Where did we get this idea?
This is a long term plan that began in 2013. On a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valley, Andrew and I began talking about what was next for us. Not that we are unhappy with life as it is, but the DC area is not exactly our cup of tea. We also find we easily get bored with hobbies, living in one place, seeing the same things, etc. We become interested in something, follow our passion for a while, and then tire of the experience. We’ve done this with kayaking, bike riding, hiking, owning a business, joining a gym, volunteering, etc. Doing these activities in our area is fine-but the thrill of seeing and experiencing something new becomes less likely as time passes. Due to my work responsibilities as a teacher we are unable to just pickup and go for a few days when the mood strikes us. As a teacher, I am told when I can vacation, and while I value the scheduled time off to recharge, the whole rest of the country is off vacationing at the same time. That means higher prices, more traffic, more people, and more frustrations for us. As a couple without children, we are stuck on the same schedule as everyone with children.
So, while on vacation, Andrew mentioned that it could be fun to buy an RV. Not that we could afford that! We talked more, looked at some prices online and saw that there were not that many new and inexpensive RVs of the size I wanted. I really wanted the living space of an A Class, and Andrew really wanted diesel. We thought about how little we’d get to use it-would it really make sense with the cost of gas to drive to FL and back in a week at winter or spring break? I offered, almost as a joke, that if I could quit my job I’d live in an RV full time. Well, that set everything in motion! Andrew was excited and started researching. He was determined to make this idea work! We knew we enjoyed traveling by car, with a greater sense of freedom, because of the perk of bringing our two dogs. With an RV we could bring our cats, too, right? Andrew’s job already takes him back and forth across the US to work in the different offices. Maybe this would be a good idea?!?
2016 Update: We’ve taken several trips, as short as a weekend and as long as two months, the pets are fine in an RV. Since this page was published a couple years ago one of our cats died with us in the RV. For this reason alone, RV vacationing is my favorite. Our dogs like RV living. Way more walks and things to sniff. Our cat, Mica, complains the first day and then settles in to the space and the movement. So pets are good to go!
So, we started considering our finances. At 35 we don’t have enough in savings to just buy an RV. What RV would we want? How would we afford this move? Would we rent or sell our current home? Could I quit teaching? Would I still be able to receive my retirement benefits at some point? On and on the questions went!
How much money are we talking about?
So we started answering them. First of all, how much money are we talking about? What is the actual cost of an RV we would want to live in? It’s not like a house where you buy the bones and fill it with your own furniture. Would we want a used one? Would we wan
t to trust that the maintenance was done correctly by a previous owner on a motor, generator, roof, etc? We decided, no. We didn’t want the risks of buying a used RV. Not that a new one didn’t also have risks, but having built our current home, we really enjoyed being the first people to live in this house and would like that feeling again in the next home-the RV! So, we began a lengthy online search of RVs and the types and the makes and models. We considered how long one should be (we want to visit State and National Parks and they have size limits), the features we would want, the needs of our family. We searched until we learned that an RV that we might want would cost at least $140,000-$200,000. Ouch. Possible? Maybe. How?
How can we afford this?
I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. I could go on and on about why I’d rather not teach anymore but let’s just say that I really am ready for something new. What do I need to do to be sure the last 14 years of VRS investments (my VA retirement system) were not wasted? How many years do I need to teach? When and how much money can I withdraw? I used the VRS online calculator and was able to workout the best solution for us. If I worked 20 years, and didn’t draw on the money until I was 60 years old, then I could leave the profession and receive a small but reasonable amount of money for Andrew to be able to retire at 60. This was acceptable for us both and we decided this plan might really work. Next concern? How do we afford our current home, which we want for retirement (sell or rent later in life) and the RV on only Andrew’s salary? Currently we can afford all our bills and still save some money, but that’s with two salaries! What happens when I am no longer making a salary? We are not touching my retirement money or our other retirement funds until we’re at least 60!
When we move into the RV, we will rent the house. Luckily the house is already worth more than our mortgage and the neighbors keep building big, beautiful homes all around us! The location is good, and the value of our home should continue to rise a little every year. Could this will be my salary replacement? At the very least we will rent it to cover the mortgage. Until we are in the RV full time we are using Airbnb. This awesome site takes a small cut of the rent we charge guests willing to stay for a week or two when we are out of town. Genious way for us to make money to cover all the gas and RV resort hookup fees!
Next concern? Where do we put the RV? We can’t keep it in the driveway!
The taxes on homes in VA are very reasonable, however, the luxury tax is a little less reasonable depending on where you live in the state. Each county collects a tax for cars, boats, RVs, etc. We have a little experience with this. We have a boat, it is kept at my parents’ home so we pay taxes on the boat there. It’s less than if we kept the boat here. So, that was lucky for us (we didn’t even realize this was the case at first since we were going to keep it where it is used on the water no matter what). Now we are buying an RV. We can’t even park one where we live for more than 24 hours… so where to keep it? At first we figured we’d park it at my parents’ house. They have the space and the more reasonable tax rate. It’s two to three hours away, not the best location, but that seemed like the best option. Later we researched more after getting a tip from a dealer; we discovered there are counties in VA that do not charge a tax on RVs. Even better is that there are many companies that store vehicles and boats for a very reasonable fee. Now we know where we’ll keep the RV. What else do we need to consider? RV hook-up costs?
Actual costs for RV sites depends on the location. Where we’ll be living for at least many months of the year (dictated by my husband’s current employer) the costs are reasonable (except here in the DC area)… daily hookup of $20-$30. Over a month that works out to be $930 at most. In combination with the RV payment-less than half of the cost of living in our current home. Totally reasonable! Not to mention the need for only one car. So only one potential car payment. Next concern? Gas.
Since we won’t be driving all over the country all the time the cost of gas is a little less of a concern but something we did consider. To drive from DC to CA we calculated about $1000 in gasoline. This does not include the cost of maintenance on the RV itself. So, there will need to be money set aside every month for upkeep and emergency repairs in addition to the money we make from Airbnb.
2016 update: gas prices are down, yay!
My classroom is one of the least “stuffed/decorated” you’ve ever seen. Most teachers are pack-rats, keeping things for someday, I might want it, what if I teach that grade again… I’m not that teacher. I find new ideas, create new projects, organizers, etc every year. I have a couple file cabinets, some photos and videos of ideas and the rest of my intellectual property is all on my external hard drive. I buy things as I need them for the class I’m teaching. Our home is the same way. We have the tools we need in the kitchen and bathroom, tools for home construction and repair projects, but that’s about it. We have no attic or basement storage. No garage full of stuff, no boxes of old things. We have purged nearly all sentimental and unpractical items over the last few years. That is another story for another post. At this point, the furniture, tools, etc can be easily sold or donated. Our photo albums will be converted to digital and the artwork and original albums can be kept in my parents’ guest bedroom under the bed.
Okay. We have the basic concerns, costs and plan outlined. Now to consider the actual RV.
We looked at the records and owner experiences of different companies, the floor plans, types of RVs, etc. All researched online using the many websites and blogs available. For so many reasons we selected Thor’s Palazzo 35.1. It’s a good company and it’s been around for a pretty long time. The chassis, motor, insulation of the walls, etc. all seemed to be built to last. The diesel pusher was the only RV we ended up considering because the motor is huge, will be able to get us through mountains towing a car, and with the motor in the back we will have a pretty quiet ride. Once deciding on the make we started looking at the different models. We wanted closet space in the bedroom, a washer and dryer, a regular style table and chairs, an exterior TV and awning, and a style that fit us. We like simple colors and lines. The Palazzo fit it all. The other consideration was the length. If it’s too long we will not be able to park it in some of the National Parks. But too short and we won’t have the space we want inside for full time living. The Palazzo 35.1 fit. Next we learned everything we could about the RV and other similar RVs. We wanted to be knowledgeable when working with the salesmen… we didn’t want to be taken advantage of. With as much information as we could gather and several phone conversations with a couple different dealers we went shopping! We found what we wanted, Andrew test drove, we want the 2014!
We decided after working with three different dealers and finally getting to the purchasing stage with Lazy Days in Tampa, FL that we would use their financing. They were able to get us a good interest rate, and we were making the actual purchase with a pretty quick turn around. From the time we agreed to the purchase hundreds of miles away was only a week. I think we will continue to consider other options as time passes. Keep ours eyes and ears open and see if refinancing, a second mortgage, etc might make more sense. Good news is the RV is a home and a tax write off as such. Also, when we bought the RV we were told that we paid taxes to the dealer and they paid VA for us. Well, when Andrew went to register the RV he was told by the VA DMV that we had to make the payment and that there was no way for the dealer to do so. So, Andrew called Lazy Days and was assured that there was a way and that it had to be done that way. So, he went back to the DMV and with the help of a manager it was worked out. It took several hours though.
This was another bump in the road. The company we’d had for years, California Casualty, didn’t offer RV insurance. Ugh. Andrew did some looking around and we discovered that Nationwide does and that we actually would save money with them because we have good driving records! Yay! We did it. We also decided at this point to rent our house out using airbnb to make some money while we are RVing and they said we would be covered even with other people staying in the house because it is our primary residence. So, two birds with one stone! Our next step is to get driving classes to lower the insurance premium and so I can learn to drive from someone other than Andrew! We work well together, but he and I have a little difficulty with taking “lesson/orders” from each other. So a driving teacher would be great!
* 2016 update: We used airbnb and loved it. People on the site are respectful and it was nice to know my house was not empty as we traveled around for two months.
Nationwide covered our home with airbnb, the boats at my dad’s, and the RV.
We never did take driving lessons. I learned over the summer as we drove on wide open roads out west. It is pretty easy, especially with the camera on the back. As we use the turn signals the camera system automatically switches to cameras on the side mirrors. I am not super comfortable in cities, but I’m sure I’ll learn!*
Where will we keep an RV for the next 6 years?
We obviously won’t be keeping it in our small driveway, with the outrageous taxes… so… With some more research we found a place called Holly Acres. For about $1200 a year we get a space for the RV and car dolly with video surveillance in the gated parking lot. It’s about 30 minutes away without traffic and really perfect for our needs!
Where are we in this process now?
Well, we own the Palazzo, we are actively taking and planning trips, and we joined another community of vacationers called Airbnb! Through this site we rent our home to other travelers when we are out of town. So far we’ve had nothing but success! Groups of five and six people have used our home as their “hotel” when visiting the DC area. It’s been great! We make money for our RV payments, gas, and RV resort fees and the guests at our Arlington home get a whole house to stay in, cook in, etc when visiting DC. To make the house ready to share on this site we actually had to purge even more! But it felt great to really start to assess all the items we have left, and we were able to store all of our personal, hobby stuff, and clothing in two closets that we locked. The rest of the house and yard is for the guests. So, this huge leap into RVing, the idea of living in it full time, and renting our house to afford this new way of life has already started to work! We lived for over two weeks in our RV, were able to be with our cat, Rhyo, when she passed away even though we were on vacation, made money on the rental of our Arlington home, and discovered that living in the RV did not feel cramped or over stuffed. Most of the storage space was empty and knowing we are already down to only two closets at home means we should be just fine when it’s time to live in our RV full time! WOW!
2016 update: It is that time! We are going four years earlier than we planned but we are sure this is the right time. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and Andrew is so excited to live full time that he feels the same. We are slowly selling all our stuff on Craigslist and to coworkers and friends. It’s the end of January and I don’t want a made rush at the end to move things out. We didn’t really need the dining room table, or the cabinet under the TV, or the side table… Hahaha!