Van Life Is Cheaper Than Renting an Apartment, but It Ain't Cheap

Van life is a good life, but it's not necessarily a cheap life.EXPAND
Van life is a good life, but it's not necessarily a cheap life.
Kayla Andersen

When I tell someone that I live in my 1998 Chevrolet AstroVan, one of the first responses I usually get is, “Are you crazy???" followed by, “You must save so much money not paying rent!” Now that I have lived in the van for a month, I have been able to formulate a budget. And there are certain financial downsides to my new way of life.

The first big expense I’ve noticed is food. An apartment has certain luxuries, like a kitchen. In Van Life, and in my van in particular, I have no such amenities.

I currently budget $20 per day for food, coffee and the occasional cocktail. I can enjoy a meal with friends when the opportunity arises, and I am able to splurge on a healthy salad when my body craves one. While some days I don’t spend a dime, on others I spend more than my daily allotment.

Another expense that accompanies my particular situation is the $51 a month I pay for a ten-by-ten storage unit that houses all my possessions in a safe and secure place. And since I no longer have the luxury of a shower, I decided to join a $10-per-month gym. It's a spacious gym with a really nice locker room. When I need to shower, this is my go-to, and for ten dollars a month, you can’t beat it!

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Now that Van Gogh (short for Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen) is my home, I have noticed that I usually have to fill up the gas tank twice a week on average instead of just once. (Finding those parking spots at the end of the night certainly burns through gas!) This adds about $160 per month.

Then there is maintenance. Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen currently has over 263,000 miles on it. You read that right! I am reminded of this every time I turn Van Gogh on. She is a rumbler, though a quiet one, and does have a rattle. But she's reliable and trustworthy.

I am aware that the van will not run forever. My goal is to get up to 300,000 miles and hopefully have it last through next summer. Financially, this means that I need to put aside “just-in-case” money for if and when the van decides to do anything crazy, like break down. I moved into the van with a solid $1,000 in a savings account solely for potential van needs, and hope to contribute to it each month.

All in all, my total expenses for Van Life are less than what I paid in rent alone at my last apartment, barely reaching $800 per month. These expenses are incredibly flexible, and my costs could easily be lowered if I did certain things like invest time in meal-prepping and make my own coffee every morning. On the flip side, they could also be much higher if I wasn’t mindful about spending money.

My budget suits my needs. It is exactly enough for me to be able to spend time out of the van if I need, eat what my body is craving, and to have emotional security knowing that I have enough money left over to consistently contribute to my savings account just in case Van Gogh decides to act a fool. I have my hygienic bases covered with the gym membership, and I have a central location for all of my possessions that is safe and secure. Most important, I have an incredible red van that I get to call my home.

What do I do with the extra money that I have now that I live in a van? Well, I am fortunate enough to have a job that doesn’t mind giving me a month off here and there, and in a few days I'm flying to India! It certainly gives me peace of mind knowing that I won’t have to pay rent during the month that I’ll be across the world. Cheers to Van Life!

What are you interested in knowing about van life? Let us know in a comment or at editorial@westword.com. Follow Kayla Andersen's Facebook page for updates on van life.

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