2019 Cost of Being a Nomad

Ballena Blanca parked at a rest stop on the Rio Grande in New Mexico mid-April of 2019.

Yes, I realize that it is mid-February and I am just now posting getting our year-end expenses. But I wanted to wrap up our posts for 2019 before I wrapped up the year’s costs. And I just posted our last one on Wednesday, here we go…

2019 was a big traveling year for us. We started out meandering around Mexico City and ended up camping at a wildlife preserve in the middle of Louisiana. According to my calculations, we drove 15,915 miles last year! We visited 19 different states in the US and 13 states in Mexico. We looked over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico. We went as far south as latitude 16.869490 and as far north as latitude 40.838720. We visited friends and family at their homes in 7 different states and converged with traveling friends in 6 different states in two different countries. We made 52 blog posts about our life and adventures last year. I’m not going to even attempt the chore of adding up how many pictures we took.

Here is the map Google Maps made of where we went in 2019:

But what you really want to know is how much it all cost, right? Sure, but first, a few notes:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van upfitted for living in.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • Four months of 2019 were spent house sitting in Cabbagetown – or as I like to say “traveling in very small circles.”

Ok – the grand total is…

$22,135.27

$22,135.27 is really a rather good number. It is 21.7% better than our 2018 total of $28,268.35. But if you divide our 2019 total by 12, it averages out to be $1,844.61 a month – which is, unfortunately, $344.61 over my spending goal of $1,500 a month I set for myself at the end of last year.

Here is our final spreadsheet from 2019:

Click image to enlarge.

I also made some colorful charts in order that we can look at these numbers in a little more detail and figure out why I didn’t hit my goal.

Total Costs

Comparison of 2019 to 2018

The van really dominated our expenses this past year but if you compare to 2018 you can see that most categories stayed steady or went down.

Let’s dig down a little deeper with some more specific charts.

Van Expenses

Obviously one of the biggest culprits as to why I didn’t make my average $1,500 per month goal in 2019 was the Van Repairs category.  We had a lot of van troubles this fall and it was costly to the tune of $3902.96. Without this number, I would have only been $19.36 per month over my goal.

Gas is another big expense but we can’t go anywhere without gas, can we? At a $3,310.51 total, gas works out to an average of $275.88 a month. And if you divide our costs by the miles we drove last year, it works out to 21¢ a mile. In order to save gas dollars, we have started using our per mile average when thinking about which route to take or balancing the expense of a campground as opposed to driving out of our way to find a free camping spot.

A good chunk of the $844.31 Upgrade category went to replace our house batteries this past fall. But the van is also still a work in progress so we always thinking about upgrades or ways to make things work better. Perhaps that will slow down this year – but then again someone just told me they had a side window put in their rig for about $500 dollars and now I’m thinking that’s not much to add extra light and a view to Ballena Blanca, is it?

At $777.20 camping was higher than it might have been if we hadn’t gone to Mexico. There is not much legit free camping in Mexico but fortunately, prices for camping are generally lower than paid camping in the US. We also spent a few dollars on camping in National Parks last year. It is oftentimes more convenient to camp in a National Park and besides, they are national treasures and I feel good about spending my camping money with them.

Grocery

Our food average is $258.68 per month or $8.50 a day for two people. Not bad, huh?

And our alcohol average is $124.53 per month or $4.10 a day for two people – a lot cheaper than any happy hour I’ve ever been to and we usually have an awesome view.

Not sure we can cut much out here unless, of course, we quit drinking – lol!

Entertainment

Our average monthly total entertainment expense comes out to $280.67. If we had cut out our entire entertainment expenses, we would have been $63.94 each month closer to attaining my $1,500 goal, but who wants to do that? Although our Eating & Drinking Out expense could use some trimming, we mostly only eat and drink out when visiting friends and family so it is oftentimes completely worth it. Also, I’m itching to eat one of those chili rellenos wrapped in a burrito I ate a couple of times out west last year – so we may do a bit of fast food splurging too.

Household

Our biggest expense here is Personal, which combined with Misc ($1,713.92), was probably mostly for new gear – phone, tablet, camera, etc. Sometimes I look around and think we have way too much gear but then again we have really been enjoying our kayak, our new binoculars, my new camera, etc. Unfortunately many of our gear purchases this last year were things we had to replace like our broken phone or tablet. Let’s hope this year we will have to replace less.

Our next biggest expense is Phone & Mail at $1027.93. We might be able to find a cheaper phone plan but our Google plan which we spent $822.93 on last year has a free international data plan, comes with a free extra sim card for the tablet, and if we settle down anywhere with wifi for a while we can switch to a metered plan which brings our monthly cost way down. Our mail program through St. Brendan’s Isle in Florida cost us $205 last year which is probably a little pricey for the 20 pieces of mail we received. Even still, without it, we’d have to impose on a friend to receive, scan, and send us our mail and with it, we are residents of Florida where we save dollars on State income tax.

Health, Travel, & No Manches

These expenses amounted to little consequence last year only being 3% of our total expenses. Most of the $541.86 we spent last year on Health was for an eye exam and my contact lenses.  Much of the $158.08 travel expense was due to toll roads in Mexico. We try to avoid these expenses in the US but in Mexico sometimes toll roads are the only option. And we are going to try our best to have no No Manches (surprise expenses) this coming year.

2019 to 2018 Detail Comparisons


Conclusions?

We could have made my goal if the van didn’t have any problems and we did just a little less eating out or didn’t buy that new camera or those binoculars. And, of course, there are lots of little places we could have shaved off a few dollars. But really the goal is just arbitrary – we are living within our means and doing it pretty cheaply while not really denying ourselves anything. For me, the big benefit of saving money is to be able to have it to spend on something else in the future. If we save more money now we can continue this journey even longer and hopefully do some bigger and better things.

So I’m setting my bar low again for this year, hoping to average $1,500 a month. So here’s to another year of adventuring and keeping track of how much it all costs!

If you are interested and reading any of our other “Cost of Being a Nomad” reports, click here.

If you are interested in downloading a spreadsheet break down of all of our expenses from our first year of tracking, click here.

Also – if you are interested in checking out a vanlife expense report of 2019 that does come in under $1500 a month click here for our friends at Roaming About’s year-end report.


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

2 thoughts on “2019 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. Hi Duwan,

    It looks like you had a lot of fun creating this post with all its diagrams and colors and numbers. While I don’t like math, I love numbers and playing with them. Darn van, right!? That category definitely “did you in”, but now, you should look at the average over all the years you’ve had Ballena Blanca…

    I think if you can stay under $2,000 average a month, you’re doing pretty well. Sure, $1,500 would be better – and I do think you can make it this year – but, whenever we talk about “retiring”, we use the average expenditure of $2,000 for both of us. And, honestly, not many people can live off $1000 a month!!

    While your annual expenses are higher than ours, by 30% or so, we both believe that you easily had 30% more fun in 2019! And that’s what life’s about – having fun and enjoyment, but not being extravagant with spending. I think you two found a pretty good balance and, if the van behaves, you’ll end up at a nice average in 2020 as well.

    I’ll add your link to my annual expense blog whenever I’m on my computer again (and think about it).

    • Duwan said:

      I agree, $2,000 a month is really a good and absolutely attainable average. And for us at this point, $2,000 a month means we don’t have to work anymore. But I also want to save up for our next rig – 4WD with all the things on our wish list – hot water, seating for 4 people, an upgraded potty, built-in heat, a grey water filtering system, etc.

      I doubt we had 30% more fun than you did! I am always amazed at all you do while spending so little. But I also understand how frustrating it can be to always be restricted by money.

      Yes, I loved doing all the pie charts! And I should add a link to you year end report to. I spent so much time putting the charts together, I forgot a few things.

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