By Barney Whistance
Special to the Financial Independence Hub
At some point we’ve all daydreamed about what our retirement might look like. For some, a cabin in the woods might be their dream life. Others may want a condo near the beach or high-rise apartment in the city. Many daydreams also include travel, both in and outside the U.S.
Ample Hollywood movies about the joys and headaches of the retirement life have given nods to the recreational vehicle (RV) retirement lifestyle as well. From ex-CIA man Jack Byrnes’ sleek black Fleetwood RV in Meet the Fockers, to David and Linda Howard’s homier Winnebago in the movie Lost in America, RV living may represent a luxury life of leisure for many Americans.
One former co-worker of mine, shortly after his retirement, sold his home to buy a fancy new RV. While I was able to meet him at his retirement party and do a short quiz on his reasoning, the decision never quite added up for me. I decided to do some additional research to determine if RV-living was a sound and viable financial decision for my own retirement.
Full-time RVers, also known as full-timers, are people who live, work, and play in their RVs. Often they plan their lives and moves well in advance, but they’re also known to pick up and go on a whim, or to follow the weather on a seasonal basis.
However, there are a few considerations when contemplating the full-time RV life. Here’s a breakdown of points to ponder while deciding whether it’s the best lifestyle for your needs.
RVs can be purchased in a wide price range – anywhere from $3,000 to $3 million – which makes them perfect for any budget. The makes and models people live in usually range from $40,000 to over $200,000, depending on the size, age, and other special features.
My friend chose to buy a newer model used RV for about $50,000 – which is less than the equity that many retirees have in their homes at the age of their retirement. Buying and towing a more fuel-efficient vehicle (also known as a “toad’ in RV language) helps save on fuel (as most RVs guzzle gas and only get 10 miles or so per gallon). Such a vehicle will give you greater range of movement once the RV is parked on sites and should be factored into lifestyle startup costs.
Full-timers can join campground chains, like Thousand Trails, which may charge an up-front, one-time fee to join in addition to yearly dues. As part of the services, campers can then stay up to for a few weeks at any of the campgrounds in the network without daily fees, with each campground also providing full hookups and facilities with Wi-Fi.
Staying longer at each facility helps save fuel and also gives retirees the chance to fully connect with the local culture, form friendships, and explore the area.
Phones and Wi-Fi can be two of the biggest problems in most campgrounds. However, this can easily be solved with a smartphone for its 4G and hotspot capabilities. Using internet-steaming for TV-watching will eat up the gigabytes so it’s recommended to keep it to a minimum if you’re on a budget.
Space is another challenge when you live small, and can be especially hard for packrats. Others may find the downsizing purge both liberating and exhilarating. If needed, you may want to invest in a storage unit for holding onto things you’ll need when your roaming days eventually come to an end.
RV living is a blessing for both introverts and extroverts alike. It affords plenty of time for spiritual reflection and introspection, and opportunities to meet and visit with new people. It also is hinged on the idea of constant travel. History or nature buffs are provided ample occasions to connect with the places they love most.
One of the least desirable aspects of RV-living is cleaning out the holding tanks. Driving in cities can also be a challenge, but an avoidable one in some states if routes are planned to circumvent major metropolitan areas.
Healthcare can be another headache for full-time travellers. Finding appropriate coverage and keeping costs down can take some experimenting to hit on what works best for an individual or couple.
With these considerations in mind, and with baby boomers at or near retirement age, it comes as no surprise that there’s been a surge in the RV retirement lifestyle. For individuals and couples with limited retirement income, sometimes half of what they were making before, this setup can still feel like they have more money to spend than they did while working.
The desire to capitalize on the freedom of retirement, the relatively low cost, and the increase in campgrounds and services catering to the growing demand, all make full-time RV living a surprisingly good alternative for retirees.
Barney Whistance is a Finance and Economics blogger interested in the global economic climate. Apart from majoring in Finance, he is a Chartered Accountancy Student and planning to complete his Ph.D. in Finance before he turns 30. For more updates follow him on Twitter @barneywhistanc1