The First Shell

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
– W. C. Fields

The excitement of making The Decision lasted well into The Research, but eventually the reality of having to wait two years or more before actually starting on our fulltime RV adventure settled in, and it became difficult to escape from wistful longing or the fear that Life Would Happen and interfere with Our Plan. This sort of anxiety is bolstered by what you read from the enthusiastic fulltimers, many of whom echo the phrase “I wish I had started sooner” and never “I wish I had worked one more year.” Of course, we are selectively pulling advice from successful long time RVers, not from the no doubt numerous souls that tried the life and found it wanting.

We explored the idea of renting an RV for a weeklong trip, but were surprised at how expensive it is. Unless you have great flexibility such that you can take advantage of Cruise America’s seasonal specials or repositioning offers (some of which are awesome deals), it is pretty much the same as renting a car and staying in hotels. Perhaps, given that the extent of my RV experience was a childhood using the grandparents Airstream as a play house, and later as a secret make-out den, we should have bitten the bullet and tried a rental despite the costs.

But we didn’t. Instead we took the far more rational approach and drank a bottle of wine before putting an eBay bid in on a 1978 GMC Motorhome. Let me back up. We had half convinced ourselves to purchase an affordable “training RV” such that we could learn the ropes part time on weekends or short vacation trips before setting full sail. We were strongly leaning towards a motorhome or vintage bus conversion rather than a pull behind trailer or fifth wheel (much more on that at a later date), and I had become obsessed with the 1973-1978 GMC Mortorhomes. These vehicles were somewhat revolutionary, defying styling norms of the time while driving much like a big car rather than a big truck. They are classics, hold their value, and have cult like clubs devoted to their use and upkeep. And let’s be honest: I have a problem with unique vehicle lust once I have reached this point of obsession, as witnessed by the Suzuki X90 and Isuzu Vehicross I owned before my latest Saab. Sure, I only kept those odd little units for a year or two each, but had I not had that opportunity I never would have let it go. I needed to get it out of my system. Which brings us back to The Great Wine-Fest and eBay Splurge of 2013.

Feeling no pain, I was doing yet another scan of Craigslists, eBay, and other RV sale sites for classic busses and GMC Motorhomes when I stumbled across a ‘78, in Florida, already robustly renovated with a newish motor, transmission and available inspection results, sporting a plethora of performance and reliability upgrades, a seller with a perfect rating, and a seemingly limited number of interested bidders. And it was not painted in the usual horrid 70’s paint schemes nor the prototypical swooshy patterns of modern motorhomes. It was silver, all silver, and it was beautiful inside and out. This had happened before. I had found the perfect vehicle online and Rose had been forced to talk me down from the ledge. This time she enthusiastically joined me out on it, being entranced as I. So taking a final sip from the now empty wine bottle we held our breath and submitted a last second “sniper bid” on the thing. And we lost, immediately outbid by $500 as the auction expired.

The next day after work, having had a day for sober reflection, you might think we were relieved at having dodged a perhaps foolish impulse purchase, but we were quite mopey. As I was opening my email Rose and I discussed the possibility of something happening with the winning bidders offer, and I told her that if it did we might receive a Second Chance Offer from the seller. Which is exactly what I saw as my email page loaded. The winning bidder had been unable to secure financing and owner offered us the option to buy this beautiful thing at our top bid price, and further we had a couple of days in which we could research, ask questions, review the vehicle history and consult with others. We did all that, then we bought it, and a week later I took a flight and a bus trip to Panama City, FL to pick her up and drive her home. That’s the Silver Shell on our front page header photo.

The Money

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
― Oscar Wilde

There are myriad questions one might ask when contemplating a full time RV transition:
– Would I enjoy this lifestyle?
– Do I have or can I readily gain the knowledge and skill set necessary to do so?
– Am I physically capable of the specific demands?
– How will we deal with the distance from local family?
– And of course, can I afford it?

Focusing on that last question involves an analysis of available money and incomebalanced against a rational cost assessment. For the former, RVers rely on the traditional funding sources as well as a few other RV-oriented funding streams.
– Retirement benefits/Social Security/pension
– Savings and investments
– Rental income from owned property or the house you just moved out of
– Remote home office work, particularly if you have highly technical skills
– Temp or seasonal work at, for instance, campgrounds where you stay
– “Travel Blogging” income from sponsors, advertisers, reader/viewer donations, conducting seminars, and “click through” purchases as an Amazon Associate.

Some other time we can get into the RV oriented income streams, but Rose and I are solely counting on the first two options, so we have a very clear understanding of our available funds and thus the amount of monthly expenses we can absorb. Fortunately, there are quite a number of cost estimates from the plethora of RV bloggers out there. I reviewed dozens, but Wheeling It’s posts on the subject are a great place to start, and the links towards the end of that article lead to other examples and spreadsheet style breakdowns. Technomadia maintains six years of data focused mainly on park fee and fuel costs (NB: if you are new to RVs and click that link, the Technomads do NOT spend hundreds of dollars on paper each month… “stationary” refers to staying in one place for a while and paying park fees, heh).

From these and other examples Rose and I came up with an anticipated monthly cost significantly less than our current Condo based existence. We anticipate a monthly total of approximately $1700, not including entertainment and incidentals. To wit:

Item                           Cost  Notes
RV Park Fees             450   Assumes $30/day with 50% of “boondocking” for free
Tow Car Insurance      70    Reducing from two Saabs down to one Jeep
Motorhome Insurance  70   Shopped around, Progressive offered best deal to us
Registration & Tags     35
Life Insurance              54
Satellite TV/Internet    220    We are TV & internet addicts, so assume high costs
Cell phone service     120    Fixed price prepaid. Possibly lower if with Verizon
Netflix                             9    See above!
Mail Service                 25    Mail collection and forwarding service
AAA & other RV clubs 25    Passport America, Escapees, Family Motorhome, etc
Gas                            600    Based on RV 600 miles/month plus Jeep local use
Propane                       10

There will no doubt be a good deal of adjustment to this list once we start, but it is based on solid research and an analysis of our spending habits. Many of the bills we have now simply will not be relevant once in an RV (no mortgage or property taxes) or will be replaced by an RV equivalent (e.g., our condo maintenance, RV storage, and car parking spot rental get replaced by RV Park fees). I suspect we can lower the Satellite TV/Internet options based on some recent advice from Wheeling It. There will certainly be some unexpected items, maybe we will even maintain a storage facility. But the great thing is that if, monetarily, we have a bad month, we can suspend our no contract satellite TV and internet services, “boondock” a week or two at Bureau of Land Management areas or cheaper state parks, and throw in a couple of nights free parking at casinos or Walmart. Or we will just park at your house, friend. You can take a 30Amp hook up, right?