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By Curtis Caper  –  December, 2010


With 3 years of full-time RVing under our belt some 15 years ago, my wife and I made a number of expensive financial mistakes that lessened our ability to truly enjoy the mobile lifestyle. Since those early years we have overhauled our whole outlook when it comes to money. This is a lifestyle that can provide the freedom we’re all looking for, but only if you have your financial ducks in a row.

When we first hit the road it was with a new travel trailer, new truck, $15,000 in the bank, and no debt. You would think this would be an adequate way to start a life of freedom. Sadly in less than a year the money was gone, we were heavily in debt, and it was back to the 9-to-5 grind just to meet our monthly payment obligations.

We had the mistaken notion that working your way up the RVing ladder was the way to go. Upgrading from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel, then again to a motor home, meant our cash reserve was quickly replaced with debt and monthly payments. That alone meant we needed to maintain a sizable income. Monday through Friday jobs require you to be pretty much stationary. For all practical purposes we were living in a small apartment with wheels under it.

Leap ahead 15 years and now we have the freedom to travel when we want to, and this is how we did it.

We avoid debt like the plague.  It’s the one thing that will keep you tied down like nothing else.  Without debt you can save for something you truly want much easier and quicker.  Living expenses can be trimmed, lifestyles can be altered, but when you owe money you are obligated to work just to make the payments.

Going shopping because you’re bored is the quickest way to see your money disappear with nothing to show for it.  We haven’t been inside a mall for over 10 years and likely will never see the need to do so again.  If you approach buying with the thought of “Do I Need It, or Just Want I,” you will find more often then not you can get by just fine without it.

Spending the night in a WalMart parking lot, going to local festivals, staying on BLM land.  Even when you’re traveling to destinations that capitalize on taking in tourist dollars there are many attractions and activities that are well advertised as No Charge. Our recent trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota is an example of how to save money.  We took advantage of the following free activities and services.

Free Overnight Parking:

Cabella’s in Rapid City
Kmart in Mitchell

Free Attractions:

The Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota   –
South Dakota Air and Space Museum  –  Ellsworth Air Force Base   –

Free Internet Wifi:   McDonalds parking lot

When you buy a new RV or van not only are you likely signing on for at least 5 years of debt, you’re also taking the initial depreciation hit as the first owner.  When it comes to RVs this is a huge item as they lose value at a rate of about 30-40% in the first 2 years.  Vans will fare a bit better, but with today’s vans easily able to last for 250,000 miles why should you be the one to take the financial beating?

While I advocate buying the best, newest vehicle you can afford to avoid continual mechanical problems, late model used can be just as reliable as new. Let someone else pay for the depreciation. I use my two most recent vehicle purchases as examples:

  • 2005 Chevrolet Express Van  118,000 miles.  I paid $8,000 as compared to about $30,000 for new.
  • 2000 Horizon 30’ Motorhome 12,500  miles.  I paid $19,000 as compared to about $100,000 for new.

Most people living the mobile lifestyle are doing it on a limited income, whether that be Social Security for those of us over 62, disability, or a pension. Not many of us are fortunate enough to have a nest egg stashed away earning enough to allow us to afford life on the road.

Working on the road can be done in a number of ways.  Seasonal jobs as campground hosts are one popular way of supplementing a retirement, while allowing you to move about the country following comfortable climates.  Selling goods at flea markets such as jewelry, used books, even flags can work for you.  Working for a traveling carnival is yet another way to earn your keep as you go.

They all have good points and most have disadvantages as well.  Selling requires permits, taxes, and often fees for set-up space. Working for someone else ties you to their schedule and often can have you working outdoors during the hottest part of the summer.

My personal choice is the internet.  No, I’m not a computer programmer, web master, or some other geeky professional who’s skills are in high demand.  I’m just a normal blue collar guy with a high school education who can tell a story.

That’s right, I’m a part time writer, selling my efforts on the internet.   Am I getting rich, with feature articles splashed across the front page of publications across the country?  No, not hardly.  Most of my income from writing is generated from simple 2-page articles submitted to sites that pay out a small amount each time someone clicks on something I wrote.  For every 1,000 times someone reads one of my articles I receive a whopping $2.  In most instances I get paid $4-$5 up front for my articles, then forever more I receive payments for the amount of times it’s read.  As of now my writings on have been viewed 1,087,000 times.  You can see this adds up as some of my articles have earned as much as $100 over time.

The official name for these ongoing payments is a Pay Per View Bonus. What it amounts to is royalties, similar to what song writers or musical groups get when a radio station plays their songs.

It started out small, $5 here, $10 there.  Building over time to now after 3 years even if I don’t write anything at all during a month I will bring in about $200.  By writing, and keeping my nose to the grindstone, I have upped  that to about $500 on a regular basis. My goal for now is to increase my online material to the point that my royalties, or ongoing earnings for material already written, will double by the time I reach 62, a mere 2 years away.

This effort now will increase my early retirement income to the point that at 62 I will have the same income that I would have gotten by working until 66, my full Social Security age. Now that will be freedom.  Able to travel, see new sights, meet new people, write stories about my adventures and yet further increase my income.  All while doing it to my schedule, only working if and when I want to.

Preparing for life on the open road means you need to get your financial ducks in a row.  This can mean different things for different people, but none the less you must have a plan to get started.  If you’re smart you’ll have plans B, C, and possibly D churning around in the back of your mind too, because things seldom go as planned.

Other websites where my material is featured:

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