Van Life Costs – First Month on the Road

Heading into our van life adventure, 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 week.

What did that mean? It meant that the more we spent, the shorter our adventure would be! So we HAD to minimize costs, because we wanted to adventure as long as possible!

Photos from Month 1’s Adventure

We are going to give you a 100% transparent view into our expenses we had in our first month on the road. Here we go!


Budget: $500 || Actual: $410.65

Shell (3 fill ups)$117
BP (2)$79.51
Speedway (2)$72.99
Holiday (1)$40.72
Chevron (1)$35.64
Other (2)$64.75

Concerning gas, we were pleasantly surprised with our first month on the road. We expected to have to fill up every few days, so 10-12 times throughout the month. We were also expecting gas prices around $2.50 throughout the country.

In reality, we had to stop for gas 11 times, but gas was more like $2.20 per gallon or so usually. In some parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, we were under $2.00 even!

Our strategy to find cheap gas prices was this. Once we were under 1/4 tank, Julie would open up Get Upside 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!

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Budget: $300  ||  Actual: $418.25

Wal Mart (4 times)$112.94
Publix (3)$93.32
Dollar Tree (4)$46.29
Winn-Dixie (1)$35.67
Target (1)$33.39
Dollar General (2)$26.59
Family Dollar (1)$19.58
Gas Station Coffee (15)$29.62
Other (4)$20.85

Groceries ended up being more costly than we were hoping, but to be honest we had an aggressive goal. Our goal was to each eat 3 square meals per day for $5. 2 people means that is $10 per day, and with 30 days that means a $300 budget!

We ended up spending $418.25, which translates to just under $7 per day per person. That does sound really good, considering that’s about the price of 1 Chipotle burrito, but we want to do better, and we think we can.


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Towards the end of the month, we got much better at minimizing costs, with a few different strategies:

Know What to Buy at Each Store

This is definitely the main area we improved at over the month. At the beginning, we had large shopping trips, spending $70 and filling the van with food.

Towards the end, a ‘large’ shopping trip for us was about $20, and we stayed pretty consistent with what we had in the van. We did this by knowing what to get at different stores.

For instance, we knew that the Dollar Tree sells everything in the store for $1. However, there are certain things you don’t necessarily want from the Dollar Tree. We now know that we can shop at Dollar Tree, Dollar General, or Family Dollar for our dry goods. We get pasta, pasta sauce, salsa, chips, paper products, and any sweet treats.

We go to Wal Mart, Publix, Winn-Dixie, and Target now only for fresh produce, milk, bread, eggs, and meat. Really, we are only going through the fresh sections at these stores, leaving ‘dry goods’ shopping for the discount stores.

What We’re Buying

Over the course of the first month, our diet has changed to better fit our budget. That is not to say we are eating badly. We have found DELICIOUS meals that we can make for EXTREMELY cheap!

Here are some items that make it into our grocery cart every time:

  • Rice, Beans, Corn
  • Avocado, Onions, Bananas, Oranges, Potatoes
  • Pasta, Pasta Sauce
  • Bread, Eggs, Lunch Meat, Cheese

Doesn’t sound too bad, right?? Now, we are usually hunting for deals. So if apples or nectarines are on sale, we’ll go for those instead of oranges. If Thai curry and noodles is on sale, we’ll get that instead of pasta and sauce.

With this shopping list, we are usually able to make a few days worth of food, and the bill is usually about $20. We are confident that we can hit our $300 goal in month 2!

One of our Favorite Recipes


Budget: $300  ||  Actual: $296.14

Townsend, TN KOA (1 night)$43.14
Boyd’s Campground Key West (2)$174
Harvest Hosts (2) (yearly subscription)$79

For lodging, we did hit our budget, but looking backwards we think our budget was too high. The main reason we believe this is we discovered Harvest Hosts!

We first anticipated going to a campground or hotel 3 or 4 times every month. The reason being in case we weren’t able to find consistent showers, or just needed a break from parking lots.

Enter Harvest Hosts! We paid one annual membership fee that cost about as much as one night in a campsite. Therefore, this cost won’t be in our monthly costs going forward, so we think our budget for lodging can be $0 for month 2!

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Auto Maintenance

Budget: $200  ||  Actual: $216.43

Oil Change @ Firestone$100.43
AAA (yearly subscription)$116

For auto maintenance, we had another charge that will be charged for month 1 but not any other months for the year: AAA. We chose to get AAA for peace of mind.

We did NOT want to break down in the middle of nowhere and have no one to help us out. Especially in a place we are unfamiliar with! We got a AAA membership for $116/year and now if we ever need a tow or help getting our keys, we are good to go!

We also got 1 oil change and diagnostic for about $100 in month 1. We are hoping this will be an every-two-months expense. Therefore, if all goes perfect, our Auto Maintenance cost could be $0 in month 2! Fingers crossed…

Other / Entertainment

Budget: $200  || Actual: $688.15

Eating Out (4 times)$64.29
Drinking Out (4)$100.07
Excursions (2)$258.50
Planet Fitness$23
Cash Expenses$150

Okay, this is where we broke the budget, and badly. We spent WAY too much on entertainment in month 1. We basically spent our first 3 months budget in month 1. Just an awful performance by us.

Looking at what we spent it on, the majority came with nights out for drinks and excursions. We can definitely limit these expenses moving forward, as we don’t have any excursions planned for any months coming up.

In addition, since we are improving in our cooking strategy, we should be able to limit any eating out moving forward. We are hoping that this expense comes WAY down to under $200 per month moving forward.


Auto Maintenance$200$216.43
Other / Entertainment$200$688.15

All in all, we failed at sticking to the budget in month 1. However, we feel that we got WAY better at cost-management towards the end of the month.

Therefore, we are setting a MORE aggressive budget for month 2, and we think we’ll be able to hit it!

Month 2 Budget

Auto Maintenance$100
Other / Entertainment$200

No guarantees that we end up hitting this, but we are fully confident that we can! And either way, we’ll be back to let you know whether we succeeded or failed.

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2 thoughts on “Van Life Costs – First Month on the Road”

  1. It was great meeting you two today. Thank you for sharing a couple tips! I’m looking forward to hearing about your future adventures!

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