How much does it take?

This morning, Sept. 21, 2008 marked the passing of Gaylord Maxwell. It is with great sadness that I add this note to remember one of the greatest writers and supporters of the RV lifestyle of all time. Gaylord was 82 years old. He went from school teacher, to RV Dealer, to RV Magazine Editor and finally to Columnist. He was founder and lead the "Life on Wheels Conference" program.

The following article written by Gaylord Maxwell orginally appeared in Motorhome magazine June 2001 issue. It is reproduced here with permission from the author.

How much income do you need to be a full-timer? Undoubtedly, that is the question I am most frequently asked regarding living on the road. Younger people, particularly, are concerned about what kind of economic goals they should set to prepare for their future. Folks who are around retirement age are concerned about whether or not the fixed income that they have will be sufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living. Obviously, these are legitimate concerns that must be addressed by every person who is considering taking to the road full-time.

So, how much does full-timing cost? My glib answer is: Whatever you've got. There is no specific amount that can be pinpointed as the right amount for full-timing or, for that matter, any mode of living. It's just fact of life that people live pretty much according to what their incomes will permit in terms of houses, vehicles and leisure-time activities..

People will do very much the same in the RV lifestyle as they did in "normal" life. The wealthier will have more expensive motorhomes, stay in fancier parks and indulge themselves in the way they live, while the poorer will have smaller, cheaper rigs, stay in less expensive parks and pinch pennies. Obviously, people who had high incomes during their working years will require more retirement income then people whose earnings were more modest. Both, however, will probably do well as full-timers because they will make what they do, where they go and what they spend fit their pocketbooks.

And it is a fact that, regardless of income, much of what people enjoy most about the full-time lifestyle does not depend on how much money you have. The reality is that the sun shines at exactly the same temperature on a poor fellow as it does on a rich fellow. Yellowstone National Park's famous views cannot be enjoyed any more by a rich man than they can by a poor man. The feeling of freedon that is enjoyed by most full-timers is no more intense for wealthy people than it is for those with less money. In short, full-timing is not a lifestyle that requires a definite amount of income for all participants. However, each individual who is preparing for it should have some definite ideas about how he expects to live and what the costs would be to support that plan.

Let's look at some economic realities that pertain to everyone who expects to be a full-timer. Above all, we should be aware of changing economic realities. About a dozen years ago, I did a study of full-timers' incomes to prepare for a seminar on full-timing. My figures showed that at that time the median income of those I surveyed was about $1500 a month. Many of today's retirees or near-retirees have incomes exceeding $5000 per month. I haven't seen any professional studies on this, but I would be willing to bet that the median income for recent full-timers has moved up to almost double what it was 12 years ago.

Whether or not those figures correspond favorable with those of the average retiree in all lifestyles, I don't know. But I'm sure that the recent influx of "boomers" has pushed the retirement-income median upward, and it quite likely will continue to go up. My point is that many of today's retirees have greater expectations for their retirement years than many of us in the previous generation, so they will need more income to live successfully as full-timers.

Add to the greater expectations factor the reality of increases in many costs associated with RVing. Motorhome prices, for example, have increased primarily because of two factors: diesel engines and more bells and whistles. Then there's the price of fuel, which has gone off the wall, and heaven knows where it will be next year. Campground fees are higher, partly due to the demand for more amenities and partly due to the higher operating costs that are being passed on to customers. Rising utility prices will undoubtedly drive prices up even further. (Utility costs affect homeowners even more.)

I suspect that a study of full-timers' incomes today would show that the median monthly income is in the $2,000-$2,500 range. I also suspect that in five years it will be $500 higher. That isn't to say that your income goal should by $3,000 per month for full-timing as of 2006, but that's quite likely where the median figure will by. However, even if it is that high, remember that one-half of all the folks on the road full-time will be making less - many much less - then that, and they will be all getting by just fine.

Despite the higher incomes of today's full-timers and the rising costs of some of the expenses associated with RVing, my original response to the question of how much full-timing will cost is still essentially the same: whatever you have.