So, you want to live in a van but aren’t sure how much your monthly expenses will add up to? Well, I am going to share all of the numbers to help you decide if the cost of living in a van is for you. From insurance to gas and everything in between. I have been living in a van for the past 2 years and have become quite acquainted with the numbers I see leaving my bank account every month.
Van Life Costs – Things To Consider
First off, the cost of vanlife varies for everyone.
If you previously lived in a downtown San Fransisco apartment and are now considering the jump to vanlife, you will be jaw-droppingly shocked by how much money you will save. But, if you’re coming out of college, and haven’t paid rent before, you might be surprised to hear that while vanlife is quite affordable, it’s not always cheap.
The cost of vanlife depends heavily on the person you are. Do you like eating out? How far do you plan to travel every month? Are high-quality groceries important to you? Or, are you more of a ramen-loving kinda person? Just like everything in life, your monthly expenses depend on the spending habits you have!
How Much Does It Cost to Live in a Van?
The real question is, how much should I expect to save? The answer, more than you probably think – income dependant of course!
Let’s start off with the category that I have a love-hate relationship with, insurance. I love the thought of my entire van build being covered by my insurance policy, should anything ever happen. However, it’s the only one of my monthly expenses (more like headache) that has ever brought real tears to my eyes.
Personally, being from Canada, getting full-coverage insurance on my van conversion has proven to be difficult and relatively expensive. However, that doesn’t mean it will be for you! Most of the time, all it takes is having the right person answer the phone at the right time, and suddenly you’re magically covered, and for cheap-ish.
So, how much does it cost? Well, I know some people who pay $60/month where others, like myself, are paying $250/month. It’s a wide spectrum for an industry that hasn’t fully recognized vanlife yet. Unfortunately, this leaves many grey areas and open-ended prices.
Cost: anywhere from $60/month to $250+/month
If you took out a loan on your van, this is another monthly expense to consider. There are many ways to purchase a van for cheap, and not need a loan. However, if you are sure this lifestyle is for you, sometimes taking out a loan is the best way to make it happen.
This category could also include any financing plan you might have set up if you hired builders to complete your conversion.
Cost: On average, expect to pay around $300/month if you took out a loan on your van. More, if you are financing the full build.
If you had student loans when living a stationary lifestyle, unfortunately, you also have them while living a nomadic one! However, with the money you save by living in a van, you might be able to pay them off quicker.
Cost: Most people pay around $300/month. Obviously, this might be different for you.
Groceries + Takeout + Alcohol
Now, as I mentioned before, how you chose to eat, really determines this number. Also, how much you do (or don’t) drink, will affect this as well!
However, I think a good rule of thumb is, for every person in your household (vanhold), is to expect to spend about $60/week on food. That includes all meals, coffee and snacks. That works out to be about $8.60 a day, per person.
Keep in mind, as you add more people into the equation, it gets a little bit cheaper to purchase groceries as buying things in bulk makes sense, just as it would in a typical house.
Of course, sometimes, eating out will increase that number a bit.
This number doesn’t include coffee shops. If you work from the road, it’s nice to stop by a coffee shop and spend the day being productive. This comes at a cost of course. Let’s say you spend $5-10 every time you work in a coffee shop. Be prepared to take this into account as $5 here and $10 there does accumulate quite quickly!
Cost: Depending on your needs, expect to spend around $240/month to $300/month for one person and $400/month to $500/month for two people.
Out of all the categories, this one is the most variable, for reasons I’m sure you can guess. If you plan to spend all your time in the same city, expect this number to stay low. But, if you’re wanting to sprint across the country constantly, this number will jump.
This also depends on how much fuel your van consumes. I know for myself, my T1N 2006 Diesel Sprinter is incredibly efficient, one of the many reasons I love it. But, this isn’t the case for all vans.
Personally, and because of the worldwide pandemic, I am spending most of my time within a 25km radius. This means I am not driving much at all. In the wintertime, my diesel heater draws fuel from the tank and uses a little more fuel than it does in other seasons. However, I typically spend $200-$250/month on fuel.
Cost: This is very dependant on your situation. Expect anywhere from $200/month to $500+/month if you’re road tripping.
This includes anything from Netflix and Amazon to gym memberships and roadside assistance.
Personally, I strongly believe, that having a roadside assistance subscription (monthly or yearly) is one of the most undervalued monthly expenses any vanlifer could ever have. You never know when your van is going to decide not to work and then you’re stranded in the desert. Just pay the $13-$18/monthly and feel at peace!
Another great monthly subscription, once the pandemic ends, is a gym membership. You don’t have to use the gym (if you don’t want to), and instead, just have it as a plan for showering. It’s so nice to pull into a city with a gym and know that you’re going to hop into bed squeaky clean that night.
Cost: Depending on what you subscribe to, expect about $30/month for a couple of different subscriptions.
Phone + Internet
If you’re planning on working from your van, you might want to consider your internet situation. Either up the data amount on your current phone plan or add a mobile router into the mix.
Personally, I just hotspot off of my phone’s unlimited data and use public wifi wherever possible. It works well for me, being someone who works remotely.
Cost: Expect anywhere from $50/month to $150/month depending on your needs
Extras + Spending
It’s nice to have a little budget set aside for fun things. Maybe it’s some clothing at a shop. Or, maybe it’s that time you had to pay for parking in the city and fill up your water tank Either way, planning to spend around $100 extra a month is a good idea. And, if you don’t spend it, that’s bonus money back into your pocket!
Cost: around $100/month
Now, the last section that many overlook. Maintenance. If you’re planning on making a van into your home, then you need to treat it like one. What does this mean? It means planning ahead and putting money aside monthly, should any expenses come up.
In my case, I put aside $100/month, sometimes more for emergency expenses. I also put aside $45/month for maintenance costs. This includes things like oil changes, fuel filters, etc. The reason I do this is so that when expenses come up, and they will, my bank account isn’t shocked. Instead, I’ve prepared for it and have a dedicated fund that doesn’t leave my savings account and me, crying out.
Cost: Put aside as much as your budget will allow. $150/month is suggested.
The Van Life Costs (GRAND TOTAL)
For the sake of creating an accurate total, let’s say there are 2 levels to vanlife monthly costs.
First Level: Balling on a Budget
You are trying to save your money and aren’t afraid to get scrappy with it. You don’t have any student loans, got lucky with cheap insurance and own your van outright.
Expect to spend around $760/month to live an adventure-filled life that allows you to experience the simple things.
Second Level: Living Lavishly
You have a solid and steady income and chose to finance your van and build. You aren’t afraid to spend a little more on some things. You have some student loans and came from living in a decently expensive apartment.
Expect to spend around $1900/month to live a comfortable life that gives you the freedom to be rent-free while working towards paying off the build and some other loans.
So, where do you fall in?
Hopefully, it’s become obvious how situationally dependant your vanlife monthly expenses can be. But, that is also the beauty of vanlife. The fact that you can choose how much you want to spend monthly and where you want to put your money is the exact thing that draws so many to the lifestyle. The freedom that this way of life offers is unparalleled. I cannot think of any other way of living that allows you to move around freely, while still being financially in control of the life you desire.
When it comes down to it, you know how you can live. It might be nice to think that you can spend $600/month but is that really realistic for the person you are and how you plan to live? Only you know that.
The best thing you can do is sit down with a pen and paper and be honest with yourself about your current spending habits and how you plan to live. By doing so, you will get a great snapshot of what you can expect your vanlife monthly expenses to look like and plan from there.
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