As we enjoy the last day of 2016 in Lakehill, Texas at another Thousand Trails Resort, I started contemplating the past year of travels. I wondered about the best and the worst of the year and I wonder what others might want to know about our year.
Our blog covers the stops and highlights and most of the experiences that we had. I do try to keep it pleasant and upbeat without omitting all of our learning experiences. We are still considered new at this lifestyle of nearly three years. There are folks who have been living this way for decades by choice. We continue to learn by experience.
When we were considering going full-time after we had traveled a couple of years as part-timers, we scanned blogs, websites and read several books on the subject. After our research, we felt that we would like to give it a cautious try.
We purchased a complete rig (fifth wheel and truck) from a friend in our RV Club who was retiring from the road after many years of happy travels. We knew that our small travel trailer would not work us us as full-timers. It was a cash purchase which kept us debt free. That was a high priority for us. Yes, we have put money into it for maintenance, repairs and upgrades. We balanced it out over the three years on the road, but this year we had a few major unexpected expenses. After talking with many others on the road, it seems that road expenses are part of the lifestyle, no matter what type of RV one owns. Are we regretful, absolutely not! We still like our rig. We enjoy visiting family, seeing sites, learning non-book history and most of all we love meeting the eclectic group of people along the way.
So for details of our travels and sites, please read our blogs. The following is more of a financial wrap-up of our cost to live on the road this past year. These expenses are road related only and does not include our personal expenses since everyone’s situation and lifestyle is different. I read once that you spend about the same for food, clothes and entertainment items when living in a “stix n’brix” home as in an RV. I think that is true, except that the limiting factor is space available to store items that are not used regularly or are not consumable. We go by the rule of “if something comes in, something goes out” as best we can. We don’t bring in an item and then discard the other person’s items, which is a big no-no in RV couple compatibility!
I will stick to the expenses that we incurred for fuel, parking, maintenance and repairs. A dissertation first and a number summary at the end.
We drove 23169 miles this year traveling from Arizona, through Texas, Mississippi, Florida and then up to Minnesota, Maine, Cape Cod, south to Tennessee, west to Oklahoma and finally Texas. We spent $3986 on diesel, averaging about $332 a month. Fuel mileage varied whether we were towing or not and if we were ascending or descending hills and mountains, stuck in traffic or flying smoothly over the desert areas. A tail wind can increase fuel mileage. We were all over the country last year. Highest price per gallon was $2.49 in Vermont and the lowest price per gallon was $1.63 in Yuma last January. Our best MPG was 19.5 while touring Arizona without the rig in tow. Our lowest MPG was 7.53 in Oklahoma near the Arkansas/Missouri boarder with hill and curves in the lakes area. Average MPG overall was 12.2.
Our propane expense was $156 for the year. I cook with propane and we heat with it when our Big Buddy propane heater and furnace on cold nights on low to keep the storage area underneath above freezing. Otherwise, we use our electric fireplace or the electric tower portable space heater. We try not to stay anywhere in extreme temperatures (cold or hot) for very long. We say that we have a 10 degree comfort area with 70 degrees the midline. Needless to say, we have not always been successful.
We have a small generator and have only used it to start it up for maintenance and to vacuum the carpet and few times when off-grid. Therefore we had nominal gasoline expenses.
This year we put our solar system to good use in Arizona on BLM lands and an occasional dry-camping spot during high use areas when electric sites were booked or parks were full. We also used our Thousand Trails Elite membership for the Northeastern part of our travels this year. We feel that without it, we could not have afforded the trip to the beautiful northeastern part of the USA. We still used our Senior Pass discount card at various National Park and Corps of Engineers Facilities. We did several State Parks and City/County parks, a few Passport America and Escapees Parks and one or two Independent RV Parks. It was a great year!
Our parking expenses were $3971 for the year which averages about $331 a month. This includes our membership dues for the year for all memberships, but not the initial expense to purchase the Thousand Trails. However, we recovered that expense midyear and have enjoyed the savings the rest of the year. This dollar amount also includes five nights in a hotel while having repairs done on the RV.
Some months were around $200 (which includes the dues) and other months were $500 to $700 while visiting family in areas where parking was scarce. As a comparison, our 2015 parking expenses were $5200, averaging $433 a month and we camp hosted a month and a half that year! It would have been about $500 a month for parking if we had not camp hosted. The year before, which was out first year on the road was much more expensive, about $700 a month! We stayed at touristy spots and insisted on full hook-ups and drive through sites whenever possible, even on one night stays. We have learned a few ways to cut parking expenses since then. We only stayed at free spots like Cabela’s or Walmart parking lots a few times (3 nights) while traveling on a destination route. Because we go in and shop, we don’t consider those free parking.
Maintenance expenses for the Fifth wheel (brakes after 50K miles, nut, bolts, slide grease, wash/wax and carpet cleaning, etc.) came to $1973, which averaged out to $164 a month. One could argue that brake replacement is not a maintenance expense but a repair. We had a lot of repairs and felt that after 50K miles, it was a maintenance.
Maintenance for the truck (front brakes, oil changes and engine checkups) were $667, averaging $57 a month. Old Tires were replaced as well, not included in the above number.
This is the largest expense for the past year $16000. The major expenses (roof, additional brakes, wiring and miscellaneous, about $11500) did not come out of the budget, but from our savings. We had read that when one buys a used rig that is not under any warranty (new or aftermarket), put some savings back for repairs. We did and were thankful for it.
I will add a short side note here that we did purchase an aftermarket warranty, but quickly found that it would not work for us or our rig. Our rig was just on the verge of allowable age and it did pass the inspection. However, our first claim was denied and upon further discussion with several layers of management, we realized that nothing in our rig would likely be covered. We ceased our relationship with the aftermarket warranty company with as little financial damage as possible. We consider the losses involved as educational tuition in the school of hard knocks. I won’t even give them the publicity of naming them….
We started off in January purchasing a new toilet because the valve that we needed was shockingly no longer available. Why not? Then in February, we had a meeting with a concrete post at a dump station which put us in the shop for three weeks in March with end-cap repair. Insurance covered the repairs (minus deductible) for that damage, but while we were there we discovered a few additional issues that needed to be repaired. We reroofed the fiver and other items that needed some TLC.
We replaced all four (two year old) tires on the fiver due to being sold tires that were not suitable for our rims. We could not safely inflate them to the proper psi. See the huge bubble right by my hand? We were newbies when we bought them after a blowout in the depth of New Mexico. We’ve learned a lot about tire safety since then.
We replaced the brakes on the fiver (again) after the emergency brake cable released itself at 60 mph on a two lane road with no shoulder to pull off, in the middle of nowhere.
The large slide again gave us some problems and the leveling jacks pooped out, so we returned to the manufacturer to have these repaired. The jacks were replaced with an upgrade to dual lifting jacks.
While having the oil changed on the truck we learned that the suspension needed some work before we could do an alignment. That was another big expense, but we like to keep our rig in tip top shape.
We feel that we are still ahead with the cost of the rig, repairs and maintenance versus purchasing a comparable quality fifth wheel new. For one thing, NuWa Hitchhiker’s are no longer being built. We have a sturdy good quality rig in which we feel secure on the road and have it just the way we want it. To purchase new, we would still need to add the many upgrades that we have added to the rig for our style of RVing.
Upgrades added in 2016
We like upgrades. If something wears out, we try to upgrade. Upgrades this year at $1500 are as follows:
- Refrigerator fans and controller for fire safety
- Countertop Convection Oven
- Solar wiring upgrade
- Three new fire extinguishers
- Incoming water filters
- Wifi booster
- Rand McNally GPS System
- Dual leveling jacks as mentioned before
We could have done it cheaper or we could have spent more. If one is handy and more mechanical that we are, it likely would be cheaper. We are not unhappy with this year’s expenses but do hope not to repeat it in the next couple of years.
A quick overall sum up is below:
|RV Expenses||2016||Monthly Ave|
|Unexpected Major Repairs||11500||savings|
Fuel, Parking and Maintenance ran us about $840 a month. Someone else’s expenses will be different. Most of the repairs that we did on the truck are items that need to be done after many miles on any vehicle if one keeps it past the warranty limits. If one is handy or mechanical, many of these items could be DIY. We chose to use professionals.
When these repair issues happened, it never crossed our minds to get off the road. We only thought of how can we stay on the road and continue this lifestyle? Being safe adds to our enjoyment.
What we plan to do different in 2017
Looking back is good as we reminisce about the past and some things look better than they did when they happened, like the end-cap mishap. We had some great times visiting Mesa, Arizona with another RVing couple also getting repairs.
It was an ambitious year full of movement. We plan to do less movement in 2017, by staying longer in one place and getting to know it and by not doing as much cross country traveling in the rig. That is hard on the truck and rig and on us. We have learned that there is a lot to see and we will probably not see it all. We don’t want to
see things so fast that the memories run together and we forget the details of special places. We will see how that works this year. …
We ended up our year at Media Lake 1000 Trails in Texas. They had a great New Years eve party with party favors, music, dancing and a great spread of foods. We all went over to the fishing dock on the lake for almost two hours of donated fire works show.
Here is our 2017 selfie.
Happy New Year to all!!!!