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How To Budget For Vanlife | Van Conversion & Monthly Budget

Two Roaming Souls Van with doors open showing the inside under bright green trees

When planning to do vanlife full-time, you will need to budget for 2 things: the van conversion and your monthly expenses. When budgeting for a van conversion you will need to decide if you want to convert a van yourself, have it professionally done, or buy a used campervan. 

What are your reasons for wanting to live vanlife? Are you looking to just embark on a several month road trip? Or are you looking to convert to full-time vanlife with no pre-determined end date? This will greatly influence the van you buy or build.

And for your monthly expenses, you will need to estimate how much you think you will spend on average. From our experience and research we help break down the two different categories so you can learn how to budget for vanlife.

Decide on Your Budget

To decide your budget for vanlife, you need to evaluate your finances and what is realistic. Determine how much money you have saved that you are ready to spend, and also what is your income now and expected earnings after you begin living vanlife. You will need to decide if you want to pay for your van (and conversion) out of pocket, or if you want to get a loan to help cover the costs.

In a perfect world, I’m sure everyone would choose to pay for their van out of pocket, to avoid any interest.  But realistically, many people opt for loans or financing to help them purchase a newer or nicer van. Owning your van outright obviously provides you with greater flexibility and freedom. So we recommend targeting vans that are within your means.

Our Story on Budgeting For Vanlife

For example, Jake and I got a feel for the market value of vans by researching online. From that information, we decided that we would budget about $10,000 maximum for the purchase of the vehicle. And after analyzing our finances we decided we needed to pick up jobs to save up money so we could pay for everything in full and not put ourselves into debt. 

Over 6 months working overtime in the hospitality industry, Jake and I saved up about $18,000 to purchase our van and build it out.

But, we basically ran through our budget building out our van conversion and again needed to get jobs before traveling on the road full-time. Fortunately, we had summer jobs lined up in a touristy destination and we were able to cut the cost of housing because we now had our self-converted campervan. Because, lets be honest, not paying rent or mortgage is one of the main perks of vanlife.

So we saved up as much as we could over the summer, with plans to begin a road trip in the fall. The road trip wouldn’t have a pre-determined end date.

But the real question was, how much money could we make and how long could we make it last?

After creating a monthly budget for vanlife (details below), we realized when traveling full-time, we would spend around $1,500-$2,000 total per month.

So we knew the money we made in summer over the span of 3 months would last us about 3 months comfortably without having to work. But after those 3 months we would need to search for jobs again to continue to support our lifestyle. 

How To Budget For A Van Conversion

As mentioned above, when budgeting for your van conversion, you will need to decide if you want to buy a used campervan, have it professionally done or build out your own van conversion.

If you are having trouble on deciding what van is best for you, check out our post: How To Choose A  Van For A Campervan Convserion

Used Campervan

If you decide to buy a used already-converted van then you can head over to Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Conversion Trader, etc. Or check out our in-depth guide for where to buy an already built out camper van conversion.

Once you find some vans you like, see if the price is something you can afford? Do you have the finances to purchase it, will you need to take out a loan, or do you need to save up money to purchase a van of that style? This can be the fastest way to get going, because you eliminate any conversion time.

Our most important piece of advice for buying a used vehicle is arranging for a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI). This will give you a third-party evaluation on the condition of the van. 

Professional Built Out

Having a van professionally built out comes with a higher price tag, because you will now be paying for labor. Especially, Mercedes Sprinter Van Conversions cost on the upper end.

But if you haven’t the slightest idea how to to build your own campervan, it may be the best option for getting your hands on your dream campervan without doing any of the dirty work. You can also usually make design choices to still have a campervan that is custom to you.

If you decide you want a professional van build, check into companies that build out vans to get a quote for your van conversion.

First, check locally if there are van builders in your area.

Other good companies to work with are: Outside Van, Vanlife Customs, Sportsmobile, Dave & Matt Vans, etc. You can refer to our professional builders list in this guide.

Many professional builders have template designs you can choose from, or you can get quoted on your own custom build. 

Build Out Your Own Van Conversion

Inside view of kitchen, closet, bed, etc of Two Roaming Souls Van

Building out your own van conversion is the most inexpensive route. It can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be very time consuming and you might face a huge learning curve. We found Youtube and other blogs to be extremely helpful for learning new skills and techniques for our van build.

When budgeting for your own van conversion, the first item to purchase is the van itself. Many vanlifers purchase an older van because it fits into their budget better and so they don’t have loan or financing payments while on the road.

We love the freedom and peace-of-mind that we feel by owning our campervan outright.

But whatever you do, make sure that you arrange for a mechanic to do a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI). These should be a no-brainer for any used-vehicle purchases.

But other vanlifers may decide a new/lightly used van is right for them, because it has a longer lifespan, less maintenance costs, and you know the history of the vehicle. Just make sure you budget your car payment in the monthly budget (described later in the post).

If you are still trying to decide between getting a new or used van, refer to our in-depth guide for which option might suite you better.

When choosing a van, some important things you will want to take into consideration are:

  • How long do you plan to live in the van?
  • How far you will travel in the van?
  • How much maintenance will the van need over time?
  • How expensive are expected maintenance costs on the van?

Keeping those questions in mind should help you decide if you should get an older vehicle that might only last you a couple of years, or a newer van that can last you many years to come, or something in between.

We went the “something in between” route, because it seemed like a good compromise.

We decided we wanted a van that was less than 10 years old and had much more life to live. After a couple months of searching we finally found a van that fit our criteria.

We found a 2010 Ford E-350 XLT with 154,000 miles on Facebook Marketplace. Because vans usually have a longer lifespan than passenger cars, we knew we would probably have another 150,000+ miles of relatively low-maintenance driving.

Decide what van fits into your budget. Obviously, if you are looking into a new van, you will need to look at dealerships. But if you are looking for a used van, look on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Carfax, Car Gurus, etc.

Once you find a van that fits your needs, check your finances, see if you have enough, need to get a loan or need to save up money over a duration of time. 

How Much Will You Spend on your DIY Van Conversion

Next, you will need to break down a few categories to estimate how much you will spend on your van conversion if you decide to build it out yourself. The categories are:

  • Solar / Electrical
  • Insulation
  • Plumbing
  • Walls
  • Ceiling
  • Flooring
  • Ventilation
  • Kitchen
  • Bedroom
  • Cabinets & Drawers
  • Supplies
  • Miscellaneous

To estimate your van conversion costs, use this spreadsheet.

Click the link –> Click “File” –> Make A Copy –> Then Enter Your Estimated Expenses

Start researching the “big ticket” items that you need to purchase for your van build. This probably includes things like solar, flooring, lumber, fridge, bed, etc. You can use these numbers to get a rough estimate for the total price of your van build. 

Jake and I watched many different van conversion videos on Youtube, and read many articles online on van conversions. We came up with a budget of $15,000-$20,000 (including purchase price of the van).

We wanted our van to feel like a tiny apartment on wheels, so we knew we needed to put a decent amount of time and money into our build out. 

How much did our van conversion cost?

You can use our article on how much our van conversion cost as a guide to calculate how much you think you might spend on your own van conversion. 

But you can definitely build out a van for MUCH less! Check out Two Wandering Soles budget van conversion for under $3,000.

After you come up with a reasonable budget, for your van build out/purchase, we can move onto the next portion: Monthly Expenses.

How To Budget For Vanlife Monthly Expenses:

Emily holding money on the hood of our van

Your monthly expenses will most likely change, because you will no longer have your ordinary bills such as rent, internet/cable, electricity, etc. But you will now have expenses such as gas, car payment, campsites, etc.

Unchanging Monthly Expenses:

We broke up the first section into our monthly expenses that won’t change:

Such as:

  • Cell Phone Bill
  • Student Loans
  • Health Insurance
  • Music Subscriptions
  • TV Subscriptions

Annual Expenses

We added up all our annual expenses that we usually pay in-full. Since these up-front cost covers the span of 1 year, we then divided it by 12 so it didn’t make a random month look extra big.

Such as:

  • Car Registration
  • Car Insurance
  • National Parks Pass

Changing Expenses

Estimate what you think you will spend traveling on the road full-time. It’s best to over-calculate, so you have some leeway! 

Such as:

  • Gas
  • Campsites
  • Laundry
  • Showers
  • Groceries
  • Eating Out
  • Clothing
  • Car Maintenance (oil changes, new tires, windshield wipers, etc)
  • Miscellaneous (park fees, gifts, toiletries, etc)
  • Business Expenses (advertising fees, web hosting, etc) This one might not apply to everyone!

Click here for the FREE Monthly Expenses Spreadsheet 

Click link –> Open File –> Make A Copy –> Enter Your Estimated Expenses

Vanlife Monthly Expenses How Much Does Vanlife Actually Cost

To get an estimate of what a full-time vanlifer spends per month, check out our: Vanlife Monthy Expenses

Don’t forget to add an additional “cushion” for emergencies. You will be driving your little home on wheels, and accidents happen. Your engine might break down or you might blow a tire.

Although some mechanics will let you stay in your van when you have unscheduled maintenance, they also might kick you out and you will get a hotel room.

So make sure you budget for unexpected emergencies! Unfortunately there is no hard-fast rule for how much is enough, but more is always better than less.

Takeaway | How To Budget For Vanlife

Once you have calculated your estimated monthly budget for vanlife, you can now estimate how much money you need. This leads to the problem that nearly everyone is faced with.

How are you going to make money?

Do you have a job that allows you to work remotely? Or do you have certain employable skills that will get you hired along your journey.  Will you work constantly, or do seasonal or contract work? Here is a few job ideas you can do from anywhere in the world.

Jake and I got used to doing seasonal work while living in Vail, Colorado. We had plenty of experience in food service and hospitality, and those skills allow us to find work almost anywhere. We have not worked a few different seasonal jobs around the country. Here are a few season job ideas that are suitable for vanlifers.

Our dream job is to turn this blog into our primary source of income, by providing amazing information and content for our amazing readers! But until then, we plan to pick up seasonal or short-term work to make money. And spend the time in between traveling and enjoying the freedom of vanlife.

So what skills do you have that you can use to earn money for your own vanlife adventure?

Vanlife is a unique lifestyle, and usually comes with adjusting to different expenses. While there are amazing savings available, there are also unexpected costs too. We’ve created a helpful guide for predicting how much vanlife costs.

We hope this information helps you to make a plan and budget for vanlife! 

For additional vanlife budgeting tips, refer to our: Vanlifers & Rv’ers Money Saving Tips

Save ‘How to Budget For Vanlife’ for later

a girl sitting on a van fanning money and another pic of the interior of a camper van with worlds overlay saying how to budget for vanlife
jake holding receipts in his hand wondering how we are going to budget for vanlife
Jake sorting receipts in the van

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Friday 3rd of July 2020

This is amazing!!! WOW! So much great info--thank you! I love your spreadsheets. I am venturing into buying and building a van and trying to weigh options to find what's best for me safety/comfort and budget-wise.

Emily Schroeter

Wednesday 8th of July 2020

Happy to help! We want people to be able to live vanlife within their means, so we hope this helps! :)