One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is: “How much does van life cost?” It’s also one of the most difficult to answer. The truth is: it depends. Van life is different for everyone, and so is the price.
That being said, we’re going to give you a run-down of three van lifers with different backgrounds making it work on the road. We hope this will help give you a reference point for how finances can be managed living in a van.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Campervan?
First things first, the type of vehicle you choose to buy is going to be the largest up-front cost to van life. We’ve written a breakdown of what type vehicle you should buy to help figure this out.
Some people move into the vehicle that they currently own. They do minimal to no conversion, and enjoy the lifestyle just fine.
Others spend $45,000 purchasing a 4WD Sprinter. Then add another $15,000 on a high-tech campervan conversion. Despite what you see on Instagram, this is not the norm.
Keep in mind, just like furniture in a house, you can spend as little or as much as you want on a conversion. Solar power, refrigerators and self-contained toilets are all comforts and may not be necessary to the lifestyle. Build within your budget and save a little bit for emergencies.
We bought our 1996 Dodge Ram Van for $3,700 on Craigslist and spent another $5,000 converting it with a queen sized bed, fridge, solar power, and general repairs. Here are some pictures.
How Much Does Van Life Cost Per Month?
In a van you can get away with no rent. But there’s still food, gas and insurance to pay. For some, van life leads to a significant reduction in expenses. These are the people who utilize free campsites, cook their own meals every night, and don’t splurge on entertainment.
On the other hand, paying for campsites, crisscrossing the country or visiting tourist attractions can quickly add up to even more than your traditional lifestyle.
Van Life On $850 Per Month
Rob from Little House On The Road lives in a pop-up camper with his wife. Together, they aim to maintain a monthly budget of $850. To achieve this goal, they always stay at free campsites, travel infrequently to reduce gas, and get creative with meals to keep the price low.
Rob and his wife do not have a solar power system in their vehicle. Instead, they power their devices using a generator that runs about four hours per day. While some people certainly can go lower, $850 per month is a realistic budget to set if you’re looking to do van life on the cheap.
CheapRVLiving.com is a great resource for budget-friendly information. This website highlights numerous case studies of people making life work in low-cost situations. They also have forums and members that live in every type of vehicle from small cars to minivans.
Van Life On $1200 Per Month
Alexander Travelbum has been on the road for two years, and this video discusses the expenses he pays with his girlfriend. We think these two offer a good representation of a comfortable adventure budget.
They cook most of their own food, eat out occasionally and buy the rare souvenir. Most of their entertainment is cheap or free and includes visits to National Parks and outdoor activities. Their budget comes out to around $1,200 per month.
Van Life On $2,000+ Per Month
The Minimal Millennials both work remotely and are able to splurge a little more when it comes to spending. We think this video is a pretty good breakdown of how much it takes to live comfortably and have some fun on the road.
Overall the Minimal Millennials spend about $2,100 per month. This includes insurance, investments, coffee, groceries, gym memberships, internet, eating out, and gas.
Because they both work on the road, they are able to eat out more regularly and spend money on tourism. They also tend to travel longer distances between locations and move frequently to different areas.
Health Insurance On The Road
One thing to keep in mind is the first two videos do not include health insurance in their budgets. Health insurance is a complicated process and the price is going to vary wildly from individual to individual. It’s important to factor your own health care costs into the equation.
We are not healthcare experts, and because the laws change so frequently we’re not going to do in-depth discussion on the costs of health insurance.
Personally, we are insured through our home state’s healthcare exchange. There are also shared options to look into. The Minimal Millennials are on a group plan through TheHealthShareLady.com for example.
Don’t forget Emergency Expenses!
One thing people forget to take into account is emergency vehicle repairs that inevitably occur. It doesn’t take too many Youtube videos before you come across a van lifer that has been put out a day or a week waiting for parts to come in. These parts will also need to be replaced, so labor costs should be factored into your monthly budget as well.
Unlike in a house where if the dishwasher breaks you can live without it for a few weeks; your vehicle is your home. If your van breaks down and you don’t have an emergency fund you are out of house *and* transportation.
At the very least, you should ideally have enough set aside to get your vehicle towed to a mechanic and perhaps a cheap hotel for a few days if something needs to be replaced.
This is another area where vehicle selection comes into play. Inexpensive vehicles also tend to be less expensive to repair. The motor on a Mercedes Sprinter van can cost as much as $15,000 to replace, for example. See our post on types of van to live in for more info.