Tag Archives: budget

Winter projects 2013-1014 wrap up

2014-03-08 21.55.55.jpg We’re winding down our first winter as fulltimers and looking forward to several months of travel; exploring new places.  We divided our winter between Dickinson and Rockport, Texas.  Dickinson is close to family and friends (and doctors) and Rockport is a nice Winter Texan destination.  Obviously, there are advantages to being in both places.

During these months we’ve taken on several projects: including the maintenance, repair, and upgrade varieties.  Here’s a wrap up of those projects.

Maintenance:

  • Washed camper, waxed front cap
  • Flushed the water heater
  • Sanitized the fresh water tank
  • Replaced the reverse osmosis water filters
  • Had the pickup transmission and rear end serviced
  • Had the pickup tires rotated
  • Refreshed and repaired some of the camper caulking
  • Checked roof and applied fresh Dicor caulking where needed
  • Repacked the wheel bearings

Repairs:

  • A biggie: had to replace a bent axle (I know exactly where the damage was done)
  • A few light switches that were getting quite stiff to operate were replaced
  • Camper floor reinforced where factory had under-engineered it
  • Recaulked the floor around shower stall where there were some leaks
  • Pulled the toilet to replace a leaky valve
  • Changed pin height on camper (needed a bit more space between camper and PU rails)
  • Fantastic Vent repaired (now opens and closes with thermostat – and rain sensor works)
  • The two camper 12V batteries replaced
  • Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors replaced

Upgrades:

Yet to come: the F350 goes in the shop to find a small coolant leak

As you can see, there’s been a lot to do! Special thanks to my friend Ron who is the brains behind many of these operations – I couldn’t do the mechanical stuff without him.

We love being touring fulltimers, but we’re learning that these rigs need more upkeep than a “sticks and bricks” house does. As you can see, most of the time and effort went into routine maintenance that needs to be done on a regular basis.

Now, with Spring upon us, we’re getting excited about our 2014 Adventure!  Stay tuned, good times are ahead!

Budgeting: Tips for reading fulltimer’s budgets


As I prepared to become a touring fulltimer I spent a great deal of time researching what fulltimers spend.  It was a big deal to us because we didn’t want to start something we couldn’t afford.  I’m grateful to those who are willing to open their lives just a bit and, because of their example, I’ve done the same.

As a “budget sharer” I’ve learned that not all budgeting information is created equal.   Here are my tips for reading fulltimer’s budgets.

  1. Some people are quite committed to living a minimalist lifestyle.  It’s impressive: using solar power, living on public land, growing and hunting their own food, doing without things (like health insurance) that many of us take for granted as necessary.  These folks are more into minimalism than they are into being touring fulltimers.  If this lifestyle appeals to you, hunt these folks down and focus on their resourcefulness and frugality.  If it doesn’t appeal to you, their information isn’t going to be especially helpful.  As I did my budgeting I tried to beware of people who seemed to be trying to impress me with how little they spend because that’s not how I want to live.  Instead, I simply want to live within my means.
  2. Workcampers are trading hours worked for a campsite and possibly a small salary.  When you look at their expenditures they might show that they spent nothing in camping fees.  If you intend to workcamp this information is valuable to you.  If not, you need to estimate the value they are receiving for their time.  If you were in the site next to them what would it cost you?  Also, some are receiving everything from cable TV to Internet access to propane in exchange for their hours worked.  One person told me they even received free admission to all the Branson shows so even entertainment was included in their workcamping pay.  In some cases none of that appears on their budget but, if you don’t intend to workcamp it will appear on yours.
  3. Not all budgeting information is created equal.  Some folks throw out numbers, thinking they are being accurate, but really, they aren’t keeping records at all.  They aren’t being dishonest, but they are quite possibly spending more than they realize.  Some of us obsess over this kind of stuff and we could take a tip or two on chilling out from these folks.  At the same time, I suggest that you try to look farther than simply accepting a statement that “we don’t spend nearly that much” when trying to put together a real working budget.
  4. Remember, you already have most of the information you need.  Most expenses of the touring fulltimer lifestyle are the same ones you already have.  You don’t need to know what I spend on:
    • debt
    • groceries
    • dining out
    • clothing
    • hair
    • medical and dental expenses
    • charitable giving
    • gifts
    • insurance (life, health, etc.)
    • entertainment
    • Cell/Internet/TV

    Those numbers will probably stay the same you, fulltime or not.  Focus on the reported RV related expenses of people who are doing what you’d like to do (touring, workcamping, minimalist, etc.).  Check out their:

    • campground fees
    • propane
    • RV maintenance
    • travel fuel
    • club memberships
    • etc.

If you are doing serious budgeting research you are going to have to work at it.  For one thing, some folks are doing a bit of “all the above” – they workcamp part of the year, boondock another few months, and tour the rest of the time.   You can’t just get on a forum and ask “what do you spend?” because the people who answer you might be living a very different fulltiming lifestyle than you intend on living.  As others have wisely answered, “How much do you have?”  Still, there’s information to be had in studying fulltimer expenses.  Just keep some of these tips in mind as you do research.

Further tips are welcome in the comments to this post.

2013 Fulltime RVing Expense Wrap Up

doing-the-budgetWe began our fulltime RV adventure in May, 2013 and to keep an eye on expenses I’ve kept detailed records of expenditures.  I’m sharing our camping related costs as a resource for others who are planning a future in this lifestyle.

I’m listing the camping related expenses as line item monthly averages.  Then, I total everything else up and give just a general dollar figure.  If you are researching fulltime RVing you already know what you pay for food, health insurance, etc. (or even if you don’t, my figures for such things won’t have any real world connection to what you spend on them).  Also, by combining the non-RVing expenses I feel I’m better able to maintain our privacy.

Due to the fact that we were only fulltime from May to December of this year, my monthly averages aren’t for 12 months.  In most cases it shouldn’t matter much.  For instance, our monthly cell/internet/TV cost is very consistent month by month and it doesn’t matter much whether I average 7 or 12 months.  In a few instances that isn’t the case.  We spend less on campground fees when we’re traveling and staying in membership campgrounds than when we’re parked by the month and we spend more on diesel when we’re traveling than when we’re sitting.  For such items I’ve tried to adjust the numbers to give you a 12 month average rather than a 7 month one.  I think the numbers I’m giving you are reasonably accurate.

2013 Monthly Averages
Camping (monthly averages for 7 months + annual camping memberships divided by 12) $339.92
Cell/Internet/TV $161.48
Diesel (lots of fuel during travel months, very little otherwise) $319.00
Gas (note: we only have the car with us about 5 mo. but this is a 12 month ave.) $60.00
Tolls, etc. $14.08
Misc $174.78
RV Maintenance $69.41
Vehicle Maintenance (yes, it was a very expensive year)* $249.21
Registrations/Vehicle Insurance $155.81
Propane $7.89
Mail Service $18.33
 TOTAL $1565.91
Non RV expense – food, medical, “just living”**                                               TOTAL $1,796.85
MONTHLY GRAND TOTAL AVERAGE
$3,466.76

*Note 1: We had an expensive year doing Vehicle Maintenance including replacing tires on camper/pickup/car AND batteries for all three vehicles (5 new batteries in all).  There was an unexpected brake job, a new camper charger/inverter and other unexpected costs.  The result?  Almost $400 a month average in maintenance and repairs!  Ouch!

**Note 2: These expenses include items like: Groceries & Dining Out, Clothing, Hair, Medical & Dental Expenses, Charity, Health Insurance, and Entertainment – but not Income Tax and a few other expenses

PS: If you find this information helpful, please leave a short comment so I’ll know it is worth the effort needed to provide it. Thanks.

Travel Planning – I confess: I’m a Planner

strategic-planningLet’s talk travel planning.  Among those who travel in a RV fulltime there’s a wide variety of travel styles.  At one extreme are those who seldom stay in one place longer than a few days and leave a campground in the morning not knowing for sure where they will be that night.  At the other extreme are those who research their trips mile by mile and start making reservations at campgrounds months in advance.  In another post I call the two extremes “planners and freelancers.” Between those extremes you’ll find the full range of travel planners.

I doubt it will surprise any of my friends to hear me say I’m a Planner.  That was true in my professional life, it’s true in my personal life, and it’s true of my approach to being a traveling fulltime RVer.

2013-05-21 11.10.35.jpg To some, putting together a calendar, a map, and a spreadsheet for a future journey would be confining and wearying.  For Planners like me, it’s part of the fun of the lifestyle.  While there are advantages to being unstructured there are also advantages to being a Planner.  Knowing your schedule lets you make reservations at popular campgrounds during the busy summer camping season.  In some cases a person can even reserve specific campsites and as a result of doing that I’ve actually had fellow campers ask me how managed to get some prime spot right beside a mountain stream.  Also, by planning ahead one can better plan their route to see the things that interest them the most without zigzagging around the countryside (burning expensive fuel in the process).  Planning helps control the budget and unless a person has unlimited funds, Planner or not, a certain amount of time with the spreadsheet is almost mandatory.

So, again, let’s talk travel planning.

1mapFor us, it starts with a general course of action, like: “lets go to the Pacific northwest for our next big adventure.”  From there, I go to my first planning tool, Google maps.  I put three or four points on a map, creating a big round trip loop for our trip.  That gives me a general outline that will anchor my planning.

If you right click on the map, you can pick “measure distance” – since we like to travel around 150-200 miles when we move I measure out that distance and now have the general location of a stop.

At this point I go to a terrific website, RVParkReviews and start reading the reviews of the campgrounds in that area.  Taking into account amenities, sightseeing opportunities, etc. I pick a campground and enter it, adding it as a destination to my Google map.

I’m now ready to enter the campground information on a spreadsheet that has columns for campground name, location, general cost, distance traveled to get there, potential start date, and how many days I’d like to stay there.  There’s also a column to enter reservation information once I’ve nailed it down.

3mapFrom here, I start the process again my selected campground as the new start point.  I measure out another trip of my preferred travel distance.  By repeating the process I build a series of maps with 10 stops each (this is the Google Maps maximum at this time).

If you want to add yet another layer of planning, go to Google calendar and create a new calendar for your trip.  Start entering your campgrounds into the calendar based on how many days you’ll stay in each.  I like doing this because it lets me easily visualize the trip schedule.

2013-10-05 13.37.45.jpg Over time I’ll start researching the areas we’ll be in, and by knowing well ahead of time, I can even check out county fairs and other date specific attractions.  This information, too, will be noted on either the spreadsheet or the calendar.  I also spend time checking out highway conditions like mountain grades or alternatives that will let me avoid city traffic.

By having my route and destinations worked out I’m more alert to discussions about the areas on various forums I visit as well as having a list of places I want to check out on the Internet on quiet winter evenings.

A few notes:

Again, don’t feel obligated to tell me you’ve been traveling for years just playing it by ear.  I’m not against your doing that, but I’m a Planner, and we like doing it this way.

Also, don’t get in too big a hurry with the calendar part of the planning.  It’s pretty easy to make changes to the Google Maps and your spreadsheet.  Once you start a calendar any change of days can potentially create a series of “bumper cars” in which you have to change every one of the entries!

Year in review: Random observations on our summer of 2013 Adventure

2013 - map.jpg

See the map detail on our travel map page

 In May, after spending a week at Lake Conroe, TX Thousand Trails we hitched the camper to the pickup and headed north on I45 to begin what we’ve called our “summer of 2013 adventure.”  On the first of November, after six months of travel, we arrived back at Lake Conroe completing our big circle and concluding our 2013 adventure.  All told we towed the camper about 4500 miles and, with all our sightseeing miles, etc. included we drove 10,000 miles.  We’ve had a wonderful time and the adventure lived up to all our expectations.

In a few days we’ll leave Thousand Trails and move to a commercial campground located about midway between Houston and Galveston.  That will be our “winter quarters” although we are planning on taking a month off somewhere along the line and head south for warmer temperatures and a change of venue…just because we can!

Here are a few random observations drawn from the past months of travel:

  1. I like planning and organizing.  Some fulltimers detest it.  They want to hit the road in the morning not knowing where they will be that evening.  If they are driving along and see something interesting along the way they change directions and follow their nose.  That doesn’t suit us.  We like looking at the map, planning the best route and knowing there will be a spot for us when we land at the end of the day.  For budgeting purposes, I had planned our entire summer, at least in theory, before we left Conroe.  With only a few changes, we followed that route and schedule all the way.  We liked doing it that way and we’ll probably continue that practice in the future.
  2. We like stays of longer than a week, but not as long as two weeks.  My rule of thumb is that, as fulltimers, we are going to spend every night somewhere.  For us, the journey is the destination so we are in no hurry.  At the same time, we are out on the road to see things we wouldn’t see otherwise.  The occasional one week stay was fine, but having to button down the camper and move every week, we realized, could become a bit of a drag.  At the same time, we had some longer stays in places where it didn’t take long to see all there was to see.  For those I mentioned above, it is easy to just move on.  For us, with reservations already made, we needed to stay put.  We’ve decided that, aside from nights when we are simply “in route” that we like stops of 10 or 11 days.
  3. The most dangerous time for any RVer is arriving at a campground.  As you arrive you are a bit tired and you are now off the highway and needing to maneuver campground roads.  You are looking at campsites and trying to take it all in, and, then you are landing the big rig.  There are tree limbs and power pedestals and ditches.   All this combines to increase the likelihood that something bad will happen.  Another of my new found rules of thumb is this: don’t let anyone talk you into trying to park the camper in a spot where you are uncomfortable.  This applies to pick-your-own-site and assigned site campgrounds.  Even if “people park campers as big as yours in that spot all the time” don’t do it if you have doubts.  After all, when something bad happens, it will be you who will pay for the damage, not the campground.  Happily, I learned the lesson without paying the price – but I came close; not once, but three times, and in the same campground!
  4. When picking a campsite, take your time.  Don’t think you have to take the first spot you come to.  Find a pull through site where you can leave the rig and take a quick walk around the campground.  We’ve learned to keep an eye out for the location of the dumpsters in relation to the campsite.  Who wants to listen to the lid of one of those things bang all day?  We’ve also learned to take the slide outs into consideration before backing in.  A tight fit becomes no fit at all if the slide will hit the power pedestal when extended.   If it fits it fits, even if it’s a tight fit.  If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t.  It’s good to know that before you fight your way into the site.  We’re still learning this one: unless you like a nice bright campsite, it’s wise to notice where the street lights are.  We like to sit out and enjoy our portable campfire and watch the stars.  Twice now, as darkness fell, we realized the campsite was flooded with light.
  5. Let me provide a spiritual dimension to all this.  For years Jackie and I have stopped just prior to leaving on trips to bow our heads and ask the Lord’s protection for our journeys.  We have carried that practice into our RV adventure.  Each move has started with a prayer of thanksgiving for our stay and petition for a safe, enjoyable journey.  The Bible tells us that if we acknowledge the Lord in our lives that he will direct our ways (Proverbs 3:6).  We have taken that word of instruction to heart.