A YOUNG couple has slashed their monthly bills in half after buying and transforming a van into a tiny home-on-wheels using just a tool kit and a borrowed saw.
Jessie Biser, 29, an online yoga instructor, and her software engineer partner Christopher Kelly, 25, have been fulfilling their dream and travelling around the US for the last 18 months in their Ram Promaster Van.
The couple, who first met each other in Atlanta, after Chris relocated from Massachusetts to begin a new job, bought the vehicle together in January 2019 for $40,000 (£29,000) – just eight months into their relationship.
They spent a year turning it into a place where they could live full time and then hit the road – and are now saving $27,000-a-year (£19,000).
“One day, shortly after we started dating, I mentioned I had the bucket list item to live in a van for a summer,” Jessie, who is originally from Minnesota, said.
“Chris thought this idea was absolutely crazy at first but after a little more thought and research, decided living in a van would be exactly the kind of excitement he would enjoy.
“We both love seeing new places, spending time outdoors and don’t need a whole lot of physical things to be happy.
“I had been thinking about living in a van for a while but originally envisioned just living out of an SUV/smaller van for summer and not making a tiny home-on-wheels but when Chris said he was interested and that he wanted to go all-in with a shower, oven, toilet, etc., I was extremely excited.
“My small dream soon turned into something big and great.”
In a bid to keep costs down, they did the renovation themselves while working, picking up DIY skills through Youtube ‘how to’ videos.
In the end, the couple spent a total of $18,000 (£13,000).
Jessie said: “We did all of the build ourselves which saved us money on labour.
“We only had nights and weekends to renovate with only one Ryobi tool kit from Home Depot and a borrowed table saw for a few weeks, but everything else was done by hand.
“The whole thing took us about a year to complete but we were 90% finished after about seven months.
“We had no experience building out vans before, Chris had some experience with carpentry but that’s about it.
“We learned all the electrical, plumbing and propane ourselves through a lot of research online.”
For Chris, the top priority was getting a fixed shower and keen baker Jessie wanted an oven so the layout of the 21ft long and 8.8ft tall van took some careful planning.
Chris said: “We spent months researching other vans and took our favourite parts of each and squeezed them all into ours.
“We tried to utilise every single inch of ours so there was no wasted space.
“Both of our seats swivel around to create a more open feel and so we can have extra seating if we have people in with us.
“We also made sure to have two workstations since we are working full-time.
“One person sits on the bench and the other sits in the passenger seat and lifts the flip-up countertop extension.
“In the back, underneath our bed, we have a pull-out bench, so we can pull up to a location, pull out the bench and relax.
“We have two flip-down tables – one on each door – to put drinks/snacks on while we’re hanging out in the back of the van and we have a shower that has hot and cold water, a toilet, an oven, and a stovetop in our van so we’re fully equipped to be off-grid.”
Their favourite feature is a sunroof in the top that is actually a boat hatch.
Chris added: “We wanted something that was sturdy enough for us to climb in and out of to access our solar panels and hammock chairs so we went with a boat hatch.
“It lets in a lot of light during the day and it’s a great way to see the stars from bed at night.”
They stuck to white and lighter shades to create a spacious feel and themed the aesthetic around mountains, with murals created by an artist friend on their kitchen backsplash and on their headboard.
It is challenging sometimes living in such a small space and having to deal with the inconveniences of living in a van.
Eighteen months on, Jessie says their lifestyle is completely different and it’s saved them a huge amount of money, while allowing them to explore.
She said: “Living in a van is much cheaper.
“We went from two rent payments and two car payments down to one van payment.
“Our combined total was $3,800 (£2,700) compared to now paying $1585 (£1,100) between us.
“We aren’t sure where we want to settle down someday, so this is a great way to see every place and really get a feel for it.
“If we like a place, we can stay there for as long as we want and if we don’t like a place, we can leave and drive somewhere new.
“It is challenging sometimes living in such a small space and having to deal with the inconveniences of living in a van.
“There are a lot of things that you just don’t need to worry about when you live in a house like where am I going to sleep, are we low on water, where can we dump our pee, grocery shopping frequently, no couch to spread out on, stuff always all over the place, do we have enough WiFi to work, etc.
“These can make every day a little more stressful and communication is really important.
“Overall though, the weekend exploration and amazing places we get to see are certainly worth the inconveniences.
“We have covered about 20 national parks and 12 states already in 2021, including Arizona, Utah, Colorado and California.”
When it comes to advice for others thinking about making a similar leap, the couple added: “Everyone has their own priorities, but if this is something for you, there are ways to make it more affordable and to make it work for your life.”
A video showcasing the interior of their van that was recently posted to their Instagram account seriously impressed viewers:
“It turned out so cool,” one person said.
This was followed by: “You guys killed it with the details,”
Another person wrote: “We love this van build, definitely used it for inspo on our build.”
Someone else said: “Your van is my absolute favourite.”
Previously in van stories, I quit flat to live in a van, I save £1.5k a month on rent & have no bills – loo’s a glorified potty but it’s worth it.
One couple have saved £3.5k a MONTH by swapping their flat for a van, they shower outside & don’t have a proper loo but they love it.
And a man transformed old builder’s van into stunning £39k campervan with tiled shower & smart kitchen – and you can now buy it.