Welcome to the monthly vanlife expenses January 2023 edition. It turns out my van and I do not see eye to eye on some things. While I love winter, it turns out Betty White does not. On December 23, just as I was leaving for my parents’ for Christmas, snowmaggedon stormed through town and she threw a fit. Well, technically speaking, the serp (serpentine) belt froze, thanks to a design flaw in Promaster cargo vans. This then caused the whole van to conk out, leaving me without power steering, power on the dashboard, power-you-name-it. Suffice to say, the new year slapped an unexpected repair bill into the mix. Home ownership, eh! Crummy surprise aside, it was a great opportunity to learn a lot more about how the vehicle works and I stumbled upon a really useful Ram Promaster Forum in the process. It would be so sweet if there was a course I could take on the ins and outs, maintenance, and so on for cargo vans instead of all of the learning falling into the reactionary realm. If you know of one, please toss it my way!

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.

Instagram vanlife questions for TwTMc

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 January 2023 breakdown.

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Fixed Vanlife Expenses January 2023

Phone & Data = $64.41

Well, I’m rockin’ and rollin’ with a lot more data than I need now, albeit at a cheaper price. If you read the December Vanlife Monthly Expenses blog post, you’ll already know that I was about to downgrade my plan to save a few bucks and ended up upgrading! Oddly enough, I was able to get 30 more GB of data for $2 less. I don’t know how this makes sense, but I’m good with it.

Storage Unit = $84.25

I have an apartment, which could house the items in my storage unit, but then the apartment would feel like a storage unit. I’m not crazy about this expense, but it is what it is for now.

Insurance = $78.45

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 Vanlife Expenses January 2023

Gas = $168

Thanks to the repair bill at the beginning of the month, I’ve been conscious of my spending in other categories that are easier to control, like gas. Other than school board jobs, working at nearby cafes, a trip to Burlington to work with a blogging friend and another to Guelph for an exclusive interview with the owner of Canada’s Smallest Bar, I’ve been keeping Betty off of the road this month. I also had my father’s vehicle for a week while mine was in the shop, and his tank costs much less to fill up!

January work date w Lindsay in Burlington

Vehicle Maintenance & Repairs = $722.70

So what exactly does a serpentine belt do, you may ask? It gets its name from its long snake-like shape as it winds around the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning, and sometimes the water pump. Its job is to help all of those parts run smoothly and efficiently. When the serp belt breaks or falls off its track, all of those things go too. Womp womp. Actually triple womp because this fix wasn’t covered under my extended warranty. That being said, there are 4 silver linings to this situation: 1) at least I earned travel reward points!, 2) even though this was a crappy way to end 2022 and to begin 2023, I’m extremely grateful I didn’t run into this issue alone on a road in the middle of nowhere. Between the issues with CAA and having to pay for a private tow, and the week long wait (after waiting a few days of trying different things, Christmas delays, etc…) for everything to be finished at the shop, that would have been a lot less fun to deal with in different circumstances. The 3rd silver lining is that the van community came through again, and the 4th is that now I know what a serp belt is and how it functions. Win!

Van Items = N/A

Yippee! Zero dollars in a category!

Groceries = $248.42

Grocery prices around the world still stink, so much so that people have resorted to stealing to make ends meet. Things are so bad that a Toronto lawyer is offering to represent the circumstantial stealers for free! My own local grocery store just installed metal barriers around all of the entrances. Suffice to say I feel like a herded cattle at the grocery store now. Joy. Cherry tomatoes have yo-yo’d back up to $8 instead of the most recent dip to a reasonable $5 after being exorbitantly priced at $10. Talk about roller coaster margins.

Food on the Go = $63.21

I’ve been putting in a lot of 12 and 14 hour work days lately, adding a few extra projects to the usual juggled balls. I organized a workshop for beginner Canadian travel hackers and a workcation retreat for fellow travel content creators. I also enrolled in a course at one of the local universities for women entrepreneurs and have been picking up more supply teaching days here and there. All of this to say, I’ve not spent much time in the kitchen or have been cooking oversized portions of food for leftovers. I really thought this number would be higher because of the extra pizzas I’ve been ordering, but thankfully it’s not! I also tried 3 new food spots in Waterloo Region: Rose Cafe (photo below), Kinton Ramen, and Camellia Bakeshop.

Lentil Soup at Rose Cafe in KW
Lentil Soup at Rose Cafe in KW

Laundry = N/A

Showers = N/A

Camping / Accommodation = N/A

In Conclusion


The total cost of my fixed expenses in January was $564.53. The total variable costs in January was $1,202.33, which was $406.70 less than December due to lower fuel expenses. In sum, the monthly vanlife expenses in January was $1,766.86. How does this compare with what you spend in these categories over a month? Let me know in the comments below!

To get the tea on how much the converted Promaster that I bought cost, check out the post I wrote on how much campervans cost. If you want to start reading the series from the very beginning, here is the April Vanlife Expenses blog post.

Stay tuned to all things vanlife and travel by subscribing to the (nearly) monthly newsletter and joining the adventure on Instagram. Thanks for reading!

About TMc


Me having a seat in front of one of the famous Brighton Bathing Boxes in Australia!

Heya! I’m Tara (Tar-ah)! Welcome to Travel with TMc where you’ll find quirky language tidbits, travel hacks for Canadians, and stories from the road. I hope you enjoy!
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