It may seem counter intuitive, but you’d be quite surprised by the level of discipline had by many of the people you see living in their van or RV. While I’m certainly not advocating such drastic measures to reduce your debt, this is one financial diet I’d like to learn more about. Earlier in 2012 Duke University student, Ken Ilgunas, wrote an Op-ed piece for the New York Times describing his mission to remain debt free after having paid off his undergraduate degree while entering into his Masters program. His book, “Walden on Wheels,” recounts his 5-year journey in paying off student debt while working in Alaska and avoiding future debt by living in his van on the Duke University campus parking lot.
While it’s true that not everyone residing on 4 wheels is as focused on a goal as Ilgunas, even transient, the ones traveling, are no slouches. Living in a compact space has been a growing trend since the economic downturn began. While many choose to live in a smaller, stationary abode, there is still rent attached. What Ilgunas did and many like him are doing is significantly decreasing, if not deleting their overhead. The stories are endless. Their choices are incredibly intentional. They plan their weekly meals and take meticulous care of both their bodies and vans. Until Obamacare kicks in, health insurance wasn’t mandatory, and they couldn’t afford it, so they ate clean, got a gym membership for exercise, bathrooms, showers, unlimited water and a place to charge their cell phone.
They’re often accused of being drunks, but they’re their own security system and can neither afford the booze nor being inebriated, thus compromising their ability to fend off intruders to their “home,” which happens more than you’d think. They don’t have old clothes on a shelf that they intend to fit into again one day or stockpile their favorite snack. Every inch of their van is necessary and collecting things they’ll never use isn’t in the spatial budget. What they have, they use. They shop for food regularly, often choosing farmer’s markets to eat fresh, clean food. They have hot pots, electric skillets and other minimal cooking equipment, but what’s lacking in equipment they make up for in fresh produce and creativity.
No, this isn’t a lifestyle many people could willingly, or even unwillingly, adapt to, but it does happen to be a growing choice for those struggling with debt brought on by student loans, divorce, or even choosing to avoid going into debt, like Ilgunas. The take away here is not to pare down so much that you’re living on the side of the street, but what we can all glean from their lifestyle is a sense of intention in our finances and to lose the passive acquisition mentality. Just because you want it and you can afford it, does that mean you should have it? No. Variety isn’t always the spice of life. Sometimes it’s the bane of your checkbook and a hollow grab at fulfillment. Passive acquisition is destroying budgets and financial futures one purchase at a time. Step back and take a look at your home. What’s there that’s collecting dust or holds barely a memory of why it’s on the shelf? Does it have value; can you sell it? Are all of those jeans being worn or can you donate a few pairs? What does your space, the items in your refrigerator and the purchases you make say about your own financial goals?
Are you currently, or have you ever lived in your vehicle? Whether intentional or as a last resort, leave your story in the comments below. Or if you feel it’s time to make changes to reduce your personal overhead, tell me about the changes you’re ready to make.