Although I often post about the emotional aspects of full timing, when it comes to reading blogs, the annual recap posts that I like best are the ones that have lots of data. When I was researching the lifestyle and trying to figure out whether or not this was possible for us, I gathered as much information as I possibly could, and I vowed to pay it forward by posting my own information when the time came. This post will not include a complete financial recap, though, as we are tracking our costs on a calendar year basis, instead of one year from when we hit the road, which was November 4, 2014. I will be including some financial information, but for the full analysis on that you will need to wait until January. The other data is roughly one year starting November 14th.
So here goes, our first year “by the numbers”, but please keep in mind that every single person’s situation is different. Although you can certainly learn from what we have done, ours is only one of the myriad ways to live this lifestyle.
Truck Miles – Roughly, we towed for 8,000 miles and we used the truck separately for approximately another 2,000 miles. We also had my company car from Nov 2041- July 2015, and put about 9,800 miles on it. 8,000 of those miles were spent following the truck when we towed, so we used around 1,800 for sight seeing, errands, etc.
Travel Pattern – In general we like to travel to an area and stay for several weeks then move on to another area. For me the benefits are truly getting to know an area, keeping our costs down, and not feeling unsettled all of the time. We prefer a “hub and spoke” approach where we settle in a place, see everything we can within a reasonable distance from it in all directions, and then move on to the next thing. Of course the schedule has also been driven by family, friend, and work commitments, but even if that was not the case, this pattern would be my preference. Below are the longest periods of time listed in chronological order along with the main reasons we visited there.
- Rock Hill, SC – 6 weeks with my sister and her family.
- Clearwater, FL – 10 weeks while Lee attended mobile RV Tech school.
- St Augustine, FL – 3 weeks getting our state residency established.
- Outer Banks, NC – 4 weeks with Kelly, Bill, Cori, Greg, Jo, Craig, Sue, Guy, Eileen, and Gene, all from the RV Dreams Graduating Class of 2014.
- Columbus, OH – 2 weeks in our hometown with our parents and friends.
- Minneapolis, MN/Luck, WI – 4 weeks with our daughter Katy and her husband’s family getting ready for her wedding.
- Lake Kabetagoma, MN – 4 weeks with Howard and Linda of RV-Dreams; Lee worked on a video project for them
- Glacier, MT – 3 weeks in the Glacier area with Deb, Steve, Ellen, and Mario. Bucket list item of mine!
- Susanville, CA – 8 weeks work kamping at a BLM day use park.
Although I will be providing a detailed financial accounting at year end I thought it was important to mention the major expenses we have incurred getting ready to go on the road (Year 0) and during Year 1. All of these expenses are “one-time costs”, and most were planned, although some were not. The important thing is to understand that the “getting ready period” and Year 1 is the most expensive. Although you may choose to not invest in some of these items, I am including them so you can get an accurate idea of what your start up costs might be. Note: The costs are rounded up
- Kat’s wedding – Roughly $7,000 This is an “all-in” price that included wedding clothing, gifts, and incidentals along with the portion of the wedding itself that we paid for. We had money set aside in savings for such an eventuality, but didn’t expect it to happen this year. Word of advice, if you plan on helping your kids with their wedding have that money set aside before you go on the road. (There is no need for you to worry about this as a line item on your budget, unless you have a daughter, and her name is Kat, and she might be getting married in the near future. – Lee)
- RV Tech School – $6,200 This was a 10 week program covering all systems of the RV. We chose to complete the course for two reasons. Lee needed to be able to work on our home, which the school absolutely made possible, and wanting to earn additional revenue as we traveled. The revenue generated in Year 1 in no way covered the cost of the school but this was largely due to our choices around where to stay and for how long. Like solar, this is an investment we expect to pay off over time. Speaking of which…
- Solar – $5,400 This included 4 AGM batteries, 4 solar panels, and an inverter, and was completed by RV Solar Solutions. Between the tax write-off and lower campsite costs we fully expect this eventually to pay for itself, but even if that doesn’t happen, it makes camping in the more remote places a possibility.
- Rose Bowl HOP – $1,700 This is an Escapees event to attend the Rose Bowl Parade which has been a dream of mine since I was a small child. I consider this our vacation for Year 1 and the money came from our savings account. The cost includes some meals, campsite, tickets to all events, transportation, and the ability to work on a float!
- New Tires and Installation – $1659 Although many of our purchases were discretionary, I would definitely put these in the category of necessary and I truly wish we had negotiated them into the price of our new camper. As is often the case we were given cheap, foreign “E rated” tires and after not one but two flats (the second of which was a blow out at highway speed, which could have caused us serious injury) we knew we would have to bite the bullet and replace them. We ordered the tires online, which is way cheaper than any price we could find locally, and with some difficulty found a place that would replace them while we waited. Since the markup is mainly in the tire cost AND not all tire places can replace tires on an RV, this was challenging. Couple that with the logistics of getting our home there and getting it done and this was painful both financially and personally.
- Surge Protector and Voltage Regulator – $1100 These items were recommended by our good friend Red when we first started out, actually before we started, when we took our brand-new rig on its maiden voyage to the 2014 RV Dreams Spring Rally, and although we had major sticker shock from the cost, it turns out it was a wise investment. Within the first three months of full timing, while we were staying at a very nice high end snow-bird campground, the inside of the Voltage Regulator was completely fried from a power surge. Not just a little, but totally melted and black. Not only did it save our electrical system (costs to replace can run upwards of $2500) but since it was still covered under its manufacturer’s warranty we got a replacement for free.
- Mobile Tech Tools – $1,000 This is a rough estimate as Lee had to spend around $300 on mandatory tools in order to graduate, but then found he needed some additional tools to get started. My only regret here is some of the tools we had and sold at our garage sale before we knew he would be doing this, but most of them were things we did not own before such as a propane gas leak detector. Speaking of the garage sale….
- Sea Eagle Inflatable Kayak – $840 We took the money from the garage sale to pay for this, and although we haven’t used it very much I am glad we have had it the few times we had the opportunity to kayak with friends. Plus it is a well made product, and we expect we’ll get a lot more use out of it in the future.
- New Couch – $800 I am a couch person and absolutely hated the “couch” that came with the 5th wheel after using it in our seasonal site for the summer. So, we found a regular two person reclining love seat that we could disassemble and fit through the door. It looks a little goofy because it sits about 5 inches higher than it should due to the design of our slideout, but it sure is comfortable.
- Camera and accessories – $499 This was my big splurge before we hit the road, and I don’t regret it for one second. I have had so much free entertainment out of that camera, and we are actually going to use some of my last bonus check to buy a second camera body for Lee so we can both have one. We highly recommend investing in a good camera. (When we bought the camera, we chose a kit with two lenses, and we’re constantly switching out the lenses on the fly, “in the field”, which is not a good idea at all. Too much opportunity for dust or other things to get into the camera or lens, and it’s also a pain in the butt, and awkward. There’s only so many times you can do it before one of the lenses (or both) or the camera hit the ground during the lens-changing ballet. So we’re getting a duplicate body, and that way we can both carry a camera, and switching lenses will just be a matter of swapping the cameras back and forth between us. Plus, both cameras can be used to shoot beautiful HD video, which will come in handy when I get video gigs. – Lee)
- TPMS – $490 Lee really wanted the tire pressure monitoring system for peace of mind. I don’t know that I am a huge fan, but I don’t do most of the driving. (The system in the link is for 6 tires, we got the one for 10 tires.-Lee)
- “Blue Boy” and Waste Pump Kit – $475 This is one of the best purchases we made, for two reasons. First it gives us a ton of flexibility when we want to extend our stay in a site without sewer hookup. We can stretch the black tank two weeks but the grey only four to five days at best, and the Blue Boy allows us to extend our stay beyond those dates. Small price to pay to not have to physically move at those intervals. (Lots of people use these, you often see them pulling them like a smelly wagon behind their truck at campgrounds. the way they’re designed, you are supposed to dump your grey and black tanks into them using gravity, then haul them using a ball hitch to the dump station, and dump them, again using gravity. When researching them, I was concerned about two things with this plan; The max speed they can be safely towed at is 5mph. I can’t even imagine having something go wrong while pulling one of these things through a campground while full. All I could picture was something going wrong, and the contents….spreading across the road. The other problem i was imagining was being out in the middle of the desert on BLM land, and trying to tow this thing to town along the road. At 5mph. So, I decided instead to keep it on the back of the truck, between the tailgate and the 5th wheel hitch. That’s why I bought the macerator pump. I can pump the rig’s tanks into the blue boy, then gravity dump from the bed of the truck at the dump station. I also use a gate valve to have more control over the process. And if ever I need the extra space in my truck when we’re sitting somewhere, I can take the blue boy out and stow it under the camper. A word of caution, though, use straps or bike lock cable, because when you’re travelling at highway speed, the 5th wheel creates a little hurricane between the hitch and the tailgate, and it’s enough to lift the blue boy up, and possibly out.-Lee)
- RV Driving School – $455 Not only did this two day class make me more comfortable driving, but it also saved me from a possible accident when I followed what I was taught and hit a tire tread that was in the middle of the road straight on instead of swerving to avoid it. I would recommend at least a four hour class for every driver.
- Dyson Slim Vacuum – $400 I love this vacuum. It fits in the closet and works great, plus the attachments cover anything we need to clean. (A sexist word to the wise to all the dudes out there: If you’re wife wants a vacuum, buy it. Duh. – Lee)
- Magma Stackable Cookware – $400 Probably the most expensive cookware I have ever owned, and I absolutely love it. The quality is extremely high and it fits neatly in a little bit of space as it is stackable. (A culinary word to the wise to all the slightly chubby or soon-to-be slightly chubby dudes out there: If your wife wants cookware, buy it. Duh. – Lee)
- WeBoost – $400 Wifi and cellular booster. This was on our list of things to buy, but we waited until we absolutely had to have it. In retrospect I would have had it from the beginning and saved myself a lot of aggravation. It works great, and is totally worth it.
- Signs for Lee’s business – $360 Magnetic truck signs and a realtor style “yard” ‘sign which people have called us from, so they do work. Unfortunately we lost one in South Dakota somewhere so they need to be replaced.
- Electric Valves – $300 Early on the grey valve pull handle broke in my hand and Lee bought the electric valves and then used the warranty labor to install these. They are much much easier and you don’t have to worry about the cables breaking.
- Stenciling for the camper – $300 This was definitely a vanity purchase as we have some custom lettering on the RV. It makes me happy though and since Lee applied the lettering himself, I consider it a bargain.
- Flagpole Buddy – $205 Allows us to extend our antenna which increases the cell signal we are getting, and/or Wi Fi signal, if you have an external Wi fi antenna.
- Valve Extenders for Tires – $167 Allows Lee to check the tire pressure on our dually while we are traveling.
- Mor-Ryde suspension – At some point we are definitely going to want to upgrade to the heavy duty suspension but the $3500 price tag is enough to make us wait for awhile.
- At some point I would like to get custom furniture made in Indiana but I am pretty happy with what we have now and that truly is a down to road nice to have item because it is expensive.
- The unexpected. We have contingency money in place because we know stuff will happen. Hopefully those events will be few and far between, but we need to be prepared. I would recommend a minimum of $10K contingency before going on the road because that should buy you out of any situation that is not totally catastrophic.
Which memberships to buy are one of the big questions new full timers ask themselves. Since we never really camped before we relied heavily on the advice of others and ended up buying the memberships below. I don’t regret any of them, and have used them all, but not sure all of them will have value the same value in Year 2.
- Good Sam Lifetime – $299 We bought this because it was the only way to get an $ .08 discount on gasoline at all Pilot and Flying J stations. What we didn’t realize is that you also have to get a pilot gas card and use that as well, plus the setup was a real pain in the butt and took months to get the complete discount. The lifetime Camping World discount is nice, and we use it, so over time I am sure we will get the money back. If you have the money, go ahead, but if not, I wouldn’t. I haven’t used their camping discount at all. (I totally disagree. I think the $300 is totally worth it. For one thing, I like having the Pilot/Flying J credit card, and I think the discount on diesel is awesome. We’re saving about $3 every time we fill up, so we will absolutely get that $300 back in diesel alone. It’s just a matter of time. It’s also nice for me to have a record in the form of the credit card statement for exactly where we got fuel, and how much, and how much it cost. I could write all that down, but it’s an added bonus. And the other benefits are basically “free” since you’re getting your money back in fuel discounts. 10% off at Good Sam campgrounds, lower prices at Camping World, and a free annual RV inspection. – Lee)
- Good Sam Towing – $179 for two years. We have used this service twice for flat tires since we got it so a tow service was definitely worth it. I was disappointed, however, in the level of service we received and when it expires I may try AAA for RV’s. Need to research.
- Mobile Internet Resource Center – $47 We purchased Technomadia’s e-book and annual membership with updates and found it very helpful for the first year as we were researching the various internet solutions. Since Lee is very technically saavy we will not be renewing for Year 2, but would recommend trying this service if internet/tech issues are something you struggle with.
- Passport America – $40 We used this several times on the East Coast and saved at least $100 in camping fees if not more. I am a big fan of this program, but find it much less valuable when traveling out west, so won’t renew it until we start heading back east.
- Escapees – $40 I bought this membership because I thought we would be using their mail service, but then we changed our minds and decided to be Florida residences and all of their mail service options in Florida have a Texas mailing address which made me very uncomfortable. I did end up signing up for the Rose Bowl HOP which I am excited about, but other than having the option to do that I have not used this service at all. I find their website to be very antiquated and much prefer the RV-Dreams forum. It just seems designed for a less tech saavy crowd, although I think that is changing as more Gen Xers enter the RV full timer world, but I am not planning on renewing the membership at this time. I may in the future.
- Work Kamper News Silver Membership – $40 I am a huge fan of this membership and have used it the most. I receive daily work kamper emails (one of which we used to get our current work kamper position) and I have set up a free resume online with them and even written a free situation wanted ad for Alaska next summer. I think their website is very user friendly and informative. Even if you are only researching and not actively searching for work, I recommend this site. It has some terrific information on it.
Truck and RV Repairs
When your home is on wheels, things will break. It does catch people by surprise though, especially in Year 1, because if you bought something new you have an expectation things will last a little longer. The sticks and bricks rules do not apply to an RV though so just expect it, and buy a good extended warranty. The items that broke are listed below in roughly chronological order.
- Washing Machine – During our walk-through when we picked up our rig we noticed that we had not received a Splendide Washer/Dryer combo as ordered. According to our dealer they were on back order and the replacement brand was just as good. Faced with a delay in getting our rig and needing to use it at the RV-Dreams rally immediately, we accepted the replacement with some reservations. It broke after a couple of uses and by broke I mean clothes were stuck in it and it was full of water. It took a month to get a manufacturer certified tech out and then after three months it broke again. This time we demanded the Splendide we had ordered and have not had any problems since. No cost, other other than massive inconvenience. (You don’t even want to know what month-old water coming out of a washing machine smells like. Not detergent, I can tell you that. – Lee)
- Grey Tank Valve Stem – Early on I pulled on the handle for the grey tank and it broke off in my hand. This left the grey tank stuck in an open position, which was OK for a short time because we were on full hookups. Lee decided to replace the valves with electric ones and used the dealer warranty labor hours to install the electric valves, which thankfully the tech was happy to do. Parts cost us $300, but that was our choice. An exact replacement would have been free, and would likely have broken after a while.
- Fantastic Fan – This started squeaking not long after we got it and was acting as if it wasn’t balanced correctly. The dealer was very surprised as these “never” break and they replaced it. They said it was only the second time they had seen it and since Fantastic Fan has a lifetime warranty was no cost to either us or them. They replaced it when they fixed the grey tank handle.
- Trim coming off – We have had two pieces of trim come off. One from me bringing the slide in without the bedroom TV being flush against the wall and the other just shook off with time. Lee fixed it with wood glue and clamps so there was no cost, but it did take me several weeks to get him to do it. It apparently bugged me a lot more than him and I had to pull out the “it’s making my home look cheap” speech.
- Gear box on both front living room slides – in both cases this was my fault because I was putting these stuffed animals up in the slides area when they were out and not once but twice sucked an animal into the gear and chain mechanism while closing the slide and stripped the gears. Yes I am a complete idiot. Lee was great about it and Open Range sent us the replacement parts and let Lee do the work which not all manufacturers will do. No cost to us except serious stress because you can’t physically move if the slides won’t go in.
- Burners lighter doesn’t work – We have had this problem since very early on. Our solution was to get a plastic wall hanger and put a butane lighter next to the stove so I manually light them. Honestly I don’t even think about it anymore since it never worked right from the beginning. Cost was a couple of dollars for the hangar. Something like this might drive someone else crazy, but for me no big deal.
- Light switch cover in bedroom – This got knocked off because a picture that was hanging above it shook loose and fell on it, and snapped the little clips that hold it in. Lee had to replace it. For some reason this really upset Lee and he had a couple of rants about poor manufacturing. I countered with the “our home is on wheels” speech and eventually he settled down about it. I am sure that since he is primarily responsible for the maintenance, it represented something bigger for him, but for me it was just a light switch cover. Cost to us couple of dollars to replace. (This was just me getting used to the idea that the overall quality of such things is lower in a rig than in a S&B house. In a house, you can have a light switch cover take massive amounts of abuse for 50 years, but in a rig, you have to be a little more gentle. Also some things are just not fun or interesting to fix. Like light switch covers. A cat could do it, if it had thumbs, and cats are just plain stupid. – Lee)
- Slide wood getting wet – There is a design flaw in our rig where the “gutter” drops rain water right down the side of the rear slideouts, and the corner bead seals also break loose because one of the two materials flexes too much. that allows a teeny little bit of water to seep in, which then causes the wood underneath to swell, which makes the crack in the seal bigger, which lets in more water, which sort of snowballs. Lee became concerned about possible rotting and on a very very hot sunny, dry day pulled back the siding to expose the wood to the sun. Once everything was dry he put it all back together with a more flexible sealant. He also rigged a new spout that would put the water much farther way from the rig. Cost to us was about $20 for parts, but without him addressing this it could have been much worse. There is plywood in these slides and it will rot given enough water saturation, and time.
- Replace bathroom door hinges – Because we are shaking as we travel the nylon spacers between the two halves of the bathroom door hinges break and then the door is super squeaky. Lee fixed it the first time by replacing the hinges, but now it is happening again. The problem is there are limits to how many new holes you can put in the wood, so we really are going to need a better solution. Cost to us is minimal for new hinges, irritation from squeaking is very high. No clue how costly a permanent fix (if there is one) will be.
- Truck alignment and two new front tires –We believe the truck’s alignment came from the factory wrong as both front tires wore out quickly and the same. One of the few items not covered by our warranty, this one stung as we were unprepared for it. We covered it with extra money we had saved from our monthly budget but it was pricey at $560.
- Truck Insurance Deductible – $1,000 Lee accidentally put regular fuel in the diesel truck causing a significant amount of damage. (Significant is a rather gentle word. This shockingly easy to make mistake completely destroyed the engine, requiring an entire new engine, at a cost of $15,000. Repeat after me, people, because it can happen to anyone: “PUT YOUR FINGER ON THE WORD DIESEL BEFORE YOU PUMP IT.” – Lee) Luckily accidental fuel contamination was covered by our comprehensive policy and we only had to pay a deductible.
Top 10 Things We Have Seen
- The close up encounter with grizzly bears and trip to Kintla Lake- Related Post
- Going to the Sun Road and the mountain horn sheep- Related Post
- Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park- Related Post
- Dolphins swimming along side our sailboat cruise in Tarpon Springs- Related Post
- Vermilion Falls and my first Bald Eagle Sighting- Related Post
- Charleston S.C. – Related Post
- Jekyll Island – Related Post
- The house in Dickinson, ND where Lee’s mom grew up and the Enchanted Highway- Related Post
- Kitty Hawk- Related Post
- The Nolichucky River Gorge- Related Post
Top 5 Lessons Learned
If you would like to review all my Lessons Learned please click this link, but I wanted to try to pull out the ten most important things. I have put my choices in chronological order. Some reflect good decisions and others were learned after poor decisions, but they all have had a large amount of impact on us.
- Take your time when selecting your perfect rig. Visit an RV show. Know your criteria. Be honest with yourself and your partner. We did all of these things and absolutely love our rig to this day. Your rig can make or break the full-timing experience, so take all the time you need in the selection process. Also, learn from our mistake and get new, American made tires when you buy your RV. Replacing them later is expensive and painful, but living with the fear of having a tire related accident is much worse. Related Post
- Attend an RV-Dreams Rally. If nothing else you will have a fun and informative vacation and it might give you so much more. I walked away from that rally with so much information, a true belief this lifestyle was possible for me, and most importantly some of the best friends of my life. (Not to mention Sue’s recipe for the greatest dip ever in the history of all things in any way related to any variety of chip. – Lee) Related Post
- Finding the right campground isn’t always easy and it takes awhile to work out your methodology. What works for some will definitely not work for you and vice versa so the best thing to do is stay in different places and see how you feel. Don’t panic if you stink at this at first because it gets much easier with time and practice. Related Post
- The first six months is a time of great change which can cause a great deal of stress. Being outside of your comfort zone in so many ways can put pressure on both you and your relationship. Take a deep breath and realize this is perfectly normal and as time passes it should get better. The answer is to communicate honestly and give yourself a break when the inevitable mistakes happen. Even if you have camped before, you are new at full timing and all newbies make mistakes. Related Post
- Buy all of the warranties, seriously, every single one. Things break, accidents happen, and if you have a warranty you will hopefully be partly covered. Having a problem with your home on wheels is seriously complicated. You are generally in a strange place, your travel plans are interrupted, and finding qualified repair personnel isn’t always easy. Don’t add money concerns to all of that. Spend the money, for the piece of mind if nothing else, and if you are anything like us you will more than get back your initial investment. Related Post
So that’s my “by-the-numbers” report. Next, I have another post that deals more with the emotional aspects of things as well and look for my annual full budget accounting in December. Hope you find all of this helpful, and please remember your mileage will definitely vary literally and figuratively.
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