During the past two months I have driven more than 5,000 miles through flat plains, over golden hills, around snow-capped Rockies, next to the white beaches of Oregon, and now to the cool, calm waters of the Washington islands.
All the while, I've wondered.. am I really saving money?
I didn't choose to live in a van TO save money, but it was absolutely a supposed benefit that came along with the lifestyle. I've been working full-time for myself for about a year and a half, and my income fluctuates quite often. The opportunity to live so abundantly (as I saw it) on relatively low expenses intrigued me.
But after all these miles, tanks of gas, and coffee shop stops to work.. I've wondered if I really am spending less. So, I decided to sit and break it all down.
Here's the deal!
(Or is it really a deal? Find out!)
I've decided to only compare monthly expenses that have been affected by #vanlife. For instance, whether I live in a van or not, I would still spend the same on health insurance, a cell phone, car insurance, etc. So those expenses are not included in this round-up.
There are also miscellaneous expenses I have not included, like oil changes and van repairs (aside from the BIG initial engine repair), because there are similar expenses if I were to be living in a home, like an apartment deposit, appliance repairs or replacements, and car repairs. I have decided not to include these.
This isn't a comprehensive report, but a general overview and comparison of the two lifestyles as I would be living them.
Here's the breakdown:
Of course, the big difference is rent. Something else to consider regarding rent is location. For $550 I doubt I'd be able to afford a room or apartment in some of the places I've been staying — Seattle, Portland, Bend, and waterfront locations.
INTERNET, UTILITIES & COFFEE SHOPS
I don't have to pay for Internet or utilities on the road, but I spend much more at coffee shops and restaurants to access wifi. There is also the convenience factor to take into account — I do much more running around trying to find water, a shower, or electricity than I would if I lived in an apartment. And that accounts for somethin'.
Perhaps a weird difference to recognize, but I spend less on gyms while on the road because I do not belong to a climbing gym. I pay $20/month for a Planet Fitness membership (which I'm discontinuing this month because I will be in Canada) and the remaining I spend at random climbing gyms that give discounts during the week. If I lived in one place I would undoubtedly have a climbing gym membership, which would be at least $55/month.
Pretty self explanatory. Penny the Van gets decent gas mileage (~30 mpg), but I have been driving much more than I intend to now that I am on the west coast. So I anticipate that monthly expense to lower a good bit in the future.
FOOD & GROCERIES
Although it's not on the chart, I'd like to discuss food and groceries. I am spending about the same as I would if I lived in an apartment. Although I visit the grocery store often, I only buy a few items at a time because of limited space and lack of refrigeration.
In fact, I probably spend less on groceries because I waste much less food in the van. When you have a whole fridge to fill, it's easy to over-buy and then forget about a head of lettuce or stalk of celery until it's rotting in the bottom drawer.
That doesn't happen in the van. Your entire house will reek of rotting vegetable flesh and you will know.. immediately.
A few final thoughts...
After purchasing the van and doing necessary repairs to get it out on the road, I've been pleasantly surprised by the slight (not massive — I still have many business and other personal expenses) financial savings.
For anyone thinking about trying out #vanlife and expecting to save a ton of money and have little to no monthly expenses, I'd encourage you to look into the specifics and project what a real month would look like.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- How much do I want to drive every month? How much money would that equate to?
- How much is car insurance in my state?
- How much will the van and initial repairs cost, and do you have enough saved up for this?
- Can I feasibly run my business or make enough money while living on the road?
- Do I have enough savings for the inevitable repairs that will be needed?
- Is saving however much money each month worth the inevitable stress and inconvenience that comes with it?
Do you have any questions about monthly expenses living in the van that you'd like me to address? Feel free to ask whatever is on your mind in the comments below!
Given the horrific events that have happened here in my country over the past few weeks (and years) I feel called to use this platform to say.. something — anything — before I continue on this amazing, fortunate, privileged path of living abundantly, in a rather carefree manner, sharing my thoughts and experiences with the world.
I am a white woman. I live in a van. I park and sleep on neighborhood streets. Sometimes I even open my curtains the next day and hang out for a while in front of a stranger's house while I boil water for coffee or read a book.
I can't help but wonder how this same #vanlife experience would be if I were black, especially when I wake up and see another report of another black person being killed in this country — today while in his own vehicle, with his seatbelt still on.
It feels awkward to share something like this because I know I have so much yet to learn, and I WILL make mistakes and say the wrong thing at some point, but I need to say something — anything. I feel an innate, deep, honest-to-God responsibility as a white person in this country to do so.
And you know what, this isn't even about me. It's about justice and freedom and equality and respect for all — black lives included. It's just about doing what's right.
I have so much yet to learn, but I want to make a public commitment to trying my best to not just understand, but use my voice and freedoms to help in any way I possibly can. Black lives matter. Peace.