Cheap RV Living is Not Where You Think It Is

In 2012 when Dave Ramsey said RV loans are dumb, we listened. Jim and I had been arguing about buying a new RV, so I called Dave’s radio show to ask if it would be OK to finance our next rig. After all, we are full-time RVers and it would be our primary home, I explained.

Dave Ramsey RV loan advice
“Dave, can I finance a Prevost if it’s our primary home?”

His reply was sobering: 

“I wouldn’t. Because they go down in value so quickly,” he said. Then he kindly elaborated:

“The problem here is this. I mean it is your deal and it is what you’re doing right now at this stage of your life. But as a long term game plan, mathematically speaking, not as a lifestyle choice but mathematically speaking, what you’re doing is basically you’ve bought a house trailer that you’re driving.

Trailers go down in value, right? Mobile homes go down in value. And so that’s what we’re doing. It’s a large car that you sleep in. You know, financially speaking, is what I’m saying.”

Dave Ramsey show recording
We met Dave in Nashville to thank him for his advice.

We listened, saved and paid cash for our current rig. As long as we live on the road, we can accept the trade-off of living in this depreciating RV home/office. The lack of ROI is worth it to us.

Meanwhile, we keep saving for that “someday,” when we need to hang up the keys and set down roots somewhere. We’ve seen some terrific RV communities in our travels that looked like good contenders for our octogenarian years and beyond.

But then John Oliver did this mobile home park expose on Last Week Tonight. Ironically, he features Dave Ramsey in the opening. And, we watched it the same week that our favorite winter retreat, Fountain of Youth, announced a whopping 17% rent increase for long-term RV lot renters and seasonals like us!.

What’s the Answer to Cheap RV Living?

Cheap RV living is easy when you don’t pay rent very often and live on the road. But at some point, even the most frugal RVer will need to park their rig for good. Then what? Clearly, traditional mobile home parks are not a smart choice.

Slab City Quality Neighborhood
If someone built a co-op at the Slabs we might consider it!

I don’t ever want a typical single-family home ever again, and Jim is kindly going along with my crazy plan. Which leaves us with just two choices for our senior selves:

  • We buy a condo in a cute, walkable town with everything we need closeby.
  • Or we buy into an RV co-op, similar to Escapees Co-Op parks. They differ from mobile home parks, because you actually own the land underneath your rig. Nobody can raise the rent, but of course the Home Owner’s Association can collectively vote and raise fees.

One of the problems with Escapees co-ops we have visited is that all of them are on county land, far from any kind of services and amenities. Every co-op we’ve visited requires a drive to the nearest town, usually a small one. And when I’m old and ancient, my goal is for us to use public transit, walk and ride share just like back in our San Francisco days. The Escapees Co-ops we’ve seen will not work for us.

Fountain of Youth Niland
Our favorite winter retreat just hit RV lot renters with a 17% rent increase!

Meanwhile, we’ll keep our eyes open for alternatives and stay far away from traditional mobile home parks. And if anyone knows of a group of ambitious full-time RVers with big dreams to establish a neo-hippie, progressive-minded co-op park somewhere habitable, I’d love to hear about it!

Check out this Q&A with the Experts for Everything You Wanted to Know About Alternative Housing: RV Edition, including input from your Live Work Dream Team!

19 thoughts on “Cheap RV Living is Not Where You Think It Is”

  1. Rene,
    My husband and I retired in our mid-50s and have been full-time RVers for 12 years now. Despite all the places we’ve visited, we haven’t found “the perfect place.” Our requirements are very similar to yours – condo, walkable, public transit, culture, left-leaning university town, affordable…So we’ll be watching your blog to see what you might come up with. In the meantime, our bare lot at the SKP Saguaro Park in Benson serves us well as a place to land between trips but, as you mentioned, it has none of those requirements (except the people there are great).

    • Thanks for reading, Connie and Art! We should meet up, sounds like we have a lot in common. Jim and I have never been to your co-op but I’ve heard great things about it, especially the people. One of these days we’ll make it down during winter and meet you for sunset happy hour!

    • I really like Dave Ramsey but don’t always agree that you must have a maximum return on your investment. If you rent living space and then move you have zero return on investment other than having a place to live for that time. At least with an RV you get a place to live with a partial ROI when you sell it. I don’t look at a place to live, vehicles and RV’s as investments I see them as necessary evils. I financed a motorhome and used the savings to become debt free and see the country. It worked for us. YMMV.

  2. Greetings from Lakewood, NM:

    On learning this morning that a global negative interest rate wave has begun, I look back on the decision to sell my one acre lot in Wilson County Texas complete with modular home and hefty property tax bills I used to pay. Negative interest rates will mean, after the market-high euphoria dust cloud settles, big property tax increases or, one might say…Something Wicked This Way Comes.

    Dave and his crew were there for me when I was left with a pile of bills on my dinning room table after my husband passed away. Yes, Dave frowns on the RV lifestyle due to the depreciation after a new rig purchase. But, when you present him with real-time evidence of rental rates, he might agree, it’s better than living in your vehicle. Especially when you learn how to handle your rig inside and out from A-Z. And so there will also come a time in life when you emerge from digging yourself out of a financial hole, only to realize this new dire financial storm coming your way fast over the horizon. So at that point, if you’re on a low budget, it could all pan out like this…

    Since hitting the road after it took three years to sell my home, I’ve scaled my lifestyle down to a full-time RV’er status that might scare some. But those wise old RV’er owls who took me under their wing had a better point of view. All I needed in life is my truck and RV. After traveling around a while I found co-op parks with lifetime lease lots, mainly gravel lots with various kinds of structures like a storage shed known as a Casita here at The Ranch.

    Yup, the annual maintenance fee here sure beats what I was paying in monthly mortgage payments, insurance, repairs…etc. If the road calls, you can hitch up and head out for a while. Thus Co-Op parks are a good idea after lot purchase and annual fee, leaving you only with a monthly electric bill, upkeep on your lot and maybe lend a hand to a neighbor or help out around your RV park community.

    Life is truly what you make of it.
    Take care out there America wherever you are for…
    You have been RoadScribed;)

    • Greetings to you, Road Scribe! I’m so glad you found your perfect situation. I hope that more co-op communities pop up and become a viable option for folks. There is something about living in detached homes that makes us so … detached, from others. You’ve got a great community in Lakewood, enjoy!

  3. Nice post and should be of interest to all of us that will be in a position to settle down from the full timers life in the coming years. Love John Oliver’s take on life.

  4. We enjoyed your article and agree: Park model and other RV purchasers can avoid the largest drops in depreciation by prudently buying a used unit that has been properly inspected and is in near new condition.

    As far as where to reside, we are members Escapees and live at their Evergreen Coho SKP RV Park in Chimacum, Washington and feel that it is actually the perfect place for us to be. Although we have our own transportation, for those who don’t, the county transportation system provides door to door Dial-a-Ride service for our seniors and transit service within walking distance.

    Plus we are conveniently located within only 1 to 2 miles of groceries, pharmacies, banks, restaurants, fuel and other services. In fact, some of our residents walk or use their bikes—another great way to save money!

    • Sandra, I can’t wait to see your park. I’ve heard great things about it. I like that there is public transportation, that is so awesome! It sounds closer to civilization than the others we’ve visited. We’ll see you in early September I estimate.

  5. The Xscapers “lifestyle group” within the Escapees RV Club has been tossing around the idea of trying to find land in/near smaller cities/towns that could be developed along the lines you are describing. Many of the Xscapers are full-time but still working and it appears they are discovering that it might be nice to have a “go to” place where they can count of being able to park the rig, even if only for a while. Something to be aware of and keep an eye on.

  6. Looks like it might be time to find a new favorite winter retreat. Who knows in 20 years your desires may change. Pre road life, when we were living in sticks and bricks, we lived in a small town with a population of 3000 people, by choice. We love small towns. We never pictured living in a big city, and here we are stuck in the 4th largest city in the USA, where even the more expensive RV parks are cheaper than any other housing option here, except living under a bridge. LOL And we found a place for $585 a month. Which we thought was expensive. ha! Damn mindset.
    You’ll figure it out, and who knows what the world will look like when you reach 80. 🙂

    • Dang that is a deal Larry! The Fort Collins KOA is $800 in the off season, aka WINTER!

      We love mid-sized towns, I think that’s our sweet spot. And you’re right, maybe as housing prices continue going crazy more people will come together and find new, creative ways to build communities. I sure hope it goes that way. Or else we are ALL going to be living under bridges!


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