This article was originally published in 2012. We have a more current version available, also now reflecting our boating fuel costs:
One of the first objections naysayers have about a full time RVing lifestyle is fuel costs, and how they’ll make our lifestyle financially unsustainable.
Yes, without a doubt, it is a mighty big chunk of change to fill up the tank in most RVs. We consider our tank to be 120 gallons (it’s really 140, but with no fuel gauge – we play it safe), and at $3.89/gallon it costs around $466 to fill. On a good day we get about 6.6 mpg, giving us a range of almost 800 miles on a tank.
Update: In summer 2013, we had an engine rebuild and decreased the size of our fuel injectors in the process. As a result, we’ve been averaging closer to 7mpg. And we now have a fuel gauge.
Suffice it say, our RV ain’t no Prius.
But then again, we never lived in our Prius.
It seems logical that fuel costs should be a primary concern for us, however here are 6 reasons that we don’t freak out when fuel costs rise:
Fuel is now a housing cost – Our RV is our home, not just a mode of transportation. We don’t have a mortgage/rent payment, utilities, lawn maintenance, homeowner’s association fees, etc. RV fuel costs and campground fees pretty much replace those stationary living costs for us. But unlike a mortgage or rent payment they are not a fixed cost. We have total control over choosing how much we want to spend at any given time. In 2012, we averaged $741/month for these two costs, and we’ve been anything but frugal lately. We consider that very affordable for the caliber of lifestyle we have, always living in the perfect spot!
Fuel is a small portion of our costs. Fuel actually does not make up an overly significant portion of our expenses. So far this year, it represents only about 14% of our travel costs. Food and campground fees are bigger costs. And others like insurance, connectivity and maintenance follow up behind. You’re welcome to view our published monthly travel costs.
- We don’t drive much. Many full time RVers either work from home, park near their work location or are retired – meaning they don’t commute. When fuel costs go up, our commuting friends however must absorb the increased prices to keep their paychecks coming in. Aside from our RVing miles, we average about 500 miles a month in our MINI for errands and local touring. Another difference is because we visit family and do fun stuff during the course of our regular nomadic lifestyle, we don’t also have vacation and personal travel miles on top of our living expenses to ‘escape’.
Fuel consumption is voluntary. If our income doesn’t allow for a lot of miles this season, we can slow down our pace and find cheaper monthly stays, boondock on public land, workamp/volunteer in exchange for free camping or driveway surf with gracious hosts. RVing allows for lots of flexibility in controlling your costs. Last month we consciously decided to splurge nearly $1200 on fuel to fund being more in a tourist mode and explore new areas to us. But in February and April, we spent $0 on RV fuel while we were still in Florida.
- Fuel costs fluctuate by location. We have agility to plan our fill ups in locations with lower fuel taxes and prices. Stationary folks are used to paying the prices in their neighborhood, it doesn’t make sense to drive a few dozen miles just to get a cheaper price. If we know fuel ahead on our route will be lower, we hold off on filling up for later and save $10-25 a tank. We use our State Lines app to know state fuel taxes, and Gas Buddy & the Where app to track down the cheapest specific pumps.
- Price fluctuations don’t actually add up all that much. With our preferred pace and fuel economy, a $1/gallon increase equates to just $1,515/year, or $126/month. Not fun of course, but I’ve had landlords up my rent by that much before and my former Florida home insurance rates had a similar annual increase once. A simple fact of life is that your cost of living can go up at almost anytime for a variety of reasons, and you must be prepared for it. Budgeting at the very edge of your income level can be a tricky situation in any lifestyle.
When planning your fuel budget, don’t assume current prices. Plan for higher costs and be pleasantly surprised when you find cheaper fuel.
Here’s some calculations we ran showing how a fuel fluctuation impacts our annual and monthly expenses:
Yeah, a $2.50 or more increase would cause us to contemplate changing our pace or budgeting differently, but still isn’t likely to take us off the road. And at that level of fuel increase, we’re all feeling it in transportation costs in our food, delivery and commuting costs too. But anything less than that is easy enough for us to offset by driving a few less miles, writing another app to sell, eating in a little more and/or going out to the movies less.
Want to play around with these calculations for your situation? I set this up as a public Google Docs Fuel Fluctuation Calculator, and you’re welcome make a copy.
Yeah, it sucks to pay more for something and I don’t mean to make light of it – I know it’s more painful for those on fixed incomes. But overall, we’ve seen so many fuel price fluctuations (both up and down) since we hit the road 6 years ago – that they really don’t surprise us.
We just roll with it, keep it all in perspective and remember we choose our awesome life of mobility.
And besides, talk to folks in other countries and even California fuel rates will seem downright cheap in comparison! Over in Europe, rates are now over $8/gallon.