The Cost of Being a Nomad

Our favorite type of free camping is on BLM land out in the middle of nowhere. Greg can play his accordion all he wants and the locations are usually stunning. And since it is free it really helps out on the budget.

We have started tracking our expenses.

We have never done this before. Our usual money management method has been to work all summer, make a bunch of money, try not to spend too much of it in Atlanta, go to Florida, throw a whole lot of money at the boat, take what’s left cruising with us and hope that we aren’t completely broke by the time we get back to Cabbagetown again.

I have a friend who writes a blog who tracks her expenses and posts them on her site every couple of months. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to do the same, because although our money management method seems to work, I do sometimes wonder, when we return to Cabbagetown broke, where exactly it all goes.

Total Money Spent

Here are our totals for everything we spent for three of the months we were on the road out west this Winter/Spring:

February: $2,971.03
March: $1,776.02
April: $2,386.70

And here is the break down of those totals in spread sheet form:

You may notice some odd numbers in March, like $79.43 for camping or $1.09 for music/entertainment, where you might expect round numbers. This is because we were spending pesos while we were in Mexico. We bought pesos 3 times and each time we bought them at a different rate. I had to do a bit of calculating to convert what we spent in pesos to American dollars.

And here is my little discussion of some of these expenditures:

Van Living Expenses

These are all expenses relating to the van itself and living and traveling in the van.

February: $248.77
March: $506.71
April: $1,522.00

– Van Utilities

Just like house utilities that make a home sustainable and habitable, van utilities do the same for a van. Since our electric is all free from our solar panels, we only have 3 small utility expenses to worry about, water (for drinking and cleaning), gas (for cooking and heating), and pine bedding (which I consider a utlity because we use it to maintain our composting toilet). The total for all these things for 3 months was $45.07. Bet you want to live in a van now too!

111 – total gallons of water we bought for the 3 months

2.62 gallons – This is what our propane tank is supposed to hold. We topped it off in February with 1.8 gallons for $4.68. After over 3 months of daily cooking, we still haven’t used it all.

We have a 20 gallon water tank in our van and a 6 gallon jerry can that we use to fill our tank at machines like these. This water machine is located in Tucson and is the cheapest water we have found at 15¢ per gallon.

– Gas

Gas was our biggest van expense for the 3 monthes at $1395.16. This expense rose dramatically each month as we spent more time on the road. During February we mostly hung around Southern California while Greg got his teeth worked on and we caught up on the blog. March was our big trip to Baja California. And in April we put a lot of miles behind us, drivng farther north in California, back east through Utah, back down to New Mexico, and finally back across the country to Florida. Here are our approximate milage totals for each month:

837 – miles driven in February
1544 – miles driven in March
4676 – whole lotta miles driven in April

– Camping

All total for the 3 monthes we spent $112.43 on camping. During the month of February we didn’t spend a dime on camping, but during our trip to Mexico we found ourselves paying for camping a lot more than usual, but it was super cheap, running anywhere from $5 to $10 a night and sometimes came with a hot shower.

We expanded the variety of places we camped this year by doing our first boondocking (free camping) in Casinos. Here is a breakdown of the different types of places we camped:

29 – FREE BLM Boondocking
15 – Paid Private Campground (all in Mexico)
9 – FREE Casino Parking Lot
5 – FREE Friends’ Driveways (Thanks friends!)
4 – FREE Mexico Camping (beach/desert)
4 – FREE Rest Area
3 – Paid BLM Campground
3 – FREE Business Parking Lot
3 – FREE Stealth Urban Camping
3 – FREE Private Property
3 – FREE Walmart Parking Lot
1– FREE National Forest
1 – Paid National Park Campground
1 – FREE Truck Stop

BTW – whenever we camp in a free Walmart parking lot, truck stop, or other business parking lot we always try to make some kind of purchase at that business.

Stealth Camping or Urban Camping is pretty much what it sounds like – camping in urban areas and pretending that’s not what your are doing. We don’t usually do this type of camping – especially in places in the United States where we might be breaking the law, but we did do a little Stealth Camping in Mexico, like our spot here on the square in San Ignacio in front of the mission.

– Maintenance, Repairs, Miscelaneous, Upgrades, and Insurance

We also had some expense for maintenance (oil change and tire rotation) $47.38, repairs (new brakes) $563.19, miscellaneous (which was mostly van decor) $16.62, and upgrades (a water filter system, folding chairs, and materials to make device holders) $97.63. We had no expenses for Insurance because I didn’t want to worry about making a monthly insurance payment while we were on the road and paid the insurance balance in January.

Bob got a snazzy sombrerito on one of our visits to Mexico. Since Bob lives in the van, this expense went under Miscellaneous Van Expenses. Lt. Uhura was just hanging out with Bob for a bit while she was waiting to go live in her new home aboard a sailboat. We don’t often get people gifts, but sometimes we are inspired when we see the perfect gift (like this Uhura finger puppet) for a good friend. Gifts get entered under Miscellaneous in Personal/Household.

Groceries and Booze

This is food and alcohol we buy a grocery or liquor store as opossed to in a restaurant.

Total 3 months food: $741.83

Total 3 monthes booze: $499.50

Some people don’t like to include their totals for alcoholic beverages in these types of blog posts because people can be judgy about it. But I figure most of your already know Greg, and he doesn’t care if you want to judge him. And besides, the booze total doesn’t excede the food total, so we’re doing good, right?

Not eating out a lot while we are on the road saves us big money, but when we came back from Mexico we were jonesing for pizza. We almost went out and bought a pre-made one. Then while we were shopping at Aldi we saw these pizza crusts with sauce packets. We bought a pair and figured out how to make van pizza.

Pizza looks as good as it came from a Pizzaria! Look closer in the pic and you will see we are drinking Russina Tecate from Mexico!

Entertainment

This category is for eating and drink out, live music, museums, and attractions.

February: $103.36
March: $217.34
April: $99.28

We mostly only eat out when we see friends, but did eat out a few times when we were in Mexico. We also spent more money on tours and museums when we were in Mexico. The Live Music/Entertainment total of $4.09 was tips for street musicians. I suspect that over the summer in Atlanta, this total will go up a bit.

In Mexico, we did eat out a few times. We walked into this place and told them i was a vegetarian. Not really having anything vegetarian on the menu they whipped me up this made to order Chili Relleno.

Health

February: $1,638.58
March: $5.41
April: $0.00

That sure is a big number in February, but, of course, it include Greg’s visit to the dentist in Mexico. The number we would be significantly higher for an American dentist.

Personal/Household

These are the same kind of household expenses that you might have even if you didn’t live in a van or on a boat. Like toilet paper, clothes, personal items, laundry, and phone/data plan.

February: $64.67
March: $202.25
April: $78.77

Phone/Mail

Our phone expense for February was super low, $13.25. My phone service, Google Fi, altered how our plan worked and changed it from a prepaid plan to a post-paid plan, which meant I got a credit in February. With Google Fi we pay a base fee of $20 for unlimited calls and text, then $10 for every gigabyte of data used. Besides being changed to a post-paid plan, a cap was put on the price we pay for data – $60 for up to 15 gigs. This has worked well for us so far. The three months we were on the road, even though we were using the data plan as our primary way to access the internet, we never used over 6 gigs and never reached the cap price. What I really love about this plan is once we are back in Cabbagetown or any other place we have easy access to WiFi our phone bill will probably drop to less than $40 a month since we will be using less data.

In contrast you will notice on the spread sheet that the same box that was so low in February was way higher in March, $179.39. This is because I am including our mail service into the phone category. Because we are nomads and do not have a real address we use a mail service in Florida which provides us with a real mailing address. We usually stop by the office once or twice a year when we are traveling through Florida and pick up our mail, but some times something important arrives, we give them a call, and they mail it to us. We keep $100 in an account with them and when it runs out they automatically bill our credit card for another $100.

We only do laundry about every 3 weeks. As you can see the cost is on average $8.50. If you think about the cost of washers and dryers which run anywhere from $800 to $1500 for a brand new pair – it would take us about 5 1/2 years before we spend $800 on laundry. If we owned a washer and dryer we’d probably be replacing it in that amount of time anyways – so we figure going to laundromats is pretty economical and sometimes fun when you find a place like Don Gordo’s Launderlands.

Boat

February: $286.20
March: $286.20
April: $286.20

These numbers are for boat storage. It is sad to sell the boat, but I’m looking forward to taking these numbers off my monthly spread sheet. With another $286.20 floating around each month, I might just add an expense category for showers.

Travel

February: $277.96
March: $68.72
April: $0.00

This category is for expenses related to traveling to other countries in the van and for traveling that has nothing to do with van. The February total, $277.96 includes the Mexican car insurance we had to buy to go to Baja, as well as the cost of photo copies of all of passports, car insurance, and registration. The March number, $68.72, is for the cost of our tourist visas to go south of the border.


It will be interesting to see how our expenses change once we are fully back in Cabbagetown house sitting this summer. I imagine gas will go down, but entertainment will go up. Our phone bill should go down since we will have more access to WiFi and will be using less data. Hopefully we will not have any health crises and can hold off on more dentist trips until we return to Mexico. We should lose some household expenses like laundry and eventually, saddly, Blue Wing will be gone and all the many expenses that went with her and we can start saving up for all those showers when we are on the road again.

*All pics are click to enlarge.

So what do you think? How does this compare to your expenses? Do you track your expenses? Are our expenses less or more than you would have expected?

8 thoughts on “The Cost of Being a Nomad

    • Duwan said:

      Yeah – you know Bob doesn’t just share his space with anybody.

  1. Capt robert said:

    How does it compare? I’d be doing great if I didn’t have two kids draining my bank account.

    Good luck with boat sale.

    • Duwan said:

      But they are lovely kids! I am getting lots of calls about the boat and at least one person who is very serious about it. I think it is gonna go soon.

  2. Josephine McMullen said:

    I’ve been really enjoying reading your posts. So interesting and inspiring. I admire your spirit of adventure.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks so much Josephine! I really love knowing that you are enjoying them – more inspiration to keep it up!

  3. Is that friend who keeps track of her expenses every two months called Ellen, by the way. 🙂

    The expenses to outfit and maintain our van is very high at the moment as well, but still not as high as the boat ever was. I agree that gas (or in our case diesel) will become the highest expense, once we hit the road full-time. Good luck selling your boat (bittersweet); the money will come in handy to travel in the van. 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Yes, it’s Ellen! I hate spending money on gas, but overall the van is a lot cheaper than the boat. I wish I had kept track of our expenses during our sailing life – I’d love to compare the difference. Good Luck to you – hitting the road full time!

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