Full-time van life

Full Time Van Life: Cost of Living

Heading into our van life adventure at the beginning of 2019, one thing that we were hyper-focused on was our van life costs. We had some money saved from working full time and did not have a ton of money coming in each month. What did that mean? It meant that the more we spent, the shorter our adventure would be! So we HAD to minimise costs, because we wanted to adventure as long as possible!
We are going to give you a 100% transparent view into our expenses we had in our second month on the road. Here we go!
In February, we kicked off the month at the Southern tip of Florida, and knew we were ending the month in snowy Minnesota!
Along the way, we had week-long stops in New Orleans and Houston, both were a BLAST! We also had stops in Ocala National Forest, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Hot Springs National Park, Buffalo National River, and Branson along the way. All that added up to a lot of time on the road!

Jump to:

Photos from our Month’s Adventures

Overall February Budget

Gas – Budget vs. Actual

Groceries – Budget vs. Actual

Lodging – Budget vs. Actual

Auto Maintenance – Budget vs. Actual

Miscellaneous – Budget vs. Actual

Grand Total – Budget vs. Actual

March Budget

Photos From Month 2’s Adventures!

Overall February Budget

Our budget for February was smaller than our January budget of $1500. We thought we could aggressively cut our lodging and grocery spending, and really limit our ‘other’ spending on things like eating out and getting drinks.

Auto Maintenance$100
Other / Entertainment$200

Now, let’s break it down and see how we did!


Budget: $400 | Actual: $337.37

Shell (1 fill up)$32.30
Texaco (1)$32.25
Chevron (1)$31.87
Exxon (1)$26.00
Other (6)$214.95

We had a GREAT month on gas in February! We were expecting 10-11 fill-ups and were pretty much dead on at 10. In addition, we were able to do 2 things:

  1. Make gas go further
  2. Find the cheapest options

To make gas last as long as possible, all we have to do is have Grandpa Zach at the wheel. Literally will not go over 60 mph on the road.

He read this article from learn.theeasy.com and never looked back. We get on the highway, set the cruise to 55-60 mph, and get to our destination whenever we get there! If it takes 15 minutes longer, then we are A-OK with that.

We prefer highways to freeways because of the great views of the countryside or mountains, because there are never tolls, and strangely because of the lower speed limits!

We utilised the same strategy as month 1 when it comes to finding cheap gas. Once we were under 1/4 tank, Julie would open up Get Upside and Google Maps, and search for gas places on our route in the next 50 miles. We’d find and stop at the cheapest one, whether it was 2 miles away or 48!

TIP: If you decide to download Get Upside, use code ‘2GZ28A’ for an extra $.15/gal cash back on your first gas purchase!


Budget: $300 |   Actual: $241.50

Wal Mart (9 times)$109.51
Kroger (2)$66.26
Dollar General (2)$27.46
Dollar Tree (2)$12.99
Piggly Wiggly (1)$12.55
Publix (1)$7.24
Gas Station Coffee (3)$5.49

We were VERY excited seeing the drop in costs on our grocery bill from month 1 to month 2! Granted February is a shorter month than January, but we went from spending $418.25 all the way down to $241.50, over a 40% drop!

Now, this has to come with a grain of salt. We went out to eat too much in February. We need to slap ourselves on the wrist for that, because it was a budget buster in the ‘Other’ category below, but still. Even with 5 more meals paid for with groceries, we still would have been under budget.

$241.50 over 28 days comes to $8.63 per day total, or $4.32 per day each. This is under our goal of $10, and we were super pumped about the idea of being able to live off of under $5 of food per day each!

Our strategy this month was to really zero in on knowing what to buy at each store we pass on the road. In addition, we kept less food in the van than we did in January, which led to less snacking and eliminated any food spoiling on the trip.

Know What to Buy at Each Store

In February we really nailed it in this category. We got pretty good towards the end of January, and kept right on rolling all throughout February.

In February, our biggest shopping trip was about $30, and most of them were only about $10-$15. We were going to the store a tad more often, but spending WAY less each time we went. Here is what we’re getting at each store we visit:

Discount Stores – Dollar Tree / Dollar General / etc:
  • Pasta & Pasta Sauce
  • Chips & Salsa
  • Paper Products
  • Sweets (as little as possible!)
Grocery Stores – Wal Mart / Kroger / Publix / etc:
  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Cereal & Milk
  • Bread & Eggs
  • Rice & Beans & Corn
  • Meat & Cheese

Another cost cutting activity was to brew our own coffee much more often. We bought coffee FAR too often in January, and we drink 2 cups per day usually, so that added up fast.

In February, when we wanted coffee, we made it! We have a french press which makes it easy, the only trouble is heating the water up… Right now we use a Coleman propane stove, but that can be tedious for just coffee, and we are using propane! Any ideas you all have would be MORE than welcome!

What We’re Buying

Throughout February, we experimented a little more with recipes that we can make on the road, but still are exciting to prepare and eat. Sandwiches and 1 pan pasta just doesn’t do it every. single. day…

We have found a few cool new recipes to try, including our turkey tacos recipe! We usually make meals for 4 (we each eat dinner and then leftovers for lunch) and for the tacos here was our shopping list:

  • Rice, Tortillas
  • Onion, Sweet Peppers, Jalapeno,
  • Avocado
  • Ground Turkey

This whole meal, which fed us each twice, ended up costing about $7! Not too bad, right?


Budget: $0   |   Actual: $0

Living in our van at Harvest Hosts, National
Forests, and Wal Mart parking lots

Finally we hit our budget dead on! To be honest we knew we were going to hit this one, and we will be hitting it EVERY month from now on (fingers crossed…).

We don’t plan on paying for a campsite to park our van at all for the rest of the year. With our Harvest Hosts membership, all of the National Forests throughout the Central and Western US, and Wal Mart parking lots as a fallback, we don’t think we will need to find a campsite!

Auto Maintenance

Budget: $100   |   Actual: $0

Wow our Eurovan Winnie is a CHAMP!$0

Winnie had ABSOLUTELY ZERO issues in February! We got her oil changed in January, and she rode like a champ all through month number 2.

We will need an oil change for her in March, but all signs point to Winnie (who just reached 200,000 miles) powering her way to 250,000 miles and beyond! We are going to need her rocking and rolling to get through Canada and Alaska later this Summer…

Other / Entertainment

Budget: $200   | Actual: $611.25

Eating Out (7 times)$91.54
Drinking Out (4)$103.50
Gifts (3)$50.70
Planet Fitness$23.00
Cash Expenses$50.00

Shoot… We absolutely SUCK at spending on miscellaneous items. To be honest, it feels like we are really good at it during the month. For instance, we went out for food 7 times, out of 84 meals. So we made 77 meals at home this month. It felt like we never ate out!

On top of that we went for drinks 4 times. And that it is 4 total places, not 4 total nights. That was 2 nights going out in New Orleans, to two places each night. Outside of those 2 nights, nada!

And still, we busted the budget here. At least we had a TON of fun on our 2 nights out in New Orleans.

One unexpected expense that we weren’t totally to blame for was a vet trip for Kobe. He ate some sand at the beach that apparently agreed with his taste buds, but not with his stomach… A few laxatives and a night in the vet and he was back to his loud, bouncy self. We’ll have to keep a better eye on him around sand next time!

Grand Total

Budget: $1000   | Actual: $1190.12

Auto Maintenance$100$0
Other / Entertainment$200$611.25

In total, we did not meet our budget for February, but to be honest we feel really good about where we landed. Without the vet trip, we would be BARELY above the budget.

We trimmed over $800 in expenses from January to February, which we were super pumped about. Having said that, we do still have a little ways to go to reach our goal!

$1000 seems to be an achievable target to hit, and we will NOT stop until we hit it. With that being said, Month 3 will not be the right month to measure.

In March, we will be spending over half the month in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We are home for a wedding and a few family events, so March will not be the best month to gauge van life expenses.

Having said that, in the spirit of transparency we will still be sharing our spending! Our budget will be different though, since we will only have a week or two on the road.

Month 3 – March Budget

Auto Maintenance$100
Other / Entertainment$300

Our gas budget is still a bit up there because once we do hit the road, we will be heading straight down the entire country from Minnesota to Texas. From there, we are heading West to Big Bend across Texas (which is freaking HUGE!), so we will have quite a few gas station trips in March.

Groceries will be much smaller, since many of our meals will be eaten with family and friends. However, all that time with family and friends will mean more entertainment expense, so we are budgeting a bit more in that area.

All in all, we are shooting for an $800 limit in March! Hopefully we’ll be able to hit it. Wish us luck!

Did Julie & Zach stay below their March budget? Check our their March post to find out!

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