Van-life: How To Live In A Van to Save Money?
So you want to join the movement and live in a van? I understand.
Taking a road trip in a camper van away from social media, traffic noise, and busy people is something that speaks to many of us.
Having your own mobile home with all the facilities you need does not have to cost a fortune, and there are plenty of ways to reduce your costs.
By being conscious about one’s spending, and willing to live a minimalistic lifestyle, it’s possible to live in a van on a budget.
This blog post will help you start your nomadic lifestyle in a tiny home, so you can save and make more money.
5 Reasons Why Van Living Is Awesome?
1 When you live in a van, you are never tied down to any house.
This means that you can move around whenever you want. If you feel like moving somewhere else, you can just pack everything up and leave – that’s awesome.
2 People tend to take things for granted when they stay at their house.
But when you live in a van you realize how great it is to live without things. There is no clutter, no noise, and no responsibility. Everything around you is yours for the taking.
3 On top of that, you don’t have any responsibilities either.
Instead of worrying about getting food, paying rent, or having a car payment, you just worry about finding a place to park your van.
That is pretty much all you need to worry about.
4 When you live in your van, you get to meet people who are interesting and fun.
Being in a van gives you the opportunity to make friends and meet new people. I know a lot of people who met their significant others while living in vans.
5 Vanlife is cheaper than owning a house.
If you decide to buy a home, you probably pay a mortgage. This costs money each month.
In addition, you may have to purchase furniture and appliances (which cost money). You might even end up having to pay property taxes.
However, when you live in a vehicle, those monthly payments are nonexistent.
How To Reduce Costs When You Live in a Van?
Although living in a van would be cheaper than owning a house, one still needs to be aware of how one spends their money.
If they are not, it can quickly turn into an expensive lifestyle as well.
1 Free Camping
Much money is going toward campsites, and therefore one of the best methods is to find free camping options. Some places charge $20 to $40 a night, so cutting your camping ground fees is crucial.
If you on average spend $30 a night, that’s $900 a month and $10,800 a year.
At the end of the day, that’s not a great option. Instead, do your research and find free campsites.
Of course, no one is going to die if you do a paid night once in a while, but the best strategy is to find free campsites.
2 Be Fuel Smart
Living a full-time van life often requires you to drive from place to place, and the visits to gas stations can be many.
The extra cost of driving to different places can be cut with some lateral thinking.
My best advice is:
1 Plan Your Routes Ahead: instead of just driving to your next destination, use tools like Google Maps to plan the shortest distance.
Such tools can also direct you around traffic, which in the long term will help you cut the gas bill.
2 Correct Tire Pressure: Driving around without the right tire pressure will in the long run increase your gas bill, so make sure that you always drive with the correct pressure to reduce your costs.
3 Drive Conservatively: Driving within the speed limitations will not only prevent you from getting fined but also reduce your gas bill.
Another key thing to remember is that you should experience the places you drive to more deeply.
This means staying for longer periods, which will not only give you a great experience but also help you cut your costs.
3 Solar Panels
Having solar panels mounted on top of your roof can cut your electricity bill, if not eliminate it completely.
They generate their own power, and can therefore be a great investment for your van. The higher your electricity bill, the larger difference will it make.
4 Utilize The Small Space
When living in a van you quickly realize how big of a difference the fewer square feet make. Less space isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it can help you save more money.
For instance, when living your daily life in a van, you quickly become creative and find ways to utilize your space in the most optimal way.
This means you don’t have to buy a lot of furniture and utensils for your little comfort zone. Van lifers know that less is more.
5 Be a Home Chef
Eating out is something many do on a regular basis, and also van lifers.
However, eating out just once a week might cost you $50, which is about $200 a month, and $2400 a year.
Instead, bring your favorite cookbook, practice your home cooking skills, and transform yourself into one of the best home cook chefs the world has ever seen.
This will reduce your costs significantly. A great piece of advice would be to cook large portions so you only have to cook every second or third day.
By doing this you save money on groceries as well as the electricity bill.
6 Shop Outdoor
What if all the grocery stores we needed were just outside of our houses – that would be convenient.
The good news is that’s the reality for a lot of van dwellers. Many live close to a river or sea where they can fish, and only a few meters away is a forest where they can pick eatable mushrooms.
Utilize your location to find food and remedies you can use to cut your expenses.
7 DIY Maintenance
Things will break down eventually, and you’ll face some issues that must be fixed. If the problem isn’t too serious, then don’t call a professional, but fix it yourself.
Maybe your shower facilities don’t work as they used to, then try to identify the issue and fix it as well as you can.
This will help you cut back on maintenance costs, and also increase your confidence.
Of course, if you aren’t a mechanic and your Mercedes sprinter breaks down, calling a mechanic might be the best solution.
8 Free Activities
A great way to have fun while living in a sprinter van is to explore all the free activities that are right in front of you.
A few examples could be visiting some free national parks or going on a hiking trip into the mountains (depending on where you are).
Another idea could be going on new adventures in the forest and collecting different things from the bottom of the forest. Take the things back to your van and use them for decorations, turn them into utensils, or use them for cooking.
The number of free activities outdoor is endless, and with a little creativity and research, you’ll never run out of ideas.
9 Outdoor workouts
Instead of paying for a regular gym membership, then use the forest as your gym. Use branches as pull-up bars, tree trunks as benches, and stones as weights.
Quickly you could turn every new destination into a personal gym. Not to mention, all the beautiful nature routes that would be perfect for a long run.
A bonus is you don’t have to use a lot of gym clothing when you are not close to public land, and therefore your laundry costs might be reduced a bit as well.
10 Rainwater is free water
Generally, most of us don’t like bad weather, but it can save a van-lifer a ton of money on the water bill.
For example, using raindrops as shower water works just as good a using fresh water.
Build a box outside of your van with the sole purpose of picking up rain. Another good idea is to invest in a life straw that turns dirty water into drinkable water.
Utilizing natural water sources is one of the best ways to cut your water bill expenditures.
How To Make Money When You Live in a Van?
By van dwelling, it can be hard to maintain a regular full-time job. Thus, it is essential to find other ways to maintain a full time income, which can be done in various ways.
Living as a digital nomad gives you the option of working on your own schedule – if you want to work in the middle of the night, that’s what you do.
Here are 10 ways you can increase your income from the comfort of your own van.
1 Blog about van life
Just like travel-, food-, and marketing blogs are popular so are van life blogs to a specific extent.
Creating a niche blog around living in a van could be not only a fun and enjoyable task but also a decent income stream in the future.
You could write about everything from what’s the best van to how to make the best use of the limited space to van life adventures, etc.
Treating it like a business and you should see some significant growth in both traffic and earnings in a year or so.
2 Start a Youtube Channel
This might be one of the most mentioned side hustles, but that doesn’t make it a bad one.
To make some extra money in the long run, creating a channel with YouTube videos could be a great income source.
And what’s better than an outdoor channel, where you make content around outdoor life, how to get your hands on a converted van, tips & tricks for a van lifer, and so on?
I bet it’s not only me that would subscribe to such a channel.
3 Do Freelancing
Freelancing is a wide umbrella that covers many different roles and jobs. It can be anything from being a presentation designer to a voice-over artist to an SEO expert.
A platform like Fiverr and Upwork has a platform where they connect buyers and sellers, so you don’t have to use a lot of energy finding your own clients.
So if you have some online skills that could be put to use, then sign up for these platforms to make a little extra cash from your cozy van.
If you want to be more hardcore you could create your own website, drive traffic to it, and promote your freelancing services on it.
This a more difficult option, but the potential return far outweighs the hard work.
Pro tip: Use Fiverr & Upwork to get clients, and then as you develop a professional relationship, try to convince them to move away from the platform and over to your website.
4 Sell Van-Life Guides
Digital products are one of the best things to sell online since they don’t require you to have any warehouse and you can scale it quickly.
A superb idea would be to create a complete guide about how one can live a frugal van life.
It could include free camping sites, national forests, what to do with a flat tire, how to live without coffee shops nearby, etc.
Use your imagination, design it, and start selling it online.
The best way to get some sales is to build an audience on platforms like Medium, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Promote the ultimate guide, and sell it on Payhip, Gumroad, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, or whatever might fit your personal preferences.
5 Van Delivery
Use your large van to your advantage. Pick up groceries for multiple families at the same time and deliver them.
Since a van lifer regularly moves around, there will almost constantly be potential customers.
Additionally, you could help people move their stuff with the help of your van.
Instead of paying a high fee for transporting a number of boxes, they could pay you a minor fee for the same.
6 Flexibile Entrepreneur
Being able to make money in every possible situation is a skill in itself, and there it’s a great competence to have as a van dweller.
Offer people, you meet on your way to participate in a workout, yoga class, or art class, or offer them a haircut, breakfast, coffee, etc.
If it’s your first time acting like an entrepreneur, it can feel overwhelming, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to earn money from anywhere offline.
7 Online Tutor
Do you have a skill or some knowledge that is in demand, and do you think you can teach people that skill?
Then sign up to Udemy, Skillshare, Teachable, etc. to start your life as an online tutor.
The average pay for an online tutor is $14.85 an hour, but you can easily bump that hourly rate up.
For instance, if you make a course and put it on skillshare. The course can earn you an infinite amount of money, and you can do live teaching online on the side.
8 Transform your corporate job into a remote one
Some are lucky that their current job could be done from an office at the headquarters as well as from their home.
If that’s you, explain to your boss that you plan to pursue van life, but you would like to still keep your job.
You might be the type who is more productive in your own space and on your own working schedule.
In other words, by working from home you could provide more value.
Explaining this and convincing your boss to at least try it out, could potentially be the method to having a daytime job on the road.
9 Work your butt off in the season
Some van dwellers choose to work hard for a couple of months in the season and then relax the rest of the year, This is also a way to finance your van lifestyle.
It could be anything from crab fishing and planting trees to picking up a “normal” job like a waiter, camp host, or similar in the season.
Unlike online jobs, seasonal jobs allow you to focus on one thing at a time.
In some months you only work, in the other ones you are going on adventures and exploring the hidden places of the world.
10 Content Writing on Medium
This is something anyone can do. You don’t have to be a professional writer.
The only thing you need is a willingness to provide value to the Medium community.
Personally, this side job has earned me the most money.
One month I earned close to $2,000, but you shouldn’t expect such earnings in the beginning.
However, everybody who put a little time and effort into it can easily be looking at an income monthly income between $100 and $300 a month.
It might not sound like much, but if you take the time used into consideration, you quickly realize that it’s great money.
At least it could be a little side gig for when you don’t work with clients or do online teaching.
What about an internet connection?
When deciding to work as a digital nomad from your van, a strategy is a must-have.
There might not always be an internet connection at the campsites or RV parks, and therefore you need a plan b.
Either you can go for the most costly option, but also the safest, and buy an unlimited data plan, so you never have to worry about a campsite having an internet connection or not.
An alternative option is to create an offline plan.
This means making sure to open a lot of windows in your browser before leaving a place with an internet connection, thus you can still work without a connection for some time.
A great tip is (only if you are a freelancer) to inform the clients about your situation and make sure they have nothing against waiting one or two days before they receive their product/service.
This leads us to the next section about preparing for van life.
How To Prepare for The Van Life
When preparing for a life in a van, there are a number of things to consider.
You ask questions like “what to do with my house and car?” and “what belongings do I need and which do I sell?”. While there’s no correct answer, here are some ideas for how you can approach it.
My House – what to do with it?
If you own a house, you must come up with a plan for whether you want to keep it or not.
Some love their house too much, and don’t want to sell it – completely understandable.
If you feel the same, a good option would be to rent it out while you are exploring new places in your van.
This will help you cover your bills, and if you later decide to return home, you still have your house to come back to.
Another option is to find someone you trust with your heart, and let them stay at your house for at a low cost.
They get a cheap place to stay, and you can rest while knowing your house is in safe hands.
On the other hand, if you just need to get rid of the house, then getting a real estate agent to help you, would be ideal to have the smoothest and most painless transition from house to van.
What about all my stuff?
How you choose to downsize your belongings is totally up to you.
Often it depends on one’s personal situation; are you traveling long-term, how many belongings do you have, do some of them have a sentimental value to you, etc?
A great approach would be to ask yourself questions like:
- “Am I planning to travel in my van for more than a year?”
- Study each item and ask: “is it valuable?”, “do I need it in my life?”, “it is sentimental or historical?”
- “How much storage do I have in the van?”
- “Do I want to pay for storage while I’m gone, if so, how much do I want to pay?”
By downsizing you automatically adapt to a more minimalistic lifestyle, which gives you a new view of life.
Not only that, but it will also decrease your carbon footprint, and you’ll also experience less stress. It’s a win-win.
Option A: Put your stuff in a storage
You might not know how long you’ll be traveling for, and storing your items could therefore be the best solution for you.
If you have a lot of valuable furniture and electronics, renting a storage unit would make sense.
Depending on your area, and if you want to come back to the same place, a storage unit cost between $50 to $250 a month.
Of course, there will always be important items such as legal documents that you must store due to local laws.
A great workaround would be to scan and upload the documents to a computer.
Use some time to make folders and sort everything – this will not only free up a lot of physical space but you’ll also know where your most essential belongings are located.
Option B: Sell All Your Stuff
If you don’t plan on getting back, and if most of your stuff is replaceable, selling it would be ideal.
This will decrease the number of items that have to join the road trip, and you’ll have more money for the van life.
When you’ve figured out which things to take with you, to donate, and which to sell, then start listing the items online.
Nowadays listing items can be done easily through platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Amazon, Etsy, etc.
A great idea would be to allocate some of that money to an emergency fund and to health insurance since you are not guaranteed to make much money.
That’s a reality for many remote workers, especially in the first couple of days.
What About My Car?
Just like your home, you must decide whether you want to keep it or sell it.
If you want to keep it, then renting it out to a friend or family member might be the best solution. You’ll earn a little to finance your van life, and they’ll have a cheap car to drive.
Another option is to sell it. Share your plans online about your transition into living in a van, and put your car up for sale.
If your car is not worth much, then consider donating it to a car donation charity.
No matter how much money you earn from your car sale, use that for a more smooth transition, and to cover your travel expenses in the first few months.
Maybe you don’t like the thought of renting or selling the car – then the only option is to store it.
However, storing a car for too long is not great, and can potentially ruin it, so keep that in mind.
If you’re only gone for a little extended period of time, then this is doable, but otherwise, the car has to go.
Extra Tips: How To Live in A Van
So you know how to both save and make money from your van, but that’s not enough.
If you want to commit to the van life movement, here are some important things to keep in mind.
1 Test The Lifestyle
Before you throw everything overboard; sell your house, buy a van, and spend time converting it into a new home, you must test out the lifestyle.
What if the new way of life doesn’t live up to your expectations?
Maybe you thought driving your Ram Promaster on an open road would give you the best time of your life.
Or you might not have thought that you would ever be forced to sleep at Walmart parking lots due to a storm.
To ensure that living in a van is not the wrong answer, but actually the best option for you and your future, then test out the lifestyle.
I’m not talking about going away in a van for a weekend, a week, or a month.
No, you should live in a van for months, and preferably multiple times before you make this life-changing switch.
2 Keep it Clean Every Day
It doesn’t have to take up much time but shaking your duvet and sweeping a little first thing in the morning, makes everything feel much cleaner.
Having a home base that’s tight and neat makes a huge difference to your mental health.
Also when everything is in its place it is much easier to find stuff, and it makes the small space feel larger.
3 Invest in Security
It’s impossible to steal a house, but a van is pretty doable.
Therefore, it is extremely important to invest in security since your van is also your home. A company like Simpli Safe helps van lifers keep their vans and homes safe.
There are also alternative security options out there, and whether you choose one instead of another isn’t important, as long as you just keep your van safe.
4 Have Cash
Although almost any store can handle a credit card, you might run into places or locations, where they only want cash.
And if you have none, you cannot buy your necessities.
Therefore, a great tip is to have a great amount of cash for emergencies like these.
5 Buy an Ergonomic Chair
A bad posture while working from your little comfort zone isn’t worth it.
Yes, you don’t have to worry about ridiculous rent prices in a van, but what you save on rent isn’t worth a ruined back.
Therefore, invest in an ergonomic chair that helps you keep the right posture while you work on your important tasks.
Best Vans To Live In
There are a lot of vans out there: Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Volkswagen, Dodge Promaster, etc.
They all come with their own positive and negative sides, and what you choose is dependent on your needs.
As mentioned before, there is no right answer to how van life should be lived, but it’s essential to have an understanding of what you want your van life to look like.
If you don’t know if you’d be traveling a lot, if you need a full bathroom for a hot shower, and if you haven’t figured out what your van lifestyle should look like, renting a van is the best option.
The Sprinter van is the only one in its class with a 4×4 option; it’s less efficient at gas mileage than other vans.
However, it provides tons of space for bikes, paddleboards, and other items thanks to the factory powertrain.
For those who need a better, more reliable model of modern vans where you can walk around inside, a High-Roof Sprinter is an ideal choice.
They come in two different lengths, the 144” and 170” wheelbase.
The Ford Transit is unique among 2-wheel-drive vans because it can be purchased with all-wheel drive.
This makes it more versatile and more useful than a Sprinter Van, which only has two wheels.
A Ford Transit is also less expensive than a Sprinter in both price and maintenance, and it has a higher interior height.
There are many popular vehicle choices for van life.
These include the Dodge Promaster, which is slightly shorter and has less clearance than a Transit or Sprinter. Both the 136” and 159” wheelbase Promaster models have better mileage and are significantly cheaper than Transits and Sprinters.
It’s also the widest vehicle of the common panel vans. Could be the perfect van for many.
- Van life is cheap
- You can work and make money from your van
- It’s lonely, and you have to be prepared
- Make sure to pay attention to your spending
- The best solution depends on your personal situation
Most Frequently Asked Questions
What are some of the most asked questions?
Is Van Life Safe?
As long as you use common sense, and you are aware of your surroundings, then van life is safer than you think.
Of course, certain places in South America might be more dangerous to travel to than places in the United States.
And you should put more effort into considering where to park your van than if you were just overnight parking your car. But to answer the question, van life is safe.
How Much Does a Van Conversion Cost?
A professional minimal van conversion typically costs around $30,000, but if you want more and want to hire a professional company, it can easily cost $100,000.
And the cost does not include the price of the van.
How do I start van life?
It’s hard to answer, but reading the guide above would be a great start.
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