Travel Nursing Tips

Travel Nurse Income and Budget: A Transparent Example

In this article, I describe an example of a travel nurse’s income and budget. I would like to do this by being transparent about my income and expenses each month.  This example will be based on my first assignment in June 2016.

Travel Nurse Income

Income Breakdown

Travel nurse income consists of an hourly rate and a housing/per diem stipend. Nurses are also reimbursed for state licensure and cost of travel (usually based on mileage).  Check out the infographic below for the breakdown!

Travel Nurse Income Breakdown | Vagabond RN


You may notice that the hourly is slightly lower than what you made as a staff nurse. However, this is also combined with a housing stipend and per diem pay per week so you have to add them together for your gross pay.

Housing Stipend + Per Diem

So, Let’s talk about the tax-free housing stipend. You can choose to go hassle-free and let your agency find housing for you OR you can find your own housing and pocket the rest of the stipend.

To legally get the tax-free stipend, you need to duplicate housing expenses.  This means you have to be paying for housing at your “home base” by either paying a mortgage or paying rent.  Rather than paying a mortgage or apartment rental, I pay my mom rent that is “fair market value”.  Thus, it is a win-win situation.


Your agency should be reimbursing you for licensure and pre-employment testing such as PPDs and urine drug screens.  The agency should also reimburse you for some travel expenses.  The amount will vary with each agency but they usually calculate this by mileage.  You should receive these reimbursements the first week of your assignment.

Travel Nurse Expenses

Although a travel nurse’s salary is higher than staff nurses, expenses also tend to be higher.  Benefits are more costly and travel nursing doesn’t always come with perks such as paid time off and sick pay. Check your agency’s pay package to determine what benefits they offer.  Travel nurses should be diligent about keeping a healthy savings account in case of an emergency.

Travel Nurse Expense Breakdown | Vagabond RN


My tax home rent is in Indiana. I rent two rooms in my mom’s house. The rest of the house is shared living space.  The rent I paid in Vermont was for a private, fully-furnished home with 2 bedrooms.  It was off-season for the landlord and I was able to get a better deal.  The home was located next to a ski resort and we were there during the summer.

Fixed/Variable Expenses

These expenses differ for everyone so I spared you the boring details of my student loan debt and car payments.  For variable expenses, remember that gas and groceries can have significantly different prices and you might want to do a little research on this.  For example, gas is twice as much when comparing California and Indiana.

Health Insurance

Agencies offer their own health insurance but I chose to pay for my own privately.  However, I pay for private insurance through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I did this to ensure that I will not lapse in coverage if I decide to choose another agency or career path. The health insurance I have is medical, dental, and vision for my family and me.  I chose the highest deductible/lowest premium because we are all healthy people with no chronic illnesses.  We need it for preventative care and emergency services.  My deductible is around $6,000 individual and $13,000 family.

A Travel Nurse’s Budget

Keep in mind that each assignment has its own pay vs. cost of living.  Knowing this, you must realize that your budget could change every 13 weeks.  It is important to revisit your budget each time it changes.

Use an excel spreadsheet or pen and paper to work out your budget BEFORE you sign a contract.  First, ask your recruiter for the estimated gross pay. Then, research short-term leases for the average rent prices.  Finally, make a rough draft of your new budget.


Travel nursing is not as secure as a permanent job.  Hospitals have been known to cancel travelers occasionally due to budget concerns or staffing changes.  Benefits packages are not quite as good as they are in a permanent position.  Even with the extra risks, it is still paying off for me while giving me the freedom that I was longing for.

Remember, this example of a travel nurse’s income and budget is just one example.  Travel nursing gives you control over how much you want to make.  Do you want to live in a highly desirable location or do you want an assignment for higher pay?  It’s like being a nurse entrepreneur!

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Travel Nurse Income and Budget | Vagabond RN

3 thoughts on “Travel Nurse Income and Budget: A Transparent Example

  1. this is a very informative and good website for newbies…. thank you for taking the time to address this ery confusing issue for old and new travel nurses.

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