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A Week Living In A Van On A $100,000 Salary

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Today: an art director who makes $100,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on a lap desk.
Currency in USD.
Occupation: Art Director
Industry: Beauty
Age: 30
Location: Van
Salary: $100,000
Net Worth: $54,800 (savings: $17,200; investments: $24,600; property (Class B RV): $90,000; minus RV loan, below)
Debt: $77,000 (RV/van loan)
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $3,200
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Van loan: $575 (My girlfriend and I bought this van together. While I cover the monthly loan payments, she does most of the driving.)
Additional Van Fees: $200 (Beyond the monthly loans, expenses include dump fees, campsites, and services.)
Phone/Internet: $90
AAA: $23
Savings: $3,000
Harvest Host: $7
Carbonmade Subscription: $12
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
There was an expectation from my teachers and peers. My folks knew how expensive college was and encouraged me to attend a community college if I wanted to attend higher education. They could not help me pay and I am one of nine children. I decided to look into student loans because I yearned to be in an arts program at a university. With a Parent Plus loan and a few others, I was able to enroll in a notable program. Four years later, I had a Bachelor in Fine Arts and $50,000 in student debt. I am relieved to say that I was able to pay off my loans during the pandemic. I took on several side jobs to make it happen. Those loans caused me a lot of stress so I'm glad they are behind me.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I do not recall conversations about money.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I worked at a cookie kiosk in the middle of the mall at 16 years old. It was uncomfortable asking my folks for money to go to the movies so I got a job. We didn't get paid for chores or good grades (which, looking back, I understand why), and I was a bit too old for lemonade sales.
Did you worry about money growing up?
Yes. We were always being convinced that we were going to run out of money. We were always in the grocery store aisles doing the math to see which cereal box was the cheapest.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes. It often consumes me. I fear that if I'm not careful, I will need to ask for money in the future.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became financially responsible for myself at 18 for the most part. I do want to note, however, that without the Parent Plus loan, I would not have been able to get my degree. And while the last thing I want to do is ask my family for money, I know that if I fall on hard times, I do have folks in my life that would help me out. That gives me peace and I am grateful.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I have not and don't expect to.

Day One

9 a.m. — We're in Louisville, KY this Sunday morning. I begrudgingly wake up earlier than I want after a late night. The Philadelphia Eagles' game is on later so I am poked awake by my girlfriend to watch with her.
10 a.m. — We take the van over to Butchertown and walk with our pup companion, V., to grab coffee ($8) and scope out a nearby whiskey distillery (the distillery didn't allow dogs so we skip it). We browse Zillow as we point out some incredibly cool houses in the area. We are delighted that they are half the price of the less-than-stellar homes in Seattle that we scoped out when we lived there. A goal of “van life” for us is to figure out where we want to put down roots. $8

12 p.m. — My girlfriend, Z., finds an Eagles bar for us to watch the game. We order a couple of Bloody Marys, crab cake eggs Benedict, avocado toast, and a salad. Z. always pays for Eagles-related meals — it's an unspoken agreement.
4 p.m. — We get back into the van and head north towards Indianapolis. We decide to stay at a winery in Indiana that is a Harvest Host (membership-based RV stays) for the night. It's very economical.
7 p.m. — We eat imitation crab and dried fruit for dinner while watching Love on the Spectrum. I wrap up some freelance design work as Z. drifts off.

Daily Total: $8

Day Two

8 a.m. — I wake up with the sun most mornings. Z. is always awake and working by the time I even sit up. I slept horribly as there were dirt bikes and shotgun rounds throughout the night — the Midwest lullaby. We put in six to seven hours of work. We both work remote jobs, but mine is on West Coast hours.
3 p.m. — We go inside the winery to support the business in the form of wine slushies ($19). We hit the road as soon as Z. wraps up work. I continue to take calls as Z. starts the drive. $19

6 p.m. — We decide to treat ourselves and book a hotel in a small town in Michigan ($115). The weather turned, so our plan to explore the town on our scooter was moot, and there were no Lyfts to be found. At the same moment, I find out my PayPal account was hacked and my inbox is being inundated with hundreds of spam emails. Z. tries to turn the night around and treats me to dinner in town. She's sweet, but my mood cannot be recovered. $115

Daily Total: $134

Day Three

10 a.m. — We head out to find a spot to park by a lake for our work hours. It is a rainy, windy day, so the waves are incredible.
12 p.m. — We try out a cute place in town for lunch. The perch is phenomenal. $40
4 p.m. — We wrap up work and continue to head north. We stop in to dump (the part of van life those influencers don't talk about) and top off our propane. $18

8 p.m. — I need a re-do of yesterday night so we find a rad place to go for dinner and cocktails in downtown Grand Rapids ($95). After dinner, we settle in at a Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night. We love CB even though we really shouldn't. $95

Daily Total: $153

Day Four

8 a.m. — We get some work done and go into CB for some hot coffee and toast. Our pals gave us a gift card, so we use that to cover breakfast.
3 p.m. — We head north to Traverse City, and fill our gas tank. Z. and I take turns paying — it's my turn. It's expensive up here ($64)! I fix up a salad kit and feed Z. as she drives. It's a very funny sight. $64

5 p.m. — We explore downtown TC and pick up some cherry cider. This town is Cherry Capital after all. $20

7 p.m. — We head to our stay for the night, Walmart, and make some pasta and zucchini for dinner. There is a Home Goods in the plaza we are in, so how could we not stop by?? We buy a little trash bin for the van bathroom, a lap desk, and pumpkin spice wafers. $26

Daily Total: $110

Day Five

10 a.m. — Toasted English muffins with cream cheese and cowboy candy relish we grabbed at a farmers market in Wyoming last month. We use up the last of it which is a sad day for both of us.
3 p.m. — We head out after a few hours of work to go to a campsite nearby. We need to refill our freshwater tank and this campsite has a view of the lake. Though we have a shower in our van, a large shower with limitless hot water feels like a spa. $46

5 p.m. — We go on the M22 scenic drive to a lighthouse. It's the leaf-peeping that we've been craving.
7 p.m. — Z. finds a pub for us to watch the Eagles' game so we drop off the van and hop on the scooter for a cold 12-minute ride into town. I order perch again and a pint of Two Hearted Ale. She gets a sandwich and a pint of Labatt's. She covers the meal.

Daily Total: $46

Day Six

8 a.m. — We put in a few hours of work in the morning at the campsite and park at the beach. Toasted English muffins with cream cheese for breakfast. So good, so easy.
2 p.m. — Before leaving, we go back into town to pick up an M22 sticker (now that we are OFFICIALLY M22 travellers), and Z. ends up falling in love with a quick-dry robe. I foot the bill. Happy to reclaim my quick-dry towel that she has slyly taken as her own. Love, man. $88

3 p.m. — We graze on freeze-dried veggies (okra forever), almonds, imitation crab meat, and clementines for lunch. We head north after wrapping up work. I continue working as she drives. We've worked out a good rhythm.
5 p.m. We swing into a farm/winery/shop that advertises donuts and hot cider. We cannot resist. They are out of donuts so we walk away with a caramel apple, hot cider, and asparagus soup. Z. pays.

7 p.m. — We arrive at the decided-upon boondocking spot right by the lake. We catch a phenomenal sunset. Z. nervously expresses that the spot is a bit more secluded than she thought it would be, and there are no other overnighters in sight. Z. and I have made an agreement to always follow our guts, so we decide to go back into town to find a well-lit lot to crash in. After an hour of seeking out a lot, we cave and pay for a campsite for the night. Z. agrees to pay since she is now kicking herself for turning down the lakefront overnight spot. But it is only $22! Not bad since the Midwest charges for dumps.
9 p.m. — I enjoy two glasses of red wine while Z. drinks a beer. Our mood is slowly recovering as I begrudgingly finish BIP (It begins to feel like a chore, but a chore that is on my chore wheel so I need to mark it off), and she catches up on football's latest.

Daily Total: $88

Day Seven

9 a.m. — Ahh, Saturday morning. It is a relief to not have to worry about connecting to the internet to log into work. I get a text from my friend (our first van visitor!) that she will be arriving an hour late. This means more lounging time.
10 a.m. — Z. comes back from a stroll with the pup and excitedly tells me we are parked next to the water! Because we came in after dark, we figured we were landlocked. Turns out we slept right next to Lake Huron. We put on our fall best (aka beanies and boots) and explore the grounds. What a gem.
11 a.m. We head north towards the Upper Peninsula to meet our pal, U.

1 p.m. — We run into a local grocery store to grab the junkiest, most delicious foods possible (potato chips, PB oreos, hot dogs). We don't want to subject our guest to our weird dried produce and imitation seafood options. Rookie mistake shopping at a tourist town grocery store, though. $86
2 p.m. — We meet up with U. She is hungry after her drive so Z. and U. grab food at a nearby food truck in town. It's right outside of a really rad-looking bar so we grab a beer and eat on their patio. I already ate some turkey sausages and cheese curds so I skip on ordering food, but U. buys me a pint of local beer.

4 p.m. — We navigate our way to our boondocking spot for the night. We have learned our lesson and try to get to more secluded spots earlier in the day. The daylight helps make it all look less “victim-in-a-true-crime-podcast.” We find a clearing right next to the lake. The fall leaves are red and orange and the air is crisp. THIS makes it all worth it.
6 p.m. — I heat up the asparagus soup and cheese curds on the gas stove (so they will squeak) and cut up the caramel apple for dinner. Really feeling our autumn oats. We drink beers and take photos of the stunning sunset on the lake. We wind down around 10, after long chats and big laughs. Our front dining area converts into a guest bed so we set that up and drift off into the silent night.

Daily Total: $86
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