August 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

A stop along the way to Glacier National Park.

It is hard to believe we spent the whole month of August in Montana. We hung out some more with our friends Ellen and Scott who are traveling their tiny Scamp camper, visited Glacier National Park, went kayaking 5 times, photographed lots of birds, and started a journey along the Missouri River exploring a National Monument while we learned about travelers from another era, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the Corps of Discovery.

Since I have been using this expense report to not only talk about the money we spend but also as a place to catch everyone up on what we have been up to, I thought I let you know a little bit about what this current month (September) holds for us.

After a week and a half of traveling the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (UMRBNM) down dirt roads, being mostly off the grid communication-wise, we have found a pleasant spot along the Yellowstone River in a free county campground. We had plans to explore more of the Missouri River and then go on to North Dakota but then my camera broke. It didn’t completely break at first, just the zoom, but then as we were topping a hill with a nice vista of the Missouri River on our way to our final campsite in the UMRBNM it quit working altogether. I have temporarily solved the problem by gently forcing the zoom open and closed but the camera has been having significant problems for a while. It is time for a new one before I have the most amazing bird in my sights and no camera to document it with.

The van needs a really good cleaning. Greg really needs to have a vision exam. I have lots of blog posts to pen, postcards to send, letters to write, social media to catch up on, and new blogs to read. We have plans to make for the future of our traveling life. And we need to figure out when it will start getting cold and we have to return to the Southwest. Sometimes the journey gets a little overwhelming and you just have to stop for a while.

Cottonwood Campground, in the Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area. We kayaked three times while we camped here on the Missouri River and in the adjacent reservoir. You can see Pirogue Bleue lying to the right of Ballena Blanca.

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.
Campsite at Big Larch Campground in the Lolo National Forest. ($10 a night)

And our total expenses for August were…


Here is the break down of categories…

Expenses August 2020
Gas $179.75
Insurance/Registration $98.04
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $35.76
Van Total $313.55
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $6.63
Camping $45.00
Household $0.00
Laundry $16.00
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $67.63
Phone $78.16
Mail Service $100.00
Communication Total $178.16
Food $225.54
Booze $108.57
Cleaning/Paper Products $2.97
Medicine Cabinet $12.91
Consumables Total $349.99
Drinks/Eating Out $0.00
Museums/Attractions/Music $0.00
Entertainment Total $0.00
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $39.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $39.00
Clothes $208.94
Gifts/Charity $5.00
Gear $80.00
Personal Total $293.94
*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.

I’m pretty pleased with this month’s report. Even though a few categories went up, enough other categories went down that we spent around $400 less than last month. We spent less on gas, groceries, booze, and camping. We had an unexpected expense to replace a broken handle on our side sliding door. At $35.76 it wasn’t a huge amount of money and I found out that we can order replacement parts online from Ford and have them sent to a Ford dealer where ever we are going to be next.

Greg with his new duds – hat, t-shirt, shorts, and hiking shoes. He’s looking pretty good, isn’t he?

The unusual bit of spending we did was for new clothes and shoes. My favorite flannel shirt had been in distress for many months – seams ripping and holes appearing. I love my flannel shirt. It’s warm and comfy. I can wear it in the morning when it is chilly and then tie it around my waist when it warms up while we are hiking. I wasn’t particularly attached to the one I had and had been looking out for a new one but brand new flannel shirts are expensive! I always get my flannel shirts from thrift stores and we hadn’t been in one since the start of the pandemic. Greg needed new shorts, hiking shoes, and a hat so we spent a day in Kalispell, Montana visiting thrift and outdoor stores getting reoutfitted.

Although we got my shirt and Greg’s shorts at a thrift store, we decided that we needed to spend whatever it took to get Greg good shoes that were comfortable and supported his feet. He ended up with a pair of Keens from REI. Paired with new insoles, Greg’s new hiking shoes have worked out great! Greg also found a nice hat in Cabellas to replace the $2 hat he bought at a flea market many years ago. Oh – and a bit of a splurge, Greg bought a t-shirt from Glacier National Park.

On the left, my old flannel shirt. On the right my new to me $2 flannel shirt.
Dispersed camping in the Flathead National Forest near Glacier National Park. We met up with our friends Ellen and Scott here. You can see their camper, Scamper, just to the right of Ballena Blanca.
Sunset at one of our camping spots in the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area. We camped in 3 different spots in the WMA and only saw a few other campers the week we were there.
Sunrise at another campsite in the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area. We kayaked twice while we were here.

A few stats you might be interested in

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

3 – nights boondocking on BLM* land
8 – nights dispersed camping in a National Forest
2 – nights at a free BLM campground
2 – nights paid ($20) at National Forest Campground
3 – nights paid ($25) at BLM Campgrounds
3 – nights in a Walmart parking lot
10 – nights at Montana Wildlife Management Area campsite

*Bureau of Land Management

Camping in the Walmart parking lot in Great Falls, Montana.
Greg plays guitar along the Missouri River at the free Wood Bottom Campground in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Camping at Coal Banks Campground in the UMRBNM along the Missouri River. ($10 per night amenities include potable water, wifi, recycling, and super nice camp hosts.)

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

Number of times we kayaked in August: 5. Pirogue Bleue (our kayak) has been paddled 23 times since we bought her bringing our cost per trip down to $21.91. Certainly cheaper than a kayak rental!

Number of miles driven: 1272 (this makes our August gas cost about 14¢ per mile)

Value we have gotten out of our $80 National Park pass since we bought it in May 2020 – $230. A $150 savings so far!
Bryce Canyon NP $35
Craters of the Moon NM $20
Yellowstone NP $35
Little Bighorn Battlefield NM $25
Grand Teton NP $35
Yellowstone NP (again) $35
Glacier NP $35
Upper Missouri River Breaks NM Visitor Center $10

Campspot at Judith Landing in the UMRBNM. ($5 per night) We don’t normally have shade but we were able to park Ballena Blanca so her solar panels were still exposed and the trees shaded the side door from the sun.
Boondocking spot along the Missouri River in the Badlands of the UMRBNM.

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

*All pics are click to enlarge.

Us on the Missouri River.

8 thoughts on “August 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. You both look great! Love the new clothes! You should be on the cover of an outdoors magazine! Montana has come to life for those on your blog. Thanks for the updates!

  2. You did great with the expenses! Congratulations. I think you might have us beat this month, at last… 🙂 I’ll be a little late with my posting as I’ve been busy and there is another blog that needs to go out first. Let me have a look at our August 2020 total.$1241. Ha! That’s funny. You practically beat us…

    Love your new shirts. We splurged on some clothes as well. Thrift stores don’t let you try things on these months (just like clothing stores), so we have bought some work T-shirts for Mark (without logos) and shorts for me. But, our biggest expense, again, is my editor. It will be so for three months total.

    Will you stay in your current campground to catch up with all the chores? You guys find the most amazing campsites! Our National Parks pass runs out this month. We won’t have gotten its value back for the first time ever. 🙁 Next time.

    1. But of course you beat us – even with your extra editor expense. This month will be our big month with my new camera – you could live a couple of months on what I’m spending!

      I have been trepidacious about going to a thrift store since the pandemic but it all ended up ok and luckily we didn’t need dressing rooms.

      I think sometimes I just make the campsites look better than they actually are. But that boondocking spot on the Missouri was just beautiful. And the skies we saw at Freezout lake were amazing.

      We stay where we are now at least until next Sunday when my camera should arrive at Best Buy in Billings. We have 10 days here so our time will just about be up by then. Here’s hoping I feel caught up by then.

      Looking forward to meeting up again soon!

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