While trying to think about our next blog post, we reviewed our year (and then our past four years on the road). People have asked if this lifestyle is cheaper than living in a “sticks n bricks” house. The general guideline is, if you are like us, it’s about the same cost. If you want to live cheaper, there are ways (such as installing up front expensive solar panels and then live cheap “boon docking”) but that’s for others to write about. We know those ways weren’t for us. Our basic budget is about the same now as before we hit the road. We are striving to live at the same or slightly cheaper lifestyle while traveling full time. And just like in a house, RVs need major repairs. You hope to spread them out!
How we travel: We prefer “full hook ups” which means we need 50 amp service (we only needed 30 amps in our 5th wheel which sometimes is a bit cheaper), sewer and water hook ups. We average between $20-$25/night for full hook up sites. We have our own washer and dryer as well as a residential refrigerator which require the full hook ups for us. Compared to living in a house, our basic expenses, electricity, water and sewer range from $7,000 to $9,000 a year. You could look at that as our rent with utilities. In our sticks and bricks home, we estimated our utilities, insurance, etc. was about $10,000 year. Not too bad.
How long do we plan to travel this way? We’ve said the only thing that could take us off the road before we are “ready” – we’ve planned/budgeted on at least 10 years (four down six to go) – is a health event. Wouldn’t you know, last December, we had that major health scare! Bill had a test where the radiologist said he was at HIGH risk of a massive heart attack/and or heart disease. After additional testing and “hands on” examination of Bill, the NEW Cardiologist said he’d be fine – he only needed a radical lifestyle change. In essence, eat in a heart healthy way, workout at least 5 times a week and eliminate as much stress as he could. The doctor had full confidence Bill was not a risk of a heart attack and felt he could make the lifestyle change needed. And he said this lifestyle sounded perfect – fresh air, regular daily exercise, home cooked meals and low stress! Hallelujah – but little did he know, this lifestyle is HARDLY stress free!
How did we adapt? We will confess, we were very tentative about the new lifestyle – Bill had to learn how to cook differently. Could we really do it? Absolutely, it’s been no problem and the best benefit is that Bill dropped 50 pounds (we never realized he carried that much extra weight) and I dropped 25 (yikes, I never realized I was carrying that much extra weight, either).
So off we continued on our adventures. We had planned to see more states and places this year. So we’ve planned our travels around the routine maintenance we need on Tiffany (name of our motor home) – how can we travel to new places and get the necessary work done? One yearly stop we like to make is back to Red Bay, Alabama where Tiffany was manufactured. The challenge is to approach Red Bay via different routes for different places.
Our first test to see new places came when Bill figured out our generator (that we hardly use btw) needed “professional” help. Bill is a long time DIYer so he did what all good DIYers do, he searched YouTube for help! He did everything possible to get it running. No success. We looked for a Cummins Diesel Service Dealership in our path south last winter. We had a wonderful trip via Salisbury, North Carolina to our first “work” destination, Spartanburg, South Carolina.
We did two things there, one was our yearly diesel maintenance and then the unexpected $1,500 expense for the generator repair. It was the wiring harness! Go figure. We’re blessed that it didn’t really set us back as we have funds for the unexpected – to a point but coupled with our yearly diesel “tune up” at about $1,500 – this was a big hit all at once. And guess what? It only worked for the summer – we run it once a month to keep it working. We haven’t really needed it, but it’s an expensive addition that has to be taken care of. Bill thinks it’s a problem with our house batteries – to be discussed later in this post.
We’ve been doing great health wise – the main concern we have about being “forced” our of this lifestyle on the road is an event that would take us off the road. So we have dodged that with Bill’s heart disease. We both had a dental issue that required considerable funds, me this year and Bill last year. And then I needed an unexpected surgery last month. We thought we had excellent insurance. I had met my deductible, but this surgery still cost me over $2,000 in “co-insurance.” You don’t finance those charges. So now we are out $8,000 cash this year. But hang on….
Bill is all about maintenance to keep things humming along. We tried to save a dollar on replacing our tires when they were five years old. The debate is that they generally last for seven years. In December 2015, we took our motor home to a truck tire dealership and he said we definitely had another year or two to go. And of course, we had an unexpected blow out the next month! That was all we needed, we bought all new tires, six of them, at just under $1,500 in February 2016. We also bought a tire pressure monitoring system for $250 to help us keep up with the pressure in the tires. While it wouldn’t have prevented the blow out, we would have at least had a few second warning it was coming….but that’s another blog post….
In our last post, we shared about our two flat tires on our way to our current destination, Myrtle Beach. Yep, our motor home tires! This was our second experience being on the side of a highway and needing roadside assistance. While we pulled off the road as much as we safely could, when a semi-tractor trailer drove by us at 60 – 75 mph, our motor home shakes and rattles! It’s a bit unnerving….not exactly what one needs if they are supposed to have a low stress lifestyle. Fortunately, we were now experienced, so we were much calmer. A friend commented we sure have bad luck with tires. We never wrote about our flat tire on our 5th wheel….At least it happened while we were parked. Anyway, so now we’re out another $1600 for two new tires…..
We’ve not written much about our TOAD, or the car we tow. We bought it used, a 2013 Cadillac SRX. We learned there are fewer and fewer “full-sized” cars available now to “flat tow” behind a motor home. Flat tow means all four wheels are on the ground and the car is in neutral. We needed a “luxury” car for the occasional long trips we may have to take without our motor home. And at our age, we need all the comfort we can get in a vehicle. For the most part we have been happy with it. We have just had a few issues and of course, the current one could cost us around $800. When we bought it, we still had about 30,000 miles to go before the “bumper to bumper” warranty was over. That meant we had free regular oil changes and maintenance as well as free repairs on anything that went wrong. We were pretty happy with it, except for one thing. We noticed the headlights were “dim” during nighttime driving. The high beams work find, but the low beams just aren’t safe. We have been battling with GM over this and that is a whole other blog post….hopefully, I will have a good update on this later.
We have three other expenditures we are facing with Tiffany. We have six six-volt house batteries, each cost over $100 to replace. They were only a month old when we bought her. That should have been a clue to us as they should have lasted longer than the original three years. The reason we can’t start the generator must be linked to the house batteries not being at full charge – which means we need to replace them. This last time we had the flat tires, we could have used the generator to keep cool! It was a hot day and we had a three-hour wait for the roadside assistance – we hope it’s only the batteries. And then the slide toppers are starting to shred – Bill has determined he can replace them himself. He’ll buy the fabric once we get have a chance to build our check book back up! And we haven’t mentioned our troubles with Direct TV and our in-motion antenna….Oh the extra price we have to pay to live on the road!
As we talked about all the unexpected expenses that hit us not only this year, but for these past four years, we said, no matter, we’re going to keep in truckin’! This helped us think about what it has taken to keep us traveling. We came up with a list of the traits we have as a couple that have helped us persevere – and what it is going to take to keep on keeping on! Interesting, these traits really are good no matter if on the road or not!
- We’ve both worked long and hard and planned for a robust retirement. In essence, we have the financial resources to buy what we “needed” and to afford to stay on the road and make all the expected, but more importantly, the unexpected expenses that come along. We worked hard and planned for our retirement. We met with our financial advisor and he gave us the advice we needed to do what we are now doing.
- We have an exit plan. We attended several wonderful seminars at the Tampa Super RV Show over about a five-year period before we bought into the lifestyle. The most important thing we learned was to have an “exit” plan. Many people sell everything and pour their money in their dream RV. And then for whatever reason, they have to get off the road and learn they won’t get the money back they need to go back into a “sticks and bricks” home. We’ve planned for our exit – just for now we don’t know where that will be. But we will be ready when the time comes.
- We’ve had to flexible! We do struggle a bit with this one but it keeps coming up – so we don’t like to really plan very far out. And when we do, we know the plans can easily change.
- Be resourceful – or better yet, be a handyman! Bill is and has been a DIY (do it yourself) man his whole life. No job is too complicated – he’ll figure out a way to fix it.
- Have a support group. We hear all kinds of stories about families who went into distress when their parents, adult children or siblings embarked on this lifestyle. We were fortunate, first of all, we had my step dad as our mentor – and my mom. They lived this dream – for too short of a time. But then continued to live it while we hit the road. We only have one child and she supports our dream – but she LOVES it when we return to spend a month or so nearby. We can’t wait until we can bring the boys along….
- We are grateful for our compatibility. We’ve been together 42+ years and for the most part, we like all of the same things, such as room temperature (really important in 400 square foot home), beaches, mountains and the great outdoors! It’s so important to be considerate of each other and at our age, to give each other grace when one of us messes up.
- We’ve enjoyed good health and are blessed to have great health insurance. We honestly believe this lifestyle is good for our health. It’s keeping us active, our brains stimulated and we have a can do attitude. You know you are getting old when you think about these things….
- Perseverance and patience are so important. Oh, my, the situations we have been in have caused us to dig deep into our wells! We’ve actually failed a few times on the patience part, but we have persevered through many tough obstacles.
- We’re minimalists! When we were transferred to Florida in 2004, we declared we were going to become minimalists. We bought a small home but within a year, decided it was too small! So we failed in this quest, but finally, in 2013, we realized we had too much stuff and ended up selling and giving away everything. We’re not sentimental and neither is our daughter. We did give her a few family “heirlooms.”
- We depend on our faith. We don’t know how people who don’t have faith in God manage life – and more importantly – death. We have been in tough spots. I am so glad we could cry out to God and pray for His protection and for His peace, but we fall down when we need to say, “everything will be ok.”
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV