Full-time van living on a budget

I have been publishing my monthly, quarterly, and yearly finances here

imagesLike most people who full-time in their RV, I too live on an income of far less than the average person. Many full-timers live on retirement or pensions. Others work for a period to save up enough money to do this long term without any source of full-time income. Myself, I fit in the category of having some income from work that I do online. It is not a lot of money, but considering I have no rent, mortgage, car payments, or utility bills to pay for… I do not need a lot of money to live comfortably.

imagesHow much money is needed? Well that depends on a lot of factors, but considering I really only need to feed and clothe myself to ‘survive’ it doesn’t take as much as living in a conventional house or apartment. The entire reason I chose to full-time live in a van was to ‘live’… to go out an see the country and explore new places, which can only be done if I move locations. And that is my largest monthly cost; gasoline.

I figure, my gasoline cost can be managed in one of two ways;
goose1) I could travel like a Goose… drive once per month or season and stay in the same location for that entire month or season. It may cost a few hundred dollars in gasoline to make each location change, but it is a one-time cost. Migrating from place to place assumes I will be paying for long-term camping costs. RV parks can be found for as low as $200-300 per month. National Forest campgrounds can be had for $20 per day or less. A Goose saves in fuel costs, but pays more in housing. Or…

Horseback travel in Alaska2) I could travel like a horse… drive often but only short drives of 25-50 miles per day seeing everything there is to offer by stopping at every attraction along the route. Drive only an hour or two each day and spend the remainder of the day relaxing, experiencing, and enjoying the sights. A Horse eats, drinks, and sleeps on the move rarely staying still long enough to have to pay for housing.

Looking south from my campI chose to be a horse, slowly and steadily moving across the landscape at 20-50 miles per day. This cures my ‘ants-in-pants syndrome’ of feeling bored once I have been in one location for 2 or 3 days. I refill my fuel tanksĀ ($300-400 per month) and food ($150-200 per month) each weekend as I pull into a town and rarely pay for overnight camping. I stay my nights at Walmarts, Truck stops, Rest areas, free camping at National Forest and BLM lands, and sometimes I just take a secluded highway exit and park off to the side. I shower at my gym, or at truck stops, or I take advantage of cheap RV parks ($20 per night or less) where I also get power to recharge the batteries, WiFi to watch my favorite shows online, refill water tanks, laundry, and a shower for one nights cost.

I do have a single monthly bill; A gym membership ($40 for a national chain) so I can workout and shower in any of the thousands of gyms across the country.

I also have a pay-as-you-go cell phone, which I refill with minutes as needed (every 4-8 weeks) for a fraction of the cost of a regular monthly cell phone contract and these phones will connect to any and all networks (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc) so I get a signal just about anywhere I am, not limited to only my home network. I do not use my phone much, instead using Skype to talk with family and friends to further save costs. My work pays for my cellular Internet connection with Verizon.

All in all, I “live” (not just survive) on about $1000-1200 per month in expenses, although I can reduce my total monthly expenses by more than $500 by traveling and splurging less… but only if I am in need as I prefer to keep moving.If I stuck to my budget perfectly, my monthly costs would be under $750 per month, even with nearly $400 of that going into gasoline.

For less than the cost of renting a small apartment plus utilities, I travel 1500-2500 miles each month and see all the wondrous things the country has to offer. I do most things on the cheap, willing to go out of my way to save $2 here and there and in doing so it allows me to travel further each month to experience more places and attractions. And, my budget still allows me to set a portion of my income away in savings for future large costs.

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10 Responses


    69 years old income $2000 p/mo…………just need the right van…….family on both coasts and free as a bird………….I envy you

    • Just turned 77…lost my wife last year…health is excellent…looking to live full time on the road in a van or small class b rv…know nothing about RVing…to do list includes:
      1. Develop a list of inexpensive RV parks nationwide…
      2. Scan and participate in online RV forums…
      3. Develop a bucket list of places to visit…
      4. Sell everything…and head on out…

  2. Paul says:

    How does one have vehicle insurance without a permanent address?

  3. Beppy says:

    Wow van- T. This was so encouraging and informative!

  4. Llnda k says:

    I will get 1100.00 monthly but still think i can do iit. I have caravan lay out for what in neen for 1 person. Excited to get started. Will go north for summers and south for winters excited meet new people and new places at my convience. I so love thst part

  5. I am well below retirement age but single and struggling financially, so I’ve been thinking of going this route. Is it unrealistic to think i could work and live non conventionally?

    • Van-Tramp says:

      Hi Monica. I am not sure what you mean by “non conventionally”. I work online, running my own business, which is pretty unconventional. Most of the people I have met full-timing also work online, either as freelance or telecommuters. Many/Most still have full-time, 9 to 5, 40 hours per week work. My work is a lot less than that, but I also get paid a lot less, but I prefer my freedom over extra money so here I am still.

      To answer your question; Yes I believe it is unrealistic to go full-time on the road without some for of income already. Now, that is not to say it can not be done. There are folks that just do odd-jobs once or twice a week to get them by. Others do work-camping (not easy to get into I must admit), but the majority are either still working 9 to 5 or burning through savings. Those that burn through savings eventually have to stop, get back to a “conventional job” and hope to return to full-time on the road living. Some do, some do not.

      On the flip side, if you are just looking to reduce your monthly bills to “get by better” while in your current situation, this is a great way to do it. Simply eliminating the rent and utilities cost of a brick and mortar house can save hundreds if not thousands each month. But, uf you are staying within city limits, expect to still be paying a month rent… be it at an RV park, or paying to stay in someone’s rive-way or back yard. Simply put, you can not expect to stay on the city streets for free for very long. You will be harassed, cited, ticketed, etc and it just is not an great way to live.

      Hope that helps