When it comes to choosing the best rv for full time living, cheaply and affordably, we guarantee the process will make you a bit crazed. But that’s ok – once on the road you will get your sanity back soon enough!
Before going further, we should briefly review the rv types to choose from. Note they all have various lengths to choose from, which will depend on your family size. It is the “style” you need to think about…the length you need will be quite obvious to you, based on your own unique situation.
An RV is a recreational vehicle (or “home” as we like to call it). You have many options to choose from and should take your time deciding what will work best for you.
TRAVEL TRAILER – also called a “pull camper.” This style of rv will need to be pulled by your vehicle. You will need to have a strong, dependable truck or SUV to pull the trailer, with necessary hitch/tow package installed.
FIFTH WHEEL – these rvs attach via a special hitch to your truck bed. Usually roomier than a travel trailer but you need the right truck for the job.
MOTORHOME – These are the types you drive. If you insist on pulling a vehicle behind you, it will need to be small (but will impact mileage a lot). There are Class A, B and C motorhomes to choose from. The Class A is the “bus” style you see…one long motorhome. Class B are the smaller, camper van styles. Class C are similar to Class A but they have the unique “cab over” style, usually containing another bed.
POP-UP CAMPERS AND TRUCK CAMPER SHELLS are generally too small for full time rving, especially if more than one person will be living in the rv. But it certainly can be done. We will focus on the rvs we are most familiar with, for this blog.
So back to our story, which played out a little something like this…
We were just positive, with our usual unlucky tendencies, we would be stranded on the highway somewhere (actually…it did happen!) along our travels. Plus, we had a truck we still had some payments left on, so we were absolutely convinced that a travel trailer was the only way to go. By having a pull camper, we would always have the security of our own vehicle, if we had to leave our home on the side of the interstate. Sounded perfect. But wait! Our truck was a V6 so we were limited in the weight we could pull. And…wait! Older, used travel trailers are generally quite heavy, lightweight ones are newer and too expensive for our budget. So let’s see…we need a BIG travel trailer for full time living, but it has to be LIGHT and CHEAP? Sure! While we’re at it, let’s find one filled with bags of money, too! Ugh.
Actually, we were fortunate enough to find one that was affordable, lightweight and 30 feet long. But it took looking every morning, afternoon and evening on Craigslist. Talk about competitive. When that right one comes along, you quickly reach for the phone to be greeted with “sorry we aren’t here to take your call right now, please leave your name and number….” What? No! What if they call someone who called AFTER us, first? For us, we finally got lucky and drove 250 miles to view it, cash in hand, and drove it home that evening.
Recently, we sold our travel trailer and purchased a 1993 Fleetwood Bounder motorhome. There were reasons we chose a Class A over a pull camper. We knew we wanted to make the switch…but how can you do this cheaply, while LIVING in the trailer? Believe me, we spent months thinking outside of the box, trying to figure out how to pull this off.
We refuse to have “debt” or loans, paying only for what we can afford, so we knew we had to get the equity out of our trailer before we could buy a motorhome. We waited until the nice, warm summer months and found a campground that had small cabins for rent on a monthly basis. We moved every last item out of the pull camper, scrubbed it top to bottom, placed the ad and sold it within a week of listing it. Once money was in hand, we kept searching the ads for a motorhome within our budget. The minute the weekly classified ad came out, I would grab it and scour the pages. Finally, after a few weeks, I found this rv, called, went to see it immediately and brought it home the same evening. It truly happens that fast…
The choice of what type of rv to get is up to you, but remember our story – that there are creative ways to change your mind if you find it wasn’t the right choice after you hit the road. Do the best you can with the available money you have, don’t take for granted it will be easy finding the “right one,” but don’t pressure yourself to make the perfect choice – you can change your mind at a later date.Here are some starter tips, to put it all together, when purchasing an affordable, used rv:
- Don’t take out a loan or spend all of your money on the rv. Buy only what you can afford, leaving leftover money for living on when you first hit the road. There is just as much risk buying a $2500 used rv as there is buying one for $5,000, $8,000……and there are rvs in excellent condition at any age, at all price levels and styles. What matters is the previous owner and the care he/she took of it. Every penny counts when cheap rving, don’t throw it all into your camper – you need to start thinking differently.
- Make sure appliances work, there are no leaks and the tires are good. All of these potential problems cost a fortune to replace or repair.
- If it only needs a cleaning…buy it and clean it! We spent a month gutting, cleaning and renovating our motorhome. We decorated, painted, etc. to make it totally “us” (will be posting on all of the affordable decorating tips we used in the future). Don’t worry about cleanliness…worry about parts functioning correctly.
- Don’t start looking at ads until you have the cash to spend in your hand. You will be tempted to go for the “perfect one” that is $2000 more than your budget. When the time comes to start checking ads, know which style and length you are needing, to narrow down your search…and allow plenty of time to find the right one, so you don’t panic as the date to depart nears and you have nothing to live in.
- Buy privately. We looked at many dealers and used rvs are ridiculously higher than you will get from a private seller. Don’t waste your time.
- Keep an eye out for “good deals.” Both of the rvs we’ve owned had some issues, but we knew they were unique, sought after recreational vehicles. When we sold our travel trailer, we actually got MORE for it than we bought it for. When we bought our motorhome, it was an estate sale and we got it for thousands under its blue book value. That way, if we choose to upgrade someday, we still have a lot of equity in the motorhome. If we decide we don’t like it, we can get all of our money back.
- Be careful buying…but don’t panic. You have to take the risk, hope the seller is honest, etc. One reason we always make sure the appliances and tires are good, is that they have so much value on their own, if we ever really made a bad purchase (it was full of mold, fell apart, etc) we could still get a substantial bit of money out of those items, selling them separately, if the rv was a complete loss. We often have mentioned that there is less risk purchasing a cheap, older motorhome vs a newer, used motorhome…because the contents, if functioning, are probably worth more sold on their own than selling the entire vehicle.
- Be sure to check out your local papers, weekly classified ads and Ebay Motors. Be prepared to have to drive a bit to get the right one – it is well worth the trip once you can admire it in front of your current home.
So this should get you on the right path to start thinking about what type of rv to get, where to look and what to look for. Have fun thinking about what you need…this can be scary, but it should also be FUN. No more daydreaming…the future is right here, right now.
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