First Full-Timing Budget

One of the first questions people have who are interested in the Full Timing lifestyle is: “Can I afford it?”. (Yes, you can, but nothing else. – Lee) Most people know they would love it, but whether they can make it work financially is a major roadblock.  What made me really believe this was possible was reading RV-Dreams and seeing Howard’s budgets, so I promised myself that if we were able able to do this I would carry his generosity forward as best as I could and post my own budget as well.  Last month I had every intention of posting it but it was such a disaster I gave myself a break and decided to start in January.  Between trailing costs from moving, Christmas gifts, and too many meals eaten out with family, we were pretty far off the rails.  (I ate nothing but Ramen Noodles and bought nothing. I have no idea what she spent all our money on. Probably hookers and blow. – Lee) So we hunkered down in January and for better or worse, I’ll show you how we did, below.  By the way, I am using a spreadsheet created by Howard from RV-Dreams that is pretty terrific.  I highly recommend it as a starting point for those of you who are interested in tracking your costs. (You’ll think you can just make your own, but you can’t. Just buy Howard’s. It’s worth every penny, and you’ve got enough to worry about without making spreadsheets. Trust me. – Lee)

So how did we start?  We looked at budgets online, talked to our friends who went on the road before us, and made some not-so-educated guesses.  Consequently, we knew that we would need to adjust the budget after some time passed when we had more data.  Some folks pick a dollar amount and then shoehorn their expenses into that amount, but I wasn’t comfortable with that approach.  (I prefer the “spend everything and assign blame to others later” philosophy. It has worked really well so far. I have, or used to have, lots of cool stuff. Then Tracy made me get rid of all of it and live in a little box with no high speed internet. This is awesome! – Lee) Instead we did a bottom up approach, looking at our costs for each particular item, seeing what the total was, and then adjusting down, as needed, to make it doable.  The big questions was: “Could we live with it?”.  This is also the fifth version of the budget we have done.  As we got more information things changed. (My original budget included new towels and socks every day, and free pie that magically fell from the sky. I got more information, and it changed. – Lee)

When you ask the questions on forums about how much it costs to live on the road people generally say “as much as you have”.  There is an element of truth in that but ultimately I feel it is a cop-out because few people are willing to live at a subsistence level even if they have the most beautiful view in the world.  Most people who decide to full-time have lived pretty comfortably for some time and are used to spending money, so a complete adjustment to never spending anything isn’t quite practical for most. I say all this to preface my budget.  (Isn’t the suspense killing you? You could just scroll down, but then you would miss everything I had to say. Perish the thought. – Lee) Could you live on less? Sure. Could we live on less? (Nope. Meeting adjourned. Let’s go get Chinese food! – Lee) Yes if we had to, and some day maybe we will.  Are there categories and expenses that you will spend far less on because you simply don’t care about them? Absolutely.  I will say that a human being can only deal with so much change at once and some of these items are in place to allow us time to get used to our new life.  It will change over time I am sure, but for right now this is where we are:

January Budget

January Budget


Let me review some of the bigger ticket items.

Campground Fees – $750 was based on what several other people we know used.  We definitely feel we can get this down over time as we do more boondocking and feel more comfortable with places other than private campgrounds, but for now with full hookups this is a realistic.

Groceries – This is what we were spending in our sticks and bricks.  We have tried to reduce this some by not stocking items but those savings have been offset by spending more on natural, fresh foods.  Again, over time I expect we will do better with this but for right now it’s not an area we are looking at too hard.  For us this is definitely an item we didn’t want to mess with too much with so much other change.  Plus we are eating out less so spending more in this category. (Also, pie ain’t cheap, baby. And two pies costs twice as much as one pie. Bam. Math. – Lee)

Dining Out / Entertainment – We have $350 dollars all told in these two categories and there was some intense discussion around this.  We thought we had padded the number and we would never spend this much and then completely blew both these budgets in December.  This month we did much better but we really had to work at it.  Part of the cool thing about traveling is there is so much to see.  Part of the difficulty is seeing things without spending tons of money.  We had to say “No, we won’t spend $72 on the Big Cat Rescue  (which was #1 on my things to do in Tampa list) and instead spend $8 on the Sunken Gardens.  ” Lee also came up with this great plan for looking at food as fuel versus an experience.  If it was just fuel we should pack a lunch (which we still are lousy at) or drive home to eat or get McDonald’s.  If it was an experience then we would eat lunches versus dinners and make sure we made the most of it.  (The most effective way to get the most out of eating out is to make the other person need to go the bathroom by making waterfall noises, and taking food off their plate while they’re gone. Also, stealing food from other patrons, but you have to be fast. People are all weird about that, but I say it’s all part of the experience. – Lee) Souvenirs are a hard trap to avoid as well.  Not having much space for things helps, plus I try to get magnets at places, which are relatively cheap. My big weakness is T-Shirts which can be super expensive but do serve two purposes (souvenir and clothing).  So sometimes I get a shirt but most of the time I don’t and I try to only get them when they are sale.

Truck Fuel – This was one of the hardest items to calculate.  We have $150 for running around wherever we are staying, and $250 if we are moving from place to place.  Have no idea if those numbers will hold up because I still have a company car and those costs are coming directly from my paycheck.  It’s awesome that gas prices are so low, but going places still costs gas even if they are free so I expect these expenses to go up as we leave the Tampa area and start traveling around some more. (I have argued that if we always camp near pie outlets, we can keep the fuel costs waaaay down. We’re still discussing it. – Lee) 

Cell Phones/TV/Internet – Originally we had cell phone, internet, and TV broken into multiple categories, but when we decided to get rid of dish and just stream television we upped our usage to 80GB a month and are paying $361.  I know this seems like a ridiculous amount of money, but I also know we use every bit of that 80GB in a month.  Will this change over time? I hope so as we get to more wide open spaces, but for right now this is where we are at. (You want to see her freak out? Tell her she can’t watch “Scandal” because we’ve used up all our internets. – Lee)

RV Loan Payment – We wanted to come on the road debt free, but at the end of the day we were not willing to delay another year to pay off the camper.  It was our choice to go on the road with this $400 payment and we felt and still feel it’s manageable. (My theory is that if we just keep moving, and Bank of America doesn’t read this blog, they’ll never find us. We’re still discussing it. – Lee)

So how did we do??  Well, certainly not as bad as last month, but not as good as I would have liked.

January Actual vs Budget


We had a budget of $3465 and we spent $4167 or roughly 20% over budget.  So where did it go?  Well, let’s talk about the red.   (See how reasonable she sounds? Then BAM. No pie. You have to watch her. She’s good at business. – Lee)  The biggest overage was Home Improvement.  We only have $50 in the budget (which is probably too low) and I bought a $200 grill and Lee spent the rest at the Tampa RV show and on various other miscellaneous house items.  (Every single one of them absolutely necessary and mission critical. – Lee) This is similar to having a new house…it’s hard not to buy stuff for it, but we definitely need to get this category under control.  (See? Everyone agrees. Meeting adjourned. – Lee) The next largest overage was cigarettes.  We used to spend $600 a month on cigarettes, but before we came on the road we started rolling our own which took the budget down to $200.  Yes, smoking is bad, and we would like to quit, but in the interim it’s a part of our budget. We were thrown a major curveball though, when we got to Florida and we couldn’t find cigarette tobacco anywhere.  Apparently they changed the taxes on cigarette tobacco, so everyone is smoking pipe tobacco which doesn’t roll well.  Long story short, after an exhaustive search, Lee found a place an hour away that sells it so he bought 7 pounds of tobacco.  This overage will even out during the next couple of months and if you’re not a smoker you won’t have to worry about this in your budget anyway, which is a good thing for multiple reasons.  Membership fees were high (joined Escapees and Passport America), laundry went over because our washing machine was broken, and personal care was high because we both got haircuts.  We may need to make that budget item higher. (I vote for no more haircuts. I want to look like Sean Cassidy. If Sean Cassidy was almost 50, and about 50 pounds over his ideal weight. If he was 7 feet tall.-Lee)

So what was the good news?  We were $4 under budget in dining out…hooray..and thanks Eileen and Gene for buying me dinner that one night! (So sorry about your budget, Eileen and Gene, but it’s dog eat dog out there. – Lee) Entertainment we were under by $104,   Fantastic!!  And since we didn’t relocate this month we got $250 back on fuel.  So there were some positives and I can definitely see that the things we focused on, we did well on.  Overall I don’t feel that horrible about it.  I think the big takeaway here is that you can set a budget in advance and then try to make that budget work, but until you get out there and live the life you really don’t know what it is going to cost.  After talking to Lee about the results, we are going to start meeting every week to see how we are doing.  (More meetings! Yay! – Lee) I don’t think he would have been willing to do that a month ago.  We are evolving, and in this as in all other aspects of this life we need to be flexible and patient with each other. (Qpwsoedfsglkjldfgjlgkjdg. Sorry, I can’t type, I’m laughing because she said I’m “evolving” and “patient”-Lee)

On another note (although a large medical expense would definitely impact the budget) I had promised I would provide some followup on my Aspen Dental experience and since I had my appointment this Friday I thought I would share it here.  I have been concerned about finding dental care on the road since the very beginning.  As I have mentioned before I have always taken good care of my teeth and absolutely believe that clean and healthy teeth are necessary to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle.  I thought there was no “Urgent Care” type company with a national network of dental offices and then my friend Cori mentioned Aspen Dental.   Although they are not everywhere, they are growing and I loved the idea of being able to have my records on file in their national network. The office I went to just opened on Thursday and was absolutely beautiful.  Every dental chair has a television attached to it (super nice feature) and everything was spotless.  I knew I would have to get a full set of x-rays (despite having pictures of the x-rays from my June), but  I was resigned to that since they stated they would not charge me if the insurance company didn’t pay for them.  They did the full set which took awhile and then I was put into an exam room.  Someone then came in and measured my gums and that’s when things got unpleasant.   She recommended a two step cleaning process with an irrigation.  I was taken aback since my teeth are in really good shape.  When I pushed back she got very defensive and brought in the dentist.  He proceeded to tell me that I had two potential cavities and a third cavity and they could take care of it the same day.   He tried to show me with the mirror but I saw nothing and then he pressed hard on the tooth but I felt nothing.   I may very well have the beginnings of a cavity, but at that point they had totally lost credibility with me so I stated I just wanted my cleaning.  Then it got really bad. I went with the office manager into a room where we could talk about treatment course.  This is standard procedure in this office and I was picturing my husband or someone else who always takes doctor recommendations being taken for a ride.  I said I just wanted a cleaning and eventually she typed it up and handed me a paper that had the cleaning and the irrigation which my out of pocket would be $64.  I have nothing against paying for a service I need but I was very clear.  At this point I was livid.  I told her I wanted only what my insurance would cover and nothing more and I was about two seconds away from asking to speak to their area manager.  She finally backed down and printed out the service I requested AFTER I signed a release form stating I understood what they recommended and was refusing it.

They did have an immediate opening so I took a deep breath and went back with the hygienist who seemed very nice.  We were about to start when the supervisor pulled her from the room and when she came back in her attitude was completely different.  As my teeth were cleaned I got a nice lecture on gum problems.  She then proceeded to use the pick to clean my teeth acting as if this was an unusual procedure.  She even said that she felt she had to do it because it was the right thing to do for the patient.  At this point I looked at her and said, “My hygienist always does this.  It’s part of the standard cleaning .”  She hemmed and hawed a bit and then changed the subject.  So my teeth are clean which is the important thing but it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Here’s the thing.  A medical person has implied authority by virtue of their training that makes it more likely you will say yes to whatever they recommend.  So I believe strongly that anyone in that position has a higher level of responsibility to provide the patient with their options.  Does this always happen?  Of course not, but when you’re in a sticks and bricks you hopefully have time to shop around and develop a level of trust and relationship with your provider.  Losing these established relationships with my doctor and dentist is a major downside to the nomad life and forces me into a position of being extra vigilant in any medical situation.   So will I go back?  I’m not sure what other choice I have.  It’s either fly back to New Hampshire twice a year for cleanings, find a new dentist every six months wherever we go, or use this chain and at least avoid the new patient experience.  They did say that they do x-rays every year (instead of the standard 2) so honestly I am not sure if it will be worth it.  I will give them one more shot in 6 months and see how much of a hassle that is. (After reading this, I have opted to stop going to the dentist. I have always hated it anyway. Plus, I want to look like Sean Cassidy, if he were almost 50, a little chunky, and toothless. – Lee) 

So that’s the week, budgets and dentists.  It wasn’t that bad…at least there was no snow and we had several absolutly beautiful days unlike our friends in the northern states.   Tomorrow we are going to vist our friends in Ft. Meyers and next week Cori and Greg get into town.  Really really looking forward to popping in at the boondocking rally and seeing everyone!

Lessons Learned 

  • Being a new patient at a dentist involves two visits and most will not do the cleaning the same day as the initial consultation
  • You have to be your own advocate when you do not have an established relationship with the medical provider.
  • You can set a budget in advance and then try to make that budget work, but until you get out there and live the life you really don’t know what it is going to cost



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13 thoughts on “First Full-Timing Budget

  1. Great job with the budget! I’m going to give ours a go. Hopefully the dentist will work out better next time now that you kind of know how it goes. And for goodness sake, get the man a piece of pie, he’s borderline delirious! 😉

  2. Your budget categories are very similar to the amounts we budget. It seems like a lot of rv’ers with budgets have the same issue – trying to cut back on eating out. It’s so tempting when you’re constantly in new places with new interesting restaurants to try. Besides eating at lunch, another thing that Harry and I often do is to split a meal. So we might have an appetizer and split a sandwich. Another way to cut the cost down a bit. 🙂

  3. Thanks for posting the detailed budget and expenses. For those of us still planning it’s nice to have an example to go by. I had added a percentage for inflation to our budget as we are years away from full timing.

  4. Useful info. We are using our sown spreadsheet, whichi’m comfortable with owing to my time and experience in the USN as a supply type. Lee, love your adlibs. Added some other comments on RV-Dreams

  5. I agree 100% with your lessons learned. Also had similar experiences with a dentist and medical care in general, as well as budgets which, as with all our other plans, are made in jello.

  6. We started using Howard’s spreadsheet a good six months before we went on the road and armed with that information knew we could survive on our own budget. That has yet to happen! Mostly it’s the grocery and dining out that get us, also the little things we keep buying for our house. I think that’s because everywhere we’ve been so far we’ve been visiting family and friends. So we end up going out to eat more often, and having friends and family over to lunch or dinner causes our grocery bill and dining out costs to soar. In the beginning we thought we would enjoy moving every two to three days, and as you know moving often will cause your fuel costs and camping fees (especially when paying more for camping when trying to stay close to family) to skyrocket. After setting up and breaking down every couple three days we learned we like staying in one place longer. Once we setup we like to stay at least a week to two weeks or more and enjoy ourselves. So, I think we have a handle on those costs. Then we bought dinner one night for a special RVing friend and that threw our budget off for the entire year!! (Ha ha just kidding!)

    • You made me laugh!!! You should totally blame missing the budget on me 😉. Thanks for sharing. It’s good to know we aren’t the only ones! Miss you guys and don’t forget we have a kayaking date soon!!

  7. Trace: Years ago we moved from a small town to the Tucson area. We had no dental issues and saw the dentist regularly. We went in for a cleaning, both my husband and myself, and were told we needed gum surgery or we would lose all of our teeth and they told us that our insurance would not cover it. Unless we wanted the recommended care, they would not serve us. We were 35 years old then and now 60 years old and many dentists later and our gums are just fine. And, it didn’t get better since we took our son with Down syndrome to a recommended dentist for children with special needs. He said that our son needed a tooth removed that sort of was extra-ish more behind his regular teeth than not and that he would need braces and again, if we were not willing to follow this advice, he would not do any dental care for our son. We found another dentist across town for a 2nd opinion since this would create a miserable situation for our son, this dentist said the tooth was fine the way it was as he had a patient, not with disabilities, that had it like that and it never bothered that man and that braces were not necessary. So, food for thought. You know, I just cannot believe how dishonest people are today. My best thought is to be bold about asking everyone you see what dentist they use, the cashier, the librarian, the person in line with you when shopping……. I did learn that just asking a couple of people did not pan out very well since, frankly, they turned out to be sheepeople. It is very hard moving around and finding good professionals to work with. I think though once you get a feel for how to link up with the right people, it will get easier. I was glad to see you called them out because that is where, we the people, have to start to change this sort of behavior around.

  8. Thank you very much for such valuable info in this post! We plan on buying one of Howard’s spreadsheets to help us structure a budget. My excel skills are too basic for me to create one of our own! And the Aspen Dental experience is kind of scary, especially as we will be on the road full-time, in a Camp-Inn teardrop! We are establishing our domicile in TX, so I hope to establish doctor relationships there. It does mean we have to return to TX from time to time for our appointments, but with Rx to be filled, there’s no other plan of action that I can see. Thanks again! (Lee-you’re a hoot!!)

  9. After six years on the road our average is $4100/month. I like your thoughts and echo what a big help Howard and Linda have been to us. I first started looking for budgets and found very little out there until I came across his. I have modified it to make it our own and am way behind (as in many months) on posting. And long ago I decided to really think of them as ‘estimates’ vs ‘budgets’. You have a very informative and well organized blog.

  10. Well…now I intend to read all entries for budget…Lee’s Italicized comments are almost as valuable (and definitely funny) as the great information that Tracy provides!

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