Being on the road for a long period of time can quickly become costly if you are not managing it properly. Learning how to reduce your costs while living on a van is important. Whether you are on a tight budget or saving up to start a van life full-time, or you want your money to last as long as possible, the following are some tips that you can apply so that it will help you cut back on your spending and will eventually make the most out of your van life finances.
1. Stay Away from Expensive Campsites: Best to Find Free Ones
While on the road, you don’t have to pay for electricity, internet, cable, rent, or mortgage. So, there is no need to pay for temporary accommodations. Camping fees can add up over time, especially when choosing national parks or privately-owned campgrounds. Plenty of campgrounds will cost around $30 a night or even more, so cutting back on paid camping is a great way to save money.
When you do the math, $30 per night at 30 days can add up to $900 a month or over $10,000 per year when you are driving from one campground to the next. These prices are more than some of the rents or mortgages in regular homes.
Luckily, there are free campsites available, and you can easily find them using different tools. Now, these free campsites are not amazing. No matter how you picture the place, dispersed camping, boondocking, backcountry camping, dry camping, or wild camping, the main goal is to find a spot where you can admire the scenic outdoors.
Remember that nature and wildlife are priceless, and until you experience them, you will appreciate their value. If you do plan on staying in the great outdoors, make sure you respect what you get for free and follow the leave no trace behind rule at all times.
I’m not saying you should not stay in fancy campgrounds or RV parks at all. It is nice to splurge once and a while, but you will definitely save more money when you choose to stay clear from them daily.
2. Cook Your Meals More: Eating Out Is Expensive
Trying out the new restaurant that just opened or food that is new to your eyes is amazing. It is totally understandable how difficult it is to say no to fancy cocktails or fancy restaurants that may come your way. Van lifers can easily get tempted to eat out at restaurants or buy fast food as it is the easier way.
Not only can it burn a hole in your wallet, but it can also be bad for your health. Let’s say you are a couple that eats out about twice a week at a sit-down restaurant, and you can easily be spending $400 a month just for the eight meals. With coffee shops, you will be spending $4 on latte when you can make your own fresh coffee.
You can achieve a great cup of coffee with the best coffee maker for vanlife. Here is an article that I have written for you. Now, these are coffee makers for RVs, but they can also be great for your van.
Having the ability to cook on the road, whether it is in your van kitchen or outside the camper, is one of the best benefits that you can get when living in a van. Take the time to learn how to cook if you are not a fan of it and create your own meals to save you money.
Although eating out can be fun, it will be more enjoyable to spend time with family or friends by cooking a meal together in your van. Whether you are in your van kitchen or outside surrounded by beautiful nature, cooking is the best way to go.
You buy a few groceries at least a few days at a time and plan out what your meals will be daily so you can ensure you have what you need when you have camped away from the grocery store.
Channeling out your inner chef and making the most out of your fridge, cooktop, or induction while on the road will save you tons of money per month.
3. Grocery or General Shopping: Make Sure You Do It Smartly
Aside from cooking more, planning out your meals will help you focus your grocery shopping on saving money and only getting what you need. You can stay clear from impulsive buying, which can cost you a lot more money. Make it a habit to choose generic brands or things on sale whenever you are shopping.
You can also eat less or no meat, if you can, and avoid processed or prepared foods or expensive drinks. Shopping at Costco when you are traveling on a van is also a great way to save you money monthly. They have quality snacks, bars, and other stables that you need while on the road.
For your groceries, you have to have extra space in your van to put it all away. You need to find foods that are van-friendly and not perishable when you don’t have a reliable fridge to work with. Shop for dried fruits, nuts, prepackaged uncooked pasta, and so much more. You can also add dehydrated fruits, veggies, or even meat.
Aside from Costco, you can also go to Walmart or Grocery Outlet if they are on the way to your destination. When you purchase in bulk, you can get great deals and discounts. Another benefit that you can get is free overnight parking for camping.
4. Don’t Travel During Peak Season: Cheaper Prices
If you travel in the highest of the season, expect to pay premium prices. Weekends sometimes during the low season, can get price hikes when there is a major holiday or event that is going on. Before you head out to your next destination, you need to make sure that you do your research first.
Traveling during the low season or at the end of a very high season can save you a small fortune, but you will still be saving money. You may have to compromise on weather conditions and other activities that might not work if you don’t travel during peak season.
There is no point in going to a location to ski when there is little to no snow. If you are on a road trip that’s on a budget, make sure that you time it right, and your hard-earned cash can last longer.
5. When Eating Out: Eat Like A Local
When you arrive at a new town and would like to dine out, make sure that you keep an eye out where the locals dine out. At most times, these restaurants are most likely to offer authentic and quality food for a great price. Aside from the savings that you will have, you will also get an authentic dining experience.
6. Personal Hygiene: Make Sure You Pay Less For It
It is important that you learn how to take care of your ins and outs as well as stay fresh on the road to living successfully in your van. If you decide not to include a bathroom or a toilet, or a collapsable rinse station in your build, make sure that you familiarize yourself with public bathrooms, gyms, and rec centers in nearby areas.
Even though private businesses may have restrooms available, many vanlifers often feel obligated to buy something even if the restrooms don’t follow a customers-only rule. Now, the small purchases can add up quickly, so looking for toilets at public parks, camping areas, trailheads can avoid the feeling obligated to spend money in private facilities.
Plenty of community rec centers and gyms offer a ‘shower only’ option, so you don’t have to purchase a full drop-in pass to use their bathroom facilities.
7. Fan of the Booze: Make Sure to Cut Back On It
Now, the cost of buying alcohol can add up quickly and can go unnoticed. If you choose to have a fancy cocktail with a tip, the cost can go from $6 to $15, depending on what kind of bar you are in. If you do enjoy drinking alcohol, it is best to mix your own drinks and buy your beer or wine in grocery stores rather than restaurants.
You can spend happy hour with your friends and family inside your bar with a beautiful view of what mother nature has to offer. All you have to do is just hunker down for the night and not drive anywhere after your drinking session with your loved ones.
8. Maximize Your Fuel Efficiency: Find Out the Different Ways on How
Since you will constantly be on the road, fuel will be one of the top expenses on your list. You will need to find a way to maximize your fuel efficiency to help you save money fully. Now, there are a couple of ways how you can do this. First, it is important that you plan your route carefully as it can save you the trouble of driving around not knowing where you would go.
Make sure that you drive conservatively and keep your tires filled up at the right pressure at all times. Try to move slowly and explore places more deeply. With this, you will have more time to enjoy each place that you visit and will spend less time driving, which means you will spend less money on fuel.
Try downloading the Gas Buddy app, which will help you find the cheapest gas that is near your location. It is never fun paying for fuel for $3.35 a gallon only to find that the next gas station will be selling fuel for less.
9. Carry Some Basic Car Repair Knowledge and Tools With You
Another great way to save money while living on the road is by being your own mechanic. Not every vehicle is DIY maintenance-friendly, but your campervan is. If you learn some basic car repair before hitting the road, it will not only save you a lot of money but will also keep the hassles of finding a skilled mechanic in an unfamiliar area.
Make sure that your van is equipped with all the necessary repair tools and you with simple knowledge of van repairs. Your hands-on experience in changing flat tires, checking and topping off fluids, or general knowledge of how to do simple repairs can pay off well on the roads.
Also, you need to make sure that you get the hang of what is under the hood since it will help you tackle small problems that can cost you a fortune when you take it to the mechanics. There are always YouTube DIY vehicle repair or maintenance tutorials that you can follow.
10. Lessen Your Moments in Less Expensive Locations
As mentioned above, planning your route is important, and it is better that you plan your route through states that are less expensive but still can provide a great experience. A good example is nearly everything in California will be more expensive than other states, which include food and gas.
When you choose to visit states where the cost of living is lower, you will save a noticeable amount on everyday spending. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit expensive areas at all. Just make sure that you are aware that you will be spending more time in expensive locations; you will need a bigger budget.
11. Take Time To Do Free Activities: Unlimited to the Great Outdoors
When you are living in a van, there is unlimited access to the great outdoors. Choose to enjoy free activities such as hiking, paddling, biking, and so much more. Make sure that you take advantage of the free access to fun activities by spending time playing cards, cooking, picnicking, or other outdoor activities that you enjoy. You can even do yoga outside to keep up with your health and have peace of mind.
Now, there are also some paid activities such as canyoneering or white water rafting that you really want to do, then go for it. It is an important part of your adventures. Limiting the number of these paid activities to one or two each month will help cut down your costs.
Here is an article where I list the games that you can play while you live on the road, all of these activities are for free and will give you some time to spend with your loved ones.
If you are fond of visiting National and State parks, make sure that you visit their website and look into their annual passes. These passes will save you a lot of money in the long run.
12. Take Advantage of Free Souvenirs!
Souvenirs can be expensive, and of course, you would want some type of keepsake from your travels. It is also great to have souvenirs from locations where you had great times, and it is the first time you have visited. If you are traveling for a long period of time, it’s not practical or economical to buy trinkets for yourself or your friends and family.
You need to consider that the keepsakes you choose won’t take up much space or cost you anything. One of the oblivious choices is photo journals, since taking a picture is for free. You can also ask some of the local kids to show you how to make something authentic to their location.
13. Invest In a Good Travel Insurance: Better Safe Than Sorry
Yes, travel insurance comes with a cost, but it is better to have it while you are on the road. For instance, if you have a medical emergency without a good travel insurance policy, you are looking to pay for any treatment at your own personal finances.
Medical fees can add up quickly, and some people would need to sell their homes to pay for their medical bills. Remember that sometimes you have to spend in order to save. Take a look at different travel insurance companies to see which is the best choice for you.
14. Avoid Going Through Toll Roads: Can Save on the Long Run
When you are planning your route, make sure that you avoid the toll roads. If you are planning to travel abroad, such as France or Spain, they are full of tolls, and the cost can pile up. Make sure to find an alternative route that is bound to be more scenic than a highway. Aside from good views, it can also save you plenty of money as time passes by.
15. Take the Time to Learn Your Spending Habits
It is best to take a look at what you have spent the past few months and figure out what you have spent your budget on will teach you a lot. You learn your spending habits, and you will realize that the small expenses can pile up the most. You might even discover a weak spot, such as always eating out or maybe buying small bags of chocolate from time to time
Doing audits is pretty simple, and all you need to do is to save all your recipes and credit card statements. When you do that, list them in an excel spreadsheet which will divide the cost into different categories. These categories can range from food to accommodation to fun and so much more.
When you do this, it will uncover the items where you spend the most money, and when you know this fact, it will show you where you can save the most money.
16. Try and Predict Your Future Budget and List Them Out
Once you know what you earn, you will know where your costs are coming from and realize where you need to save money. Then, it will be easy to build a structured budget that will include your goals that are easy to achieve. First, you would need to look at your current costs and consider how the budget may change once you move into your van.
You don’t need to worry about paying rent, but you will have more costs in terms of gas, food, parking, park fees, and van insurance. When you do the proper research, you can start protecting an achievable budget for you to work with while on the road.
For your money prediction, make sure to lowball the amount you are expecting to earn and overestimate the costs that you are going to pay. It is better to have a budget surplus than barely making ends meet.
17. Make Sure to Keep Track of Your Budget
Now, planning the budget you are going to live by is easy; sticking to it and tracking it can make all the difference. The best solution for this is to have a budget sheet. A basic excel spreadsheet would suffice where you will list all the costs you are making, which will show you how much you have already spent and how much is still available.
It will show you to fine-tune your budget even more by calculating a daily budget that you will need to stick to. You just have to realize that keeping this tracker would mean logging all the expenses that you might incur during the day. It can be time-consuming and will take a bit of dedication and discipline to follow through. No need to worry, though, since it will eventually become a habit.
The best thing about creating this type of system to track your budget is you have control over your finances. When you do this, you will know exactly what you can spend, resulting in less stress and more time to adjust your budget when unforeseen costs come up.
Traveling around different states can cost a lot of money, and if you are not careful about what you spend, you will be burning your money without knowing it. However, if you are self-sufficient and keep some money-saving tips in mind, you can save several hundred dollars a week. I understand that it is easier said than done, which is why I have written this list out for you. If you are interested in renting a van for your adventures, here is an article I have written for you.