RV’s are expensive.  Wait… scratch that… buying a brand new RV is expensive.

When we first decided to go RV, we knew that a new unit was way out of our price range as I am sure it is for many of you.  Here are 5 steps we went through to decide what the best set up was for us, and how we made our RV reno possible on a budget.

1. Research the type of setup up you are interested in by making a list of non-negotiables. 

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
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When you first decide to go RV, it can be overwhelming the amount of options there are.  Pop-up, 5th Wheel, Motor home , Sprinter Van, School Bus, Travel Trailer, Teardrop Trailer, Bowler, Air stream, Truck Camper… the list goes on!

Making a list of non-negotiables really helped us to narrow down the type of set up we were looking for:

Mike and Sarah’s Non-Negotiables:

  1. Shower and toilet.  We needed a full bathroom as we knew we were going to going to some pretty remote places and hopefully taking some extended trips.
  2. Full kitchen with ample storage.  We love to cook and love to eat and need to be able to store, prep and cook our food on a daily basis.  This is also key when trying to save money on the road, we definitely wanted to be cooking at “home” more than eating out.
  3. Solid construction.  We knew we wanted our RV to have a Fiberglass shell.  Many RV’s are made of tin siding and wood which wouldn’t survive the abuse (off roading, boon-docking, gravel roads etc) that we plan to put our RV through.
  4. Size.  We knew we wanted a unit that was big enough for at least 2 people to live in for long periods of time.  We were really inspired by the #vanlife movement however, knew that we didn’t want to be hunched over trying to make coffee every morning or have to shower at a laundromat or RV park every other day.
  5. Orientation.  We knew that we did not want to have to exit the vehicle to enter the living space of our RV. This helped us narrow down the list to either a Motorhome or what we ended up with which is basically a Frankenstein 5th Wheel!

2. Consider your skill level.

adult automobile body car
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If you have never touched a drill in your life, choosing to renovate an RV may still be possible!  There are so many amazing Youtube channels and blogs that can help you out at any stage or skill level.  A quick google or YouTube search can teach you almost anything (seriously, what did people do before the internet?).

We would highly suggest that you choose a renovation project that fits within your skill level or comfort zone.  Some used RV’s only need a coat of paint, new cushions and some modern hardware to completely change the look and feel of the unit.  Others may need new cupboards, flooring and wall coverings.  I highly suggest going to see used units with a knowledgeable friend or family member so you don’t get into a project that may be over your head.

When we first bought our RV (whom we have since named Biggie) we thought a deep clean and a couple coats of paint may do the trick.  Once getting it home, we realized that Biggie was going to be a lot more work than we originally thought. We are very lucky that Mike is a handyman and quite comfortable with all things construction, plumbing, electric and automotive.

3. Create a budget for your project

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper
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Once you have chosen the style of RV you are interested in purchasing (see step 1), make sure that you have a clear picture of how much you are willing and able to spend.  This factor might also influence step 2.  The cheaper the unit, most likely the more work it will end up needing.

You should also factor in the additional vehicle you may need to purchase should you choose a Truck Box Camper, 5th Wheel or Pull-Behind unit.

We knew that we would end up spending roughly $30,000 on our RV unit.  Before purchasing Biggie, we assumed we would have to spend approx $6 – $8K on the RV and another $20,000 on the vehicle we end up putting it on, with wiggle room for anything extra that might need replacing.  We will be keeping a detailed budget here so you can follow along to see what we actually spend.

We also knew that when we bought Biggie, we were not going to be able to put a lot of money into our build right away.  We also vowed we would not to go into debt for this project.  After gutting it down to basically a shell, Biggie sat in our driveway as we salivated over floor plans, Pinterest Boards and travel routes.

4. Stalk online ads

woman using smartphone and laptop near black table
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That sounds creepier than I meant it to.

Once we decided what type of RV we wanted to purchase, we set up alerts on used listing sites so whenever an ad went up for “Fiberglass Camper” we were alerted right away. This allowed us to compare prices and eventually jump on an RV that was a ridiculously good deal.

Sites like Kijiji, Craig’s List, CruiseCanada, and AutoTrader are all valuable options.

We also went to see a few before we decided to buy Biggie.  That way we could see the general maintenance each one needed, plan and scheme as well as budget for our reno.

5. Search for Ideas and Inspiration

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This is one of our favorite things to do!  We can drool over Pinterest RV renos all day.  It is such a great way to get inspiration for your own reno or build.  We also took many trips to Ikea and Home Depot to plan and scheme what we wanted our kitchen, living space and bathroom to look like.

Frequenting Ikea, Home Depot and even the Re-store are great ways to stockpile items when they go on sale.  You can also find so many great things or used sites like Kijiji or Varage sale which help save so much money.  For example, we were at HomeDepot this weekend looking at shower stalls… $400!  Yikes… we then found one two days later on Kijiji for $60.  Even if used items are a bit worn, we aren’t too picky as most things can be refurbished to basically new with a little elbow grease.

The great thing about renovating an RV is that a small space means (typically) a lot less materials. This allows you to potentially go with that beautiful granite counter top or hardwood floor that may cost a fortune to put in a regular home, but a tiny living space like an RV is completely on budget.

Now log off and get out there,

Mike + Sarah

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