Mountaintops, sandy beaches, traveling from city to city, experiencing new places every few days, and the feeling of ultimate freedom; that is part of the vanlife dream. The question I had when making a plan for vanlife was how was I going to save all this money for my vanlife goal.
When we began to plan for vanlife we were so stressed about how we were going to save money. At the time we lived in Seattle and were paying $2200 in rent, had two car payments, student loans, and honestly did not have a ton of expendable income. Despite this, we were able to save up enough to buy a van and head to North Carolina to build it out. We ended up doing this a second time in North Carolina, even though I had just started a new business, and Shawn had started a new job.
If we can do this with limited income, I know you can too. You will need to get serious about your goals and make saving money a priority. To help save for vanlife dream read below to see my top tips and ideas for saving money.
Table of Contents
Decide on a Money Goal
Before deciding you need to save, you need to know what you are saving for and how much you need to save. This means choosing your van, how you will work on the road or how much in savings you need, and how much the build is going to cost you. Planning ahead like this will allow you to prepare properly so there are no major upsets down the road.
Once you decide on a money goal you can properly plan how long it will take you and what you need to do to make your money goal a reality.
Create a Budget
First, to get started I recommend looking into your spending habits. Download an app like Mint, this app gives you a categorized break down of all your spending so you can see how much and where your money is going. Often we don’t even realize how much we are spending on certain areas in our lives. We forget about certain subscriptions, and they can quickly add up.
Then I recommend sitting down and creating an actual budget. Break down your fixed costs (things that will be the same every month ex: rent, car payment) vs your variable costs (groceries, gas money, etc). See if there are ways you could get rid of a fixed cost or if you can lower your variable costs. For Shawn and I, we found ways to cut back on groceries, and eating out turned into a treat instead of a weekly habit.
7 Ways to Cut Back to Save Money for Vanlife
This was always one of my least favorite things people would mention when speaking about trying to save money. No one wants to look into their habits and see that some of your most favorite things are keeping you from your savings goals. This is why, if you truly want to save for vanlife, you have to be willing to give up some of your habits that are draining your account. Likely, these will be things you have heard before, but this is a list of things we looked into when we wanted to start saving for van life.
1. Get Rid of Your Gym Membership
I specifically remember an episode of How I Met Your Mother where the gang all gets a gym membership. Ted when speaking to his kids, makes fun of gym memberships, saying something along the lines of “In 2005 we used to pay to workout, in these things called gyms”. I remember immediately feelings of shame mostly because we never even used our membership. At one point we were paying $65 a month each for a membership we NEVER USED. Even if you are religious about going to the gym, you could consider ways to cut the cost of going to the gym.
BUT if you really need to have a gym membership, then my suggestion is to look up Planet Fitness. If there is one in your area, it is around $23 a month which gives you nationwide access and you will likely use it to shower on the road. You could also start with the basic package which is only $10 month and upgrade to the VIP membership which allows you to use any location in the United States.
There are many ways to workout from home:
2. Daily Coffee
Something that stuck out to Shawn and I was our coffee habit. Living in Seattle, we LOVED coffee! Not only did we love our daily trips to the coffee shops, but we also loved our baristas. Seeing them every day, they begin to feel like friends, and friends tip friends. Add that to our love of breakfast burritos or whatever breakfast item we feel like that day, two $4 coffees quickly becomes $20 in breakfast, a few times a week. I won’t do the math, but let’s just say, I have no idea where that kind of money even came from.
To make up for our artisan coffee, Shawn and I decided to learn how to make our own delicious latte. After some research, we got an Aeropress and then our wonderful friends gifted us a french press. We learned what temperature and grind size coffee should be for each different method and the difference between coffee blends. It took effort and a little discipline to cut back on one of our favorite things but in the end, it made a huge difference. Making and enjoying our coffee is Shawn’s absolute favorite part of any day. This step by far was one of the best things that helped us get our savings up quicker than we expected.
So maybe you won’t save a few hundred dollars as we did, but if you do love coffee and find yourself spending more money on coffee than you should, consider making it at home. It’s a pretty quick and easy way to save money for vanlife.
3. Cut the Cable
Ok so most Millennials don’t have cable, so this might not apply to you. But if you have cable or DirectTV, GET RID OF IT! There is a world of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video just waiting for you. Most shows you watch on cable/satellite tv can be watched on these apps, and if you really want to save money, ask a friend or a family member if you can share their account. They can make it a family account and you can share the cost. You will save so much money and probably won’t even notice that you cut out cable.
4. Check Your Subscriptions
I am extremely guilty of having too many subscriptions that auto-renew every month. Dropbox, Canva, Apple Music, Adobe, I love them all. Especially, if you work online then it can be difficult to avoid these subscriptions. I’m not telling you to get rid of them all, however, you should know exactly what subscriptions you have and if you TRULY need them. I personally keep a spreadsheet of all of my subscriptions and that way I know what I am paying for and can constantly review whether I need them or not.
5. Get Rid of Your Car
Ok, ok I know you probably think I’ve lost my mind on this one. Obviously, not everyone can get rid of their car. I completely understand that, however, just consider if it’s a possibility. Maybe you live in a big city, and hardly ever use your car except to go out of town. Or maybe if you have a hefty car payment then you could use the equity and buy a cheaper car until you get your van. Not to mention, once you buy your van, you can use that to get around while you are still working full-time and not living in it.
Also, don’t forget once it is time to hop in your van and ride off into the sunset, if you have equity in your car, then that will go right into your savings if you sell it!
6. Get a Cheaper Apartment
When Shawn and I left our apartment in Seattle we were paying $2200 a month in rent. Although we were unsuccessful, one of the first things we did was try to find a cheaper place to live while we saved up and built out our van. If a cheaper apartment isn’t an option, consider Airbnb-ing a spare room if available or even getting a roommate. Depending on your situation (partner or pets) you may be able to easily lower your monthly rent payment.
In the end, building a van on the side of a Seattle street was also honestly not ideal. So when my brother and his wife offered to let us move into his spare bedroom in Greensboro, North Carolina, we knew it was the right choice.
I know moving back in with your parents, family, or a roommate may not seem like a dream scenario but truly when I look back on the time I got to spend with my 5-year-old niece and the memories we shared together, I know it was a time I will always hold close to my heart. Try to take a step back and recognize that moving in with family is not regressing, instead, you are doing this to get closer to a huge goal and life endeavor.
7. Sell Your Belongings
You are about to move into 60 square feet with very limited storage, your whole life now cannot fit into your life on the road. This can feel stressful but truly it is freeing. It is amazing to discover how much of your stuff you do not need. This being said it is time to cut down on some of your clothing, furniture, kitchenware, and decorations. It is a great opportunity to sell your nicer items and make some money for vanlife. Give yourself plenty of time ahead of when you move into your van so you can sell your items at the price you want, instead of a discounted price because you are in a rush. Places to sell your belongings: Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Mercari.
Get a Second Job
Do you really want to make a dent in your vanlife savings goal? It’s time to get a second job, my friend. I know what you are thinking, “How will I possibly have time for a second job?”. I get it, you are working a full-time job and trying to build a conversion van. However, there are so many jobs out there that will work around your schedule for when you do have days off.
This is especially helpful if you are not yet working on your van build and are in full savings mode.
Easy to Get Part-Time Jobs
- Brand Ambassador – A brand ambassador or promotional model, is someone who represents a company in the public. For example, someone who is handing out samples at Costco, likely works for the company that they are representing, NOT Costco. They will usually get paid by the hour or gig ($13-$25 an hour). A more fun example is working at a music festival representing a brand like Pandora. You might be running a fun “experience” booth or handing out free swag. To find these types of jobs I recommend going to Facebook and joining some Facebook groups, “Promotional Model of X (insert city here) and companies will post when they have openings in the area.
- Retail Work
- Local Shops
- Bike Shops
- Book Stores
Starting to save money for vanlife doesn’t have to be painful, you can find small ways to cut back that lead to big savings. Give yourself the time needed to save up enough money for vanlife so you can truly enjoy yourself once you get on the road.