Becoming a digital nomad requires a lot of lifestyle adjustments. Before we quit our desk jobs, we found there was a lot of prep work to be done. We bought a previously owned RV, established our legal residence with a family member, downsized what we could, and put the rest in storage. We also had to learn how to budget for our new lifestyle.
Living in an RV eliminates many of the usual expenses — rent, electricity, cable, and heating/cooling bills, to name the biggies. However, we’ve discovered life on the road also comes with new expenses. For example, parking at a site with hookups comes at a cost. You have to think about upping your mobile plan to include enough data for being on the road and to also serve as a wi-fi hotspot when needed. You also need to consider how many dollars you’ll be routinely sinking into that massive gas tank.
All that said, we’ve picked up some money-saving tips along our journey. Here are some ways to manage your money and stay frugal while living in an RV.
Choose destinations carefully
Some cities are crazy expensive while others are more affordable. If you want to save money, carefully choose the cities where you’ll be spending extended periods of time. Cities such as New York, Ashville, Washington D.C., and Austin are all ranked in the top five priciest cities to visit in the U.S. Less expensive cities include San Diego, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Kansas City, MO, to name a few.
Just because a pricey city is on your must-see bucket list, don’t feel you have to give up your dream of visiting it. Find other ways to scale back on expenses to make it work. Take these ideas into consideration:
- Suburbs of expensive cities are also often price. Be sure to do research on campsites (or other accommodations) before hitting the road so you have some price comparison points.
- See if you can find places to camp that are within a reasonable distance or near public transportation you could take into these cities.
- Plan your routes carefully to make sure you take roads that can accommodate RVs. Use the Google Maps and Park Advisor apps to help you avoid narrow roads, low bridges, and other unfriendly RV road hazards. You’ll waste precious gas money if you’re forced to turn around.
- Consider boondocking in parking lots. It definitely has its inconveniences, but it’s usually OK for short spurts. To use those spurts wisely, consider boondocking near the expensive cities.
Additionally, consider “shoulder season” travel. A term used by the RV community, shoulder season is code for the off-season. Essentially, you choose destinations based on low times for tourist season. You’ll find easier access to preferred campsites, smaller crowds for attractions, and, perhaps most importantly, lower prices for nearly everything.
Stick to a budget
Creating a budget is a must for most lifestyles. However, when it comes to the nomad life, unless you’ve got a hoard of cash stuffed in your mattress, it’s really important to not only make a budget but also stick to it.
- List all your income and expenses in a spreadsheet (or another visual aid that works for you). It’s easier to tangibly see both listed side by side.
- Explore RV lifestyle websites and learn any common major and minor expenses because there may be costs you haven’t considered or encountered yet.
- Have at least six months of living expenses in savings before you start your journey.
- If you’ll be spending most of your time on the road, rather than extended periods of time in one city, your monthly expenses will vary. Do considerable research on the cost of living in each region beforehand, so you’re prepared.
- If you’re living on credit cards and setting up automatic payments, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re spending. Set up a method to track your expenses; save all your receipts and keep a daily tally. In the event you find yourself going over budget, you’ll catch it quickly and be able to iron things out before spiraling into debt.
- Plan for an emergency fund and be sure to establish a way to grow your savings.
To further stretch your budget, look for additional streams of income you can tap. In today’s gig economy, it’s a lot easier to pick up side hustles to bolster your cash inflow. This makes it more doable to afford the pricier cities, along with some splurges along the way.
Find daily ways to save
One significant way to scale back costs is to carefully track your daily expenses and look for cost-conscious ways to save.
- Pay close attention to gas prices because every few cents saved help when you’re dealing with an RV-sized gas tank. Use the GasBuddy app to identify gas prices near the cities you’ll be traveling. (List a few, in case some of them can’t accommodate an RVs)
- When it comes to meals, living in an RV is no different from living at home: Eating out is expensive, so avoid falling into this habit — save it for special occasions. Many campsites permit grilling and/or campfires, so vary up your meals by finding different ways to cook. Use your kitchen, slow cooker, and InstantPot often. Use a meal planner and be sure to save any leftovers for other meals.
- Consider co-working spaces. For just a few bucks a month, you can get access to all the standard work amenities (and sometimes extra perks!) at an affordable cost. Sometimes you can even find one that’s cheaper than buying food and drinks in a local café just to use their internet.
- Make coffee at home and bring it in a thermos, and tote water bottles when you’re out and about.
- If you like to indulge in a glass of wine or an evening beer, buying local products are cheaper. Not only do you save some money, but you’ll experience regional flavor, too.
Additionally, hone up your mechanical skills. As with any vehicle (especially one that’s heavily used), something’s eventually going to break. While some repairs will possibly require a professional’s help, anything you can fix yourself will save you money.
Living on the road definitely requires some adjustments, but if you’re flexible when you need to be and practice savvy spending during your travels, you can experience everything you want in a lifestyle you love.