What’s Cheaper: Living in a House or on the Road?

For the last few mornings, snow has been blanketing the mountainside but melting off by noon. This is nature’s not-so-subtle warning that one day very soon, we’ll wake up with four feet of the white stuff and have to dig our way out of here. Before that happens, we’ve been making progress getting the rig loaded, checking off lists and eating through our gigantic freezer.

Recently I got into a discussion with a friend about whether or not it was cheaper to stay home or hit the road.

I believe being on the road is cheaper.  How about you?

If you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to live more cheaply in an RV than a stick house (provided that you don’t have mortgage or rent to cover).

Being the meticulous bookeeper that I am, I track all of our expenses in Quickbooks. Here’s a general breakdown of what we spent four months at a time on the road, and here at Jerry’s Acres.

January 2010 to April 2010 (on the road)

Booze & Entertainment: $364

Food & Dining Out: $1798

Health & Beauty: $19

Campgrounds: $537

Pet Expenses: $624

Home Repair: $115

Truck Repair: $39

Utilities: $217

Fuel: $1090

TOTAL: $4,803 ($1,201 per month avg cost)


May 2010 to September 2010 (at Jerry’s Acres)

Booze & Entertainment: $400

Food & Dining Out: $2915

Health & Beauty: $138

Pet Expenses: $987

Home Repair $506

Truck Repair: $556

Utilities: $590

Fuel: $1563

TOTAL: $7,655 ($1,913 per month avg cost).

This excludes business expenses, one-time building upgrades, and static monthly costs like taxes, insurance and club dues. These costs are for two people and one dog.

But yes, living in a stick house is indeed more expensive! Even up here on a remote mountaintop, we find things to indulge in. We eat way more high end good eats when we have a full-sized refrigerator to stock, and a large kitchen to make a mess in. Also, driving the one hour each way to town isn’t cheap either, which is why we only do it twice a week to take Wyatt to his lessons and stock up.

My own tips for living cheaply on the road include:

  1. Invest in a good solar setup. Doing so will save hundreds by allowing you to boondock in free places.
  2. Never pay full price for a campground. Passport America and Escapees are the only two discount camping clubs worth the cost. Passport’s 50 percent discount will pay for itself the first time you use it and Escapees 10 percent savings will pay for itself after a few nights. If you’re too cheap to do that, good sites like FreeCampgrounds.com, RVParking.com and FreeCampsites.net are good sites to search.
  3. Buy the $10 Escapees Day’s End Directory. This guide to free and cheap boondocking spots all over the country will save you tons of money.
  4. Diesel rigs are the way to go. While diesel may not always be the cheapest fuel, the mileage you get out of a tank will be better than with a gas engine. And their power kicks butt on the highway!
  5. Stay away from popular places and touristy areas. You’ll pay three times what you would normally pay for a comparable campground outside the entertainment zone. There’s so much more to see outside of these crowded areas.
  6. Eat in! It’s tempting to try every new eatery in every town you go through, but save those for special occasions.

We’ll have more tips for you as we head out for our fourth winter on the road. Until then, stay warm and be sure to point your rig west…we’ll see you in the desert!

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21 Responses to “What’s Cheaper: Living in a House or on the Road?”

  1. great tips! which desert will i see you in?

  2. Eric Auckerman October 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm Reply

    Wait a minute! Now just wait a diesel burning man minute young Missy, so why did you buy a house/property in northern Colorado if you well knew that properties cost mucho jack over time? I’m not holding your nose up to the fromage, but there’s more to this engine than the exhaust.

    If you’re going to compare apples and oranges then let me throw in the X-factor, buying a property offers a different set of circumstances by which to live over that of an RV or 5th wheel or whatever that moves about our highways.

    Take music for example. In houses folks don’t listen to quite as much country music, whereas in a dually Dodge truck, they do, thus answering the question of quality of life – houses win, cause you’ll probably listen also to jazz and jazz can make one hip. Country music has merit for sure, but without jazz what kind of world would this be?

    Then there’s toilets. Dropping one’s dung in tight plastic cube like an astronaut cannot for the life of all readers be that much fun, especially if you exceed certain physical dimensions. Conversely, in a warm home with a Hello Kitty rug just in front of the shower, a moment of extricating contents under pressure in heated environment can be a near memorable experience. OK, public toilets are available in most if not all RV parks these days, but but do I have to visit Bombay to know their scent? Nay!

    If you’re a TV or multi-media person then don’t talk RV talk Casa de la Remotes. In the average house you can have a remote the size of a Steinway, in an RV someone has to step outside so there’s enough room to change channels on a remote the size of a flash drive. I’m not saying TV is good cause it’s not, but in a house it tends to be more enjoyable even if it isn’t worth watching.

    Then there’s food! If I desire a steak the size of a sleeping bag then yes, I’m probably going to die young but die young and well fed! But even more to the point, I like the idea of having enough room to tenderize my steak by walking all over it with ice climbing spikes. Even a vegetarian trying to make a salad in an RV knows that counter space can be likened to working on a can of peas (love the little sweet ones), a real balancing act for sure.

    True, houses demand the attention a Palm Beach divorcee and her lawyer, but at end of the day, there’s always a corner to crawl into that becomes your little sanctuary (Latin for holy or sacred or where you can belch freely).

    I challenge one and all to put a price on a domicile that brings peace to the spirit and room for folks to play like puppies or meercats.

    Enrico strikes again!

  3. Rene, I couldn’t agree more with your analysis and conclusion. And, I agree that your costs on the home side are frugal. In our case, the huge increase due to home ownership is the “amassing” of material things & goods again. Having much more space than while just living in the trailer (a 8ft x 21ft box, without any storage shed anywhere) puts one right back into the great American myth of more of & bigger is better! You forgot to mention the tens of thousands we all spend on furniture, appliances, rugs, art & decorative items, entertainment centers, kitchen supplies & equipment, tools, yard equipment, tons of new books (now that space & weight no longer matter), 4-wheelers, motorcycles, hobby & jewelery supplies, on & on, and soon to come a second vehicle to leave here, so both of us can now go burn gas at the same time! So, if anything you’ve missed the boat on the home ownership estimate by a country mile! But, after all we Americans must have our stuff!

    • Sam, I tend to miss a lot of things by a country mile. But I definitely don’t miss “not” having a stationary home. There’s a lot to be said for it. And heck, now I’ve got an excuse for hitting up yard sales again (which Fort Collins is full of during summer). I really missed that!

      • Yes, there are advantages to the home base, the American dream. But, we do pay the price, and that price is fixin’ to go up bigtime as property taxes soar, and inflation takes off due to ever accelerating government debt.
        Hang onto your wallet!

  4. Very interesting! We’ve found the same thing since we bought a house. I know Sam will have more to say about this later…

  5. Thanks for the “brass tacks” post. My wife and I and our two boys are hoping to launch on the road in June and this is the kind of info that is really helpful. Keep the great posts coming and hope you make it out before the Big snows.

  6. I know for sure that living on the road for these past few years has been significantly cheaper than my former sticks-n-bricks lifestyle. Our monthly cost log is here: http://www.technomadia.com/the-finances-how-to-afford-it/ .

    However, my expectations and lifestyle in general was also significantly different. For instance, I used to have a fairly large home beachside in Florida… and my salary was larger too (I took a voluntary pay cut when I hit the road to give myself more ‘me’ time and feeling less constrained to schedules.) So I think it’s more of an apples to oranges comparison.

    Given a lot of the frugality, minimalism and reset expectations of ‘comfort’ – I’m curious to see how living a more stationary life fares on the pocketbook. We’ll get a chance this summer when we re-locate to the US Virgin Island of St. John for 5 months, renting a glorified screened in porch in a tropical jungle paradise. The monthly rent on it is less than what we were just paying to park in San Francisco – so we’re using that as our benchmark (as staying in SF is just about our highest camping fee scenario). Of course, cost of living in general is much higher in St. John.

    It’ll be an interesting experiment in many respects!

  7. Thank you! This is very helpful! We just started (seriously) keeping track of our home expenses and are searching for our first 5th wheel! See you on the road! :)

  8. After 7 years full-timing I’m regaining on my initial investment of the rig and truck. The rig is in better shape then when i bought it from the factory and the truck is still doing the job it did the first day. (diesel). Road is much cheaper. My land tax of my last house was around five thousand a year! I don’t even spend half that in camp for a year. Hurry up and get off that mountain before you need a sled to get down. 4 feet of snow…no thanks…white sand instead this winter.

  9. by what logic did you slide that $500+ truck repair bill on to the house column ?, all that wear & tear was accrued on the road, very “creative” book keeping !!

  10. Cheaper on the road. No question! And what’s great is that you can shift your expense categories around on the road. At home, rent / mortgage is fixed. On the road, however, if I want to eat out every day for a month I can just drive less to make the books balance out. Simple!

    • Isn’t it funny how when you tell people you’re on the road they think you’re a trust fund kid or won the lotto? It’s hard for most people to grasp the concept that living this way is actually cheaper!

  11. I’d be living HUGE on that kind of monthly expense! :) My expenses are about $2500 at most, and that includes $1500 for a house rental. When can I come work for you guys? ;)

    • Hahah that’s funny. Oy vey, I better clarify (Jim says I wasn’t clear about this).

      Those figures are NOT our monthly expenses, they’re the sum total of four months at a time.

      So from January to April, we spent $1,201 per month on the road, and from May to September our costs were $1,914 per month while staying at home.

      Those costs are for two people and one dog. That’s pretty darn frugal if you ask me.

      But you can come work for us anytime David!

  12. Haha that’s funny! Yes, you sure did. After I shot my mouth off about it being cheaper, I thought I should double-check that. Homeownership IS expensive, darnit!

  13. ahhh, glad to see I gave you some material for your blog! :)

    Looks like you were correct!

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