April 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

Sunset at Las Cienegas.

I thought this was going to be one of the easiest expense posts I had ever done. We didn’t walk into a store in April until the 15 and weren’t planning on hitting another store until May 1 after another stint of quarantining. Then things started breaking. Our vent fan broke, but that could wait. My hiking shoes were coming apart at the seams and had several holes in the upper material but the soles were still pretty good. But then the stove broke. One can only eat so many cold pimento cheese sandwiches so we broke our quarantine and headed into town.

Our campsite at Madera Canyon.

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 April were…


And here is the break down of categories…

Expenses April 2020
Gas $75.38
Insurance/Registration $101.08
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $176.46
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $73.90
Utilities $20.98
Camping $0.00
Household $14.58
Laundry $11.25
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $120.71
Phone $77.18
Mail $0.00
Communication Total $77.18
Food $249.90
Booze $141.25
Cleaning/Paper Products $9.06
Medicine Cabinet $7.03
Consumables Total $407.24
Drinks/Eating Out $0.00
Museums/Attractions/Music $0.00
Entertainment Total $0.00
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $0.00
Gear $2.04
Personal Total $2.04
*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.
Sunrise in the desert near Ajo.

So on to the part where the stove broke. But first, let me explain our thoughts on quarantining. We have been trying to quarantine (stay out of stores or any place where we would have contact with other people or places where other people have touched things) for two weeks at a time for a couple of different reasons. First, it is possible to have the virus (COVID-19) for two weeks and show no symptoms. Quarantining for two weeks means that when we do go out in public and potentiality expose ourselves to the virus again, we will be fairly certain that we aren’t infected and therefore won’t be infecting other people. Secondly, the less we go to stores the less we have to clean our hands. Since washing our hands with soap under running while we sing Happy Birthday would deplete our water supply in no time we have been using baby wipes with a little squirt of rubbing alcohol after every time we leave a store. Our rubbing alcohol supply is running low, we have been unable to find more in stores, and Walmart doesn’t carry grain alcohol (in case you wanted to suggest that).

We have only been kind of successful with this quarantining strategy once. I say kind of because there was a whole lot of people roaming around Madera Canyon during our 8-day stay there. But we hardly saw a soul during our next stint of quarantining so we were doing pretty well until the stove issue.

We weren’t sure what the problem was, figuring it could be the stove itself or the hose running the propane to it. It is just a regular camp stove which I knew that we could most likely find at any Walmart. Then again, maybe not. We were heading through Phoenix so we decided to start our search at the first Walmart we came to on the outskirts of the city. Our reasoning being, that if they didn’t have stoves in stock we’d check the next Walmart on our path.

The thing about Walmarts is that although they are all basically the same, the communities you find them in are not. I think this Walmart not only served the municipality it was in but every small town west to the Arizona/California border. It was freaking busy!

We ended up buying two different stoves and a new propane hose. These were each separate trips into the store, each time standing in line to get in and then standing in long lines at the self-checkout (all they had open) meanwhile trying to keep 6 feet away from the copious amount of people milling about. We also returned one of the stoves – and stood in another line to get into the store. I was seriously glad the lady at the Service Counter couldn’t see my expression under my mask when she said we couldn’t return it. Thankfully she was joking. It was all exhausting and I have no desire to go into a Walmart ever again, but now I can grill those pimento cheese sandwiches.

Our two other big purchases this past month were an extra jerry can for water and toilet paper. Water, hot food, and TP. We have it made!

A few stats you might be interested in

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

13 – nights on BLM land
11 – nights in a National Forest
4 – nights in a National Wildlife Refuge
2 – nights in a Military Range

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 39

Number of miles driven: 589 (this makes our April cost per mile for gas 13¢)

Campsite at the Barry Goldwater Range.
A little music to cook by on our new stove.
Duwan at Agua Fria National Monument.
Sunrise at Agua Fria National Monument.
Campsite in the Prescott National Forest.

Our new awning set up that I mentioned in last month’s expense report. We took two tarps that we already had and added snaps to them so they could be connected together. We bought extra-strong magnets to hold the tarps on top of the van. We also had to buy a ladder to get to the top of the van. The ladder collapses and is stored behind our refrigerator inside the van. We also bought two awning poles and some rope to hold it all in place. It works well in gentle breezes but strong winds will detach the magnets. It is still a work in progress.

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!

*All pics are click to enlarge.

So what do you think of our expenses this month? Have you had any unexpected expenses recently? Are Walmarts crazy where you shop?

10 thoughts on “April 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. That was really interesting. You are disciplined. I am pretty disciplined (many would call me ‘very’) but you are amazing. Most people don’t realize how much you can save by cooking at home, something I don’t get. Husby is a good cook and we love eating together, using the leftovers, and like you, fixing the stove when it breaks!

    Good luck. See you next post!

    1. Thanks! I’ve calculated it and on average for the two of us we eat for between $7 to $10 a day. That’s super cheap! Eating out is nice once in a while but it is soooo expensive.

      It’s nice that your husband is a good cook. I do most of the cooking but Greg has his specialties like van pizza!

  2. I miss your pimento cheese sandwiches, cold or hot!!!! 😉 Awesome job on the budget. You lucked out with even being able to return items at Walmart, here many places are not taking any now in CA. Keep being safe, you have a good plan in place. Great easy tarp for shade sitting outside, wonderful pictures. Hope it’s not getting too hot where you are. Big hug to you both!

    1. Hugs to you too, Tina. Hope all is good with you in California.

      Yeah, I was afraid there would be a no return policy right now but things are kind of lax here in Arizona. Especially where we are now – in Prescott. There are very few signs that there is a world wide pandemic.

      When this all over we will have to meet up again and I’ll grill some more pimento cheese sandwiches!

    1. Thanks! It didn’t take too much discipline this month. The entertainment category, eating out and visiting museums and such can sometimes get out of hand but now, of course, none of that is really available.

      Sending good wishes back from the middle of the forest in Arizona.

  3. Grain alcohol isn’t strong enough to be anti-viral. It has to be 65% alcohol to work. There used to be some 150 proof rum (75%) years ago, but I haven’t drunk hard stuff for decades now (except for a once/year grappa or cognac). It might still be out there.

    1. Everclear is supposed to come in a variety of proofs from 60% to 90%. I’m not sure if all liquor stores carry Everclear or any kind of grain alcohol. We just haven’t looked yet. Shopping has become exhausting and we still have some rubbing alcohol left – I imagine we will start to explore other options when we run out.

  4. Wow! That is a fantastic expense month! It might be your lowest to date. I bet the pandemic helps with that. It certainly does with us, not that we usually eat out or pay for entertainment, but still… I’ll post our report on Wednesday. It think our total is about the same as yours.

    Amazing that your new stove only costs about $70. The way you have built out your van s certainly minimalistic and I think that’s where you save(d) a lot of money as well. Sorry to read that things kept breaking. Hopefully, you are OK without a fan these weeks. Hard to stay and shelter in place for two weeks, huh? 🙂 Shopping is a pain in the arse everywhere these days…

    1. Not sure how I missed your comment! You are right, it is our lowest month since we have been tracking. The pandemic is helping – not only with eating out and entertainment but we are traveling less and staying in places longer which means we are spending far less on gas!

      We might have been able to spend less on the stove. The problem may have just been the hose which only cost around $20, but our stove was pretty ragged so we decided to get a new one anyways. It is nice that everything isn’t built in and we can easily replace things.

      I didn’t want to go into another Walmart for a while but I’m over it now. Walmart is just another little challenge in our life. But I do envy all those people living in houses who can get their groceries delivered.

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