels are not operating at full strength, so I do have to autoscan for channels every few days. I’ve picked up a couple more since I hooked up the converter. And as you would  every time you move to another campground, you will have to run autoscan to pick up local channels.

Most converters are running $40 to $70. I recently saw a pallet full at Wal-Mart for $29. There is a TV Converter Box Coupon Program, but they have run out of coupons. There is a waiting list and with the delay in the switch to DTV, you may have a chance to obtain one. (Go to https://www.dtv2009.gov/ for more information on this coupon program). Even if you do obtain a $40 coupon, you must use it within ninety days of receiving it and you must pay all taxes on the box. I bought mine in California and with local and state taxes it was  almost $9 (out-of-pocket) for a $40 converter box with the $40 coupon.

You need a converter box for each TV. So if you have two TVs in your RV and both of them are not DTV-ready, you will need two boxes. If you get involved with the coupon program, you are allowed two coupons ($40 for each) and that can help reduce the cost.

If most of the campgrounds you stay at do have Cable TV or SATV, then you may not want to worry about. You can still hookup your TV to a VCR, DVD player or use it for gaming. If you have reliable internet access, you can watch most of your favorite shows online. Several sites, like Hulu ( www.hulu.com ) post TV shows several days after the show’s original airdate. Some networks, like Fox, post them the next day on their own website. I often watch TV (and movies) online and prefer the lack or reduced frequency of commercials!

RV antennas are not the greatest, but again, if you stay at campgrounds outside major areas, you should still be able to pick up major networks. We have been touring Eastern Texas the past three months and have been fortunate to be near larger cities (San Antonio, Austin and Houston) and haven’t had problems picking up digital signals. I still get channels without the converter on, but boy, the picture is so much prettier on digital! Now snow or lines with the digital converter box. I can see Judge Judy as plain as day! 😉

If you are a RVer and have an older TV or are not staying at a campground with Cable TV or SATV, then you will be without TV reception after the digital transition takes place. Hooking up a digital converter box only takes a few minutes and will transform your snowy analog channels into clear digital ones.

 

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