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  • Writer's pictureThe Desert Cruisers

How Much Does Van Life Cost? Insight On Our Monthly Expenses!

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

The biggest question for people who are getting into van life is, “How much does van life cost month to month?”.

Van Life Monthly Expenses

This is one of the main factors in how people decide to live full-time on the road! And it can feel intimidating if you don’t know what to expect and how you can live financially on the road. Believe me, we were there, but it's totally possible!

And you want the truth? It’s so dependent on your lifestyle! That’s the best answer you can get.

You know, we all have our own ways of spending cash, right? Some folks are all about hitting the gym, treating themselves to dinners out, and going on epic tours. Then there are those who like the comforts of campgrounds or the occasional hotels and Airbnbs. It also really depends on how far you'll be driving around! The list is endless on where people can be spending their money on a month-to-month basis.

If you’re reading this blog to figure out how much you can spend each month, then you’ll definitely get an idea that there is no right answer, but we want to show a breakdown of what van life can cost when we were living in our 2018 Mercedes Sprinter Van!

Here’s our video of our breakdown of monthly expenses back in 2021:

Here’s A Breakdown Of Our Monthly Van Life Expenses

In Our First Month On The Road!

Keep a reminder that van life can be as expensive as you want it to be or it can be on a budget! It first off depends on what kind of van you get and if you have that monthly cost or if you’re fortunate enough to pay it all off.

Also keep in mind these were our monthly expenses back in 2021! Things have most definitely changed in all of these prices for everyone!


Like I said before, the monthly cost on your van is very dependent on your choice of vehicle! We went with a brand new 2018 Mercedes Sprinter van and our monthly payment ended up being $650/month and a couple years into having this van, we were able to refinance it and brought it down to $450 with a 3.7% apr.

Van Payment


There are definitely pros to buying a new vehicle, one of which is that it’s simply new. There’s less stress on knowing something will not break on you.

The coolest thing about van life is that there are so many options of vehicles to purchase new. We were definitely happy with our decision and had our van for nearly 4.5 years. The new owners are happily traveling in it and enjoying what the Desert Cruiser was meant for! Check out our new project and find out why we left van life for truck life!


You can easily find used vans that can cost you very little and can and will most likely last you a long time. People find very great prices and keep their whole van build costs entirely low! We knew that this would put us on edge knowing that potentially there may be some fixings we’ll have to take care of along our travels. We didn’t feel comfortable adding that kind of potential budget in our expenses. It may keep your costs low initially, but it all comes down to how comfortable you are. And to be honest, even new vans can have some unexpected unforeseeable circumstances like hitting a deer, or getting into a car accident. There’s a lot of factors that can go into this decision making and most likely will depend on what you can afford.

In today’s market, you’ll get lucky to get low interest rates especially since some of these vans are considered “commercial vehicles” so your interest rate can be highly dependent on that. Our initial interest rate before we refinanced was roughly 5% back in 2018 and then we refinanced a year later and got 3.7% apr.


You can spend a good amount on car insurance and it can very well be dependent on your state. We went with State Farm and the process was fairly simple. We spoke with an agent to discuss that we built our vehicle, and sometimes they will ask for pictures to verify that you have a sink, toilet and such.

Car Insurance

FUEL COSTS: $312.71

Traveling is a core factor of your van life monthly expenses! Where you want to go and what you want to see is going to dictate how much you spend. We try to make sense of our travels and drive slowly. Our fuel mileage also was a good indicator of costs being that we got 17 mpg. So if you’re driving from California all the way to Colorado in one month, you might see a spike in your fuel costs! Or if you sit around in a place for a couple of weeks at a time, you could easily spend $150 on the low end.


Are you going to be workin on the road or are you only needing phone & internet services only part of the time. Phone plans are always changing their rates and as you know, starlink has changed the game. We didn’t have this in the van initially, so our monthly expense was only $120 for two phones and and iPad that all had hotspot. We had the iPad plan because we enjoy watching tv at night whenever we had service.


We LOVE eating out but mostly love getting desserts. We always try to budget what we buy because it's easy to let this get expensive, but we like to experience some cool places and towns we visit.

WATER: $23.75

You’re probably wondering, “you pay for water?”. Well.. we sometimes had to if we weren’t prepared to find free water on apps like ioverlander. Sometimes you show up to these places and your water doesn’t taste good, or sometimes you’re in a mountain town and they didn’t have a water fill up for RVs anywhere and you looked on every app but a grocery store had a fill up! We had six 5 gallon scepter jugs in our van and this gave our life more flexibility in getting water. We had the option to fill up at water fill stations inside or outside grocery stores if we were really desperate. We’ve heard some of our friends have spent hours trying to find water for their water tank, and that made us a bit nervous having a fixed water tank in the van. We opted in for the tank in our truck build but we also have a jug as a back up just in case we can’t find water right away.


We didn’t make much money when we first moved into the van, so we were automatically put onto Medi-Cal in California which is our home base. Your income threshold is heavily dependent on how much you have to spend on health insurance. There are so many plans out there and I can go into it in detail, but today in 2023 we spend around $230 for two people.


This amount is an incredible number to see because this goes to show that your lifestyle can impact your grocery bill! If you’re active, you might find yourself eating more food. If you’re a super healthy person and only buy organic foods and products, your bill can be pretty pricey. When we were living in our van, we mostly ate carbs and not too many good things for ourselves. We’ve made a huge lifestyle change in 2023 and now our bill is up to $500/month for two people, and some stuff is more expensive today. We buy healthier meats and good veggies. We’ve met some people that even spend up to $700/month. We always try to budget an amount so we don’t get too excited when we see a nice fresh cake at a bakery in Safeway.


Van Payment: $650 (brand new van!)

Insurance: $270

Diesel: $312.71

Verizon: $120

Dining & Desserts: $75.99

Water: $23.75

Health Insurance: Free

Groceries: $356

Total cost: $1808.45



My suggestion would be to read a bunch of various articles of how much van life can cost. This can help you get a good idea on what others have spent, what you are willing to pay and what you can cut costs on.

If you’re looking to budget your expenses. Write an excel sheet and write every category you can think of as a starting point. Then every month as you travel on the road, continue to see what numbers are fluctuating and if you are happy with your income to expenses ratio. I have kept a lot of our monthly expenses since we starting living on the road. This helps us reevaluate how we are spending our money and if we have any more to spare for some fun dining and sweets!

Keep in mind that there are apps out there that help save you money on groceries and gas like ibotta and Upside! Also be sure to clip your grocery coupons! It will add up over time.

You can also get cash back credit cards and use that to help with your monthly expenses!

Let us know in the comment’s if you’d like more info about how to budget for van life and we hope this blog was helpful to you!



From 2020 to 2023, we embraced life on the road in our DIY sprinter van, The Desert Cruiser. With no prior building experience, we transformed our van into a home, exploring deserts and rainforests, seeking the best campsites, mountain biking, and living our dream. In June 2022, a new dream emerged — building a 2022 Ford F550 into our DIY Earthroamer. With hopes of future family adventures, we found our dream truck in Texas. We believe anything is possible and aim to inspire others to explore life to the fullest!

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