Last Update: 6/29/2016

How Much Does Living in a Van Cost?

Fuck it. You’re ready to live in a van down by the river. But how much does van life really cost? Here’s a breakdown of Vanholio’s real-life monthly budget as a full-time vandweller.

Bare-Bones Monthly Budget

My basic monthly expenses are $821 (Line Item 16). Yes, you read that right – about $800. That ain’t even that extreme. Lots of vandwellers run a van life on that kind of money, some for even less than $600 per month (see below).

2. Auto, Gas & Maintenance – I come up with this figure using AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” brochure. Vanholio has a minivan, so I used the large sedan numbers. My total yearly estimated cost is for 10,000 miles, divided back down to a monthly figure. ‘Course, this don’t figure eventual replacement cost of my rig.

3. Auto, Insurance – This is for full coverage under GEICO. Besides being older than 25 and having a good driving record, Vanholio set up his official residency in a cheap ZIP code. Why the fuck pay more? I live everywhere, so I can live anywhere, so far as The Man knows. Compare costs at “Average Car Insurance Rates by Neighborhood” on the website.

9. Groceries / Household
– This is a bit high but not crazy. First off, Vanholio is a big man. He also likes to eat out once in awhile, gets drinks and snacks at convenience stores, and indulges in a few luxuries. I could be more frugal, but fuck it. Also, this line item includes my OTC drugs, laundry soap, grooming items, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and dog food – basically all that shit I get at a grocery store. Don’t have any fucking idea what you spend on food? Start guesstimating using Official USDA Food Plans price data.

10. Internet / Phone
– $20 is pretty goddamn amazing, huh!? It’s actually a bit less, but I have a buffer for equipment replacement. I spend $11.20 per month for a Page Plus flip phone on the $12 plan, but I get a little discount for automatic payments. For internet, I got one of those flashed MiFis off Ebay that give you unlimited 3G Verizon wireless for $5 a month (Google ‘em!).

Best Money-Management!
12. Mail Service / Shipping – I’ve got Traveling Mailbox for mail, which scans in my mail for me to read online or forwards it, if I need the piece. I pay $20 per month for a premium address. I factored in another $10 for other shipping expenses that come up.

13. Medical, Out-of-Pocket – Vanholio is living under the minimum for expanded Medicar, $16, 394, so his medical insurance and deductibles are pretty cheap.

17. Federal Income Tax / FICA – It’s one thing to budget spending, but I also needed to figure out how much I need to earn before Uncle Sam gets his cut. Otherwise, I’d be short. It takes $899 in gross earnings to have $821 left in my check.’s tax estimator does all the crazy math. Play with it. My figures are based on no state or local income tax, income from a job vs. self-employment, and just one deduction (myself).

Advanced Monthly Budget

You need money for extras and emergencies. Plus, you need to save for the future. So this budget works all that in. And again, it figures what I need to earn gross before the taxman takes a cut.

17. Cushion, 20% – I added 20% to my basic monthly expenses for fun, replacing things, gifts, the unexpected, etc.

18. Savings, 30% – Looking around the ‘net, most personal finance experts recommend you save 30% of your income for “retirement.” Don’t know that I’ll retire as I’m halfway outta the game already, but I figure saving and investing at a decent rate is just smart. At the least, I gotta replace the rig someday and need cash saved up in case I’m unemployed, by choice or not. Plus, I figure I can eventually live off investments instead of work. And I won’t need to worry about what the fuck happens to Social Security!

Hey, Beer Vanholio! He works hard on this blog.

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  1. Hello, for your 10k miles / year, where does that effectively take you? As someone who has led a stationary life, I'm trying to envision if 10k / yr takes you from coast to coast w/ some puttering around in towns, maybe from the Northeast to the Southeast following the good weather? Is it more so in one region like the Southwest? Tough to figure out for a guy who's had a job with commuting mileage, living in one spot for the past 15 yrs. :) Thx.

    1. Oh, I guesstimated my likely round-trip next year between southern Texas and Wyoming. Google Maps said that was about 6,000 miles. From there I added 50% for side trips and rounded up to 10K. It ain't scientific or nothing.

  2. Forgot the subscribe for future replies. Thx.

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  4. A year later, I'm actually livin' a little cheaper than this. But I'd say under a grand is very, very doable. Even under $500 is doable, but not for many.

  5. $175 here. $10 insurance, $5 propane, $5 maint, $10 dog food, $75 gas, calling cards, $5 registration, $20 heat, food and health insurance - SNAP + medicaid for making under $13.5k annually. Then $50 splurging