Monthly Van Life Expenses vs. City Living

by Nick & Raychel
girl looks over mountains while living the van life, looking out the back windows of a self converted ambulance
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Since starting full-time van life, we’ve been closely monitoring all of our spending. In doing so, we’ve made some observations about our spending habits since moving into our self-converted ambulance. Below, we’re going to share some of those observations and explain some of the differences between our expenses living the van life vs. city living.

Prefer to watch, not read? Find our YouTube video breaking down our van life expenses!

Let’s talk about our rent/mortgage

Living in a van, we obviously don’t pay rent. Now, depending on where you live, who you are, what kind of place that you decide to live in – these are all factors for how much your rent or mortgage costs in the first place.

For example, when we were living in Vancouver, the very last place that we lived in together was $800.00 CAD per month -and that was a steal. When we lived in Cambodia, rent was $350.00 USD per month. When we were doing our working holiday visa in Australia, rent was $350.00 AUD per week, which is $1,400.00 AUD per month. 

Van life runs us $0 per month in rent, but although we don’t traditionally pay rent to a landlord, we do have some other expenses that we consider to be an equal replacement for that bill.

Gas bill: $540.00/month
* Note: We are currently traveling a lot, and our ambulance is a gas guzzler! 

Insurance: $133.00/month

Oil changes: $21.00/month
* We get them done twice a year and they are $130 each time for our ambulance.

So in total, our van life “rent” expenses equal: $694.00 per month
So what’s cheaper? Van life vs. city living? In this case, van life is still cheaper than renting in a city like Vancouver.


Costs that have remained the same 

There are some costs that will remain the same whether you live in a van vs. live in a traditional home / apartment. So let’s talk about those and get them out of the way.

Cable: $0
We never paid for cable while living in an apartment, and we obviously don’t pay for it now! However, if you currently pay a cable bill, kiss that baby goodbye when you say hello to van life.

Health Insurance: $0
We live in Canada where basic health insurance is free, but if you were to live in a country where it is not – this bill is not going to change for you regardless of your living situation.

Gym Membership: $49/month
Some would say you need a gym membership to live the van life, considering gyms are a great place to get a nice hot shower! That said, we would’ve paid for a gym membership regardless … so this cost remains the same for us.

Groceries: $220/month
We spend the same amount on groceries while living in a van vs. living in an apartment in the city. Same, same.

Side note: it is SO nice having your kitchen with you wherever you go. Just sayin’.

Laundry: $30/month
Laundry costs us about $7.50 per week, give and take. This actually remains the same for us because we’ve never lived in a place where we had our own washer dryer. We’ve always used coin laundry or had to fill up laundry cards. So as much as this may be a new expense for some, it isn’t for us!

Bills that have INCREASED since moving into a van

This list is going to be really short … ready for it?

Our phone bills.

And they’ve really increased.

Between our two phone bills combined, we spend $300.00 per month. That’s $150.00 each. We both have 50 GB of full speed data and then  it goes to a reduced speed which is terrible.

This is a lot more than we used to pay. We used to only pay $50 each for our phone plans and we had way less data, but of course we’d come home to a home with WiFi in it. Even when you add in the cost of our WiFi ($80/month) for both of our phones and all of our WiFi, it was $180 per month.

Now, since we don’t have WiFi in our van and we work online, we need a lot of data.

Unexpected van life costs

After moving into a van, you learn pretty quickly that there are some bills that you didn’t have to dish out while living in an apartment. Here are the costs that have really stood out to us:

Propane: $21.00/month
* We had no use for propane when we were living in an apartment, and now we do! We cook everything on our propane stove, and we also have a propane-operated heater. Each propane bottle is $9/piece so that comes out to $18 every month + a return fee of $1.50 each. 

Showers: $150/month
* When travelling, we pay for showers at local gyms or use campground showers every second day to get clean. Showers are typically $1/every 5 minutes, so about $5 each every 2 days. That’s about $150/month that we didn’t have to pay for before.

Repairs: $???/month
* We haven’t had to pay for any repairs yet, but we did start an additional emergency repair fund because you never know what kind of problems you’re going to run into. 

So – what’s cheaper? Van life or renting an apartment?

Because we’re now living a much more simple lifestyle and we don’t have that much space, we have less room to shop and buy things. We buy less clothes, we buy less stuff in general. We’ve never been much big “stuff” people, but there are so many lifestyle adjustments that we’ve made that do still make this a way cheaper lifestyle than our city life.

There are so many things that we used to just spend money on because we were just bored in the same spot for years at a time, and then we would just spend money.

So what do our bank accounts tell us? Van life vs. city living?

Van life is still cheaper than city life.

And we get to live wherever the hell we want.

So, how great is it really to live in a city like Vancouver? Find our writeup about our experience here!

Looking to downsize? Here’s our list of things we can’t live without, even as digital nomads!






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