Doing the Math on a Workamping Opportunity

Doing the Math on a Workamping Opportunity

by Greg Gerber

Let’s face it. Understanding math can be hard. You have basic math where 2 + 2 = 4 and 8 x 7 = 56, but it gets increasingly complicated.

There is algebra when 6X x 3Y = Z. And, in geometry, the circumference of a circle is calculated by multiplying its diameter by (Pi or π).

With calculus, there are complex equations like limx→a−f(x)=limx→a+f(x)=limx→af(x)=f(a).

There is also congressional math where a reduction in the amount of a planned increase in government spending from, say, $1 billion to $1.05 billion instead of $1.06 billion is actually a “cut.”

Perhaps the hardest math of all is toilet paper math, where 18 mega rolls = 28 jumbo rolls = 64 standard rolls.

When evaluating a compensation package for a Workamping job, it can sometimes be tricky to determine the overall value of what you’re getting for your time and effort. Let’s explore a few options to better understand whether the job is worth the compensation received.

Keep in mind the vast majority of employers consider Workampers to be the lifeblood of their operation. Without them, employers wouldn’t be able to serve their own customers. Consequently, most employers take very good care of their Workampers.

Here are some of the typical Workamping compensation packages.

1. Campsite only

The ad promises a campsite in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. Is it a fair deal?

In volunteer positions, the employer probably equates your time to the minimum wage cost. But that can vary depending upon location. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour in 2020, but some communities require at least $15 per hour.

So, if you are going to be working 20 hours for the campsite, then that’s the equivalent of at least $145 per week (20 x $7.25 = $145 per week). Multiply that by 4.33 to compute the monthly rate ($145 x 4.33 = $627.85). Is saving that amount of money worth it to you?

Next, look at what other campgrounds in the immediate area charge per night for an RV site. But, there are a number of factors beyond published rates to consider as well, including:

  • Is electricity, water, sewer, WiFi service, laundry, propane included in that rate? If not, what will it cost you to acquire those services?
  • Is the job in a prime vacation area? Ocean-front sites typically cost more than those a few miles away. The same is true if the RV site is close to big tourist attractions. You might also consider how far the site is from the office where you’ll be working, and whether you’ll need to walk or if you can use a golf cart.
  • Is the site a pull-thru or back in? Is it on grass, gravel or pavement? Does it include a patio? Is it level?
  • Proximity to neighbors. Will you be spending several months admiring a scenic view or staring into the windows of the neighboring RV 5 feet away?
  • Total hours worked. Is the employer expecting 20 hours of work from the “site” or from each person? If a seasonal site rents for $600 per month, and you get it for working 20 hours a week, then the site is worth $7.50 per hour. But, if two people are donating 20 hours apiece for the site, then the value drops to $3.75 per hour (not factoring in any other perks).

It’s always a good idea to ask a prospective employer to send you a photo of the site where you’ll be staying. Its value may boil down to personal preferences.

Also compare the actual cost to what long-term tenants would pay in the park. However, many times seasonal residents must pay for other costs, like electricity, that are included in the nightly rate.

2. Campsite plus hourly wage

Some employers give Workampers a campsite and also pay them an hourly wage ranging from the state or federal minimum wage up to $15 per hour or more. In these scenarios, the value of the campsite takes on a new dimension because it is just part of the compensation package.

These scenarios generally fall into two categories:

A. Campsite in exchange for X hours of work with money paid for work above and beyond that minimum commitment. For example, a Workamper gets a campsite for 20 hours of work per week plus $10 per hour beyond that requirement.
So, after working 30 hours a week, the Workamper could expect $100 in pay that week in addition to the campsite.

(20 hours for site + 10 hours X $10 per hour = $100 for the week)

However, to truly evaluate the compensation, you must add in the value of the campsite from the first section. If someone would pay $600 monthly for a seasonal site, that would be the equivalent of $150 per week tacked on to the earnings. So, the formula should really look like this:

$150 for the site + (10 hours X $10 per hour) = $250 per week

B. Campsite PLUS money paid for every hour worked. This is a really good deal for many Workampers. So, using the figures above, if the person worked 30 hours that week, she could expect $300 in wages plus the campsite cost. That formula would look like this:

$150 for the site + (30 hours x $10 per hour) = $450 per week

In these situations, employers tend to pay Workampers minimum wage for all hours they worked since the value of the campsite is included in the compensation. As a result, the employer would likely set the book value of the position at $15 per hour for a job that pays $10/hour in cash.

($450 per week / 30 hours worked = $15 per hour)

3. Discounted site plus career-like benefits

A few employers pay Workampers significantly more than minimum wage and toss in other benefits like health insurance, 401-K contributions, paid vacations and bonuses.

However, because the pay is so high, most of these jobs do not come with a provided campsite. Rather, the cost for the site is set at the prevailing local rate or it is offered at a discounted rate.  For example, if a seasonal site cost typically costs $600 per month, but the employer discounts it to $300, then the Workamper would be expected to pay the $300 back to the employer.

Because there are so many different aspects to this type of compensation plan, it is difficult to use a simple formula to assess the value.


Bonuses are not limited to Workampers with career-like benefits. Some employers use bonuses to entice Workampers to honor their original commitments or to stay longer than expected.

For example, if you work at an amusement park and your contract requires you to work from May 1 to Sept. 15, a bonus of 50 cents per hour is multiplied by every hour you worked and paid out on Sept. 15 as a reward for completing the commitment. If you leave before Sept. 15, you lose out on the bonus pay.

Some employers will offer a bonus to entice Workampers to stay beyond their original departure day. Using the example above, an employer may offer Workampers an extra $1 per hour or a lump sum of $500 to stay through the shoulder season and depart on Nov. 1 instead.

Don’t Forget the Perks

Sometimes perks matter just as much, if not more than money received for a job.

For example, when I worked as a magazine editor, because I love to travel, the ability to fly somewhere each month all over the nation was a big perk -- especially when I could get upgrades to first-class seats.

Here are some perks that Workampers can receive:

• Free uniforms – Rather than wearing out your own clothes, some places give Workampers uniform shirts.

• Laundry allowance – Some employers give Workampers free access to washers and dryers, or a roll of quarters each month to help cover the cost of keeping uniforms clean.

• VIP cards – Many Workampers rave about this perk. It’s a card often developed by local tourism agencies that give temporary workers free or discounted admission to dozens of places in the region. It could be a two-for-one admission to a show, a free appetizer at a restaurant, or totally free admission to a zip line. The goal is to get Workampers to give something a try in hopes they enjoy the experience enough to recommend it to others visiting the area.

• Staff meals – Many employers host regular meals for Workampers. It could be a potluck where others bring side dishes and the employer provides the main dish. Or the employer picks up the whole cost of the meal. Either way, it’s less money you have to spend to enjoy a lunch or dinner.

• Reduced meals – If the employer has a restaurant or snack bar, perhaps you can grab a free meal based on the number of hours you work that day. Most places serving food also offer Workampers a discount on meals purchased on-site. Some employers offer a weekly or monthly food stipend, like $50.

• Free or reduced propane – Some employers either allow Workampers to fill up their propane tanks on site or they arrange for a truck to deliver gas directly to the rig. Other employers sell propane to staff at greatly discounted rates.

• Reliable WiFi – Perhaps Workampers can tap into the employer’s wireless system at no cost or at a reduced rate. If the connection is good enough, perhaps you can reduce the amount of data you must pay for from the cellular company.

• Free cable TV – There are still some employers who allow Workampers to connect their rigs to a park’s cable TV. That beats paying for satellite service!

• Store discounts – If the camp store sells groceries, many places give Workampers discounts on items they buy. It’s likely cheaper than buying something “in town,” and you save the time and gas to get there.

• Toy rentals – Many times, Workampers get free use of things like boats, bikes, waterslides, and golf when they’re not working. What price would you put on quality of life?

• Campground amenities – Don’t forget that Workampers usually get full access to all campground amenities, like pools, hot tubs, saunas, tennis courts, golf courses and pickleball.

• Golf cart use – Some campgrounds give Workampers free use of a golf cart to use not only when working, but during their time off, too.

Tax Considerations

Another thing to discuss with an employer before accepting a job is how compensation will be reported to the IRS. There are generally three options for the employer:

1. All wages and perks, like a campsite, will be treated as income and included in the W-2 you receive at the end of the year. However, taxes are withheld from each paycheck. An often-overlooked benefit to this arrangement is that, as an employee, you are covered by unemployment insurance should you get sick or injured on the job. That way, you still get paid something even if you aren’t able to work.

2. You will be considered an independent contractor and receive a 1099 at the end of the year. Because you are considered to be self-employed, no taxes will be taken out of any compensation you receive. So, you are fully responsible for reporting all income and paying any taxes. You are also not covered by workers’ compensation unless you pay for that coverage yourself.

3. Only your wages are considered income. The cost of perks will not be factored into the amount of compensation. When employers do this, they can’t deduct the cost of providing those perks from their taxes. So, it’s unusual that employers will overlook their cost of providing some perks.

Always ask an employer up front how the income and perks will be reported to the IRS. There will be tax ramifications regardless of the option selected.

What’s It Worth to You?

Calculating the value of compensation received for Workamping requires you to look beyond the hourly wage and the cost of a campsite. If it’s your dream job or dream location, none of that may matter.

I have always wondered what it would be like to live in a lighthouse. If I could afford to do that for a month, I’d do it for free. Therefore, any perks above and beyond the joy of experiencing that opportunity would be gravy. It would be hard to assign a financial value.

In the end, you have to be happy doing what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, and you have to feel you are being compensated fairly. Don’t accept the job if none of those don’t apply to you – or even if you have a hint of resentment about it.

Research, research, research. Learn as much as you can about the job, the area, the people you work for or with, and how you will be compensated BEFORE you agree to accept the position. Nothing works to hinder a positive Workamping experience more than being surprised by something after arriving on the job.

Click here for our Workamping Job Compensation Worksheet.

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