Van life: how to live in a van and save money

17 Min Read

The price of lease is the largest expenditure for college students. However, we chatted to a savvy scholar who determined to stay in a van as a part of his mission to graduate with none debt.

ken ilgunas with his van

Uni life is dear. In addition to tuition charges, you need to take care of Upkeep Loans that fall properly in need of dwelling prices.

Lease is by far the largest expense for a scholar, even with our suggestions for saving on lease. However there are some extra excessive methods of saving cash on lodging.

After graduating from the College of Buffalo with what he deems a “monetarily ineffective liberal arts diploma”, Ken Ilgunas moved to the aptly named Coldfoot in Alaska. It was right here that he set about paying off his $32,000 scholar debt.

Two and a half years, loads of poorly-paid jobs and several other thousand miles of hitchhiking later, he managed to repay his whole scholar debt. However that is not the place Ken’s money-saving mission ends – it is the place it begins.

Pupil debt in America may be very totally different to the UK’s system. Our Pupil Finance system is comparatively inexpensive, and making early Pupil Mortgage repayments shouldn’t be normally really useful.

How Ken acquired a postgraduate diploma with out debt


Red van on university campus

Whereas working to repay his undergraduate mortgage, Ken says he realised two issues. First, he wished to get a postgraduate diploma. Second, he by no means wished to be in debt once more. So when his software to Duke College, North Carolina, was accepted, Ken needed to get artistic along with his funds.

From his two and a half years of labor, he had about $4,000 left over. After racking his brains for a method to make it by way of a two-year diploma debt-free, Ken had a brainwave why not stay in a van?

Ken went straight to Craigslist (just like Gumtree). He searched inside a funds of $2,000 and simply two necessities (the van needed to be in fairly good nick and have by no means been smoked in). He quickly discovered his van.

For the modest sum of $1,500 (about £1,244), Ken grew to become the proud proprietor of a 1994 Ford Econoline (nope, we would by no means heard of it both).

Along with his lodging sorted, Ken needed to sort out paying for his postgraduate tuition charges and dwelling prices. As he was useless towards taking over any debt, a Pupil Mortgage was out of the query.

The full price of tuition for his two-year grasp’s diploma was initially $30,000. However because of monetary support (scholar bursaries), Ken managed to get it right down to $11,000. That was two-thirds of the job finished, straight off the bat!

However his dwelling prices and the remaining tuition charges nonetheless wanted paying. So, Ken determined to take up a collection of totally different jobs to maintain his financial institution stability above water.

ken ilgunas in mri scanner

I funded my dwelling prices in a number of methods: occasional medical experiments, a part-time job tutoring elementary college college students and a summer season job working for Nationwide Park Service in Alaska.

All of those are viable (and attention-grabbing!) choices for college students within the UK. We’ve got guides on creating wealth from medical trials, changing into a tutor and a part-time job search.

How a lot does it price to stay in a van?


When explaining the prices of van life, Ken is eager to emphasize that, in contrast to paying for rented lodging, the cash spent on a van would not simply disappear. Except it breaks, that’s.

Remember that a car maintains some worth, so you’ll be able to anticipate lots of that cash again when you promote it.

Nonetheless, whereas I solely lived within the van for 2 years, it did find yourself crapping out on me on a drive throughout Iowa, solely getting me $300 for scrap metallic.

In line with Ken, staying in uni halls or personal lodging would have price at the least $500 a month. To place it one other means, he acquired two years of lodging for the worth of three months. In reality, it is even much less when you embody the cash he produced from promoting the van.

However if you’re staying in halls, you are not merely paying for the roof over your head.

What about mail, showers, or acquiring cooking water? These, once more, are all low cost or free.

True to type, Ken managed to supply just about every thing he’d want for a ‘regular’ existence for a fraction of the ‘regular’ value.

Utilizing a few sizeable containers, Ken used the campus’ fountains to lower your expenses on water.

bottle filled at water fountain

To maintain clear, he purchased a campus fitness center membership for simply $68 a 12 months. This gave him entry to bogs, showers and, after all, fitness center tools.

As for meals, Ken solely wanted to spend $30 to get his arms on a 12 months’s price of iso-butane cooking gas. This meant he might put together his meals from scratch, fairly than counting on takeaways or consuming out at eating places.

Cooking your personal meals will prevent tons of cash, too.

The typical school meal plan can price as a lot as $10,000 (£8,297) for an educational 12 months. I ate for $4.34 (£3.60) a day, or $1,100 (£913) for an educational 12 months.

Even after accounting for his automobile insurance coverage ($46, or £38, a month), cell phone contract ($37, or £31, a month) and parking allow ($182, or £151, a 12 months), Ken nonetheless reckons that typical lodging would have price a number of hundreds of {dollars} extra – as this desk reveals:

Lodging kind Lease per 30 days Meals per 30 days Automotive prices per 30 days Different prices per 30 days Complete per 30 days
Halls £483 £400 £0 £54 £937 (£11,244 a 12 months)
Pupil home £415 £117 £0 £54 £586 (£7,032 a 12 months)
Van £0 £117 £166 £54 £337 (£4,044 a 12 months

NOTE: All figures are minimal estimates, offered by Ken Ilgunas. We transformed them into GBP. Conversions have been correct on the time of updating.

What’s it prefer to stay in a van?


home belongings in a van

It is all properly and good as a money-saving train, however what use is van life if the price to your wellbeing outweighs the monetary positive aspects?

Once we requested Ken what he missed most about ‘regular’ dwelling, his reply caught us unexpectedly.

I need to say I missed little or no.

I had an unbelievable college library that gave me entry to a tremendous choice of books and flicks. The campus fitness center had scorching showers, a basketball court docket and even a sauna.

I ate recent meals day-after-day to and from my stroll to the grocery retailer.

That mentioned, Ken readily admits that van life is not with out some compromises.

It was lonely, however I don’t wish to blame that solely on the van. I’m a little bit of a loner, and transferring to a brand new place, no matter your model of residence, usually comes with a interval of social isolation.

man eating out of saucepan in a van

And, as you may know, when the climate is chilly, vehicles are chilly. And when the climate is scorching, vehicles are scorching.

Duke College is located in North Carolina, which is about as far south because the northern tip of Africa. Temperatures commonly exceed 30°C in the peak of summer season and, as Ken explains, he needed to transfer north for a number of months to make life bearable.

I labored in Alaska in the course of the summer season months, so I did not need to stay within the van in North Carolina. It might have been simply too scorching.

The months of Could and September have been dangerous sufficient. I mainly couldn’t go into the van in the course of the day, or I’d have skilled warmth stroke.

van covered in snow

Regardless of the baking summers, North Carolina is not any stranger to some biting winter climate. Luckily for Ken, he was ready for that too.

It acquired right down to about -12°C in the course of the winter, however I had a extremely good sleeping bag. I by no means had an uncomfortable night time.

Prime suggestions for dwelling in a van


interior of van home

Having endured two years of van life, Ken is best positioned than most to present tips that could anybody contemplating making the leap themselves.

His fundamental tip is to test that you simply’re really allowed to stay in a van on campus earlier than stumping up the cash to purchase one.

Try your college’s parking coverage on-line. Discover out whether or not or not vandwelling is against the law, or at the least whether or not it’s okay to park your car there in a single day.

If that does not work out, you’ll be able to park on different roads, in grocery store automobile parks, otherwise you would possibly even discover somebody on-line who’ll allow you to lease an area.

We’re not conscious of the laborious info on this one, however because the US is lots greater than the UK, we’re imagining that campus parking areas are at extra of a premium over right here. So, any British scholar trying to stay in a van might need to look past college for someplace to pitch up. You do not wish to be interesting parking tickets all through your years at uni.

As soon as you have established whether or not or not van life is a practical choice, Ken says the remainder is as much as you!

Convey some fundamental tenting tools alongside: a sleeping bag, headlamp, thermal underwear, cooking provides, and so forth.

Aside from that, I suppose a very powerful factor is to be versatile and inventive.

camping cooking equipment

In fact, it takes a particular sort of particular person to have the dedication and drive (no pun supposed) to stay in a van. And, for Ken, the monetary positive aspects ended up being a by-product of what he actually gained from the expertise.

The van was rather more than a cost-saving determination. It was an experiment. It was an journey.

I wished to spend a portion of my life dwelling intentionally. I wished to push myself to the boundaries to study one thing about myself, my tradition, humanity… I hoped I’d study one thing that might information me to stay a superb life. Saving cash was simply the cherry on prime.

Ken’s money-saving recommendation


ken ilgunas by his van

Ken is unquestionably up there as one of the devoted money-savers we have come throughout.

For that purpose, our closing query to him was easy. “Aside from van life, what’s your primary money-saving tip?”

As Ken was so depending on a van for thus lengthy, his reply actually wasn’t what we have been anticipating.

Except you’re dwelling in it, eliminate your car.

Wait, what?

I paid off a $32,000 scholar debt in two and a half years (working largely low wage jobs) largely as a result of I didn’t have a car.

With out having to pay for gas, insurance coverage, or upkeep, I used to be capable of direct virtually all of my earnings to my debt.

Certain, a car is critical to operate in lots of locations. However there are locations the place you don’t want one, and also you’d be shocked at how resourceful you could be if you reduce your self off from one thing you thought you relied on.

It is price remembering that Ken is talking from his expertise as a scholar in America. We might argue that within the UK, there are only a few (if any) unis the place it is necessary to have a automobile. Most are based mostly in, or near, main cities and cities. They normally have first rate transport hyperlinks too.

That mentioned, when you completely will need to have a automobile at uni, be sure to take a look at our information to chopping the price of driving.

Eager to search out out extra about Ken’s fascinating story of van life? Seize a duplicate of his good e book Walden on Wheels, and take a look at his interview on The Tonight Present with Jay Leno.

Extra uncommon varieties of college lodging


student living in tent

Ken is much from the primary scholar to take an unorthodox method to saving cash on lease at uni.

We have beforehand coated the story of Joe Pearce, a scholar who purchased a ship to save lots of on lease. ‘The Golden Cloud’ price him simply £800, plus an additional £1 a day to maintain it within the harbour.

In case your uni is not close to a physique of water, this might not be probably the most helpful tip for you. But when it is a viable choice, keep in mind that dwelling on a ship saved Joe round £5,600!

After which there’s Evan, a Canadian scholar finding out on the College of Manchester. He made the headline-friendly determination to stay in a tent to save lots of on lease.

In change for cooking and washing up, Evan bagged himself a spot in somebody’s again backyard. Right here, he pitched (and lived in) a tent for a complete 12 months.

So, clearly, there are many methods to chop the price of dwelling at uni. It is only a case of placing your thoughts to it!

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