Frank and Shirley decided to buy a Motorhome and become RV'ers. Selling their home, they bought a fairly inexpensive Winnebago and decided to hit the road, full-time and "see America." They had camped in camper trailers before and read all the RV magazines, which promoted the "RV Lifestyle" and "full timing" in luxurious "Motor Coaches".
The first year on the road was fun. But they were spending more money than they expected. While they didn't have a mortgage payment or property taxes, they did have to make payments on the motorhome, keep it full of fuel, and also pay to camp somewhere nearly every night.
The fantasy sold in the RV magazines is that once you have your luxury motor coach, you can pull off by the side of the road, and park next to a pristine lake, and then wake up in the morning with the birds chirping, while your wife makes coffee over the open campfire.
Unfortunately, this is all a fantasy. In reality, you cannot simply pull off the road and park on someone's private land without permission. All the pristine lakes are spoken for, usually by vacation homes. And even if you could find such a spot, your motorhome would likely get stuck in the mud. And campfires? It takes an hour to start them, and making coffee is almost out of the question. Not to mention how smoky it will get your new rig!
So Frank and Shirley ended up staying in State Parks and RV Parks. The State Parks were OK, although Frank scratched the beautiful paint on his motorhome on a tree in one State Park. Why don't they cut down all those trees? It would make camping easier. On the weekends, the State Parks could get crowded with families and noisy children. Frank and Shirley stayed in their rig and watched satellite TV.
RV Parks were easier to get in and out of, as nearly every tree had been cut down. However, the row upon row of pads were not very attractive, and oftentimes, they'd end up parked next to rowdy campers who would build large fires and talk loudly all night. In the morning, Frank and Shirley would wake to find a litter of beer bottles and their shiny new rig dusted with campfire smoke.
They tried some of those new "RV Resorts" but found them to be hugely expensive. "For what we are paying a night here, we could stay in a hotel!" Shirley exclaimed. While the RV resorts were clean and full of mostly older, "full timers" like themselves, Frank and Shirley were chagrined to discover that their simple RV was looked down upon by the "Motor Coach" set. Worse yet, some resorts refused to let Frank and Shirley stay at all, as their coach was deemed "too old".
During a trip to an RV dealer for service, a salesman showed Frank and Shirley a higher-end motor coach. "You know, for the same payment as you are making now, I can put you in this coach!" the salesman explained. Frank and Shirley were only months away from "paying off" their old coach, which they had (smartly) put a very short term three-year loan on. The new loan would extend 12 years, and what little equity they had in their old coach would be swallowed up as the down payment on the new one. The smell of new leather and carpeting, along with their memories of being humiliated by the "Motor Coach" set in the RV resort was all it took. They signed the papers.
Excitedly, they set off for their favorite RV Resort to show off their new purchase. They were big-time now! When they arrived at the resort, however, they found that their mid-priced motor coach drew less attention than their inexpensive starter model. Although they considered it special and new, it was merely just another RV when parked next to the $500,000 and Million-dollar custom bus conversions.
You see, no matter how much you spend on a hobby, there is likely to be someone who will spend even more. Trying to impress people by purchasing things is a very silly thing to do. Only the shallowest of folks are impressed by your ability to sign loan documents. It takes no special talents to "buy" or own something, only a checkbook. Moreover, the people you are trying to impress are usually people you don't even know! What is the point of that?
Unfortunately for Shirley and Frank, it got worse - a lot worse. Their huge and expensive (to them) motor coach was hard to handle, and taking it to inexpensive State Parks was out of the question. It simply wouldn't fit. Even RV parks were problematic.
Frank started doing the math on the "RV Lifestyle" and discovered, to his horror, that they were going through their retirement income at twice the rate they were when they lived at home. To save money, they tried parking at Wal-Mart and Flying J parking lots whenever possible. "This is great", Shirley said sardonically, "We're spending twice as much as we did before, and now we're living in a truck stop!"
Now, to be sure, RV'ing wasn't a total downer for Frank and Shirley. There were occasions when they would wake up parked next to a pristine mountain lake and enjoy the sunshine and birds chirping - before someone in a neighboring RV would start their generator. RV'ing can be fun, but full-timing it was getting old, and costly. And Frank was getting old, too.
Since they had to have a car everywhere they went, Frank and Shirley had to tow one behind the motorhome. Driving this huge rig, with a car behind, was not much fun, as cars would weave in and out of traffic, and honk, and trucks would blow by, pushing their coach sideways with the wind. Setting up and taking down camp was tiring and difficult, particularly for someone pushing 70.
Then Frank got sick. It happens, particularly when you get old. They had to stay for a while in one place, while Frank went to the VA hospital. They found an RV park where they could get a monthly rate, which helped cut their costs. But now, instead of traveling and seeing the country, they were in effect, staying in a very small condominium in a very bad part of town. Once Frank got out of the hospital he found it hard to get in and out of the RV, climbing the steps. Setting up camp and stowing gear exhausted him. They needed a place to settle down.
Unfortunately, the RV was now worth less than what they owed on it. But the monthly payments kept coming. With their retirement savings almost gone, they could not afford to rent an apartment and make payments on the RV. When the repo-man came for the motor coach, they quietly handed him the keys.
As a lifetime Good Sam Club member, I get all the RV magazines, and I read all the hype about the latest and greatest (and larger and larger) motorhomes, costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I also read, in the classified section, the ads for used RVs, with notation "Poor Health Forces Sale". Frank and Shirley's experience is not an anomaly, it is the norm.
We've seen, firsthand, in trailer parks, elderly people living in rundown motorhomes, too poor to move into assisted living, their coaches no longer worth anything to anyone, not having been run for months or years. We've also seen, firsthand, EMS rescue people have to break out the windows on such coaches to extract the occupants, who usually leave, feet first, in a gurney or body bag.
While RV'ing can be a fun hobby, the idea of spending your declining years in a motor home simply defies common sense and financial mathematics. There are some more economical ways to RV that might make some sense.
For example, Joe and Suzy have a travel trailer they keep in Florida. Such trailers, which are huge inside, can be purchased for as little as $20,000. Since they don't have an engine and drive train, they are inexpensive, and depreciate very slowly. They keep the trailer at an RV park on a golf course, and every winter, they drive South and spend several months in their "Florida Home". The RV cost them very little, and the monthly "lot rent" is less than a few days stay at a "Motor Coach Resort".
The only disadvantage to this model, is that while it is quite inexpensive, it also really isn't RV'ing in the sense that they are seeing the USA and camping out. It is just a cheap way of having a summer home - one that, if it blows away in a hurricane, you won't care too much about.
"Our tentative plan is to sell our house and stuff, pay outright for a rig and live off a $50K pension. Our ball park financial situation will be debt free (except for all the normal expenses) and coming out of selling our house with about $175K. We are leaning toward a toy hauler and the ball park on that with a truck to pull it is $150K for what we have in mind. "