There is only so much planning one can do in life. Planning means carefully considering and thoughtfully predicting and then preparing for any and all things that might happen in the future….that sounds exhausting to me. Planning a nomadic life like this would be virtually impossible anyway, the very act of making plans seems to doom them to failure and life and distractions get in the way, we allow them to, in fact we often encourage a detour, an unexpected change of direction. Dixie is not called the Backwards Van for no reason. The next best thing we can do then is plan financially, at least we can have some control over our future and let’s face it, whatever happens in life, be it good or bad, is bound to cost some kind of money.
The first question we get when we tell people about living and travelling in Dixie is “How can you afford it?” I promised to write a little on the topic of money to hopefully answer these questions.
Our budget is €20 (about £17.50) each per day and our financial week runs from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, I’m that kind of person. Before vanlife I was just the same, running a household on a much-tighter-than-necessary budget and saving every single penny possible. I made careful, informed decisions about spending, especially on our utility costs and consumption taxes and now that we are on the road, nothing has changed, every penny remains accounted for. The way we view it is that each day we spend no money is another day we get to live on the road for free, stretching our amazing journey out even further. We seek out free places to go and free sights to see and we prefer a forest walk and picnic to a restaurant meal, its not only cheaper but has less people, food we’re guaranteed to like and no annoying distractions (I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of screens in public places since I emigrated 7 years ago. No matter how hard you try to resist your eye is drawn to them, I’d rather watch what is happening out a window or even stare at a brick wall) Budgeting is something I like to do, I enjoy knowing where our money is going as we worked hard and saved hard for it and for this adventure, it would be foolish to let it slip through our fingers now. Recording our spending accurately is easier than it may sound too, we make so few transactions, once we managed only 6 in an entire week. That’s not bad in terms of having control over what we spend and what we spend it on.
Two lists run concurrently in our budget diary, one for day to day expenses and a seperate list for all things hardware and mechanical, the van herself included. We had originally set aside €10,000 to buy our camper and then Dixie drove into our lives (and then drove us into the sunset) for less than half that. That left plenty of funds for new tyres, some essential tools and even two trips to the garage full of expensive but necessary procedures. We have bought kitchenware, storage boxes, paid our road tax, insurance and roadside assistance membership, replaced one back window and financed all the paint and varnish necessary to redecorate from the original van budget and have still not hit that €10k we had guesstimated to begin with, although 9 months and over 12,800 miles later we are getting close. The beauty of the hardware list is that it is full of items we won’t have to buy again, numerous regulators for the gas bottle, a great memory foam mattress topper, the portable stove and all the kitchen equipment, all owned and accounted for now.
I strongly dislike money. I know it is necessary for everyday life on this planet and I understand how the economy is supposed to work but ever since as a small child I learned that banks charge YOU to hold YOUR money for you (but your life can’t function properly without a bank account) I’ve been rather suspicious of the whole concept. Barter is where it’s at in my opinion, swapping need for need with neighbours and friends. With money it is definitely a case of the more you have the more you need to have. Some people live well beyond their means and even though they might appear rich to you or I, often that is all it is, appearances. I’m not a fan of appearances, it seems an expensive habit to maintain and there will always be someone richer than you anyway, where does it ever end? Some people spend their whole lives stockpiling money by working long hours, others literally dispose of their income monthly on trends, junk, items that will end up as clutter and expensive bin liners. Or worse, this frugal minimalists absolute nightmare, they rent storage units and pay a yearly fee to keep this stuff crowding up their lives. Did you know poorer people tend to be more charitable? I wonder why that is, are they more content with having just enough, or do they have a better understanding of empathy? What does ‘enough’ mean, surely it is different for everybody, what does our ‘enough’ look like?
Our day to day budget is simple to track. We have no utility bills and the only electronic payment we make is to buy phone data, cheap as chips at €20 each per month. Our heater and stove run off a big bottle of propane (or butane, if we have to, though it doesn’t seem to last as long and is prone to sluggish behaviour in colder temperatures) These bottles are about €22-25 and last us about 3 weeks, we also occassionally use smaller, pricier cartridge gas canisters if we get caught short. We dont pay to stay at caravan sites, preferring to find our own more isolated parkups. These warm spring days the sun slides down so slowly, hesitantly, we sit and watch the spectacle every night and we don’t need to turn on a lightbulb until after 9pm. Our electricity is free remember, generated by the engine and stored in the leisure battery until required, I guess you could say it is a by-product of driving our home to the next stop off. We use some batteries in headlamps but our main torch, like our phones, is rechargeable through the leisure battery too, a handy payback considering the cost of filling Dixie full of diesel.
Diesel. Our main cost. Dixie drinks about €75 (£85-ish) from red light to capacity. We fill up about once a week, sometimes twice in 10 days, depending obviously on our circumstances and where the map is taking us at that particular moment. Occassionally we stay a few nights in the same spot and other times you might see us zipping 150 miles across the country to visit both our families in the same day so our diesel costs, when calculated weekly, can fluctuate wildly. Diesel costs fluctuate across businesses too obviously, and we may go out of our way and add miles to our journey to visit a particular station that has something else to offer us too, a tank of fresh water perhaps, or a shower room. The important thing is we are aware of our mileage costs and can control them by travelling where we can in relatively short hops. When Dixie hopped into Yorkshire from Scotland, the 3 hour 26 minute journey took us 3 lovely, slow and cheap days.
Now, making only 6 transations in one week is nothing to boast about if each one was €50 or more so we’ve learned to shop much smarter for our foodstuff. A bag of coffee, reduced just today to only £1.19, makes about 20 cups, the flask we already own…. We gave up takeaway coffee during our first month of vanlife, a simple americano seems to go for around £2.30 and thats about the price of 36 cups from our cafetiere. Everytime I recorded a coffee stop in the diary I got more and more annoyed and it wasn’t long before we stopped throwing money away like that when we could take five minutes to make a pot of coffee ourselves. Little sensible decisions and watching our wallets means our money stretches so much further. Experts recommend dealing solely in cash for everyday expenses but we use a debit card, it comes with all the transaction information right there in the app, especially handy when changing from euro to sterling as we do, and no fees so long as the account has a healthy balance. Coffee and tobacco, two items of huge importance in Dixie, two things we could learn to do without someday.
We shop for food around twice a week, once for a big haul of supplies and again for a top up-shop of bread, chocolate and coffee, a usual spend of around €55 and another €10-15 a few days later. Canned food suits vanlife perfectly, soups, chili, fruit etc as do dried fruits, nuts and seeds, crackers and cereal. We don’t eat meat or drink milk and our meals are simple and fresh, what we do consume a lot is snacks as we are always packing picnic bags for long walks on the beach or in the woods. We’re getting to know the supermarkets tricks to try to get our money- yes, 49p for a bag of carrots sounds fantastic and a great deal alright, and those signs are big and bright, but one aisle over the same carrots are packaged washed, chopped and ready to eat and cheaper per kg. We’re watching you, Special Offers, always watching.
In reality, we can and occassionally do go over our budget. We’re not in the business of denying ourselves what we want in life either. A meal out with family in York this week cost £71, thats two days of living expenses in one meal. It was delicious though and we regret nothing 🤣 We just try harder to keep a closer eye on the next few days, live for little or nothing for a while and hope it all balances out, however roughly, over the course of the month. We thought we’d need to look at getting jobs by now, that was something else we were ‘planning’ for originally, more proof long term planning simply doesn’t work with vanlife. Our budget has at least another year of living and travelling in Dixie before we’ll need to add any income, just as long as we keep watching the sunsets and watching our expenses. Vanlife is the cheapest and most fun way to live and travel we have ever heard of 😉