Welcome to the Monthly Vanlife Expenses August 2023 edition! This month included more Ontario travel, tons of progress on the van build, family and friend time, and an exciting trip to the States for a music festival I’d never been to before.
If you’ve been here for any length of time, you’ll know that I believe not too many experiences can top live gigs. Musical theatre solidly falls into that realm, in case you were curious. One of my favourites, Rent, was on at the Stratford Festival and I made the impulsive decision to buy tickets. Let’s just say my chest was overwhelmed with emotion as the lights came up. Somehow, the songs I always skip on the album transformed into my favourite of the night and the characters I’ve disregarded were completely captivating. Nestor Lozano Jr, who played Angel Dumott Schunard, Lee Siegel, who played Tom Collins, and Erica Peck, who played Maureen Johnson were simply phenomenal. I have half a mind to see the show a second time before it closes, it was that wonderful. The second musical I saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the St. Jacobs Playhouse. As a child I saw Donny Osmond in Toronto and thought it would be neat to catch a local production as an adult.
Another exciting excursion was to Galt in Cambridge to check out the brand new Gaslight District for a catchup with an old university friend and his wife. If you haven’t been, or have yet to hear about the Gaslight District, it’s worth a visit. Set in the historic town centre and named after the former Galt Gas Light Company that lit local gas street lamps in the 1800s, the Gaslight District is the North American take on a piazza, plaza, or town square. Historic limestone buildings housing food and drink establishments, condos, and an event space envelop the spacious high-tech interactive open air community space. The vision for the square is to foster community, play, and joy, facilitated by free events and entertaining place-making. The “belief that creating meaningful connections between people should be a city’s most important job” is just about the coolest thing I’ve read in a while. And, if the grand opening in July 2023, featuring Juno-award winners Walk Off the Earth, is any indication of the potential to reach these goals, the sparks have ignited an energy that requires only continued momentum. When you visit the Gaslight District, check out The Bellflower Market, a fully-licensed marketplace, wine bar, and cafe, Foundry Brewing for a local pint, the interactive art installations, and the free Big Screen movie nights!
In August, Vanlife Community Canada held one of their monthly meet-ups at Meanwhile Blueberry Farm. As always, it was fantastic to see everyone, to soak in the hot summer weather, and to play some pickleball!
Then it was back up to the Soo for more van building with Cody, learning how to make pizza with my 97-year old Nonno, and enjoying time by the water. Cody and I spent 2 and a half days on the van build. Together, we rebuilt and assembled the middle closet section, complete with a hanging storage area, tech drawer, kitchen drawer, and soon-to-be toilet drawer. He also made a curved shelf, with what I learned are relief cuts to help the wood bend, for above the kitchen. One of the things I was most excited for was the pantry shelf between the fridge and closet. It’s still a little wonky on the slides, but it’s built and painted and I’m pumped! Last, we added a small shelf between the closet area and clothing cabinet where I can place small charging tech, books, and so on, similar to a night stand. I couldn’t have done any of these projects, certainly not as quickly, without Cody’s expertise and coaching. It was so energizing to work with another person, especially a “yes person” who is an amazing problem-solver and creative thinker. If you’re reading this, thank you so much Cody!!! (And if you’re in Northern Ontario, in addition to doing normal-size home renos, he makes beautiful charcuterie boards as well.)
Mixed in to the productivity and enjoyment was 1 sketchy night sleeping over in Sudbury. I was parked in a familiar spot, with only one other overnighter a decent distance away. In the middle of the night, a massive thud against the side of the van woke and scared the sh*t out of me. Heart and head racing, a man’s loud voice boomed on the other side of the van door. I realized I was limited with items to protect myself with. I hadn’t packed for this trip as if I were staying in the van, because that wasn’t the plan other than this one night. Frozen in anticipation for what might happen next, I stayed as quiet as I could with my finger ready to press 911, hoping and praying that the man would go away. There were no more thuds or voices, but it took me a while to fall back to sleep and when I did, nightmares took over.
I woke early, eager to leave in the daylight, only to drive over something big that wasn’t there the night before. Panicking and thinking I had driven over the man, I excited the van to inspect the scene. What I found was a huge log, presumably the thudding object. Realizing this, I checked the van for dents and scratches, thankfully finding none, and removed the log from the parking space. There’s not too much else I could have done that night. There were no indicators or instinctual clues when I pulled into the well-lit spot that I shouldn’t be there, I was familiar with the area that was located in a high-traffic daytime spot, and luckily the silent strategy worked. My assumption is that the man was drunk or high and went on his way after whacking the van. Ideally in a situation like this, my security cameras would be installed and I would have eyes on the outside without having to open a door or window. Fellow solo female vanlifers have shared other strategies with me, such as using an angry man’s voice or a barking dog recording on their phone so that they don’t give away their sex, keychain-sized personal safety alarms, self-defense lessons, and so on. I have incorporated some of these and other options into my vanlife living too. Hopefully I’ll never have to use any of them, though as any female in the world knows, it’s better to be prepared.
Once home in Waterloo Region, I wasted no time in purchasing more paint and primer to cover everything we built in white. I spent a few days working on these projects and am happy to see how everything’s coming together!
Shortly after that, it was back on the road again, this time to a new part of the States for a music festival! Beach Road Weekend is a medium-sized 3-day festival in Martha’s Vineyard in the east coast state of Massachusetts. There’s so much I could say about my time on this road trip and at the festival, that I think it warrants its own blog post. In short, though, the music was brilliant, the crowd was equal parts laidback and hyped up, and Massachusetts is definitely a place I’d like to explore some more. On either side of the trip, I spent a night in Providence, Rhode Island, another state ticked off the map. My travel companions and kickas* concert crew, fellow vanlifers Lisa and Jamie, chose Providence as a resting place because of friends who live there. I had the pleasure of getting to know Paul, owner of super delicious Providence staples PVDonuts and the brand new Oak Bake Shop, and Chris, owner of Aussie Fit HQ, as they introduced us to their tight knit city. There’ll be more to come on Providence on the blog as well!
What Currency Is Used in This Series?
All dollar amounts will be listed in CAD. I’m doing this for a few reasons: 1) I’m Canadian and that’s the currency I spend my money in, 2) anytime I do research online, whether it’s been for the van, travel, or anything else, I always end up bummed out because everything is in USD and after converting the figures, it’s sometimes downright depressing, and 3) the majority of you reading this are also Canadians so it just makes sense! If you’re American and reading this, you’re welcome for the happy dance you’ll do when everything will turn out to be less money than you originally read. It’s a win-win, folks!
Why Am I Sharing My Vanlife Expenses Online?
As I mentioned above, some of you have been showing interest in learning about the nitty gritty details of vanlife. As someone who’s interested in personal finance (you’ll see finance books sprinkled through my annual goals posts), I’m also a curious person who wants to know more, regardless of the subject. In addition to the curiosity, I really believe topics like health, money, sex, politics, and so on shouldn’t be taboo. How do we make that happen? By talking about them! More often than not, what we see online is filtered with rose-coloured glasses and romanticized to no end. I’m all for rainbows and butterflies to set our sights high and inspire dreams, but it’s the information and the details that allow us to make them happen.
There’s a a concept used in education called “backwards design” to reach goals. First, identify the goal, then figure out the steps required to get there, and last, put the plan into action. A common problem that can occur is that the end goal is muddy, unknown, or misleading, thus the steps to get there won’t be of any use. On the other hand, if you have concrete information to help guide your decisions, you’ll be one step closer to the finish line. My goal with these expense reports, inspired by others like Kara and Nate‘s that I’ve read online and found helpful, is to provide you some insight and information on your financial/travel/life journey.
How Much Does a Campervan Cost?
The short answer is “it depends”, which is just about the worst answer anyone can give (and truest more often than not). However, if you want the deep dive on this answer, check out the post I wrote on the cost of my Dodge Ram Promaster campervan.
What’s Included + Budget Tools
There are some monthly expenses that won’t be included, such as gifts, business expenses, investments and so on because they’re not relevant to the series. However, if you are interested in learning more about budgeting and personal finance, I’ve written a few blogs on why you should have a budget, how to create a budget, and the most common budgeting mistakes people make. I also put together a mini personal finance and budget guide on Instagram.
In these monthly expense reports, you’ll find a mix of fixed and variable expenses. In the fixed category you’ll find storage, insurance, the van payment, and my phone bill, which I try to keep consistent but sometimes has spillover data charges. In the variable category I’ll include gas, vehicle maintenance, items for the van (both fun and necessary), groceries, dining out, showers, laundry, and accommodation. I might include entertainment as well, but I haven’t decided yet. Is this something you’d be curious to see as well? Let me know in the comments at the end of this blog post.
Okay, without further ado, here are the Vanlife Expenses August 2023 breakdown.
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Fixed Monthly Vanlife Expenses August 2023
Phone & Data = $62.15
In order to have 50GB of data, I increased my phone bill in 2022 from $40-ish dollars to $62.15 per month.
Storage Unit = $95.55
Joy…another increase. I have half a mind to move these items into my apartment, but then the apartment would feel like a storage unit. I’m not crazy about this expense, but it is what it is.
Insurance = $78.45
Nice and simple. The insurance cost for the van is pretty affordable.
Van Payment = $337.42
This feels a bit like an experiment since I’ve been debt free for several years and never make purchases unless I have the cash to buy items outright. While I did have the money for the full price of the van, and on principle I hate paying interest, the math worked out to go this route this time. It’s been a mental adjustment for me to wrap my head around doing things this way, but what’s life without a little experimentation?
Variable Monthly Vanlife Expenses August 2023
Gas = $1,038.93
YOWZERS! This one hurts to see at first glance. On the other hand, given all of the travel I did again this month, it’s still much cheaper than the alternative of flights and accommodation. You may see a trend here as I say this for a third time this year, but August has officially taken the lead as the most expensive gas month. To recap, I traversed southern and northern Ontario, as well as New England in the United States. Ideally, this would be my “rent” money for the month. However, I still have my apartment since it feels foolish to let go of an affordable renting scenario during the housing crisis. I yo-yo quite a bit on whether or not to let the apartment go, especially during the warmer months when I’m barely home. It feels like such a waste to pay for rent while living in the van. If all goes to plan with my hopes for Betty White next year, I may have to make a different decision and let go of the apartment…until then.
Vehicle Maintenance & Repairs = $187.10
This month the van had an oil change, filter and lube replacement done ($89.11). I also needed to have the windshield washer pump replaced ($97.99).
Van Items = $433.05
With building a home on wheels, comes spending! There are 4 distinct categories for van items this month: Building Materials (wood, hardware, electrical receptacles), Gifts (to those who helped me with their expertise and energy), Paint Supplies, and Furnishings. Surprisingly, and quite happily, there was a negative number for building materials (- $73.15) at Home Depot this month. With this build, I often don’t know 100% if I have the correct item or not. To save time and trips, I tend to buy a few similar items that could work, especially when building with someone else, and then return whatever I don’t need. Many of the individuals who have helped me along the way have been very generous and won’t accept payment. It’s important to me to leave them with a gift as a token of my appreciation, and so that’s where the Gifts ($247.73) category comes in. I had to top up on primer and paint this month ($99.96) at Sherwin Williams. I was pumped to see there was a 40% off sale, although I boobed and purchased an extra can of green paint by accident. Lastly, I had so much fun buying organizational and decorative items ($158.51) from Target and TJ Maxx in New York, as well as the Chilmark General Store in Martha’s Vineyard. I found drawer and cabinet organizers, a pillow that I think I’m going to use for the colour scheme, bowls, and mosquito sticks.
Groceries = $253.29
I’m kind-of surprised at this one, considering how much I was on the road this month. I did make an effort to prepare more food while travelling and can probably also attribute this to the conversion from US dollars as well.
Food on the Go = $160.23
On the road I tend to eat on the go a bit more, so unfortunately this was quite high this month.
Laundry = N/A
Showers = $5
This is for the price of one (outdoor!) shower at Meanwhile Blueberry Farm during the Vanlife Community Canada meet-up.
Camping / Accommodation = $40
For a few days of camping at the meet-up, I’d say this is a pretty reasonable price!
TOTAL MONTHLY VANLIFE EXPENSES = $2,691.17 CAD
The total cost of my fixed vanlife expenses in August was $573.57, which was more than July because the storage company increased their fees. The total variable vanlife costs in August was $2,117.60, which was $496.33 more than the previous month thanks to pretty much every category. The total monthly vanlife expenses in August was $2,691.17, the highest to date this year. How does this compare with what you spend in these categories over a month, whether you’re in a van or a traditional home or apartment? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re curious to learn how much my converted Promaster was, check out the post I wrote on how much campervans cost in Canada. If you want to start reading the series from the very beginning, here is the very first blog in the series, the 2022 April Vanlife Expenses post.
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