Is the Van Life Affordable?

It's not uncommon to have days when you want to throw your hands up in the air and wish you could leave it all behind. Move.org found that ​25 percent​ of those they surveyed would be willing to live in van for six months to a year, and ​52 percent​ said that they've considered it. Van life has to be cheaper than living in a city or suburbia, right? Yes – and no. Costs can add up.

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The Concept of Van Life

Van life is exactly what it sounds like: You leave your landlocked home to travel full-time, living in cramped quarters somewhere in the neighborhood of ​125 square feet​. This means giving up a few perks of daily life that you might take for granted, like privacy in the bathroom area. But some of those perks might be dispensable when you think about it. You're giving them up in the name of freedom, rediscovering nature and living on the open road.

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You'll have ongoing "home" costs as well, with some of them the same or even pricier than if you had stayed home. But again, you have options.

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You’ll Need a Van

Is van life affordable? You'll save all that money you've been spending on rent or mortgage payments, but it isn't free.

First, you'll need a van that's large enough to live in. A Dodge ProMaster will run you about ​$33,000​ as of ​2021​, while a 4x4 Mercedes can cost as much as ​$56,000​. But you can finance the purchase and you'd probably have a car payment if you stayed home, too. And you don't have to buy brand new wheels. You can save some money by buying a used van.

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Consider also​: How to Check a Used Car's History for Free

You're probably looking at an investment of ​$35,000​ to ​$50,000​ for your home on wheels because you have to convert it into living space, too. On one hand, you'd be hard pressed to find a house for sale at that price, but it works out to just under $3,000 a month in rent if you were to lease a home for a year.

Converting the Van

Converting your van into living space will probably cost another ​$5,000​, and possibly as much as ​$40,000​ or more if you hire someone to do the job rather than do it yourself. It all comes down to how much you're willing to live without, but some things are must-haves. You'll need storage space, a refrigerator and a cooktop. You'll need an energy source, either a battery or a hookup for electricity. And some extras will just improve your days, like an awning for outside relaxation when you're camping.

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Ongoing "Home" Costs

You'll have ongoing "home" costs as well, with some of them the same or even pricier than if you had stayed home. But again, you have options.

You can hunt up free wi-fi in places like libraries and internet cafes, or you can pay for hotspots. But those cafes are going to cost you a few bucks, too, because you can't just sit there with your laptop and not purchase food or drink. You'll have campground fees as well, usually about ​$15​ to ​$30​ a night, although some sites are free.

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You'll need to shower and do laundry, and this means stops at laundromats, paid campsites, or buying a membership to a national gym so you can drop in at locations and get clean. You'll still need groceries, and you'll probably still want to eat in restaurants now and again. You'll also have the cost of health insurance, just as you would if you had stayed put, and you'll still have to pay for your phone service as well.

Consider also:How to Eat on $10 a Day

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The Bottom Line

Van life is almost always less expensive than maintaining a stationary home even with all these extras – as little as half the cost when all the math is calculated. It comes down to how much you're willing to rough it and what you're willing to live without.

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