How Much Is A Family RV Budget?

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This post is sponsored by Camping World. All opinions are my own.

One of my favorite things about RVing is that you can set any RV budget that works for you. There are so many different options for type of rig, food, accommodations, travel expenses, and more.

Here are some considerations for our family in considering a budget when RVing with kids!

family RV budget: total costs of RVing with kids

RV Purchase Cost or RV Rental Cost

This is, of course, going to be your biggest expense. It’s also the one that varies the most! Whether you decide to rent or purchase an RV, there are a whole bunch of options for every budget.

For our family, we decided to purchase because we knew it would be more economical overall. We originally decided to try out an RV in order to visit high-risk parents across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic so they could meet our newest baby. In order for us to drive there, spend time with two sets of grandparents, and drive home (especially since it was our first time RVing), we knew we would need a minimum of 4 weeks.

Family RV Rental Budget


The cheapest rental for a RV that would fit our family of 7 (both in terms of seat belts and in terms of sleeping spaces) for that amount of time was about $10-12,000 at the time. This definitely varies by time of year (we were going in summertime) and by demand, not to mention the fact that we were looking for one only a few weeks before leaving. Traveling during off-peak seasons and booking in advance will help with much better rates – for instance, I just found a rental on Good Sam RV Rentals for February for about $6,500 for 4 weeks. Much more reasonable. It also varies by pickup location – we live in an expensive area, which makes the rentals more expensive, too.

Of course, there are plenty of RVs that are WAY more expensive – we saw some that cost over $20,000 to rent for 4 weeks. It depends a lot on the amenities and type of rig you choose.

Family RV Purchase

The more we thought about it, the less appealing it sounded to drive all the way across the country, spend a week with each set of parents, and drive straight back. We figured we wanted to take advantage of all that driving to at least explore a few places along the way. If we tacked on a couple of weeks, we were pushing 6 weeks and close to $18,000. That felt like a lot of money for a rental!

So that’s when we started looking into the option to purchase a used RV. Since this was our first foray into this world, we didn’t want to purchase a brand new rig. We had no idea if we would even like it! So we decided to look for a used one.

We found a couple of different RV rental companies that sold their rigs after a few years of use. I’m generally wary of purchasing a rental vehicle, but we figured people would likely be more cautious with an RV. We also knew the rental companies maintained and cleaned them regularly, so it seemed like a good option for looking into a rig for our family.

For ours, we ended up also purchasing a 4-year, 100,000 mile warranty that covers most issues (other than normal wear and tear). That helped me feel a lot more comfortable with jumping into RV life!

RV Purchase Price Vs. Value

With all that info, we decided to purchase a used Class C RV. We felt better about buying a used one from an established company with a warranty, as opposed to a private seller, since we’d heard that RVs can have lots of issues pop up. That has proved true in our experience – we’ve had a number of maintenance issues from the refrigerator to the heater and more. We were definitely glad to have the warranty. We ended up paying just about $30,000 for an RV, including the warranty.

For our family, we knew we’d use it at least enough time to match the rental cost (between $12-18,000). Beyond that, we figured we’d be able to resell it for at least $20,000, which means it would overall definitely cost us less overall than a rental for that time period.

It turns out we’ve driven well over 30,000 miles in it, and initially used it to RV full time with kids for over 3 months exploring different national parks across the US. Since then, we’ve spent a couple of 1-month stints in it, with lots of weekend trips. I’d say our total amount of time in it has added up to 7-8 months. It was absolutely the best decision for us to purchase instead of rent.

Here’s more info on the best style of RV for a family!

Should I Rent or Buy an RV?

That said, a last-minute RV purchase is definitely not the best decision for everyone. We’re fortunate we were able to make it happen and loved it, so it’s been really worthwhile for us.

But if you’re not super strapped for time, I highly recommend renting an RV for a week or even a weekend to get a feel for whether it’s a good option for you. Here are some things to ask yourself:

  • Do I enjoy RV travel, or would I prefer to stay in a hotel or rental home?
  • Do I like the flexibility of moving from location to location, or do I prefer staying in one spot while on vacation?
  • Am I okay with long road trips?
  • How do I tolerate limited amounts of space?
  • Do I enjoy getting out in the outdoors, including in various types of weather?

You should also consider what type of RV you think you’d like. Some models take up to 2-3 years to purchase! So buying one quickly might not be feasible.

And of course, some models are much more expensive than others. While you can find some fairly old used RVs for as low as $5,000, there are also super nice RVs that cost half a million dollars. Some of these may be RVs that you tow on a vehicle, drivable RVs, RVs with slides, with bunk beds, and thousands of other options. This is why it’s really helpful to rent first when possible to figure out your personal preferences.

Here are some of our favorite advantages of RV travel!

RV Travel Costs

The vehicle itself definitely isn’t the only cost while RVing. There are a number of other RV transportation costs. Here are some of the big ones!

Gas

Of course, your RV will need gas to go all those fun places you have in mind! The type of fuel will be dependent on the type of vehicles. Some vehicles, like the Sprinter van, for instance, take diesel. Others, like most standard Class C RVs, take regular gas. This obviously affects your fuel mileage.

The cost of gas is also dependent on how far you drive, as well as where you drive. Some RV families like to travel cross-country regularly, while others prefer to stay in one place for a while – even several months! Consider your travel style when making cost predictions. Do you like to go go go and see lots of new places? Or are you RVing as a way to take things a bit slower and enjoy the beauty and nature around you wherever you are? Keep in mind that different parts of the world (or even different parts of a single country) also have different fuel prices.

Mostly, remember that most RVs burn a ton of gas. On a good day, our class C RV will get 12-13 miles per gallon. On a bad one, it gets under 10. Gas costs definitely add up!

Accommodations

RV campground costs will also vary significantly based on the type of accommodations. Campgrounds tend to be fairly inexpensive but usually just provide a site to stay, maybe some basic amenities (like water and perhaps sewage, though not usually right at your site), and hopefully some pretty scenery. RV parks tend to cost more than campgrounds, but this often depends on the type of amenities (including extras like laundry facilities and swimming pools) and also the region where it’s located. We’ve paid anywhere from $20 to $200+ per night!

And then there’s boondocking, which is the cheapest option of all – FREE! This is the option we use the most because we love staying on beautiful public land without paying anything. Here are a bunch of boondocking tips for families.

And here are some tips on the best apps for finding accommodations while RVing!

Dump/Water/Electric Fees

As I mentioned above, campgrounds and RV parks often have sewage dumps, water, and electricity available. Campgrounds will often have a common dump and water spigot that you drive over to on one side of the campground.

Nicer campgrounds and RV parks sometimes have “full hookups” – water, electric, and dump lines available right at your campsite. This means you can leave them plugged in all night and have use of as much of those amenities as you’d like instead of using your holding tanks.

Other accommodations will just have electric or perhaps water and electric at the site, but a common dump. There’s a whole spectrum!

And, of course, some places don’t have any of those amenities at all. In that case, you’ll need to find a separate place to fill water and dump, such as gas stations and RV parks that allow it. You may also need to figure out an alternate source of electricity if you need it. We personally have solar panels which charge this power bank during the day, and the bank powers our RV all night (charging devices, running a fan or microwave, etc.).

Propane

While our propane needs are lower than our other needs, it is still important. We use propane for our RV house heater when it’s cold, as well as for our fridge. It can be tricky to find where to get propane, so be sure to research in advance (U-Haul locations are often the easiest for us!).

Tolls/Entrance Fees

Some areas charge the same amount of money for an RV, depending on the length. Others charge quite a bit more. Some boat ferries may not allow an RV so you may need to drive much further. Others might charge up to quadruple the cost of a regular car.

While you may not encounter these added costs all the time, it’s a good idea to take a look at your route to see where you’re allowed and how much it costs to be there.

Vehicle Insurance

DId you know you need to insure an RV just like any other personal vehicle? If you’re renting an RV, this will generally be included in the cost of the rental. If you’re purchasing an RV, however, be sure to check to see how much it will cost to add your RV to your insurance policy.

RV Food Costs

The great thing about food costs while RVing is that you have almost as much control over them as you do while living in a traditional home! You have the choice to either cook or to eat out – it’s entirely up to you!

Some RVs have more advanced fixtures, such as ovens, refrigerators, and microwaves. Others have more simple amenities. Even then, almost all will at least have a stove to boil water and do basic cooking, so you can easily reduce food costs if you wish.

RV Parts

In addition to the basics included in the RV, there are a number of additions that we’ve made. Things like command hooks, wall soap dispensers, and hanging baskets are relatively inexpensive but do add up. Linens, shelf dividers, and toiletries add extra. And things like solar panels, a WiFi booster, and a water filtration systems cost quite a bit more. There are a million different ways to upgrade an RV or to make it feel like home, so a lot of this depends on your personal style, needs, and budget.

This is one area when renting an RV will be quite a bit cheaper, but perhaps also less functional. While you won’t be making these improvements and purchasing a bunch of items for a rental RV, you also won’t quite have the same functionality and feeling of home in one, either.

RV Maintenance Fees

RVs are notorious for having tons of things break down. And while we’ve been pretty lucky with not having too many issues, we’ve definitely had a few things go wrong. While it is a home, it’s a home on wheels – and tends to have maintenance issues of both a home AND a vehicle.

Of course, there are normal vehicular things like worn brakes and tires and spark plugs. And there are also things that just break down in a home, like the refrigerator and water heater.

We are SO glad we chose to purchase a warranty with our RV. Ours cost $1000 and covers up to 4 years or 100,000 miles whichever comes first. It’s been well worth it and we’ve more than covered the cost. It doesn’t cover normal wear and tear (we’ve had to pay for new tires and the like ourselves!) but it’s definitely helpful.

A rental obviously would cover those things for you, so it’s something to really consider if you choose to purchase an RV. Also, parts and RV shop wait times can take a long time, so be sure to keep that in mind, as well.

In general, in order to reduce maintenance costs, we try to drive safely at the speed limit and use good driving practices (not riding the brakes, not accelerating too quickly, etc.). We also try to use our RV when it makes sense for the journey – when there are lots of stops along the way that we’d like to see. However, if we’re just trying to get to a destination, especially one that’s far away, we try to use alternate modes of transportation.

RV Storage Costs

Finally, if you purchase an RV, be sure to consider storage costs. If you can’t park it at your home, you’ll need to look into options for where you can leave it. There are specific parking lots for RVs that typically charge a monthly fee, so be sure to take that into account for your total costs for RVing.

Overall, RVing definitely isn’t a costless way to travel. In fact, in some ways, it can cost a lot more than other forms of travel! Still, it can also be an incredible way to make memories and also save money if you plan things out. Purchasing a used RV or using a less expensive rental, making use of boondocking, slow traveling to use less gas, and making your own food are all great ways to reduce RV travel costs for a fantastic budget family vacation!

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