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2024 Van Life Costs: How Much Does It Cost to Live in a Van?

If you’re interested in trying life on the road, I bet one of your first questions is: how much does it cost to live in a van?

Truth is, every van dweller has a unique budget so there’s no set answer. But, there are lots of ways you can plan your monthly van life costs to help lower your overall spend.

Let’s review common van life expenses, my own van build costs and monthly expenses, and tips on how to most cost-effectively approach van life!

Common Monthly Expenses for Van Life

Although every van dwellers’ budget is a little different, the most common monthly van life costs range from $800-$2,000+ per month.  

One way to help estimate your own costs is comparing your current monthly costs on the below items with how you predict they’d change once you’re living on the road. For example, you may increase your grocery bill on the road, but since you aren’t paying rent, it balances out.


Welcome to your new “rent”: the price of fuel! Gas costs typically range from $150-500 per month, depending on your van’s MPG, gas prices, and how many miles you travel.

Use my Gas Calculation Guide to figure out your own gas costs and how to plan your travel routes most cost-effectively.

It’s common to slow down your driving pace after being on the road for many months or a year. At the beginning of my road adventures, I was spending about $400/month on gas. After a few months, I started staying in one place for many days or a week at a time, and my gas costs dropped to ~$200/month.

pumping gas


A typical grocery bill may be around $100-200 per month. Since you have less food storage space and it’s trickier to keep perishables, be prepared for more frequent but smaller grocery trips. I have averaged 1-2 grocery trips per week.

Check out my ultimate list of non-perishable foods for van life without a fridge

Also, keep spices on hand–they are your friend! Different herbs or spices can help change up a food item you may be tired of eating but want to get rid of! 

Coffee / Eating Out

Whether you’re trying to escape hot or cold weather, poach free WiFi, or just get a change of scenery, it’s common to visit coffee shops. If you go to work remotely, expect to at least have to buy a coffee. I do this frequently and spend about $40 per month on coffee and breakfast at coffee shops. If you want to cut down on coffee costs, consider brewing your own coffee your van.

Campervan Insurance

Campervan insurance costs can significantly range depending on your insurer’s rates, the value of your van and what’s inside of it. Typical RV insurance costs range from $800-$2,000/year. It’s common for insurance companies to offer six-month payments at a slightly lower rate than if you make monthly payments. If you can afford to pay half of your yearly auto insurance in one lump sum, I recommend doing that–I save around $50 every six months doing this. 

Check out my overview on how campervan insurance works and which providers are available

I also save money by opting to have bare minimum auto coverage. This is another perk of having an old, used van with budget items inside of it–if I lost all of it today, I’d only be out roughly $12k! I’d certainly never wish for this, but it allows me to save money by choosing high deductibles and keeping things simple.

Health Insurance

A healthy person with minimal healthcare needs will pay anywhere from $0-$400 per month. Regular coverage costs will depend on your health needs, your state, and your income.

If you’re healthy and have minimal medical needs, you can opt for just catastrophic health insurance. Catastrophic health insurance provides financial protection if someone is critically injured and needs lots of medical care. Basically it will prevent you and/or your friends/family from going bankrupt from your medical bills. 

Check out this Health Insurance Guide from The Wayward Home

When I left my corporate job, I lost my health insurance. I became a part-time freelancer and since my salary significantly decreased, I was eligible for my state’s Medicaid program. This means I have some decent coverage, but can only use it when in my home state.

Gym Membership

I’m convinced gyms are going to catch on to how us vanlifers use them for their showers, toilets and free WiFi! But until then, you can have unlimited free bathroom/shower visits to gyms across the country for as low as $22/month. 

Check out my roundup of top gym memberships for travelers

Some of the least expensive gyms with the most locations nationwide include Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, VASA Fitness, Crunch Fitness, and YouFit. That’s a lot of fitness, isn’t it?

Given you’ll pay anywhere from $5-$15 for one shower at a truck stop, RV park or camp site, a gym membership is well-worth it. They also have water fountains where you can do small, quick refills for free–and even maybe get in a workout?

How to Buy a Campervan

The first (and usually biggest) cost of van life is actually buying the van. Consider your must-have and can-live-without features carefully before splurging on any one van. 

Check out my top choices of used campervans for conversions.

It’s easy to get overly excited and anxious you’ll miss a good deal, but the more you reflect on daily life in your van, the more logical you can be about your van purchase. 

For example, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to do van life (or if I’d even like it!) so I opted for a cheap, used van. Purchasing an older, cheaper van also means lower tax rates on the purchase.


If you have a bigger budget and want a newer, roomier van, that’s an option as well. The three most popular new van styles include:

*Dodge RAM Promasters, starting around $34,000

*Ford Transits, starting around $36,000

*Mercedes Sprinters, starting around $55,000

While a nicer van is an option, it can pigeon-hole you into the lifestyle. The freedom you thought van life could provide has now made you captive to monthly van payments and lots of debt.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Campervan

1. Do you want a simple or luxury build?

Since this is your first van and it’s near impossible to know exactly what you want until you’re actually living in it, starting simple can help. Buy a cheaper van initially and then have more savings down the road for van alterations.

2. Do you want a raised roof, low roof or pop-up roof?

I knew I wanted a raised roof. To me, a van wouldn’t feel like a cozy home if I couldn’t easily maneuver around inside. I also didn’t want to deal with setting up a pop-up roof constantly. But that’s my personal preference – you can save a lot of money by opting for a low roof van. Pop-ups can be expensive but are great for their versatility.

Example of pop-up roof on camper

3. What type of climate and terrain will you be in?

Deep off-roading and snowy conditions will call for AWD/4WD or tire chains. Most vans are FWD or RWD and it costs (typically) a couple extra thousand for all-wheel drive. 

If you can figure out your general travel route in advance, you can save lots of money. I thought I needed AWD until I realized I had no intention of camping in the snow or wandering hundreds of miles off-grid. My van is RWD and, although I’m cautious, I have yet to get stuck on BLM land!

4. What will be your van’s power source?

Power can be one of the most expensive and complicated parts of the build. Some DIYers simply use battery-powered tap lights, hanging wire lights, or solar-powered string lights for lighting needs. Others use portable batteries to keep items charged. And many opt to do the full solar-panel setup and/or use their van’s alternator and an inverter to get their power.

Curious how to start your own solar setup? Check out this DIY Campervan Solar System Guide for Beginners from fellow vandwellers, AsoboLife! 

Check out my review of the Jackery 240 portable battery

5. Will you build yourself, hire a van company, or buy a pre-built van?  

A DIY build will most likely be the cheapest option, but what you save in money you lose in time. That being said, you’ll learn the ins and outs of your van, custom design it to your liking, and have a better idea of how to fix an issue down the road.

I recommend the Van Life Academy online courses, created by Project Van Life, for money-saving tips on every step of the DIY van conversion process. So you can stick to your van conversion budget without sacrificing the build. The courses are taught by van build experts and showcase DIY builds on 6 different makes and models.

If you don’t have a work space to build out the van, there are rental spaces available. You can rent garage or auto body work spaces by the hour, day, week or month through GarageTime. Prices range from $15/hr to $145/month. While still only available in most major cities, a lot of these shops also provide tools and appliances.

A pre-built van can be a great option if you find one with everything you’re looking for. Be sure to get it thoroughly examined by a mechanic before purchasing. A common risk you run is spending a lot on a pre-built van, only to find the previous owner’s living style doesn’t match your own. So you may want to do van alterations but lack the financial means. 

A custom build through a van company is amazing, but likely very expensive. That being said, van build companies are on the rise and as supply goes up, prices may go down a bit. 

You could also opt to do a combination of the above methods. For example, build your bed frame yourself but hire out a van build company to do your solar/electric setup. This can be a great option to help keep costs low but also know the van is being properly built-out.

Helpful Resources for Buying Used Campervans

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace can be a convenient place to start van shopping if you’re already a member of the platform. You can set filters by location, keywords, price, and private seller vs dealer. It’s also nice to be able to do some Facebook stalking on sellers if needed!

Craigslist /

Craigslist offers classified listings and you can find some great deals if you’re strategic and cautious. KSL is a “smaller” version of Craigslist, local to Utah and parts of Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming and Nevada. /

While both and specialize in selling or trading RVs, they also have lots of campervan listings. Listings range from older, cheap vans to newer campervans such as Sprinters. 

As the name sounds, Van Life Trader is specifically dedicated to helping the vanlife community trade, sell and buy vans. You’re more likely to find pricier, fancier builds on this site, but it can also help paint a picture for the range of costs you can expect to see when looking.

My Monthly Van Life Costs

I spend about $800 a month living out of a van full-time. This includes groceries, gas, going out to eat, and miscellaneous purchases. Here’s a breakdown of my monthly costs:

  • $300/month on gas
  • $25 on coffee to work at coffee shops
  • $40 on going out to eat
  • $120 on groceries
  • $22 on gym membership
  • $70 car insurance
  • $90 for room I still rent in Utah (great to have as a break spot)
  • ~$200 on random subscriptions and miscellaneous purchases


My Van Conversion Costs

My buildout cost roughly $1,500. When I first started researching vans, I gave myself a $10k-$15k budget for the van and buildout. Opting for an older van and using as many spare parts as possible from around my parents’ garage, I was able to save a lot on my van build. Here’s a breakdown of my van build costs: 

van built out ford e250

Cost of Purchasing the Van

I paid $6,200 for a 1999 Ford E250 with 170,000 miles on it. This van was already built-out with a bare-bones setup. It came with a fixed bed frame, cedar-shingled walls, a small table, propane stove, and water jug with pump, to name a few items. 

Since I ultimately decided the van’s buildout wouldn’t meet my full-time needs (or safety precautions) on the road, I ended up gutting it. In hindsight, I could’ve lowered the asking price (or just bought an empty van for less money). This is why it’s so important to really envision your daily routine on the road to the best of your abilities, before purchasing a van.

van new smokey

Cost of Mechanical Fixes

I spent $3,800 on new front and rear brake lines, exhaust manifold bolt replacements, a new windshield, and quite a few smaller fixes.

I expected mechanical fix costs since it’s an older van with high mileage. But since my van was so inexpensive, I was comfortable spending a few grand to make it road-reliable.

Cost of Buildout Material & Appliances

I spent about $1,500 on my van buildout. Keeping costs low was always the priority over making the van “pretty”. That being said, I chose a few expensive items that I felt would be worth the cost. For example, ventilation was very important to me so I splurged on the Maxxair fan. I cared less about what my interior walls looked like, so I bought the cheapest plywood that would work, despite giving the van walls a yellow tint. 

Total cost of van and buildout: $11,500

van build ford eseries

Breakdown of Van Build Material Costs

Here is a list of some of the appliances I used and prices (prices may vary slightly):

Maxxair ceiling fan, $250

Self-leveling lap sealant for ceiling fan, $12

Butyl seal tape for ceiling fan, $14

Two RV batteries for electric/power, $70 each

Recessed LED ceiling lights, 5-pack, $35

Rustoleum leak seal for covering raw fiberglass in van, $10

1/4in. thick four birch plywood sheets for walls/ceiling, $25/board

Rubber mats for flooring, $37/mat

Stainless steel sink, $173 (but mine came from the random findings in our basement)

RV cushions for bench-to-bed conversion, $290 (I found mine on Craigslist for $75 though!)

Jackery portable battery, $250 (not necessary but since I didn’t use solar, I needed more power for charging my laptop than my RV batteries can provide)

Coleman 2 burner camp stove, $45

My completed van build!

Don’t underestimate those random old things floating around your home. The top places where I found most discount deals were:

  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Craigslist
  • Amazon
  • Home Depot
  • Hotel Surplus Store (local)
  • Wal-Mart
  • Autozone
  • Advanced Auto Parts
  • Lowe’s


I recommend making your dream list of items and then searching for them on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace before making any pricey purchases.

 Good luck in achieving your van build dreams!


Transparency note: please keep in mind that some links in my articles may be affiliate links, to which I may make a small commission at no extra to you, should you book travel or buy a product or service through one of these links. I only recommend products or services created by brands I know and trust. 

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