March 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

A lovely sign in troubled times. Our camp spot at J & J’s Urban Boondocking Kitty Casita (our friends’ vacant lot in Tucson).

So March was weird, wasn’t it? The beginning of the month was spent being somewhat cautious about the COVID-19 outbreak. We were still planning an epic trip to Alaska, catching up on the blog, and taking advantage of having friends in Tucson (whose vacant lot we were staying in) with a mailing address by ordering things online. We spent a little time out in the desert boondocking in an area called Dome Rock, spent a few nights along the Colorado River at a campground called the Hippie Hole, and visited the Cibola NWR where we saw lots of great birds. We were planning to do several volunteer projects in Tucson but only got to do a couple before everything changed.

And we changed. We abandoned our Alaska planning, received a few of our online orders, stopped going into our friends’ house, provisioned up, and went out into the wilderness. A week later we returned to Tucson when we ran out of propane (poor planning, I know), we received the rest of our online orders, picked up a box of Trader Joe’s falafel mix from a wonderful friend who bought us a box as soon as she found it back in stock, provisioned up again, and left again the next day.

Near where we camped at Dome Rock near Quartzsite, Arizona.

Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van that we upfitted ourselves to live in. Currently, the van gets about 17 miles to the gallon.
  • Our van is registered in Florida as a standard cargo van. Our van insurance is through USAA.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • We get our health insurance through the ACA exchange in Florida. Our insurance is very basic and is mostly good only in Florida where we are residents, but hardly ever visit. Our costs for health insurance are one of the few things we don’t include in this report.
  • Our phone plan is with Google Fi. We pay a monthly fee of $70 plus tax which gives us unlimited calling and text and up to 22 gigs of highspeed internet, after which it slows down. Our data plan works internationally with no extra cost. With Google Fi we can make phone calls over wifi from our phone, tablet, or computer. The plan provides an extra sim card for our table at no extra cost. At any time we can switch to a metered plan which costs $20 a month for phone and text and $10 for each gig of data we use.
  • We receive our mail through St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. We pay $11.99 per month for the basic service plus an extra $7.99 to have the envelopes scanned and small additional fees to have the envelopes opened and the contents scanned. There are additional charges if we want anything sent to us on the road. We keep $100 in an account with the service. When this runs low they charge us for another $100.
  • Our dentist is in Los Algodones, Mexico. If you would like to read more about our experience with our Mexican dentist, click here.

And our total expenses for March were…

$1,885.57

And here is the break down of categories…

Expenses March 2020
Van
Gas $235.28
Insurance/Registration $101.08
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $336.36
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $45.14
Utilities $19.61
Camping $0.00
Household $134.36
Laundry $0.00
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $199.11
Communication
Phone $77.38
Mail $0.00
Communication Total $77.38
Consumables
Food $390.16
Booze $180.82
Cleaning/Paper Products $14.84
Medicine Cabinet $26.75
Consumables Total $612.57
Entertainment
Drinks/Eating Out $10.59
Museums/Attractions/Music $0.00
Entertainment Total $10.59
Health
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $17.38
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $17.38
Personal
Clothes $2.14
Gifts/Charity $179.89
Gear $450.15
Personal Total $632.18
*Utilities include our water, propane for the stove and heater, and items that are required to run our composting toilet.
*Gear is anything we think we need but probably don’t. These are the things that make our life more fun, interesting, keep us entertained and informed. Our NY Times subscription goes here. As well as expenses for hobbies, computer devices, books, kayaks, bikes, etc. These are the things that make us not quite minimalist.

Sunset at Dome Rock.

Considering that we only ate out once and didn’t spend any money on entertainment, it wasn’t a big month of saving.

We love to wind down the night with a movie or TV episode. We have a gifted Netflix subscription but didn’t have a suitable device to download movies and ‘sodes on. After watching a few things on our 8-inch tablet we decide that we would like a 12 or 13-inch screen but that a 10-inch tablet was more in our price range and would do just fine.

We were also thinking ahead about Alaska. We have talked off and on about getting an awning for the van. But how much would we really use it – we are usually out during the day hiking and visiting sites and in at night. Then I read something about Alaska’s midnight sun. An awning might be nice on those long sunny Alaskan evenings. We looked at options – expensive ones and reasonably priced ones. We accosted people in Walmart parking lots and asked them about their awning. But no matter which awning we looked at there was one big problem – the installation. So after much thought and help from a friend in Tucson who loves magnets we came up with a homemade awning design. We already had some materials and ordered some more. Now we just have to put it all together. Hopefully, we will have some pictures next month.

Our food and booze costs went up this month. I usually stay pretty well stocked up on food since I never know where we will be and what kind of stores will be available but since we were spending so much time in Tucson I let our food stores run a bit low. And now after seeing empty shelves and having so much trouble finding things I didn’t think anyone wanted – like whole-wheat flour or gluten – I’m making sure our cupboards don’t go bare again. And I’m being a whole lot less picky about purchasing things at the best price – when I see it, I buy it.

One of our other unusual expenses this past month was for my passport renewal. I haven’t gotten the new one yet and feel a bit naked passportless. Although all the borders are closed, I still hope it comes soon.

Then there is the spike in our donations/gifts expense category. We are in ok shape financially right now so we have been sending a little here and there to those who are losing income due to C0VID-19. We hope to spread around the wealth a little more next month too.

And, as usual, there are tons of little expenses here and there – My knee is acting up so I bought a brace. We bought new window cover material for Ballena Blanca. I bought crafts supplies to make pinwheels out of all the paper brochures and maps we collect.

A few stats you might be interested in

Camping totals (all camping is free unless otherwise indicated):

13 – nights at J & J’s Urban Boondocking Kitty Casita
8 – nights on BLM land
2 – nights at the Hippie Hole
1 – night at Walmart
7 – nights at a National Wildlife Refuge

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 43

Number of miles driven: 1201 (this makes our February cost per mile 20¢)

Wildflowers on our hike at Dome Rock.

More blooms on our hike at Dome Rock.

Dome Rock and a labyrinth. We saw lots of rock rearranging at Dome Rock. Most of it wasn’t as creative as this. Greg thought that much of the reorganization might be due to frustrated parents and bored children – “There’s nothing to do here!”, “Why don’t you go outside and move some rocks around.”

Camping spot along the Colorado River at the Hippie Hole near Cibola NWR.

Living in a van down by the river playing guitar.

The camping scene at the Hippie Hole.

We boondocked in Ajo for a couple of days. The desert is stunning there.

Volunteering for a buffelgrass pull in Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson. Buffelgrass is an invasive grass that does damage to the native ecosystem. We were hoping to do more buffelgrass pulls but they were all canceled soon after this.

We did find another volunteering project pulling weeds and cutting back trees at a small park a few blocks down the street from where our friends live in Tucson. Organized by the neighborhood, they were expecting additional volunteers from a Tucson volunteer organization. The event was canceled through the organization but the neighbors still came out. Being temporary neighbors we very glad we could give something back. Our friends’ dog Pearl came out to help too.

Sunset at J & J’s Urban Boondocking Kitty Casita.

To see all of our expense reports, click here.

If you are interested in reading other expense reports from people living on the road, check out these links:

Far Out Ride
Roaming About
Just Call Us Nomads

Cute animal of the month! Jackrabbit at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

*All pics are click to enlarge.


So what do you think of our expenses this month? Have you had trouble finding your favorite foods lately? Have you donated to friends or businesses who have lost income due to COVID-19?  How has the virus affected your monthly spending habits?

9 thoughts on “March 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. We’ve gotten less picky about cost when it comes to groceries. We buy what we can when we see it. We’re pretty well stocked up now, so should only need the occasional trip to IGA and the fruteria for a while.

    Love the pinwheel idea – so clever. You’ll have to post photos.

    Also fun to see a photo of the vacant lot you told me about.

    Adorable bunny rabbit 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Nice to have the frutería. The IGA probably has more business than ever now if people aren’t making big grocery shopping trips into Stuart.

      I have yet to start on the pinwheels. The whole point of making them was to be able to give them away – now that’s not going to happen for a while. Still this is a good time to experiment and learn how to make a really good one. Once life gets back to normal I can be giving them away left and right.

  2. Michelle said:

    I want a Tucson pinwheel!

    • Duwan said:

      Oh my, I haven’t even started making them yet and I’m getting special orders! I will try and deliver you one this fall.

  3. Lots of thoughts. Your month-naming seems a bit off – title is different from numbers overview, which is different at the bottom as well. I assume all is for March 2020. 🙂 A zero dollar camping month. Well done! What are pinwheels? Such an adorable animal photo of the month! And you guys are so awesome volunteering and donating money.

    Looking forward to check out your awning project. Passports are expensive and I’m sure your grocery and alcohol bills are higher because of the stocking up for Corona. Ours are as well. I’m hoping to post our report on Wednesday.

    You’re finding beautiful places to camp! Enjoy the scenery and the nice weather.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks catching the month thing! February was wrong too. I have corrected everything to say March now.

      A pinwheel is a simple child’s toy made of a wheel of paper or plastic curls attached at its axle to a stick by a pin. It is designed to spin when blown upon by a person or by the wind. – I stole this definition from Wikapedia. I guess I will have to make one and take a picture.

      It has been so windy we haven’t been able to do the awning. Hopefully at our next location it will be calmer.

      Yes, we are finding great places to camp. I loved the spot on the river at the Hippie Hole. Hope to get back there again some day!

  4. I found you from Leisbet’s blog. Gotta follow you guys. In a different dimension, I’d be you.

    • Duwan said:

      Different dimensions are cool. It would be very odd to go to another one and find that you were me. Wounder who I’d be?

    • It’s never too late to become a frugal vanlifer. 🙂

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