Welcome to the Monthly Vanlife Expenses September 2023 edition. This month was full of unexpected delights, including a last minute international trip, a van meet-up, and my first ever time as a guest on a podcast!
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you may remember a day trip I took back in 2021 to a little town called Buxton. It’s an extremely special place in North America that I wish more people knew about. As the final destination for refugees fleeing on the Underground Railroad, the positive impact of the community built here has extended across the whole continent. I wrote 2 blog posts about Buxton, including 5 reasons why you should visit the museum and a more detailed post on the town’s phenomenal history, as well as its significance today.
So how does this tie in to my visit 2 years later? Well, the first time I went to Buxton I was taking a picture of an abandoned building with purple walls. In doing so, I met the family members of the couple who owned the former general store. Halcyon and I kept in touch and earlier this year she invited me to attend Buxton’s 100th Homecoming. The annual event occurs on Labour Day weekend and is a celebration of family, friends, and heritage. It is also a time to remember the harrowing circumstances their relatives endured to escape slavery. It was an honour to be present and to listen to the songs and stories that were shared.
Before heading off on an impromptu international trip, I spent a couple of days in Toronto. Then it was Ireland for a quick 6 days! The trip came out of nowhere and was booked 2.5 weeks before departure. I’d been chatting with a good friend who had been giving out about painting her house for a while. I said I’d come and help – it’s what I would do if we lived in the same province. She said I was crazy and I responded that I was serious…which is precisely why she said I was crazy! With a whack ton of points itching to be used and a remote working lifestyle, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hang out with a dear friend. Would you? The original plan was to spend a few days in Dublin, help her paint, and spend a weekend in County Mayo. All of that went out the window the minute we met for lunch. She asked if I remembered the area we visited last year (yes) and the festival that’s held there each year (also yes). It was happening that weekend and she thought it would be fun (/funny) to check it out. What’s the festival you ask? Europe’s Largest Matchmaking Festival! We went and oh boy…you’ll have to read this blog post to find out how the weekend turned out. Let’s just say it was one for the books. There were a few other unexpected plans that panned out too, including surfing on a sunny 27 degree day and learning how to milk cows! Ireland always has surprises in store.
The day after I returned to Canada, it was off to Guelph for the annual Jazz Festival. Wow! If you haven’t attended it before, put it on next year’s calendar. There were intimate experimental concerts, free outdoor concerts, jazz influenced from music around the world, and the crowd even got into dance mode! I love going to Guelph and exploring different parts of the city. This festival was another great example of what makes the Royal City such a hopping place.
From Guelph I drove to a small gathering of van friends at Quayle’s Brewery in Coldwater, Ontario. It was wonderful, as always, to spend time with everyone. While there I was also a guest on my friend Calvin’s new travel podcast, Cubicles to Passports! It was so fun to chat with him. He was a fantastic podcast host, asking a variety of questions, some of which had us laughing quite a bit.
Two days later I was off to work with an Airbnb owner in the Hamilton Beach area. Though I’ve been to Hamilton many times, I’d never been to its beach before. It was so relaxing! A few van friends (Sveni, Basti, Pam) came along too, so it was fun to be able to share the experience with them.
As exciting as September was, it ended with a bit of a bummer because the engine light came on in the van. Instead of driving down to Ocean City, Maryland for the Oceans Calling Music Festival, I ended up foregoing that trip and playing it safe at home. It’s a good thing too, because things took a dive with the van pretty quickly…
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 September 2023
Phone & Data = $62.15
My phone bill is $62.15 per month which provides 50GB of data.
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 September 2023
Gas = $497.66
In September I travelled around Ontario a fair bit, from Buxton in the Chatham Kent area, to Toronto, Guelph, and back to Waterloo Region.
Vehicle Maintenance & Repairs = $155.50
Ooooh Betty. How you love to toy with my emotions when your engine light comes on. Van friends suggested I use a device that checks the code, which can then be Googled to see if you can fix the issue yourself. It seemed that the pressure was low in the transmission and the Internet suggested a fluid top-up so I did just that. Transmission Fluid ($11.92 from Canadian Tire), Oil Change ($65.89 also at Canadian Tire), and a separate Transmission Diagnosis ($77.69 from AAMCO, the worst place to take your vehicle – worse than Crappy Tire!).
Van Items = $113.69
Van Items @ Dollarama ($11.30), FixAssist @ Canadian Tire ($90.39), Van garbage to the dump @ Region of Waterloo ($12)
Groceries = $280.65
This grocery amount includes the groceries I purchased while in Dublin. With the exchange from Euro to Candian dollars, it kind-of make sense that I’d spend almost $300 on groceries in September.
Food on the Go = $185.08
September was brutal for eating out. I even had one day where I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the go. I did get to try one new restaurant, Thaifoon. Cool decor but the food was underwhelming and for $20 it wasn’t really worth it, in my opinion.
Laundry = N/A
Showers = N/A
Camping / Accommodation = N/A
TOTAL MONTHLY VANLIFE EXPENSES = $1,806.15 CAD
The total cost of my fixed vanlife expenses in September was $573.57, which was the same as August. The total variable vanlife costs in September was $1,232.58, which was $885.02 less than August. The total monthly vanlife expenses in September was $1,806.15. 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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