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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.

 

A popular place to boondock is Quartzsite, Arizona.

Last month before the winter “snowbirds” began to arrive, we made a trip to Quartzsite to see exactly what the area looked like and what it had to offer.

It pretty much looks like this for about one hundred miles. Quartzsite does have some small businesses and several campgrounds (that do offer full-hookups and some amenities).  The closest Walmart is in Yuma, which is about 90 miles (one-way) south of Quartzsite. Lake Havasu which is just north of Quartzsite does have many chains and franchises, as well as Blythe (California) directly to the west.Off the road in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Boondocking is an option that many regular RVers try (even for a short while). It is affordable and it is a great way to test your independence. There are many books and articles written on the topic and if you are interested, you should do your research. If you know someone who has had experience boondocking, you should also pick their brain on tips and advice on this type of living.

One of the biggest concerns when contemplating the Full-Time RVers lifestyle is – how do I make a living? For those with an already stretched pension or Social Security check, campgrounds and resorts can eat up a great deal of money. $300 to $1200 a month for full hookups and extras. And for those who are relying on a part-time or even full-time job – what do you do to make ends meet?

If you live in a RV and work or volunteer from it – you are a work-camper. It does not just apply to those working in campgrounds, RV parks or resorts. If you work as a florist and live in a RV – you are a work-camper. If you are a volunteer at the local library and live in a RV – you are a work-camper. If you work 12 hours a week at a campground to pay for your campsite and you live in your RV – you are a work-camper. If you sell on eBay and live in a RV – you are a work-camper.

Work-campers should not be stereotyped (although I know some readers will still be thinking of old trailers and shady characters in a trailer park). Work-campers are a varied bunch – from singles to couples to families with children; from twenty-somethings to ninety year olds; from those with GEDs to those with PhDs. Each work-camper offers diversity to the workplace or their community.

If you have some income and just want to live free, consider volunteering at a local state or national park. Camp Hosts live free, most often with full-hookups and perks, for a minimum number of hours each week or day. Hosting positions can vary from one month to six months and possibly more. This would mean hundreds to thousands of dollars being saved for you with free site and utilities! Most states have Campground Host programs – Google the state you are interested in to sign up for their program. Rangers and park officials will call you if they have an opening, as well as you being able to call them to see if they need hosts for whatever period of time you are interested in.  Many smaller campgrounds that cannot afford an on-site manager or large staff also look for volunteer hosts and work-campers.

If you do not have an income, you can easily find outdoor hospitality jobs that would include full hookups (Although some Southern states where the temperatures require constant air-conditioning, often make you pay metered electric. Some campgrounds do offer electric “allowances” for their work-campers to reduce their monthly bill.) In addition, you would want one that paid to make your monthly expenses. Remember, some areas are only seasonal – so if you require a steady paycheck, you need to find something reliable.

If you are Full-Timing with a spouse or travel companion, one of you could work/volunteer just for your campsite, while the other found a regular job nearby. This would guarantee free living, while generating another income. Most volunteer or “work for site” situations do not require many hours (usually under 20 if you are getting full hookups and perhaps a Cable or SAT TV service) and the extra person could work a paying job if needed.

If you find a volunteer or “work for site” job that requires more than 20 hours, you should get some additional perks, such as free laundry, propane allowance, store discount (if they have a camp or general store) and any other services they offer such as free WiFi and Cable TV. If not, you should get a breakdown of the hours and site costs. Some campgrounds have been known to take advantage of “work for site” folks. I know of one campground owner in Arizona that actually has the nerve to take a $500 deposit from it’s “workers” in case they leave suddenly. This is not right as you are working weekly for your site and should be working in accordance to your stay.

The best thing you can do when you find a position, even if it is as a Camp Host, is to ask for a Work-camper Agreement or some sort of contract that states what your arrival and departure dates are, what you receive (full hookups, etc…) and what the hours and job duties involve. If you are told you only need to work 10 hours a week for your site handing out camp brochures, then that is what the contract should read. Some places will try to take advantage of work-campers as they “have them” and most people will not be able to just pack up and leave. So protect yourself with some sort of contract.

There are many places to look online for a job, especially Full-Timers. The most popular is Workamper News. The have a daily job hotline emailed to you and a bimonthly magazine. However, there are many other publications, such as The Caretaker’s Gazette,  where employers seek out work-campers. You can also place an ad offering your own skills and have employers seek you out. Several websites offer free ads (maximum word count) or free ads with a subscription to their site or publication.

Word-of-mouth or recommendations from other work-campers works just as well. If you are interested in working outdoor hospitality, you should try to work a Camp Host position first, to give you an idea if this is for you. Working with the public can be…well, it can be a pain in the behind! So if you are able to volunteer for a month or so as a Host, that would be ideal. That way you won’t find yourself locked in a position at a campground or RV resort for 6 months and hating it.

There are many options out there and the more you do your homework and speak to other Full-Timers, the better off you will be. You will be surprised to find how varied work-camper positions are! From working NASCAR races and Amazon.com to casinos and ranches to amusement parks and apple harvest pickers!

Another growing area for work-campers is security or caretaking properties. Not much (or any) experience required, yet you are provide with a free place to stay and life for a minimum number of hours.

Some of these jobs pay incredible wages, in addition to full or partial benefits. And, surprisingly, there are even government jobs available to work-campers. There are a number of businesses who specifically want work-campers because these folks offer a diverse workforce and are often very flexible. Being a modern nomad is a good thing!

If you don’t need an additional income and don’t want to volunteer, then you may consider boondocking. Although this is something you should really discuss with other Full-Timers, especially those who have boondocking experience. Boondocking is just that – living in the  middle of nowhere (usually!) with no or partial hook-ups. You must live independently with your own batteries, generators, propane, solar and whatever else you can. You’ll require regular visits from a honey wagon (pumps your holding tanks) or must have your own tote tank and nearby sewer dump station to do it yourself.

We recently visited Quartzsite, Arizona which is the boondockers hangout in Western Arizona, about 90 miles north of Yuma. You can get a space in the desert  with a cheap permit from the BLM. The drawback to this type of lifestyle is most areas that are open to regular boondockers are very far from modern amenities. So if you only shopped at Walmart and it was a 90 mile drive (one-way, as in the case of Quartzsite), you may find yourself limiting your trips or suffering from the isolation. Yet again, it’s free (practically) living.

There are websites online that tell you places you can camp or stay free as well. Most are short-term, but it’s money saved! So you can live free, or close to it by either work-camping or boondocking.

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