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Where Does my Money Go!?

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Money is a major issue for all of us, especially in today’s very bad economy. Almost every week I get an email from a reader telling me they lost their job a while ago now they are being evicted. Among their other questions, they ask me if they can afford to be a vandweller. I write back and answer their other questions and then ask them, “How can you afford to not be a vandweller?” I am convinced that living in a car, van or RV is by far the cheapest possible way to live long-term. I have been preaching that in my various web-sites and forum for the last seven years and I think it is finally time I prove it.
At the end of the month, all too many of us are broke and wondering where all the money went. It seems like we make enough to live on, but we can’t, we are always broke. Don’t feel bad, most of us can relate. The key to fixing the problem is to keep track of your expenses so you know where the money is going. Once you know where it is going, you can make informed decisions on what you should be spending your money on
Or maybe you know where the money is going, but there just isn’t enough of it. The solution to that problem is keep a close track of your spending so that you don’t spend any more than you have, and that you only buy the essentials. So if it is the 24th of the month and the money is all gone, you can look back on your expense log and see where you wasted money. When you see you spent $30 on magazines and coffee at Starbucks early in the month, and now you are broke and can’t afford to eat, next month you will skip buying magazines and Starbucks Coffee. Going hungry is a great motivator!
So for you, my blog readers, I am finally going to set up a Budget to track my spending. As I told you in my last post, I will start on August 1, but now I need to set up how I will record the information. These are the categories I will use for my budget. Remember, these are what work for me, you can change it to fit your individual needs


We all have several fixed expenses we pay every month and never change. Rather than record them individually every month, I am just going to total them up and record them once. Here are my Fixed Expenses:

Truck Insurance…..$39

Verizon MIFI Data Plan…..$50

Telephone…..$10 (Friend and Family Plan)

Sirius Satellite Radio…..$14





Your van is no longer just transportation, it is your home! If it breaks down, you need to be able to get it fixed as fast as you can! So your top priority for your budget is to set aside money every month in an emergency fund for whatever may come up. I have a friend who calls it his Transmission Fund. Whatever you call it, put money into it every month, even if you have to go hungry to make it happen (but skip the magazines and Starbucks first)!


We live in our vans to improve the quality of our lives, not to prove who can live on the least. If there is something you want, but can’t afford, you need to start saving for it. In the old days we would just put it on our credit card, but we aren’t going to live that way anymore. If you really want a solar power system that costs $500, and you don’t have that much money, start putting $50 a month in your Solar Power Fund, then in 10 months you can buy it.


This category is fairly obvious, except I am going to expand it to everything I buy at a grocery store. Tooth Paste, paper towels, and band-aids aren’t food, but since I buy them at the grocery store they are all going into this fund. The reason is that I am lazy and I need to make this as easy as possible. If you are more disciplined, you can break it down into several more categories.


While I can go long period of time without eating out, sometimes I can do it every week. It’s pretty helpful to see how much I eat out, so I am going to keep it as a separate category.


For most of us, this will be one of our biggest expenses, so we need to know how much it is per month. The simplest way to record it is to keep a notebook on the dash of the van and every time you go to the gas station record it. At the end of the month transfer it to your expense log.


This is everything I spend on my car, truck or van except gas and insurance. Mainly it is for preventative maintanence (like oil changes), tires and repairs. It could include body repairs as well.


This is going to be broad category of money that I spend for things I do for pleasure but they are non-essentials, like movies, magazines, museums, Renaissance Faires, and even classes.


This category is for clothes and shoes I buy and also for laundry and repair.


This is not for vehicle repairs (that goes in Auto Repairs) this is for upgrades to the “house” part of the vehicle. So if I buy a new Mr. Buddy Heater, TV, microwave or Reflectix, it goes here. I just ordered a new Solar Controller, it goes here.


This includes prescriptions, dental visits, Doctor’s visits and trips to the hospital along with any supplies you need to maintain your health. If you use vitamins and supplements, include them here.


I love my dog like he was a child, but he costs a lot per year, so if I want to know where my money goes, I need to keep track of spending on him. This includes dog food, supplies, and vet visits.


This is the catch-all category for things I’m not sure where else to put them.
Okay, so that is what I am starting out as categories. I would love to get your suggestions for methods to keep track of how to record the expenses and for categories I may have missed. Thanks, Bob


  1. CP

    Great blog, Just wanted to make a suggestion. I too have sirus radio. I shut it off and then started receiving special deals. I am now on my second 6 month subscription and both have cost me 25 bucks each (averages a little over 4 dollars a month). Give them a call and demand a better deal.

    • Bob

      That’s a great suggestion CP. I’ve heard that they will do almost anything to keep a subscriber. My problem is finding the time to be on hold waiting to cancel. It takes forever, I think they do it on purpose to discourage people from canceling. it’s working with me! Bob

  2. Greg

    Hey Bob, I carry a small notebook that fits in my shirt pocket. If it’s handy I find I am more likely to write down what I spend. For now I broke it down into simple categories, food (what I buy in a grocery store), BLD (breakfast, lunch, dinner aka eating out), gas, and miscellaneous. I wanted to get an overall picture of what I was spending out of pocket but not including the fixed expenses of insurance, etc. By keeping it simple I find I don’t slack off on it. I’ll track more closely where the $$ goes and expand categories but for now this is getting me in the routine of writing it down. It’s become 2nd nature to do it everytime I spend. Maybe this will help others get started too.

    • Bob

      i agree with you Greg, the simpler you keep it the more likely you are to actually follow through. Better some information actually gained than a lot of info started on and then given up on. For now as a service to the reader I will try to keep a better record with more info. If it gets too complicated I’ll simplify it. I think I’m going to do a combo of your and Jennies method. Like you I will carry a little notebook and try to record things as they happen. But i will also do what Jenny does and keep all my receipts just in case I forget. Then every few days I’ll double check the receipts to make sure they all got entered. it’s a good thing you guys/gals are all there to help me figure things out!! Bob

  3. Edie

    Hi Bob,
    Another category might be “rent”, for those who might want to stay at a campground or park. Also gym because some people join it to be able to take showers.

    • Bob

      Edie, those a are great ideas! I will include them as suggestions for the readers, but they don’t apply to me because I never pay for camping and I’m never in a city long enough to go to a gym. Thanks for the ideas though. Bob

  4. John Lamb

    This should be interesting! Will be watching to see how this turns out Bob! This past winter, while in Q-zite, I actually got by in the month of December on $537!! I ate every day, paid my truck insurance and my sole Visa, had gas to move around with,internet access via Pilot Travel Center wi-fi, and my cell phone (Straight Talk via Walmart) and had a very enjoyable time just doing absolutely nothing!! I too am pretty lazy!! lolol….

    • Bob

      Wow, very impressive John!! It is very easy to live cheap while boondocking. And it sounds like you had a good life while doing it. It really helps that you like your own company!!! I plan to be in Quartzsite for most of the winter, If you are going to be there again, lets plan on getting together. And of course that goes for everybody here, you are welcome in my camp. Bob anytime!!

  5. McBe

    I was an XM sat radio subscriber and loved it! I eventually let it go (which, by the way, was easier to do in writing than on the phone) as I was trying to get the monthly expenses down. I found out later that if I’d purchased a longer term plan (3 years), the monthly cost would have been a lot lower (about $8 per month vs $15). Now that I know how to get it at a lower cost, I may subscribe again or I might try some app from the Itunes store which is similar.

  6. mommie

    I love your blob. You too!

    • Bob

      Hey, I am NOT a blob, I have a blog!! And yes, this really is my wonderful mom, who I love more than life itself! I am assuming that is a typo, RIGHT! Your loving son, Robert

  7. Magype

    for those of us still tethered to a house/apt. it would be cool to categorize our spending also and thus be able to compare what life on the road would cost vs our current immobile state.
    ps We are working on the van and renovating the house for future sale.

    • Bob

      Magpye, that is a very good point! I think that is the main value of my keeping a budget, to give people who are thinking about vandwelling something to compare their budget to. Hopefully it will encourage people that they can live on very little money, so maybe they can afford to give it a try. Are you keeping track of your budget right now? It may help you make your dreams come true.
      Good luck on the sale of the house! I’ve heard some places the market is coming back, I hope that’s true in your area. let us know if there is anything we can do to help!! Bob

  8. Kitty

    Wow where do you get van insurance for $39 a month? And cell phone for $10? I have lived in a hightop cargo van for two years (inspiration received from your cheap RV living site) I was lucky to be able to sell my house and buy a brand new van. O was also lucky to live near Mr.Vantastic who insulated and built the van to my specs. I designed the van with a double row of shelves running down each side A clothing closet behind the drivers seat and a short closet near the cargo doors. My only mistake was buying a van with side and rear windows. To much heat gain. Parking in the shade helps.

    • Bob

      Hi Kitty. Did you cover the windows with Reflectix? is it possible to do that now? Reflectix works incredibly well to keep the heat out of the windows. Sounds like your van is very well laid out! In that smalla space, organization is critical and it sounds like you have lots!! Where is your bed?
      I’m not in a van. i had to have 4×4 and I couldn’t find a 4×4 van I could afford, so I live in a 4×4 pickup. For 2 1/2 years I was in a small, homebuilt camper on the truck, but for the last 1 1/2 years I have lived in a converted 6×10 cargo trailer. i don’t need 4×4 anymore, so this winter I am going to sell the truck and get a van.
      I have Progressive Insurance and my truck is a 1993 so its old and I only carry liability. I think $39 a month is fairly common for something that old. It will go up a lot when I buy a newer van with full-coverage this next winter. I’m sure your insurance on a brand new van is much, much more than my old pickup. But, you won’t have to worry about repairs and reliability for a long time either.
      My cell phone is on a “Friends and Family” plan. So it is an added line on a friends plan and only costs $10. I need to change it though. I am planning on getting a Verizon Pay-as-You-Go plan. It costs $2.00 every day you use the phone. So if I use it 5 times a month, I will pay $10, if I use it every day I will pay $60 a month. But, every day i use it, I get unlimited minutes. So if I make one call, I’ll make lots of calls. I use the phone very little, so it will be my cheapest option. Bob

      • Kitty

        Dear Bob,
        Right you are. New van=higher insurance. My phone is presently a NetTen deal. 750 minutes (includes text with phone) for 25 dollars a month.
        The bed is put up every night between the stationary port and starboard shelves. I have 6 pieces of 10×36″x3/4 inch stock. On top of that I lay a two inch firm foam exercise mat, then a 1″ Thermarest pad(from my younger camping days), then 4″ Thermarest “Dreamtime” an unbelievably comfortable sleep. The best thing about a removable bed and shelves on the side is that once the bed is stowed, I have a long hallway to walk in(and spend rainy days)By the way. I have a high top on my van. That makes a world of difference.

        • Kitty

          Opps, sorry, ment to say I put interior tinting on all my side and rear windows. As I bought a cargo van, The side windows are only in the cargo door. I am registered non-commercial in NY state, so I have some limits on how obscured my windows are allowed to be. also GMC/Chevy has a four wheel drive van, a 1500 I think.

        • Bob

          Hi Kitty, thank you so much for all the detailed info!! I am just very impressed with everything you have done. There are a lot of great and creative ideas there. keep them coming! Bob

  9. Johnnomads

    I have Casper insured thru Progressive also, while i think $40 a month is pretty normal, i have everything except collision, so it’s a bit more. What you list as your home address though, often has a lot to do with what they charge you. When i “lived”in the city, my rate was much higher then when i “lived” in the boonies.

    • Bob

      Hi John, glad to see you and Casper here!! I think you are right, your home address has a big effect on how much your insurance is. When I moved my state of residence from North Carolina to Nevada, my insurance went up although nothing else changed. The lesson being to consider that when you choose a state of residence. Bob

  10. Linda

    Great post.. my friend searching for vehicle insurance and i refer her your page… thnx for this valuable post..

    • Bob

      Thanks Linda, glad to be helpful. Bob

  11. AC

    Hi Bob,
    I just found your site via Glen’s site To Simplify.
    I really want to try this life style out but can’ t convince my fiancé. We also have 3 kids between us we are supporting ages 16, 24 and 28.
    I love taking in your knowledge and experience.
    What part of North Carolina did you call home?
    We are contiplating a move to Raleigh from Wisconsin. I am so sick of the cold.

    • Bob

      Hi AC, be careful of persuading your fiance to do something she doesn’t want to do. That often leads to an unpleasant life. My suggestion is to take her camping for overnight trips and see if she likes it. Make it as pleasant an experience as you can. Vandwelling is very similar to camping, usually if you like the one you will like the other.
      It sounds like you need a rather large income, and unless your job lets you work from home that is fairly hard to do and live mobile at the same time.
      I lived in a little town outside of Asheville, NC for 1 1/2 years and really liked it. Because it is up in the Blue Ridge Mts, it has a true 4 seasons. Summer highs are in the low 90s but winters can be cold with regular snow. BUT nowhere near as bad as Wisconsin. I have only driven through Raleigh, but it seems like a nice place. it’s a college town which is generally a good thing. It is much too hot for me to live in. Winters would be mild but I’d guess they would be very stormy.
      I wish you all the best in following your dreams! Bob

  12. freedombadeaux

    I have been in my Saturn since July! I gave up my HUD and left my apartment due to entire apartment flooding every year and in the end found out the entire complex was infested with bedbugs. The state Board of Health did nothing!!! So here I am. I get my first van January 7th. For the first I will be staying local in South Jersey. I will read this forum starting here…I am filled with joy knowing you guys are out there! I’m a result of the sixties and have been a hilly by nature my whole life! I have felt alone most of my life. AA helped fixed that. But you guys are the answer to my prayers! I can’t wait for my continued journey!!!

    • Bob

      freedombadeaux, I’m so glad you found us! I know exactly how you feel, finding a group of like-minded people who think like you makes life so much better!
      You may want to consider joining the forum. Go to the home page or blog at and you’ll see the menu buttons. Click on the one that says “Forums” and then join it. You will find yourself in a community of people who think just like you do.
      Welcome home my friend!

  13. Michael James

    Yo Bob, I have been flirting with living out of my van for a few years. Its a 05 Chrysler Town & Country in pretty nice shape. I don’t think I’ll build it out until I live with it for a while. I’ve been a professional musician for 50 years and have of late been honing my repertoire for Baby Boomers. Do you have any thoughts on how well what I do will support my traveling habit?

  14. Sharon

    My concerns isn’t just money a lot of my debt is my cat who is diabetic and has to have insulin syringes twice a day special cat food he almost died which it cost me a pretty penny, have any ideas to pay down debt faster then the monthly plan, I’m all for this style of living but my concerns are my fur baby, enjoy reading all the info .

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