Recently in December 2020 we sold our RV camper. We decided to sell it after some conversations we had during some camping trips in the fall. Here is how we came to decide that it was time to make a big money move.
WHY WE BOUGHT THE RV CAMPER IN THE FIRST PLACE
I was never much into camping but a few years ago some friends of ours invited us along on some camping trips. They had a cute little R-Pod camper. We camped in a tent. I hate tent camping but I liked being out in nature, getting Root Jr. outdoors, and sitting around the campfire with friends. I liked the idea of having the amenities of a camper like a kitchen, restroom, and soft bed and still being able to enjoy the experience of being away from home in nature.
ENTER THE NOMAD
So in the fall of 2016 we decided we wanted all-in on the RV camper experience and bought a used camper. This was in our PRE-FI days (I didn’t discover the Financial Independence community until January 2019) so we didn’t blink an eye at taking on new debt. We financed a 2012 Skyline Nomad for about $8,000. The payments were about $150 a month plus the cost of an insurance policy.
It was huge rectangle of a camper with bunk beds. Root Jr. loved it. We took a few camping trips to nearby Texas state parks and often brought one of Root Jr.’s little buddies along with us. We had quite a bit of fun. After a few uses though we noticed some not so great features of this model.
It had very small tires and the camper was super low to the ground. It was so wide that it was impossible to see other vehicles from the side rear view mirrors. This made for some nerve-racking towing to our destinations.
Then it started having various issues that required repairs. Luckily thanks to Mr. Root’s freakish handiness he knew how to DIY these repairs, saving us much money and time. At one point though it had some pretty major electrical issues that weren’t possible to fix on our own. We got a quote to repair it and it didn’t make any sense to invest that much money into an old camper with the undesirable design flaws we had come to know.
So what did we do? Well we financed a brand spankin’ new one of course!
BYE BYE NOMAD, HELLO HUMMINGBIRD!
In summer of 2017 Root Jr. was 8 years old. We had enjoyed our camping adventures so far and I fantasized about camping in all of the state parks across the nation. Camping with the comforts of an RV is called glamping (glamorous + camping). At the time I thought this was a perfect set up for a small family to take vacations and show their kid the wonders of nature while still being able to chill a bottle of wine in the mini fridge.
So Mr. Root and I justified that if we were going to be that family that takes camping vacations all over the country while our kid was young enough to enjoy that much family time we should do it right!
We traded in the old Nomad for a brand new Jayco Hummingbird. Big fat wheels and much higher off the ground. A microwave, fridge, stereo, TV and even some blinking outdoor disco lights. Yeah she was super cute. We even added on an extended 5 year warranty.
After the trade in value and the cost of the warranty we financed $20,727 at a 5.99% interest rate over 12 years. That’s $8,384 in finance charges. But remember readers, this was PRE-FI.
It did not matter to me that we were already in debt (student loans, credit cards, solar panel loan, mortgage), living beyond our means and paycheck to paycheck, hardly saving anything. I did not have any grasp on our finances AT ALL. I just figured that the payments would be about $200 a month and that seemed pretty feasible to me. VOILA!
LIVING THE GLAMPING LIFE
Over the next few years we did get quite a bit of use out of the cute new Hummingbird. We also had the advantage of having enough space on our property to park it so we didn’t have the added expense of having to pay for storage.
We made a couple of trips to Beaver’s Bend State Park near Broken Bow, OK. That’s about an 8 hour drive from Austin. Mostly though we visited Texas state or Austin parks within one to three hours drive. We realized that towing the camper on very long drives was rough and neither of us had enough vacation time to use on driving for multiple days to far off destinations (foreshadowing).
Visiting some truly pretty places and making many good memories was great. Camping in spring, summer, and fall helped us figure out through experience the best places to go and when. It’s through those experiences and the discovery of the concept of financial independence that we came to understand what the pros and cons of the glamping life were for our little family.
THE PROS OF RV OWNERSHIP & GLAMPING LIFESTYLE
Yeah so definitely the biggest pro is spending time with friends and family against the back drop of a beautiful lake, starry skies, and fresh air. Even when we drove to a park just one hour outside of the city and spent a night or two away it felt like a mini-vacation. When you’re out camping you can just check out. You’re not home where the laundry, errands, and chores beckon you.
GREAT FOR KIDS
It’s a great way to get some one-on-one time with your kids and get them away from their own distractions – iPad, video games, TV. We brought bikes with us and rode around the parks. We spent time in swimming holes, went fishing, and hiked the trails.
Another thing that Root Jr. enjoyed is that we usually took our dogs with us. It was fun to have them along and put them in the water with us or accompany us on hikes.
AMENITIES, AMENITIES, AMENITIES
Having an RV meant that I could enjoy all these things without roughing it too hard. We had protection from the weather. Blankets and towels stored away safely. Games, first-aid, toiletries and kitchen utensils all tucked away nicely.
One of my favorite parts about camping is the camping meals. We enjoyed using the combination of a grill or a fire pit and the microwave, mini-fridge and electric griddle to pull together our meals. All our food kept safely inside the RV.
Of course the very most important comforts are a bathroom, temperature control, and a bed. I DO NOT LIKE to wander out into the dark in the middle of the night to find the park bathrooms. I DO NOT LIKE sleeping on the hard rocky ground, freezing or sweating, wondering is that a bear scratching at the tent or a raccoon?? Nope, the only way to camp for me is GLAMP.
It’s cheap. If you don’t count the cost of the RV itself, vacationing the glamping way is frugal. Park fees per night are anywhere from $20 – $50 bucks a night. There’s the cost of gas and food and that’s it. That makes for a very affordable getaway.
THE NOT SO GREAT PARTS OF THE RV LIFE
These dislikes are our opinion from our experiences. Many, many people enjoy RV ownership and will argue that these are not reasons to poo-poo RV camping. And I’m not poo-pooing it. It’s just these things and some frank conversations are what led us to decide to sell the Hummingbird.
I’ll say this: if it was just me by myself, without Mr. Root to do all the heavy lifting – I WOULD NOT own an RV. Many ladies including my friends have no issue with the challenging parts of operating an RV. But not me.
In order to tow an RV you must have a vehicle beastly enough to tow it. The Hummingbird was not super big or heavy but it did require the power of Mr. Root’s Chevy to tow it.
One must know and feel confident about how to get that sucker on the tow hitch and then hook up all the brake lights and such. I watched Mr. Root do it a million times and would still never attempt it myself.
Once you’re hooked up safely and fairly confident it’s not going to fall off the back of your truck you gotta drive that sucker to whatever far off destination you have chosen. It can be a white knuckle experience and varies widely depending on the quality of the roads and the weather.
If it’s windy you have to drive even slower because that thing will sway and fishtail in the wind. A frightening experience.
You can’t drive very high speeds. This means it takes longer to get places and if you’re on a single lane road a steady stream of people behind you pissed off you’re not going faster and trying to pass you.
If you have to stop for gas, at a store, or a restaurant you have to think through how you’re going to fit in with the RV or where you’ll be able to park. You can’t just pull an RV through most drive-thru windows.
Speaking of stopping for gas, you’ll be doing that a lot.
We have learned from experience that when you’re driving out to the middle of nowhere, gas stations are few and far between. So with the truck guzzling gas you don’t want to let your tank get below half because you don’t know if you’ll make it to the next gas station (more foreshadowing).
SET UP & BREAKDOWN
My job was to plan and shop for the trips. Early on I decided to buy the camper it’s own set of dishes and kitchenware that just stayed in it so I didn’t have to pack that every time. But I planned and shopped for all the meals, packed it all up and everything else we might possibly need while away. I got pretty efficient at it but it definitely took some planning.
When you get to the campsite you gotta set everything up. Back it into the site without taking out a tree. Unhook it from the truck, put out the struts and level it. Hook it up to electric, water, and sewer. You really want to make sure you don’t have to do this in the dark (even more foreshadowing).
When it’s time to go you have to pack it all up, hitch and secure it for the road and the last stop is the dump station. And guess whose job that was? Yep, Mr. Root. The downside to having a mobile toilet is that you have to dump the “dark water” in addition to the “gray water” from the kitchen sink. You do this by connecting a hose to a sewer outlet at the dump station. It’s stinky and gross.
When we got home Mr. Root maneuvered the camper into it’s spot, unhitched and leveled it.
Then began the process of unloading everything, unpacking, and piles of laundry.
We learned that all the nice parks with RV spaces got booked months in advance. Like 6 months or more. So if we thought we might want to camp sometime in May which in Austin is the end of the school year and beautiful weather, you had to make reservations in early January.
I’m a planner but do I know in January what trips I want to take in May? No, I do not. Regardless we would make various reservations ahead of time IN CASE we would want to camp and canceled them later if we didn’t. Sometimes it was a full refund and sometimes there were nonrefundable fees. It was administrative work required on my part that I did not enjoy.
TIME AND DISTANCE
That vision I had of us traveling across the U.S.A. visiting all the national parks? Not realistic. For one, Mr. Root and I did not have the vacation days to spend 6 days driving and however many days in the park. Realistically we probably wouldn’t want to camp for more than 2 – 3 nights anywhere so if it took 16 hours to drive to Colorado we’d spend 4 days on the road just to spend 2 nights camping.
As I mentioned the gas is a killer too. Driving across country would take a shit ton of not only time but GAS. That would make it not so frugal anymore. I could see taking a year off and having a cross-country nomad family experience with no deadlines or pressure to get from destination A to B but that wasn’t our situation.
This lead to us sticking mostly to destinations that where 1 to 3 hours away at most. Which was fine but over the years we revisited some of the same parks. They were just as lovely but there’s only so many times you need to see the same Texas park.
THE COST OF OWNERSHIP
As I mentioned, we jumped into this financial obligation PRE-FI. Once I’d found the FI community and started focusing on eliminating debt it killed me to have this loan. There was also the financial hit once a year for the insurance which was $677.
I don’t need to tell you that 2020 was a year like no other. You may have seen on the news or read articles about people buying RVs in the year of Covid as a way to vacation safely or as an opportunity to travel while taking advantage of working and schooling remotely.
It was such a popular idea that like many things that year demand exceeded supply and it was really hard to find a small or medium camper for sale anywhere. Buyers got on waitlists to purchase the next available units. We thought to ourselves well we have an RV so we should try getting out there for a Covid-safe camping trip.
In August we had a not so great trip to Matagorda Bay Nature Park at the beach on the Texas Gulf coast. It was sweltering hot when we weren’t in the water. When we were in the water all three of us were stung and bitten by unseen things in the ocean. Back at the RV park we were attacked by dinosaur-sized mosquitos at dusk that forced us inside the camper to take cover.
We had planned three nights away but left a day early. Ahh Texas beaches…
In the fall we had two trips planned with very close friends. It was a safe way for us to spend time together outdoors. They had their own camper.
The first trip was to Garner State Park about three hours out of Austin. It was there that my friends said they were thinking of selling their pop-up camper. When asked why they said they realized that they enjoy other types of travel more and didn’t see using their camper much during the year. It didn’t make sense for them to keep paying for a camper and insurance if they weren’t going to use it more. For what they paid in a year to keep the camper they could easily spend on one getaway by plane somewhere.
It was on the drive back from this trip that Mr. Root and I reflected on that logic and had a frank conversation about how we might feel the same.
MR. ROOT’S TAKE:
As I mentioned earlier, RV camping trips take some work and it fell mostly to Mr. Root. He did all the driving too which turns out was quite unpleasant for him. He’s an avid fisherman and always hoped to catch some fish but most of the campsites we went to weren’t great for fishing. He’d rather pay a guide to take him to some great fishing holes for the day.
Since we didn’t like to drive that far with the camper we tended to revisit some of the same parks over and over. After 3 or 4 visits it got be a bit boring for him. He loves nature but said he’d rather rent a cabin on a lake up north.
I was quite happy we had this conversation. I didn’t realize these things. After we found FI and were focused on paying down debt, I insisted that as long as we were paying on the loan for this RV we needed to use it. So rather than spend money on any other vacations I reasoned that the only getaways we should take should be ones in the RV. I didn’t want to be paying for something we weren’t using.
Talking this through with him I realized it WAS a lot of work for him and if I was honest about it had the same feelings he did. It would be nice to just have a destination vacation that didn’t involve camping in an RV!
Of course the thing that really excited me was getting rid of the loan! It would take us that much closer to being debt free. Furthermore if we all wanted to travel more to new and exciting places then the math made sense. Twelve $200 payments a year plus almost $700 in insurance is $3100 a year. We could be using that towards some other family vacations.
“Glad we had this talk!” we said to each other. We talked more about it over time and had pretty much decided that after the last already planned trip in November 2020 we’d sell it. Even Root Jr. was down with the plan. While he enjoyed RV camping over the years he also wanted to fly to different places. He understood that we couldn’t keep the camper AND take other vacations.
THE LAST TRIP
We met the same group of friends in Davis Mountains State Park near Fort Davis, TX. It’s a beautiful part of the state and is near Marfa and the McDonald Observatory. It’s about a six hour drive from Austin. About an hour from our destination we ran out of gas on the side of a Texas highway in the middle of nowhere. We were about 20 miles from the nearest gas station. Luckily we had a cell phone signal (many stretches of miles on this road trip we did not) and we called a tow truck to bring us some gas.
This unexpected delay put us more than an hour behind which pushed our arrival to the RV park after sunset. So we had to set up the RV IN THE DARK. Not fun people. Tired, hungry, and cranky we managed to get situated.
We did enjoy ourselves the rest of the weekend with our friends and were grateful to spend time with them. We spent two nights there and took off early Sunday morning to get back to Austin before dark.
It was another grueling, long six-plus hour drive through cattle-land Texas. It’s miles and miles of nothingness. The only thing dotting the landscapes were giant Trump flags and banners at the entrances of ranches. We stopped at the few gas stations in between to top off the gas tank because we were guzzling gas and we didn’t want to get stranded again.
We were grateful for this trip though not just because of time spent with friends but because it really helped seal the deal on selling the camper. I never again wanted to take a long road trip through the Texas desert and the next vacation I take will not involve an RV.
HOW TO SELL YOUR RV
We cleaned up the RV and made some minor repairs. We owed just over $16,000 on it. Our goal was to just pay off the loan so we listed it for $17,000 giving us some negotiating room. Although we listed it on multiple websites Craigslist is the one that did the trick. We only had two inquiries. This surprised us a bit what with all the hubbub about RVs being in such demand. Both came out to take a look.
After an inspection, some repairs, and some negotiating we sold it within the month of listing it for $16,000 to a super nice family. They had done their research and so had we so we knew what steps were required to make the transaction:
- Dowloaded a bill of sale contract free from the inter-webs.
- Got the transfer form for the extended warranty so we could transfer ownership of that to them.
- Requested a transfer of motor vehicle form from the DMV.
- We gave them the routing information to the bank that held our loan.
- Exchanged drivers license information, signed all the forms, and made copies.
They initiated the funds transfer in the morning and came to get the RV the same day. When our bank received the funds the balance on the loan was paid off and closed! The bank mailed the title to us about two weeks later. We signed the title over to the buyers and mailed it to them. Voila!
It went very smoothly and we couldn’t have asked for a friendlier family to sell to.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT ON OUR FINANCES
We are rid of a $16,000 dollar loan and the remaining finance charges we would have paid on it over the years.
We now have an “extra” $200 a month to put towards our savings and/or pay down our remaining debt. Since we are still building our emergency fund I added $200 a month to the automatic transfer to our savings account I already have in place.
We received a $545 reimbursement from the insurance company. Bonus!
WHAT I LEARNED
Communication is great! After 23 years of marriage I’m grateful that the hubs and I were able to be honest and open to change. It’s okay to change our minds and admit that the RV lifestyle we imagined for ourselves didn’t end up as we pictured it and our tastes for leisure time and travel are different now.
Financially it definitely made sense to let this burden go. I had kinda dug in my heals and just committed to trying to pay down the debt faster by squeezing out whatever savings we could and adding it to our monthly payments. But sometimes you need to make “big money moves” to make progress.
The road to financial independence can feel slow and long sometimes. Especially if you’re starting out with debt. We’ve made a lot of progress over the past couple of years but it was starting to feel like we weren’t making much momentum lately. This big money move really helped stoke the “FIRE” a bit.
Have you made any big money moves? Do you have any money decisions you’ve made in the past that you are rethinking? Let me know in the comments. I love to hear from people in the community.