How We Afford VanLife
Money is an awkward subject to talk about. Everyone wants it, only some have it. We have decided to neglect the rules and talk about the elephant in the room. We want to give you the purest and most unfiltered peek inside of VanLife. (From our perspective, of course.)
Let's talk about the pre-adventure savings plan we embarked on. Besides gathering all of our spare change from numerous hiding places: couch, vehicles, etc. We also took some real actions to save for our trip.
There are 1,001 ways to save money, but here are a few of our favorite.
1. Stop eating out. We have always enjoyed trying new restaurants and having drinks with friends at all the hip places in Indianapolis, unfortunately, it adds up quickly. Once we started planning our trip we limited ourselves to only 1 treat a week or sometimes none at all. It's an easy way to save A LOT of money. So what if you have already cut out eating out? We have more ideas!
2. Qapital. We wish this was a paid plug, but this is just our honest good opinion. Qapital is an app that helps you save all your monies by setting up rules on your spending. There are several different rules to choose from but I used the following:
$1 Round-Up Rule - This rounds any purchase up to the nearest dollar and puts the extra change away into savings. For example, if I spent $1.40, $.60 would go directly into the savings account. Honestly, every little bit helps and it adds up quickly.
52 WeekRule - Save $1 on week 1, save $2 on week 2 and so on for 52 weeks!
I started using this app 4 months before we left and I was able to save over $500! An added bonus is that when your checking account gets low the rules automatically stop until your balance is back up!
If you're interested in signing up use this link and we'll both get $5!
3. Ibotta. This is another app we use religiously and aren't getting paid to talk about. Ibotta can be used at the grocery store, shopping online, taking an uber and so much more. You simply redeem cash rewards for items you bought by scanning your receipt and the money is deposited to your Ibotta account. You can then turn the money into gift cards or get it directly deposited into your bank account. Between the two of us we have earned more than $200.00
If you're interested in signing up use this code and you will start with $10!
Referral code: anlwlrv
4. Don't go overboard! What we mean by this is not buying a ton of stuff you think you need before you ever step foot out the door. We were absolutely inspired by so many stellar van builds we saw online that we were ready to buy tons of accessories we thought we needed at the drop of a hat. Luckily for us, cooler heads prevailed and we decided to skip purchasing a lot of those things until we got out on the road and could tell if we really needed them or not. One thing we thought we needed at one point and ended up not buying was a solar setup. They look really nice to have but we found that a cheap inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, a giant rechargeable USB battery and a small 17 watt solar panel was more than enough for us. While we were driving we made sure to plug in the computers, phones, rechargeable batteries and anything else we needed. We really wanted to buy a high dollar cooler or a fancy refrigerator but we instead decided to use the good ol' Coleman cooler that came with the van! Yes, we did have to spend a little bit on ice but the up front savings were huge! We may upgrade our power and refrigeration system someday but for now what little we have works just as we need it to!
Thankfully we don't have any student loans to pay off or any daunting credit card debt. We both had full-time positions that enabled us to save more money than we were spending. We know not everyone is this fortunate, but if you have a dream to travel then we encourage you to do everything possible to make it happen! Start by saving every penny, dime and nickel!
One thing that may surprise you is that it cost us the same (or less) to travel full-time than to live in one place.
Here are the categories in our expense budget in order of most expensive to least and then we'll how much we budgeted and actually spent
1. Food (groceries, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, lots of coffee shops.)
2. Gas (Unfortunately, Luna isn't electric.)
3. Vehicle Maintenance (this includes insurance, oil changes and repairs.)
4. Erin's Car Payment
5. Fun! (entertainment and experience spending)
6. Phones & Data Plan
As you can see, we don't have to worry about rent or mortgages or monthly bills! Luna is paid off and so our "rent payment" are repairs to keep her running!
Okay, let's talk digits!
With all our expenses listed above we budgeted $2,723/month or $1,361 per person. For three months: $8,169 or $4,084 per person.
Now ask yourself, would you pay $4000 to travel the US for three months?! YES! The answer is yes!
How well did we do on our budget, you ask?
We had to make a few more repairs than expected and with gas well over $3.50/gallon in California we went over our gas budget as well. During our last few weeks we spent more money on food and drinks also causing us to go over our budget.
What we budgeted: $8,169
What we spent: $8,722
You can easily spend much more or much less if you want! You will just need to prioritize the things that are important to YOU. This is just the budget that worked for us!
So let's talk about how to save while you're traveling!
We always say there's a difference between traveling and vacation. We are not on vacation so we are not living like we are.
1. Camp for free. We look for free campsites, free public land, Walmarts, and stay with friends/family when we can. We only paid for camping 4 times in three months! That's a HUGE saving!
2. Opt for nature. You don't always need to do an expensive tour to see beautiful sights. When we visited Pictured Rocks in Michigan we opted for the beautiful 10 mile hike instead of the over-crowded boat tour. Do your research before you arrive and find the best way to see the sights without spending all the money.
3. Hit the grocery store (use Ibotta and also see #5). Be sure to stow away enough money to indulge in special foods that are unique to the area. Fresh seafood on the coast, BBQ from the BBQ Belt, Potatoes in Idaho... you get the picture.
4. Work remotely if you can! Fortunately, one of us was able to work around 15 hours a week from the road. The extra income helped pay for groceries and gas. There are a lot of opportunities to work remotely. Find a way to use your skills!
5. Take advantage of credit card points. We set up a credit card to get 3x the points on gas stations - with this being on of our largest expenses we were getting a lot of cash back! The key is to only do it for things you were going to purchase anyway.
If you have any specific budget questions, feel free to ask us anything! Please subscribe to our blog! :)
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