Budget breakdown of full-time RVs spending $ 1,200 per month



  • Melissa Vance and Wade Smith have lived in their RV for four years.
  • Smith works six months, earning $ 2,500 a month, and they spend $ 1,200 a month on expenses.
  • They travel overseas twice each year on a budget and using credit card points.
  • Visit the Insider homepage for more stories.

When Melissa Nance was diagnosed with cancer, she knew it was time to make her dream of traveling a reality.

“Travel can be expensive, so I was trying to figure out how we could travel on a budget,” said Nance, who is now in remission. “During my chemo, I realized that I didn’t want to continue working for a car, for a house, for furniture – what I wanted was experiments.”

That’s when she learned that people were living out of their RVs full time. She and her husband, Wade Smith, spent the next two years saving money and paying off debts.

In 2016, Nance and Smith – who now run the blog Penny Pinching Globetrotters – bought an RV for $ 13,500 and started living on the road. Four years later, Nance and Smith are adhering to a strict budget to keep their dream life on the road a reality.

Nance and Smith earn around $ 2,500 per month through seasonal jobs

Nance and Smith do not have full time jobs. Instead, Smith works seasonal concerts in national parks, in campgrounds, or in gift shops. Jobs average $ 13.25 an hour, but they come with a range of perks like free parking and discounts on food.

Currently, Smith works as a maintenance worker at Mount Rainier National Park, where he earns $ 2,500 a month. Nance supplements their income by doing small tasks – like taking pictures of products found in stores – on websites and apps.

Of the $ 2,500, they spend $ 1,200 to $ 1,400 per month

Nance is a former CEO of a nonprofit, so she says she’s good at balancing a budget. Over the past four years, she has developed a tight money-saving system that works for both of them on the road.

Nance and Smith's motorhome

Nance and Smith’s motorhome.

Courtesy of Melissa Nance


In an average month, their costliest expenses include $ 350 for gasoline and propane, $ 309 for health insurance, $ 300 for food and toiletries, $ 171 for cell phones, and $ 100 for entertainment. Their cheaper expenses include $ 45 for a storage unit and $ 25 for laundry.

These numbers can fluctuate and, at the moment, they pay $ 1,252 per month. There can be changes in their spending depending on what they do in a given month – for example, Nance said their gas spending can vary based on distance traveled. Some months their budget reaches $ 1,400.

To stay on budget, Nance explained that they never eat out, always buy their groceries at discount stores, and always do silly things instead of paying for parking.

While living on a strict budget didn’t stress Nance too much, she said she wished their entertainment budget was higher. She remembers once they wanted to go to a museum, but they couldn’t because it cost $ 30 each.

“When your budget is only $ 1,300 or $ 1,400, $ 60 is a lot,” Nance said.

Nance and Smith save the rest of their money for months, they don’t work

Currently, their temporary income is around $ 2,500 and they spend $ 1,200 per month. The rest is spent on savings. But this money is not an emergency fund. Since Smith works seasonal jobs that last six months, that portion of the savings is actually for the six months he is not working.

Since the couple don’t have emergency funds, Nance said they get stressed out every time their RV breaks down. Once it stalled near the Mexican border and they had to pay $ 900 just to tow it. It took another big one to fix it.

Nance and Smith's motorhome

Nance and Smith.

Courtesy of Melissa Nance


“It was really stressful because it’s like spending over a month for us,” Nance said. “It was stressful every time something unexpected happened.”

Recently, however, they sold their Tennessee home, which they had rented for their first few years on the road. Now that they have some money in their savings, Nance says she feels more comfortable, but refuses to touch it for their daily expenses.

Despite living on a tight budget, the couple still manage to make annual trips abroad.

Each year, Nance and Smith make two trips abroad. Over the past four years, they have been to Italy, Paris, Morocco, South Africa and Ireland.

How do they do if they live on such a tight budget? Nance said she spends a lot of time collecting points out of nine credit card. She pays all their expenses on credit and reimburses them monthly. Eventually, she accumulates enough points so that they can fly and stay for free in hotels around the world.

While on vacation, they always stick to their budget of $ 1,200 to $ 1,400. Fortunately, they don’t have to pay for laundry, gasoline, or propane when they’re overseas. Plus, they spend less on eating because food is cheaper wherever they go.

Nance said it wasn’t easy to stay on budget, rack up points and finally travel for free, but it was worth it to live their dream.

“These things take time,” Nance said. “You trade time for money. If I spend a few hours finding this credit card, then I get free travel.”

She added: “It takes time and effort to get there.”



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