How Much A Family Making $52K/Year Spent To Become Bonafide Campers — Well, Sort Of

Raising a child supposedly costs you a quarter of a million dollars, but it can honestly be more daunting to face the idea of spending $80 on bottle nipples in a single month. Expense Report gives us a look into the spending, scrimping, and wishing that defines parenthood, from what moms spend on birthdays, to childcare, to sleep, to self-care (we wish!), and beyond.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact travel and recreation across the US, more and more families are turning to the great (and socially distant) outdoors for vacations and short respites. According to the Boston Globe, rentals and sales of recreational vehicles and travel trailers has skyrocketed, despite the crushing recession sweeping the nation. While luxury camping comes with a price tag, some families who live on a budget are still managing to find a way to amble off into the sunset together.

Marianne and Jay have three boys who are bounding with energy, all of the time. While it was nice for them to have each other as playmates during the lockdown phase of quarantine, their energy also was literally reverberating off the walls of their home. Their parents had always had an interest in camping, and decided to take the plunge with a travel trailer. They had little idea, though, just how much is involved with that camping lifestyle. Including how much equipment is needed just to manage the poop.

Family: A mother and father

Location: South Carolina

Annual Income: $52,000

Children: 3 (ages 6, 7, and 9)

There are many ways to camp, of course. Tents, rental cabins, in a sleeping bag under the stars. With young kids, though, nothing is more convenient than a “camper”- an RV or pull-behind travel trailer. Being able to just get on the road and go, with all of your camping supplies already loaded, makes it easy to get out on the road during the pandemic. With so many working from home and schooling remotely, the possibilities for travel are endless. Most campgrounds have wifi, and many families have mobile hotspots provided by their schools.

The Travel Trailer: $16,500

Marianne and Jay purchased a used 2018 travel trailer- a Heartland Pioneer 270- from another local family. They pull it with a Chevy Avalanche, which they already owned. At a purchase price of $16,500, this was the biggest expense. However, it was very easy to obtain a loan with a long term for the travel trailer. Unlike with cars, which depreciate quickly, trailers do not. A 10-year loan with $1,500 down costs the family around $150 per month.

The trailer itself is designed well for their boys. Jay gave up his dream of an outdoor kitchen in the side of the trailer for a second entry door that goes right into the bathroom — perfect for tiny bladders. There is a separate master bedroom with a door, so the rowdy boys don’t disturb mom and dad too much. A comfy couch and TV mean rainy evenings are bearable.

Poop Management Supplies: $156

One might love the sleek modern lines of a travel trailer — leather couches, granite look countertops, a full bathroom — but one doesn’t always stop and think about a moving home not attached to public sewers. At every campsite, Maryanne and Jay need to hook up to the sewage system. This is no small feat. For sites without a hookup, they need to empty the sewage tank after each trip. You thought emptying the Diaper Genie was bad...

Keep in mind the couple bought a used camper, formerly filled with another family’s poop. “The guys before us didn't know you had to flush the black tank when you emptied it, so all his sludge was left behind. We filled the black tank with water and traveled with it full so we could get it all to break up.”

Breakdown of poop management supplies:

Tank deodorizer tablets: $11

Holding tank treatment: $25

100 Industrial nitrile gloves: $12

Sewer hose seal: $5

Tank cleanout hose: $12

Sewer hose rinsing nozzle with jet spray: $10

Two sewer hose extensions: $33

Sewer hose support: $36

Special RV compostable toilet paper: $3 per roll, for 3 kids, so $1000 per weekend (OK, really about $12 per weekend)

Comfort supplies: $925

The travel trailer the family bought is lovely, with many comforts of home. Yet still supplies are needed to make it truly a home on wheels. From kitchen hookups to mattress covers for three sleepy boys who had too many juice boxes before bed, most families who travel regularly find it easier to have all of these things in their camper or RV rather than lug back and forth between the house each trip. Kid friendly dinnerware, silverware, cookware, mixing bowls, measuring cups, tablecloths... all the basic things they have in their kitchen at home, they needed another set for the trailer. Water filters, specific kitchen hookups for gas and drinking water, rugs, an outdoor table, and a queen mattress for mom and dad to replace the slab of concrete that originally passed for a bed in the master bedroom completed their interior comforts and necessities.

Vehicle supplies: $600

While the family did already own a Chevy Avalanche capable of pulling the travel trailer, no vehicle leaves the lot ready to safely pull and park a 30” travel trailer. Sway supports, mirror extensions, a backup camera, and various stabilization/levels/safety measures are needed. Especially with rowdy kids in a travel trailer, securing the trailer at the campsite with wheel blocks and stabilizers is a safety must. In addition, Marianne and Jay wanted to be able to take their bikes along, which required a specialized bike rack be added (since the truck hitch is occupied by the travel trailer)

Bikes: $500

In most RV and travel trailer campgrounds or resorts, families travel around by bike or golf cart. While the boys all had bikes, Marianne and Jay did not. For their birthdays, they gifted each other bikes to chase after their kids. “While they aren’t only for camping, that’s predominantly what we use them for... to keep up with our boys.”

Campsite costs: Approximately $600 for the season

This will vary over the life of travel trailer ownership, but it does cost something to use the travel trailer wherever they go. Pricier resorts such as Jellystone Parks with waterslides, multiple pools, mini golf and scads of family events can be $50-90 per night, while state parks can be as low as $20. They’ve tried a variety so far, and decided they are more “quiet campground” people. “We went to a resort campground. But everything kept going until well after midnight. It was super loud and with our kids, it was sensory overload. The state campgrounds are quieter, and they have set quiet times at night. There might not necessarily be as much to do, but our kids fill that with riding bikes and discovering things and just being kids,” shares Marianne.

Total: $19,281