Starting Vanlife on a Budget

How to start your vanlife journey on a budget.

Vanlife is for every body AND every budget! Whether you a planning to live full-time or part-time in your van, you can get involved in the vanlife movement without breaking the bank. For many of us, exploring transitional housing options is a must due to the the sudden shift in job opportunities and economic freedom due to COVID-19. And for those who are considering moving into our mobile-homes due to the pandemic, finding affordable ways to make this lifestyle change is necessary. Vanlife is a low-cost option for those of us exploring alternative living options, and can harbor a new and exciting lifestyle change. Below is a short list of budget-friendly ways you can start vanlife on a tight budget!


1: Buy used, older models

You do not have to buy a brand new 2019 Sprinter Van to start your vanlife journey. If you are searching for an affordable way to start your "tiny home of wheels" lifestyle, consider purchasing used or older models of vans, or buses. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great places to search for used and older vehicles, and you will be able to bargain for a lower selling price from many private sellers. Many older models are very reliable. If you are bent on a particular type of model or year, consider buying used. If you are open to older years and a variety of makes or models, explore your cheaper and more affordable options.

2: Consider monthly payments

Not every private seller is open to this, but if you are purchasing from a dealership they may offer monthly payments with low interest rates. This is a way to get the particular make, model or year you want without coming out of pocket all at once. If you are purchasing from a private seller, see if they would consider a down-payment and setting up monthly payments with you.

3: Be open-minded

I know, I know - you want the exact year, make and model that you spent hours researching. But if you are starting your vanlife journey on a budget, you may have to opt for an older year, or a cheaper model. For example, we wanted a 1995 Chevy Van, but found a 1994 Chevy van for $500 off. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but we made the purchase and haven't turned back since!


4: Don't do everything at once!

Don't let social media fool you - you do not have to do a grand demolition with all the bells and whistles. As much as we like to record our lives, take your time and don't be in a rush to rip your van down to the studs and build from scratch.

You can keep the original carpet or flooring, keep the original walling, and hold off on replacing any major asthenics like new windows or special bedding. For the first 6 months of vanlife, we kept the folding back seat and used it as a bed before we purchased our current bedding. You can take your renovations one step at a time and make any updates as your budget allows.

5: Shop for your renovations at second-hand stores

Second-hand stores like the ReStore and the Goodwill are great places to buy your renovations for a fraction of the price. For our van, we purchased our blender, storage containers, and our decorations from the Goodwill.! Before you pay full price for your tiny-home needs, see if you can find them at the second-hand store first!


6: Search for free or low-cost water sources

Water comes in all types and prices. Avoid purchasing 1 gallon at a time, which usually costs about $1.00 per gallon. Avoid using plastic and wasting money b opting for a 6 gallon water jug and refill at water-stations usually found at grocery stores for between 30 cents to 45 cents a gallon. (this is the 6 gallon jug we purchased) Also, take advantage of getting free drinking water from fast-food restaurants drive-thru's, and reserve the water in your refillable container for washing dishes, light bathing and cleaning.

7: Use a friend or families house for bathing and laundry

Arrange a date with a close friend or family to shower and do laundry with once a week. A gym-membership at Planet Fitness is $10.00, and laundry-mats can get expensive over time. But nothing beats free! See if your friend or family member can offer their shower for free, and if you can do your laundry at their house (all you have to pay for is the soap!)


8: Look for free internet

Search for free WI-FI at coffee shops or stores that provide free access to their WI-FI.

9: Use a really good cooler to avoid food waste

Purchase a YETI or IGLOO cooler that will keep your food fresh and cold in order to avoid throwing away spoiled foods. Tossing perfectly good food that has spoiled due to poor storage is a quick way to lose money. These coolers may cost a lot initially, but this investment will save you money along the road.

10: Search for free campsites

Check out our blog: How to Boondock for FREE


11: Keep it in the neighborhood

Try to avoid super long road trips, especially unexpected one's. Keep your adventures within the local area, state or region - depending on what your interests are. This will also help you avoid paying extra in tolls and will preserve the quality of your vehicle as this will keep you from putting excessive wear and tear on your vehicle - which can cause surprise and costly trips to the mechanic.

12: Create a gas budget and stick with it

Create a weekly gas budget and plan your adventures accordingly. Be sure to include trips to the grocery store, showering and laundry, and places where you cash-in on the free internet. The best way to stick to this budget is to map out the places you go to the week prior, and avoiding any spontaneous road-trips. Of course, it's all about balance. So if you want to take a 2 hour trip to somewhere amazing, you may have to rearrange some of your other daily stops as well.

13: Check out the gas-buddy app

Don't you just hate it when you fill up your tank with what you think is the best price in town, only to find a gas station 10 cents cheaper just down the street? The Gas Buddy app allows you to check out gas prices within a certain range. This app is great for seeking out low gas prices and helping you choose which gas station fits your budget.

What are some of the ways you save money on the road? Comment below!

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