You can RV on the cheap, really you can, but it will mean some smart decisions on your part. There are plenty of simple and practical ways to save in every step of RVing. Being frugal might just be simpler than you think.
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How to Save on Your RV Purchase
I could probably write an entire book on this topic alone, but I will do my best to keep it brief yet helpful.
Here is the ideal situation – you buy a used RV with minimal wear and tear at a good price (think new curtains and a little paint).
Now, this isn’t going to be a CHEAP RV, if you want a cheap RV, the RV will be used and need work (in addition to paint and curtains, you may need new floors, maybe there’s some mold in the bathroom, etc).
If you are handy and have plenty of time before you need the RV you can build one on your own (skoolie anyone?).
Keep in mind that if you need financing, the bank will require a bigger down payment on a used RV or if you are purchasing from a private owner you may have to have that cash available.
If you want a new RV, you will be paying more, but it can be a good option if you don’t have the time (or don’t want to spend the time on a fixer-upper) or if you don’t have the cash available for a big down payment or purchase.
The biggest advantage you can have in buying new is to be prepared and to know as much as you can before you go into the dealership.
If this isn’t your first RV, this process will be a bit easier for you.
Either way, organization, and knowledge will be the key to getting the best deal. Find the right RV for your lifestyle.
How to Save on RV Parks & Campgrounds
Here are the highlights:
Purchase a campground membership.
- Thousand Trails: various memberships with various costs and benefits, big value for your buck
- Passport America: 50% off participating RV parks
- Good Sam: 10% off participating RV parks can be good in a pinch
Boondock or Dry camp
- This is camping without hookups (water, sewer, or electricity), but it’s free!!
- You can save big at free campgrounds, on public lands, at RV-friendly businesses, or staying with private landowners that participate in Boondockers Welcome.
Try RV camping in a different way…
- Hipcamp offers RV camping on farms and private property. Nightly rates can start pretty low ($10/night) and amenities vary by place. Some places are more like dry camping and other places offer up to full hookups. Book a campsite here and we both get $10!!
How to Save on Meals
The easiest way to save on your meals is to prepare them in your RV.
This is true whether you are just going on vacation, the weekend, or if you RV full-time.
You can make the meals as simple or complex as you’d like. If you feel that your RV kitchen isn’t going to cut it, bring your grill or experiment with campfire cuisine.
Ever make pancakes and bacon over an open fire? It takes forever, but it is a lot of fun.
My favorite place for savings on groceries is at Aldi – unique finds and super cheap!
Also, if you haven’t used Ibotta for digital store coupons, you are missing out.
Unlike coupons that give you money at the register, Ibotta digitally stores the cash for you and then you can use it to get gift cards or get cash via PayPal or Venmo.
Just make sure to keep your receipt! You will need to scan your receipt and purchased items to receive your “cash”. Click here to join!
Want to skip the kitchen?
You can still find places to feed yourself or the whole family for not much and it doesn’t have to be fast food.
Do a little research and find out where the locals go.
Are there food trucks at the park on Friday nights?
You may also be able to hit the grocery store and bring “home” some “to go” meals that are hot and ready for you.
Lastly, you can always go to restaurants and order appetizers only or share meals. Even if the restaurant charges you for sharing, it will be much less than ordering an entrée for every person in your party.
How to Save on Activities
There are tons of free things to do.
Go on a hike. You don’t even need anything special to hit the trails when the days are warm – clothes appropriate for the weather, sturdy shoes, water, snacks.
Go on a bike ride.
You can go to the park, go out on the water – there are places where you can do this for free, but you’ll have to do some research.
Some places charge a fee during peak season, others do not.
Again, find where the locals go, that’s where you will find the less expensive activities.
Go to the museum for free! Yep, I said free.
There are a lot of museums that are ASTC museums.
This means that if you have a yearly membership with an ASTC museum, you can receive reciprocal membership benefits (free admission) to another member museum.
There are some rules associated with this membership – You can’t use it to visit a museum within 90 miles (as the crow flies) of your home or the museum you have the yearly membership with.
Some people never even visit the museum with which they have the membership, they just use it for the reciprocal membership!
So you want to buy a membership from a museum far from your home and far from any museum, you plan to visit.
Here is the list of ASTC museums and the rules for the membership. We purchased a ~$100 membership from Boonshoft Museum in Ohio and it has paid for itself in 2 visits to other museums. This could be really great if you travel a lot.
How to Save on Fuel
Fuel costs can add up quickly, sometimes shockingly so.
If you have a small trailer like a teardrop and a small vehicle, it may not be too bad.
If however you are driving a motorhome (especially a big one) or have a big old diesel truck, fuel could be a big factor.
Gas stations conveniently off the interstate are not the cheapest…but how much fuel are you going to burn to look for that cheap gas?
If you RV full-time or are taking an extended vacation, take your time traveling.
I’m not saying drive slow (although that will help as well), I’m saying to stay put for longer.
Instead of driving all the way to your “goal” destination without stopping or with only overnight stops, stay several days or a week if you can swing it.
The longer you can stay at an RV park, campground, or boondocking spot, the more money you will save on fuel.
Of course, you have to balance the fuel savings with the cost of your stay. If you have a membership or staying for free this could cut your costs significantly.
It is impossible to cover everything you could do to RV on the cheap, but I hope what I have shared can get you started and help you plan for your future travels.
So what do you think? What did I miss? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.