How I am saving $2k and 60 hours per month by voluntarily living in a van
“Dear god….what have I gotten myself into?” I said aloud, to myself, as shifted the van into drive.
“I think I may have finally lost it.”
I had just exchanged $2,400 U.S. Dollars for ‘97 Dodge Ram 3500 passenger van that smelled like the inside of an old vacuum and displayed noticeably chipped paint on its rough exterior. I purchased this vehicle to transform it into my future home, but it was apparent that navigating this behemoth through the streets of San Francisco was not going to be an easy task.
At 20 feet long, this powerhouse had four rows of seats and could fit 14 people in its prime. Needless to say, it is a major pain in the butt to park. This was all became apparent as I crusied the Mission District in desperate need of an overnight spot.
THE IDEA IS BORN: JANUARY 2015
On a trip to Silicon Valley my senior year in college, I reconnected with an old friend, Jason. I was intrigued by his recent social media posts, particularly the ones showcasing his escapades in the Sprinter van he now called home. His weeknights were spent parked in his employer’s parking lot and the weekends either in downtown San Francisco or an adventure somewhere else in the Bay area. I couldn’t wait to hear about his experience van dwelling.
On the surface, living in a van made so much sense to me, but it was still polarizing. The freedom, minimalism, and financial gain seemed to be the perfect way to live one’s life, especially as a recent graduate. But the hygiene issues and borderline homelessness would surely be frowned upon in corporate America.
Needless to say, I bombarded Jason with questions and to my surprise, got mostly rational answers. Maybe this isn’t as crazy of an idea, after all I thought as I filed the concept in the back of mind.
THE TYPICAL YOUNG PROFESSIONAL: JANUARY 2016
After interning in San Jose for a summer, then backpacking Europe for three months by myself, I was more than ready to settle down and get a nice place in the heart of San Francisco. My plan was to take a WiFi shuttle and be productive on the way to my office in South Bay. It couldn’t be that bad, I thought.
I was wrong.
After three months of spending 60+ hours a month on a cramped shuttle bus with grumpy passengers and dropping ~$2k on rent for an apartment I was barely in, I began to question my decisions.
Sitting for four hours on the bus each day was beginning to take a toll on my energy levels and overall well-being. The uncomfortable environment robbed me of the focus I needed to be productive on the bus, leaving me unfulfilled at the end of the long days.
This, coupled with the fact that I was spending a small fortune each month on an apartment I hardly used, left me a bit anxious. I had gotten a nice place in a trendy neighborhood because that was what you are supposed to do as a young professional.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”Mark Twain
Prior to moving out to San Francisco, I had contemplated buying a van. Originally, I entertained this idea as a method of cost savings – all of my friends and family would wholeheartedly agree that I am laughably frugal – while I would be on the road four days a week as a consultant. But after taking a job at a technology company and ditching the consulting lifestyle, getting an apartment seemed more logical.
Yet here I was, feeling trapped and weary from the daily 60 mile commute and large apartment I kept filling with meaningless junk. It was time for a change.
Suddenly, it all made sense. I grabbed my laptop and started searching every van dwelling blog I could find to learn more. With each account and testimony of happiness and liberation, I grew more and more excited.
I have to try this. You only regret the things you don’t do.
IT’S HAPPENING: TODAY, APRIL 2016
After a couple weeks of searching, I stumbled upon my future ride. A test drive, some handy negotiation, and a trip to the ATM later, she was all mine. I arranged to pick it up the following week and so the journey began.
While I prepare for the move, I have been parking the epically large van on the streets of San Francisco (easier said than done) on the weekends and at work during the week. The past two Sundays have been fun-filled work days that have consisted of tearing out four rows of seats and 15 feet of carpet, cleaning out the inside, building a bed frame, creating a foam floor for my “living room”, making curtains for the windows, and eliminating the dusty smell. As I write this, I am five days away from moving completely into the van and can’t wait.
THE CORE PRINCIPLES OF VAN LIFE ACCORDING TO DJ
It took much deliberation, as well as adequate balancing of pros and cons to make this decision a reality. While there is a lengthy list of negatives, such as lack of temperature regulation, no refrigeration of food, judgement from peers and the opposite sex, and various others, I have found that these core principles outweigh them, at least for today. That’s not to say these won’t change as my priorities shift, but they are most definitely the guiding thoughts for my current situation.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”Helen Keller
To be put simply, I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. If I want to eliminate my commute, I can park at work. If I want to go for a walk on the beach or go surfing before I head into the office, I can park in Santa Cruz and drive in. If I want to hang out with some friends in San Francisco on the weekends, well you get the idea.
Before, most of these things were impossible, especially during the workweek. With my van, a whole new world of possibilities and freedoms are wide open.
“The things you own end up owning you.”Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Dating back to my experiment last September, I have enjoyed embracing minimalist philosophies whenever I can. However, as I settled into my new apartment, I found myself racking up a credit card bill buying things I didn’t need. Sure, they were nice to have, but oftentimes completely unnecessary.
By moving into the van, I have to be extremely critical of every single thing I buy. I will have only a finite amount that I can store. No more, no less. I look forward to getting back to my minimalist intentions.
“Lost time is never found again.”Benjamin Franklin
Time is the most valuable currency we have. You can always make more money down the road, but I promise that you will never get that hour back you just wasted on a conference call. Currently, I spend over sixty hours a month commuting to work. This is time I consider lost, due to the unproductive and restrictive nature of the shuttle bus.
With the van, I can determine how long I want my commute to be. I can chose to drive from the city each day or to conserve my precious time and spend it on things that help me reach my long and short term goals.
“Frugality includes all the other virtues.”Cicero
I am sure you have heard how ridiculous rent prices are in San Francisco. Enough said. This, coupled with my frequent leisure and business travel left me spending a sizable amount of money on an apartment I wasn’t even in, a lot of the time.
After a month and a half of living in the Dodge, I will break even financially (not including the residual value of the van). I will be able to save significantly more during this time period, enabling me to spend money on future goals such as starting my own business or traveling world. To me, that is money well spent.
FAQ OF VAN DWELLING:
Where will you shower or go to the bathroom?
Work or my 24/7 gym.
Where will you cook?
This is trickier. I do get free breakfast and snacks at work, which is helpful. I will also get a camping stove to cook eggs and other stove-top items. I am in talks with friends to use their kitchen one night a week to make meals for the entire week as well, which I would store in my work refrigerator.
Where will you, uh you know, with the opposite sex?
Girls are down with the van. Ok, maybe not. Her place? No? I guess that’s why I have SPG points!
Where will you park?
On the streets or at a 24/7 business such as Safeway or my gym.
How will you get power?
In the interim, I plan on getting a heavy duty external battery that I can charge while I am driving. I can use this to charge my phone and laptop.
How will you get WiFi?
I have a mobile hotspot and can tether my phone, if needed.
What about mail?
I have a mailbox at work and have set up a mail forwarding address.
What if you hate it?
I will sell the van in a few months and move-in with some friends.
Is your van awesome?
Does your van have a name?
Working on that – suggestions welcome.
Needless to say, I am extremely stoked to give this lifestyle a try. I can’t wait to see where the summer takes me.
Don’t hesitate to comment below with any questions or thoughts! If you found this interesting, please share on with your friends on social media!
Final words: Special shoutout to my family for all of the support in my crazy endeavor, my friends for not disowning me (yet), the Redwood City Bros for letting me use their space and tools, and most importantly to Jason Roesslein for being an inspiration, mentor, project manager, and overall homie throughout this entire process – no way I would do this without you.
This essay was originally posted in April, 2016 on BeOpposite.com