It seems like most of us bus folks keep a constant eye on the ever-fluctuating price at the diesel pump. Based on some recent polls in the forum, most of our bus conversions get somewhere between 5–10 mpg.
The cost of filling the tank to take a road trip is a mighty big chunk of change, so the current price can greatly impact a bus owner’s ability to actually get out there on the road.
One of the common concerns folks have for us as full-timers living and traveling in a bus is fuel costs.
‘How on earth can you afford all of that diesel??’
For most folks living in a traditional home, their bus fuel costs are a discretionary vacation or hobby expense to budget in on top of daily living expenses.
Sure, with a 6.6 mpg average for our GM 4106 with automatic transmission, pulling our Mini Cooper toad—it costs a pretty penny to travel 6500+ miles a year.
It seems logical that fuel costs should be a primary concern for full-timers, however, here are six reasons that we and many of our peers don’t freak out when fuel costs rise:
- We look at fuel as “pouring rent in the tank.” Our bus is our home, not just a mode of transportation. We don’t have a mortgage or rent payment, utilities, lawn maintenance, homeowner’s association fees, and other costs waiting for us when we get “back home. “ We gave all those up when we hit the road. Fuel costs and campground fees pretty much replace those housing costs for us. But unlike a mortgage payment, they are not a set monthly cost. We have total control over choosing how much we want to spend on “rent.” In 2012, we averaged $741 a month for these two costs combined. We consider that very affordable for our high caliber lifestyle of always amazing, changing views.
- Fuel is a small portion of our costs. Fuel actually does not make up an overly significant portion of our expenses. In 2012, it represented only about 14% of our living costs. Food and campground fees are bigger costs. And others like insurance, internet connectivity, and maintenance follow-up behind.
- We don’t drive much. Many full-time RVers either work from home, park near their work location or are retired. When fuel costs go up, our commuting peers must absorb the increased prices to keep their paychecks coming in. Another difference is because we visit family and do fun stuff during the course of our regular nomadic lifestyle, we have little desire for traditional vacations.
- Fuel consumption is voluntary. If our income doesn’t allow for a lot of miles this season, we can slow down our pace and find cheaper monthly stays, boondock on public land, work camp or volunteer in exchange for free camping or a courtesy park with gracious hosts. Full-time RVing allows for lots of flexibility in controlling your costs. We can decide one month to splurge $1200 on fuel to fund a 2000-mile repositioning and then let the fuel costs average out by staying stationary for a couple of months.
- Fuel costs fluctuate by location. We have the ability to plan our fill-ups in locations with lower fuel taxes and prices. Stationary folks are used to paying the prices in their neighborhood. If we know fuel ahead on our route will be lower, we hold off on filling up and save $10–$25 a tank. That at least pays for dinner. We use our State Lines iPhone app to track state fuel taxes, and the Gas Buddy app and website to track down the cheapest specific pumps.
- Price fluctuations don’t actually add up all that much. With our average annual pace and fuel economy, a $1 per gallon increase equates to just $985 a year, or $82 a month. Not fun of course; no one likes paying more for the same thing. But I’ve had landlords up my rent or my home insurance and/or had property taxes go up by at least that much before. A simple fact of life is that your cost of living can go up at almost any time for a variety of reasons. At least with fuel, the prices fluctuate both up and down and you can make adjustments to control the impact.
A Full Timer’s Perspective on Fuel Costs
Here are some calculations we ran showing how a fluctuation in fuel prices impacts our annual and monthly expenses:
Yeah, a $2.50 or more increase would cause us to contemplate radically changing our pace but still isn’t likely to take us off the road. But anything less than that is easy enough for us to offset by driving a few fewer miles, finding new income sources, eating out less, and/or buying a cheaper bottle of wine.
Want to play around with these calculations for your situation? I set the above form up as a public spreadsheet at www.technomadia.com/fuelprices that you’re welcome to use. I recommend clicking “Make a Copy” under the File menu and saving your own copy since others may be using it as you are, or downloading it to your favorite spreadsheet program.
Yeah, it sucks to pay more for something and I don’t mean to make light of it—and I also know it’s more painful for those on fixed tight incomes.
We just roll with fuel prices, keep it all in perspective and remember we choose our awesome life of mobility.
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy are known online as Technomadia. They have been on the road full-time since 2006 running their software development business remotely, including producing a line of highly useful iPhone/iPad travel apps. They write about the intersection of travel and technology, and life on the road, at www.technomadia.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.