In 2015 we bought an RV trailer and a small lake lot outside of Kelowna, BC in Canada. We just had the intention of it just being a weekend getaway property, but that soon changed. In 2017 we made the bold decision to sell our condo in the city and live in that RV instead. (Not full-time – usually from around April to November, as the rest of the year we travel the world!) We are now entering our 3rd year without a traditional ‘home’ and we’re so happy we took the leap!
One of the questions I get asked about our lifestyle is: how much money we save by tiny-living in our RV, instead of in a house or a condo.
Every situation is VERY different. Some people have a 5th wheel or RV that they pull around the country, sleeping in a new city each week. Our situation looks different. We are not nomadic with the RV, nor are we ‘full-timers’. Our RV stays in one spot and we don’t have any intention of hauling it around. Also, our lake lot can only be accessed seasonally (April 1 to November 1) so we have to travel during the winter, which suits us perfectly. There are endless situations for people who embrace van life, tiny house living, RV living and the nomad life in general.
Half of the year, the RV camper is our home, office and everything in-between. I even wrote and published my book The High Maintenance Minimalist from the RV!
While we do our best work from here, we also use this space to host our friends and family, and spend free time with those we care about.
Since everyone’s ‘RV Life’ looks different, I’m going to focus on our specific set-up and what RV life ends up costing us per month.
Yes, there were initial costs involved that I’m not going over in this post, like buying the RV itself and the land that the RV now sits on. For budget purposes, this blog is just going to cover our monthly RV expenses and what they are compared to our old condo in the city.
Basic Monthly RV Costs
RV Basic Monthly Costs
$90 Satellite Internet
$333 Land Lease
$50 RV Insurance
Condo Basic Monthly Costs
$250 Condo Fees
$100 Property Tax
$160 Cable & Internet
$50 Condo insurance
When we are comparing the most basic of living expenses between our old condo and the RV, it’s a HUGE difference. Living in the RV is 75% cheaper than living in our old condo. It’s crazy because our condo wasn’t even that expensive to begin with.
Our biggest monthly expense is our land lease, which is $4000 per year, equaling out to about $333 per month. We do pay it annually in one chunk, which brings down our actual monthly expenses to around $220/m.
In 2015 we bought the land, which also comes with the additional yearly expense of the $4000 lease. It’s the cost of living lakefront in the Okanagan and is absolutely worth having the water a few feet from our front door. Any beautiful place you are going to be able to park an RV is going to come with a price tag. The good thing is beyond the yearly lease expense, it doesn’t cost us much at ALL to live out at the lake.
Where We Saved Basic Expenses By Living in the RV:
Now here is where a lot of people will chime in and say that a mortgage is not an expense, but instead an investment. And I partially agree. The problem is most people keep moving and upgrading their homes, resulting in a never-ending mortgage situation. Not many people these days pay off their mortgage and live in the same house for their entire life. Instead of using a house and mortgage to invest in our future, we take the $1250 that we save each month by NOT paying a mortgage and put it away for our future.
The water bill in the condo was small, but here at the lake we don’t have one at all! We get all of our water from the lake. Our outside taps and garden hoses are hooked up to take it directly out of the lake. The sinks, toilet and shower are hooked up to a sand point well that draws from the lake and filters the water for us.
The RV is much smaller than even our condo was, so it takes a lot less money to light, heat and cool it. Our furnace, fridge and hot water tank are hooked up to 2 propane tanks that we can re-fill when needed. Our fireplace, AC, plus and lights are the only things that use electricity, which keep the bill quite small. Even in the hottest of summer days we get a great breeze off of the lake, so we rarely will even use AC.
RV Lifestyle Cost Differences
I also thought it was important to focus on lifestyle and added expenses between living in the RV in the country, compared to the condo in the city. The city definitely offered more distractions and opportunities to mindlessly spend extra cash.
Here is a peek into lifestyle monthly costs:
Lifestyle Costs While RV Living
$75 Two Cell Phones on ‘Pay As You Go’
$50 Eating Out
$100 Buying ‘Stuff’
Lifestyle Costs While Condo Living
$220 Two Cell Phones on Monthly Plans
$300 Eating Out
$500 Buying ‘Stuff’
Where We Saved Lifestyle Expenses By Living in the RV:
When we lived in the city we had both of our phones on big plans that gave us tons of data and minutes. We never took the time to evaluate if we even NEEDED such big cell phone plans. Once we got into full Minimalism mode, we were excited to see how low we could get every bill! Once we realized we used most of our data at home on Wi-Fi, and that almost everywhere we went had free WiFi hotspots, we cancelled the big plans. Switching to a ‘pay as you go’ type plan allows us to be in more control of how much we are spending on our phones. Plus, when we travel the LAST thing we want is huge cell phone bills. With pay as you go, we can just put the number on vacation disconnect for months at a time and not worry about it.
We are not even close to our dream food situation out here, but we are getting better. We currently have lots of trees and plants that produce a lot of free food, but we need to plant more and make a better food garden. Right now, we have plums, cherries, strawberries, pears, blueberries, raspberries, Saskatoon berries and a few vegetables. Next year we are hoping to have a better veggie selection with snap peas, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and a few others. The more food we can grow ourselves means the less we have to buy at the store.
Our food costs have gone down between the condo and the RV because of lifestyle changes. Out here we take the time to make more homemade meals instead of always just grabbing the more expensive pre-made stuff. You would think with a smaller kitchen and fridge in the RV it would be harder, but it actually makes me a more efficient cook. I have learned to do more with less ingredients and less space. When we had a big freezer and tons of cupboards in the condo, I swear we ended up buying more food than we ever intended on eating.
We save a TON of money on not shopping like we used to. This is for a few reasons:
1. We had mail service directly to our front door in the condo. That makes online shopping so attractive and easy. Click, wait a day or two, and bam… it’s at your door. Now we have a UPS box in town that all of our mail goes to. We drive in about 1-2 times a month. Since ordering things online is no longer instant, I do it a LOT less, and that’s good! I really take time to decide if I truly need something or not before clicking the buy now button.
2. We don’t have room. The RV is about 300 sq ft, hardly a space that we can fill with gadgets and décor. Living in a house or a condo, it’s easy to buy new furniture, the latest appliances, or even trendy novelty items. In this tiny space we can only fit what we need and use on a daily basis. With no room for spontaneous purchases, we simply don’t make them anymore!
3. It’s not convenient to shop. Our lake lot is in the middle no nowhere. Well, it seems that way, but it’s about 40 minutes to the nearest city with stores like Walmart, Costco, etc. Shopping for anything becomes a commitment, so I find if I don’t sincerely need anything, there is no way I am heading into town to get it!
4. I am more content. I am surround by mountains, trees, water and the sounds of wildlife. Out here I am more at peace than I have ever been in my life. There is no hustle bustle of the city, people to compare myself to, or the the pressures of modern day society. It’s chill and relaxed. I find my urge to shop has dropped immensely by surrounding myself with nature, good people and fresh air.
When we lived in the city it was so easy to just go out to the movies, head out for dinner, or find some other way to mindlessly blow our money. Now life looks a little different. We still have the occasional date night and dinner with friends, but much less frequently. Since our place is on the lake, we find friends just want to come over to go swimming, BBQ, or hang out on the beach. Most of the entertainment out here is free! We don’t even need a gym pass with all the nature trails we have surrounding our land.
Plus, with all the chores that come with having an RV on the lake, we don’t have a lot of idle time left over.
Total RV Monthly Budget
Grand Total of RV Life:
Grand Total of Condo Life:
Future RV Budget Goals
> $1,500 a month
Our goal is to lower our food cost by another $175/m to take our grand total cost of living under $1500/m. Next spring I am going to re-do our entire garden situation, so we can grow more of our favorite fruits and veggies.
We had also thought about solar panels, but we aren’t sure they would be a good investment for us at this time. Our electricity bill is so small out here, and the cost of panels is so high, that it might not make financial sense.
We are always looking to lower our costs by re-using and re-purposing items. The smallest things can make a big difference over time. Like cutting up an old shirt to use for rags instead of grabbing paper towel, hanging clothes to dry instead of using the costly dryer, or learning to re-purpose our single-use item waste.
Future RV Expenses
Yes, our monthly cost of living is SUPER low out here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to plan for future big-ticket expenses.
Our lake lot came with a very cool, super retro, 1960’s cabin. It has 2 bedrooms, a living room/kitchen combo, and a deck that hangs over the water. While it’s fully functional and usually has friends and family staying in it, the building is pretty old and is going to need some work. This year it’s just paint and fixing a few water damaged boards of the deck, but in the next few years it will need more TLC. We are putting a small amount away each month so when we have to repair or replace something major on the cabin, it doesn’t shock the budget.
Because the cabin in right on the water, there is no bathroom inside the actual cabin itself. Instead the previous owners built an outdoor bathroom. Don’t think of it like an outhouse, it’s literally a small shed-sized building with a regular flush toilet, sink and shower. Now the issue is I don’t think it’s been renovated for about 20 years. Next year we will have to put in a new shower and might as well change out the sink and toilet while we are at it. Again, another expense of having land with assorted buildings already on it…they are going to need some work whether we personally use them or not. If we do most of the work ourselves, we can likely keep the bathroom reno under $2000.
As for the RV, it’s still quite new and we are impeccable with how we take care of it. Fingers crossed, it will continue to be good to us and not give us many future issues. So far it’s been an amazing purchase and we couldn’t be happier with it!
As I type this blog we are doing a bit of re-decorating inside to make it more functional. After 4 years of owning the RV, there are a few things we need to swap out to make it work better for our lifestyle. I need a proper work desk instead of using the dinette it came with. We are also swapping out the teeny tiny love-seat for a proper couch that will be much more comfortable. We are trying to keep our total re-decorating budget to under $1500. We have spent less than $200 decorating it since we bought it in 2015, so we don’t mind putting a bit of money into it now.
It’s All About Priorities & Sacrifices
So many people think that Trevor and I must be millionaires to travel with the frequency that we do, but that is not the case at all. We’ve made many ‘creature comfort’ sacrifices and worked extremely hard at lowering our cost of living.
All said and done, we are just over $1500/m to live in our RV, which is the secret for us having a vibrant life full of possibilities. That amount is so manageable and doesn’t weight us down with stress and bills. It’s directly BECAUSE of our low cost of living that we are able to travel the way we do. If we had instead purchased a big home, another vehicle, and fell into the consumer trap, there would be no way we could travel the world.
The RV life isn’t for everyone, but with its insanely low costs and huge lifestyle rewards, it’s certainly the way we want to live!