Cost of living in a van 2013
I have tracked my van-dwelling expenses for one full year now, mostly as an experiment to see where the money really goes in my style of van-dwelling. While other van-dwellers tend to stay put for long periods of time. I usually put down a lot of miles of traveling and exploring which has it’s own unique monthly footprint. In 2013, both styles of van life show themselves over the course of my finance tracking. Not every penny I spent is shown in my experiment. I filtered out money that I send home to my family, put away in savings, and other things that had no real importance on the overall figures of van-dwelling. I wanted to show as much of my personal expenses as possible, but I felt that the addition of big-ticket items that were specific only to myself would not benefit the overall experiment.
Download the Excel spreadsheet: 1 year living in van cost analysis
In the spreadsheet I detail each month, quarter, and the total year-end expenses. I also track the average-cost-per-day for each item, which was quite startling at first, but became a fun challenge to try to keep my daily costs under $30 per day.
During the year, I spent roughly 6 months in travel mode – moving constantly and exploring each area I was in – with the other half of the year spent urban-camping. When it came down too it, neither benefited me financially; When I traveled, I was more frugal but spent more on fuel. When I urban camped I spent more on food and luxuries. In the end, I seemed to spend the same $1000 per month no matter what style of van-dwelling I was doing that month.
I challenged myself through out the year to reduce my average spending per day. When I started the year I was spending $40 or more each and every day, mostly on gasoline and food. As I refined my lifestyle, I was able to reduce the daily average to under $30 with a best of $27 per day. Of course, this could be further reduced, but the experiment was not to go bare-bones but to lead a normal life and see where it ends up.
The most surprising cost was food. I seriously struggled to keep my total food costs (groceries and dinning out) under $250 per month, which I already considered way too high. My goal was under $200 each month in food, but my need for higher quality foods than Ramen noodles meant I spent a bit more. Later in the year, as I began using my fridge more and more, the food costs further increased as I was able to buy more meats and veggies… and beer. Obviously, for anyone less concerned about eating my specific diet, and are willing to further sacrifice beer and my occasional restaurant meals, total food costs could likely be cut in half.
I was comfortable in either style of life (traveling or camping) and both can easily be done for $1000 a month or less. In fact, if I had cut out just a few luxury items either could be accomplished for $700-800 per month without too much sacrifice. Taking another step, into bare-bones lifestyle, living in a van can be done for $300-400 per month – buying only the basics (food, auto-insurance, minimal gas, phone, gym, and even a storage space).
In the end, I traveled 10,380 miles through 11 states in 2013 (about 4,000 less than previous years) seeing and doing more this year than in any other. I met some great people along the way, shared some superb meals and conversations, and generally had the time of my life along the way… and all for less than the cost of renting an apartment in most cities.