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Making a Living

What does it take to be Self Employed and live full time in an RV?
More and more baby boomers are taking their business and their lives on the road as fulltime RVers. Does your business adapt itself well to being mobile? What does it take to live in an RV full time?

Authors note:  This article was first written July 2007.  Some lifestyle changes have taken place since then . Here is the link to the update.

At Home Base

At Home Base

Despite fuel prices that continue to be erratic and in spite of equipment costs which may reach one million dollars, more and more baby boomers are electing to take their show on the road. I joined this crowd of self employed ‘gypsies’ or ‘vagabonders’ in the Fall of 2006 and while my circumstances will not be exactly the same as your perhaps you can draw some parallels. Hopefully, you will at least be able to get a clearer perspective of just what exactly is involved.

First and foremost, your business has to make the leap to a life on the road.

Let me make three distinctions here. There is one group of RVers who are retired and they travel in their RVs. Their income is assured through retirement plans, pensions, investments etc. They simply (or not so simply!) retired to a life on the road and an RV as the chosen mode of transportation and housing. They are not actively engaged in generating any sort of income while they are pursuing their dreams and enjoying their freedom.
The second group of people who have adopted the RV lifestyle combine a bit of the completely retired group and those of us actively engaged in earning a full time income. These people work to supplement their income and they earn their compensation in a variety of ways. Some of them have an active craft or online business that transfers well to the mobile lifestyle. eBay is a great outlet for items picked up at flea markets, people who manufacture handicrafts and those that sell in niche markets. Others work camp to defray costs. Work Camping is an interesting concept. In exchange for a free RV site, electricity, water and sometimes sewer hook ups and propane, the person or couple works a certain amount of hours in the campground. In some cases a small hourly wage may be included but in most every instance it barely comes close to minimum wage requirements. Duties may include selling concessions, working at the admittance gate collecting fees or maintenance duties which could encompass everything from mowing the grass, light construction and on down to cleaning the toilets. I have to confess that many of the work camping positions I have checked into do not seem attractive. If you look at what the campsite costs versus how many hours you are expected to work, the math comes out to be less than the minimum wage. Not for me I am sure! A good source of work camping information is Workamper.com.

The third group of folks are the ones we are going to concentrate on. It is the group I am am member of and as such, have the most experience dealing with. This group consists of those of us who cannot afford to retire and must pursue a full time income — we just want to do it in shorts and sandals sitting in our RV in a location most folks just get to visit on their annual vacation.

The First Step toward Living the Fulltime RV Lifestyle

I reviewed my assets and resources and while your experiences may vary I am hopping you can gain some insight or draw some parallels in your particular situation.
Who are you responsible for? My son and daughter are both grown and they are both established in their adult lives. I have no DW ( DW is RV forum parlance for ‘Dear Wife’. Now is a good time to mention there is a wealth of information available on the Internet concerning the RV Lifestyle and one of the sources I enjoy is RV.net) and I have no pets. After the last child left, I found myself rambling around in a 2000 square foot loft apartment (more on that later) that I did not need. So I am responsible for the daily health and feeding of exactly one human soul — me.

What are your resources? Do you own property? A business? Multiple vehicles? You have to decide which resources you are going to keep and which ones will further your goal of being a fulltimer in your RV. Many people think they need to sell their stick house ( your regular residence ) to achieve their RV Dream. Some regret that decision. Others *must* sell their stick house to finance the RV purchase. You need to think long and hard before you make this critical decision. In my case it was pretty easy. I own a two story commercial building in a small Texas town. If you have ever been on the ‘Square’ in any small town, you know exactly the kind of building I am talking about. It started out in 1909 as a hardware store and the current configuration is two residential lofts upstairs and a commercial business (not mine) downstairs. I lived in one of the lofts for years and found I no longer needed all that space. I asked one of my long time renters who I trusted to assume the duties of property manager and I am as close as a cell phone call if there are any problems. I did not want to sell the building because it affords some nice tax advantages and constitutes a long term investment. I also have a 2 bay auto shop on the outskirts of town where I fix up several cars a year to buy and sell on eBay.  It is also my RV Base — more on that later.

Just how in the heck are you going to make money and live? Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? I have known a few people who sold everything off, bought an RV and started a brand new enterprise — all at once, go for broke. The failure rate for this kind of deal is astronomical –think about how tough it is to start a normal small business and multiply the risk X100. Please do your homework! You need to have a solid business plan and a realistic budget. One my favorite sources of viable, accurate information from someone who is actually doing it is RV Dreams. This successful couple has made the leap from the stick house, 9 to 5 grind to actually living in an RV full time and making money while they are at it. I found the budget information to be invaluable and right on the money.

How do I do it? Diversity is the key for me. I have rental income from my building mentioned above. I buy/sell cars and car related articles on eBay and I have been successful monetizing web sites through affiliate marketing programs since 2002. Even though fulltime RV living was not my goal when I started my first web site in 2002, it has worked out well. With the addition of some specific equipment to the RV, I can get internet access just about wherever I end up which is the critical factor to maintaining my business.

The Decision is Made to Try the Full Time RV Lifestyle. What is Next for a Fulltime RVer?
Ok, so you decided to take the plunge. Let’s look at some commonly asked questions.
What do I do with all my stuff? Most people have accumulated things over the course of a life time that they really don’t need. Your RV is going to be fully furnished so you don’t need *any* furniture. You don’t have room for a walk in closet full of clothes. I took this approach:

I first decided what little stuff I was going to keep. I kept all my tools and moved them out to the shop. At a later date, I went through the tools and came up with a small toolbox to go in the RV.

I took stock of my household goods and moved just a few pieces of furniture I considered irreplaceable out to the shop for storage.

I pared my clothing down to about one weeks worth of summer clothes and the same for winter. I wish now I had more shorts and t shirts and fewer coats.

My kids and relatives got first shot at the remainder of the household furnishings.

I had a yard sale for everything else that was left.

What was left at this point went to the Salvation Army.

What kind of RV is best for me? I am not even going to touch that subject just because it is so — subjective! Most people think a floorplan is the most important part. Some say if you re going to move every few days, a Class C or Class A is better than a towed trailer like a fifth wheel or bumper pull trailer.

Buy new or used? Again, subjective. Let me give you two specific examples of varying needs and the solutions.

New RVs depreciate at an alarming rate the first few years; exponentially faster than a car or truck. I chose used for that reason. I am also mechanically inclined and enjoy tinkering with equipment. Another vote for used. I wanted to pull my car trailer or a car with me –so I needed a self propelled RV. I ended up with a 1993 National Dolphin 33 ft Diesel Pusher with 42,000 miles on it for about the same as you would pay for a new economy car. I love it and think it is perfectly suited for me.

My brother does heavy excavation — land clearing, lakes; that kind of thing. He wanted something he could live in at remote job sites for a month at a time or more. He already had several heavy trucks which would adequately tow a trailer. He does not want to tinker on an RV. His time is spent keeping various bull dozers and track loaders and the like running. He bought a new Heartland 33 foot Fifth Wheel trailer. He loves it and thinks it is perfectly suited for him.

Two radically different RVs intended for two completely different applications.

How do I pay bills, get my mail etc? It took me a few months but most of my bills are now taken care of via the internet. Auto pay is a wonderful option and is available for things like credit card bills, cell phones and recurring monthly payments. The other bills are mostly paid online and I elect paperless billing wherever possible. You get an email invoice instead of a paper bill. Good stuff!

Now what about mail? I maintain a post office box in my small town and my property manager picks up the mail when I am out of town for an extended period. She will forward it to me in a manila envelope if need be. There are mail forwarding services available if you search the internet.

And the next step is?
The next step is whatever you want it to be. The stick house is taken care of, possessions not contained in your RV are safely in storage and the RV is loaded and ready to go. The adventure begins and after all, is this not what you have been working toward?

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