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Extreme Frugality: Living Out of Your Car

This article was written by in Frugality. 449 comments.


A few months ago, television watchers like myself were bombarded by commercials featuring a young man attempting to “live” out of his car for a few days. However, this guy has been doing it since July 2005. Andy Bussell lives out of his pickup truck, sleeping in the back. He wakes up, showers at the university gym, attends classes, then goes to work at the Apple Store. To keep himself from going insane, he is a yoga-practicing, guitar-playing rock climber. Always pushing him towards insanity are the voluntary living conditions:

What he misses most are a kitchen and a bathroom. To deal with the former, he buys food such as yogurt and fruit in small quantities; for as regards the latter, he takes advantage of public facilities. On occasion, he has resorted to employing an empty Gatorade bottle.

sleep-in-car.jpg

Andy decided to lean towards the simpler life when his credit card debt kept piling up. Now that he has been able to save some money, his debt is almost all paid off.

This adventure takes place in California; living in the Northeast, you would need to leave the heat on in order to survive in your car. The frequent gasoline fill-ups would negate any savings you’d manage to keep.

Read the hundreds of comments below for more interesting experiences had by those living out of their vehicles. If this describes you, please feel free to share your experiences below, as well.

Seattle Times

Updated September 8, 2011 and originally published February 27, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 449 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Gwen

I am so sorry if my comment offended anyone. I will re-read my post and make the necessary adjustmentts. I am semi=homeless myself and have learned a lot from each one of you about survival skills etc. I am expericing a major transisiton in my life and appreciate each one of you. peace and love

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avatar robert

I think people on here do not consider themselves homeless. I am giving up the apartment to live in my van full time. I consider it a step up. I can now go when I want and not be tied down to a certain town or city. This is true freedom.

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avatar Ansonetta

Hello All!

I’m 20 years old and I currently am taking out loans and dorming at college during the semesters, but in between them during the warmer months I’ve got no where to stay. I could stay at my friends houses a couple times out of the week I suppose, but I haven’t enough money for an apartment yet and I’m going to be living out of my car most likely. There’s really no other option, I can’t make enough money for an apartment and couldn’t maintain it for my next two years of school.. I’m hoping I can find some safe places to sleep- does anybody have any good ideas? Also, my car is a chevy lumina. I’ve slept in it plenty before, last summer, and I’ve never been bothered, but I’m afraid my set up makes it obvious that I’m in there. I cover my windows with cardboard (the inner sides facing me have art on them, I like it to feel like home) and I use one of my very large wrap dresses to hang from the ceiling and drape over the front two seats so no one could see in back, yet they could see through my front windshield and windows to see my fort. Any suggestions for safety and ideas for not getting caught?

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avatar JCasil

I would like to make a video and put it out on youtube. I have no good video equipment of my own, I would have to find some college students studying video or movies, interested in making an independent film project.

Laws and tolerations are extremely different from place to place. So the video would focus on practical things.

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avatar juju

I made some black shades for my car windows out of black foamboard. Use newspaper to make a stencil of the window and then cut the foambard just slightly larger than the window itself so it will hold itself in place by tension From the outside it just looks like limo tint.

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avatar juju

during the winter, this foamboard cover also acts like insulation since most the heat is lost through the glass.

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avatar serp77

when it comes to your windows you have a few choices, for the back ones you can get them tinted then just put a shade over the front window very much the same as what you do with the sun during the day. nothing wrong with that and who’s going to really notice. the 2nd option you might want to consider is painting the rear back door windows , from the out side it would look just like black tint then of course it would make the back follow suite just from looks.if you are taking out loans etc why not take out a little extra at least enough to cover the cost of a bigger vehicle. I know it might be a little more expensive but it would save on your sanity. As for places to stay I also found out that if you put a “security decal” on your vehicle people wont bother you as much. I always thought that when i see security stickers on any vehicle the 1st impression i get is stay away. If you go that route make sure it looks like every other security sticker out their to make it look official. Hope that helps.

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avatar juju

You cant paint the rear windows because then the driver may be subjected to tickets because it obstructs view while driving. I almost backed into a police officer trying to drive with the rear windows covered.

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avatar serp77

not the back window, i should have been more specific, in a sedan you can paint the back side windows where you can still see out the back window when you look in the rear view mirror , it would be no different than driving a full size van where it has no windows behind the drivers/passengers windows on the sides. and the full size vans do not have windows on the sides any where except for the back doors.

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avatar John

i found that church parking lots are the safest myself, some will chase you off but there are those that encourage it, i found one on the corner of dewey and madison, they’re also fantastic people when my alternator went out and just starting a job with no way to get there they ran out and donated an alternator, im usually there about 2 days out of the week now im comfortable there, the rest of the time i work a graveyard shift thats turning full time, so for right now during my job i found most parking lots are good, i get enough sleep and work. Another discovery i made as far as showering in most business buildings the bathrooms usually has showers, some has codes but i found a funny way to get around that; before i tell i need to let you know where something nice so they’ll think you work there that always work for me, anyway what i did to get the code i just went to one of the secretaries and asked what the code was, worked everytime so far

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avatar David

Walmart is a great place to park. On Amazon, you can find a cheap book of all Walmart locations across the US, and if they allow overnight parking, etc. Great book. Sometimes it is better to ask a manager if you can spend the night. Park way in the back, near a light. Don’t leave any garbage on the ground. Ever. Use their bathrooms. Pick up any supplies. These are fairly safe. Depending on the area. Usually a RV or semis will also use the lot. Keep your doors locked while sleeping.

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avatar Robin

Walmart’s in Hew Hampshire no longer let anyone stay in the parking lots overnight. They have put up signs and gone out to tell the people they can’t stay there. I was recently kicked out of one. They made travel trailer move as well.

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avatar John

Also to add most police officers will likely look the other way but if they get complaints they are forced to tell you to move on, i have one that likes to park in the same parking lot to do his paperwork, ive talked to him a few times and is a great guy

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avatar John

I started living in my car in Oct of 2013 pretty much the same reason of bills; i do have a good job, I do miss the kitchen and the toilet facilities but im getting close to ending my bill problem but im begining to think that living in an apartment or someplace is just a huge luxury, im starting to enjoy living in my car and plan to upgrade with a camper van and live there permanently, ive grown accustom and comfortable in it now, my biggest problem is dating because a persons first thought when they hear i live in my car is that im homeless, and thats not the case.

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avatar gwen

Much to my dismay, I am contemplating another years lease. I really favor living out of my car. I recently sold my condo…came up short…have a good job but I am tired. I can collect pension etc. but I am sick of paying out all my money…like that…Thing is I KNOW I CAN DO IT BUT DO I HAVE THE NERVE…and the skills.

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avatar JCasil

Get that year’s lease.

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avatar robert

Don’t get the lease you will be tied down stuck. Go with the car freedom.

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avatar robert

Its not homeless. It is a choice to live a certain way. Get the camper van..

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avatar serp77

if you have a full size SUV, you have more freedom, you can park any where literally, Campervans are nice but you are limited to where and when you stay so to speak. Full size SUV basically camo’s your life style. if you can not afford a full size suv a smaller suv is just as good. If you choose a car, look for a station wagon, if its a sedan look for an older version like a crown victoria. if possible stay away from coupes they are very small. If you can stretch out and stay warm you will be happy for the long haul. stay safe/keep positive.

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avatar serp77

nothing wrong with living in your car and dating. as long as your car looks presentable right??? in your case I would start thinking about 1 of two things, get into actual camping to make letting her know easier or save up for a bigger vehicle such as a van or a full size suv. I can relate to what you are saying. I told my gf that since she doesnt live with me that i’ll be moving into our suv, its a 1997 ford expedition “eddie bauer” 4×4. its really nice comes fully loaded with leather interior with a 5.4L yes it’s a little more on fuel etc, but if you look around how many expedition’s you do see every day, its comnon as people walking down the street. The women are more understanding than you think. If anything when she see’s how you live she might just want to move in with you. look into a van or a full size suv. the reason I say expedition is when you fold the larger part of the back seat down it fits a single size mattress with ample room. it already comes with tinted out windows.If your working full time saving your money, then it wouldnt be that much more to invest in something a little more presentable. I thought thats what you guys are all saying, make it look presentable. I already told my mechanic that i need at least another 20K’s on my expedition for the simple fact that Its going to be my new home literally. so he told me not a problem, i’ll go over everything and make sure you will get at least 15-20ks before anything needs repair other than oil etc everyday. A little longbut maybe it’ll shed some insite to what your talking about. be safe

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avatar Daniel

Hey John,

Are you still living out of your car? I’m working on an upcoming television series that you might be interested in. If you’re open to sharing more, let me know. Reach out on here and I’ll send along my email.

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avatar serp77

well in the morning i will have my place all packed up to move into my Ford expedition, I’ve been slowly preparing myself for this day, the weather is nice. Winter is gone working full time going for an interview for a position to make twice of what i’m making now so long story short wont really have time to actually have my own place. I’ve told only the important people that i’m tired of the urban lifestyle so now its time to get into “Concrete Camping” I’ve kept everything to a bare minimum where its mainly bedding n cloths, laptop with external hard drives to keep my fair size movie collection. power converter to keep my electronics charged (cell phones,laptop) with a small power bar. I also have my gps to find locations and to map locations as I go, I wont have a problem with parking considering i’ll be working 12 hr shifts which will be at night so when i park it’ll be during the day so to speak. I figure instead of paying $1200/month for rent n car payment i can cut everything in half and live on what i pay on rent which is $500.00, thinking that this could very well be permanent situation. the hardest part much like anything else will be the 1st 14 days. I’m also on facebook, so if anyone would like to chat send me a message it would be awsome to catch-up with everyone, with moral support to pull each other through. I honestly know not everyone will be having a holiday but for me I honestly can not think of a better feeling and yes this is all about being financially set. Its the same freedom feeling when I 1st break-up with my ex girlfriend lol’ Be safe, and its Dwayne Jack ;-) except I didnt break up with my girlfriend, did alot of thinking. Came to the conclusion that no sense in having a place if its just going to be me right, have a safe night y’all peace out ;-)

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avatar Meg Lynn

I park in the employee lot at the airport where I work 4 nights a week. On other nights I’ll park at 24 hour grocery stores, fire departments, a 24 hour casino’s parking garage,
a 24 hour gym. I usually don’t go for secluded. Usually somewhere I feel safe, where I know there will be people around. I truly feel invisible in the back of my minivan. Oh, another way to add privacy – I’m getting my car wrapped by WrapMatch – they’re gonna pay me $400 a month to drive around with my minivan wrapped with an advertisement.

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avatar LKG07

Can you tell me more about this WrapMatch? I also work at an airport and am planning on using the airport employee lot but it is uncovered and get VERY hot. How do you keep cool in the summer?

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avatar serp77

It’s been almost a month since I moved into my Expedition, I’m extremly comfy with this option. I found that for the sleeping bags, i just went with 2 bags for now. one light one of course then a 2nd one which is to be a heavier mummy bag and between the two they are great for the over night temperatures. I have also picked up a shumacker 1200 watt power pack that i use regularly to keep my cell phones charged. Since I don’t not have that much room for solar panels I went over to canadian tire and have purchased 2-2.5 watt solar panels. For the food, I have purchased a party pack coleman cooler and it keeps everything cool during the day since at night the temperature drops so the cooler adapts and yes its just awsome. i’ll be picking up a 2nd party pack cooler this friday when I get paid. they are smaller and they are designed to be stacked. I also found out that you can also use it as a small table top so I mainly use it for my laptop to watch movies lol.Very cool. For boredom i found with my psp’s and movie collection and sleeping when not working, I’m never bored. People are starting to get used to the fact that I am now living in my Expedition, at 1st they taken aback but since I’ve told them how much money will be going into my account, they have a different attitude now. Since i’ll have more than them when I’m done. Attitude has to be positive otherwise you will go into a slump regardless of where and why you are living in your vehicle. I make it known that this is what I’m doing and why I’m doing what I’m doing, lol best part is I speak with a genuine smile. with the high inflation of the living costs and since its just me I really do not mind, I’m enjoying this till the fall early winter. For the internet connection, i go to mc.donalds and buy a large coffee and turn on the laptop, mainly to check msn and facebook. For showers/laundry I go to the truckers stop, pay $6.75 for the shower which i go every 3 days. I found that if i have enough cloths boxers/undershirts/socks to go 14 days it will be easier. mind you that again is paycheck to paycheck right. to do my laundry it costs $3.00 per load to wash/dry my cloths which is way cheaper and faster then the laundry matte. since I’ve been living in my Expedition I found that I have more of a life since I’m actually out everywhere. Before it was, go to work, come home. when I would come home I would go straight to my room and stay their unless it was to eat dinner or to have a shower or laundry. People are more understanding when you are honest with them, if they ask tell them the truth. its great conversation, for me several people have told me “if i was your age i would be doing the same thing as you” way to go ;-) Remember this is your freedom, your piece of mind, your life that you are living. one person told me that since i have money i should get a place, I told him straight out, why??? I have no bills, I finally starting to have money in my accounts. So I was polite and broke it down like this.
rent-$500.00
Insurance-$200.00
car payment-$500.00
fuel$320.00(give or take depends on how much I drive)
Food-$300.00
I was not kidding on that having a rental was expensive and this is what i spent every month. Since I live on site, my insurance has dropped,fuel bill has dropped and the car payment has dropped. My paycheck is $1200.00 every two weeks. so I’m getting $2400.00 every month. 1st month was expensive since I have had to buy everything but even still i have $500.00 in the saving after everything is said and done.

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avatar Meg Lynn

I have joined the YMCA. I had been going there and asking if I could just take a shower. Most of the time they said yes without a problem, sometimes they would say no and I’d have to ask for a manager. Now that I’ve joined I don’t have to ask anymore. They provide financial assistance to low income people. It would have been $99 to join and $51 a month. They waived the fee to join and I only had to pay a total of $76 for a 6 month membership, which comes out to $12.33 a month. I plan on going there to swim in the heated pool and to climb their rock wall.

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avatar I'm houseless to

Hi inspiring people. I’m from San Diego and houseless too. I’m a short & asian who lives in my honda civic coupe. I was forced to move out of my gf’s apt due to a bad break-up, but anyways, it’s been a month that I’ve been sleeping in my car. Our building at work is open 24 hours so I stay most of the time at our parking garage. Hope everyone is doing well and don’t hesitate to e-mail me if you feel like chatting or whatever. Take care.

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avatar margie

I got married almost 2 years ago.Now I’m 55 and my husband who refuses to settle.We have a 85 pound dog and chickens.I Had gotten them with the socalled knowledge that we were moving to Oregon soon.I was going to get work there.That was a joke.He later told me no.He had some work for friends to do.I hate where we are at.We live in a large van wIth tools all around.No water fridge air conditioner or heat.I Cook on a sm.propane stove and sweep out the never ending dog hair dirt.Always have some type of bug problem.flies mosquitos bees.I always get bit and have scars to prove it.He doesn’t so it’s nothing of his concern.Im a Christian and hate this .What do I do?

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avatar jcasli

There are a number of things you can do to improve that situation, that I could suggest, but they all take a little electrical power or money. Do you have money to spend?

For one, you could get a lot of sheer very see through white fabric (that allows the air to move easily through it) and make a tent around your van using the nearby trees or putting up some poles, but that would take some money. They sell these at stores that they sell fabric in, like Wal Mart, for $1 a yard, but you would need a lot to go aruond your vehicle and then some living space around your vehicle. If you were to buy some kind of large ready canopy tent to put over and around your vehicle and living space and then add some fabric walls to it, it would probably cost over $200.

If you have no access to an outlet, even with 200 feet of extension cord, you just really need to get solar panels (meaning solar panels, wires, batteries, and a controller.) Even something modest that will run a couple of car coolers, “swamp” cooler in the day, or heat pads at night to keep warm or small electric blanket to sleep and relax comfortably and even to run a small electric bug zapper (instead of going with a tent set up) is going to cost $600. That is the lowest estimate I can think of. That excludes the cost of the individual electrical appliances, like the car coolers, heat pads or SMALL electric blanket and bug zapper.

Do you want more information on that.

I have be in my car for years, in HOT swampy weather, but I am mobile. I can drive my car around, say, to go to the library for the day. put my car in the shade (ususally several blocks from the library), fill the coolers with ice and work at the library.

I have just started my own solar set up now.

As for being a CHRISTian, does that mean you are too clean to be subject to this? too decent? that is not being a CHRISTian, but being a pharisee – your indignation is conceited and misplaced.

That might be a part of your cultural background – that your people do not live this way. That is not wrong. You are in a unique situation. and your background cannot cope or help.

If you think it is blasphemy, you are arrogant. CHRIST has no place to rest his head, as he said. And often the APOSTLES did not – you have more than that.

So all the poor people in the world are unholy – cannot be CHRISTian? you yourself have not read THE WORD then. you are letting greedy blasphemers tell you what THE WORD says.

I have been doing this by CHRIST , if you do not want to learn, if you want OUT, then you are in the wrong website.

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avatar Robin

Aren’t you the judgmental one against the Christain. I pretty sure that that was not what she ment when she stated the fact that she was a Christain. Glad I don’t know you.

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avatar jcasli

Lots of people say they are CHRIST ian and are not. lots and lots and lots. good and evil people. It is not a fact that she is a CHRISTian. you certainly don’t know either. Do not be hateful of people living in that situation or on less because CHRIST and the APOSTLES lived on less and were hated. I don’t know what she is or what you are. you sure assume that you know me and her also.

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avatar Robin

You have made an argument where there doesn’t need to be one. All she did was ask for advise. She didn’t ask to be judged for her comment. Not many people would like to find out that their husband or wife doesn’t mind living in a filthy place with farm animals and tools. The Christian comment seemed to me to be for those of us that would tell her to leave the dirty bastard. That’s no way to live for anyone, Christian or otherwise.

avatar Lucy

Poor Margie. My gosh

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avatar Serp77

when you get into solar power set-up, I used a shumacker 200/400 watt power pack with a 2.5watt solar panel, it was rather solid, in that alone just make sure what ever you are charging is turned off while charging, as for the solar panel, smallest you need would be 8-10 watts, last but not least look into whats called a smart charger, the company I went with is ctek. little more cost but you can charge main battery as well the external battery the same time.

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avatar Robin

Get out. Dump his sorry butt and move on. Doesn’t look like he’s going to change any time soon. He obviously doesn’t care about you. If he did he would try to do something to make your life easier. He’s a jerk and you need to dump him.

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avatar JCasil

You are arguing and judgemental, “dirty bastard” on and on, and you claim you are clear of argument and judgmentalism. I said it is a lie that CHRISTians are not subject to poverty, or should not be when the vast majority of people are. When they ARE. Reality, robin. You claim that you know her mind or something. Even if you made the same comment in your life, “I should not suffer this, I am a Christian,” you don’t know her. You cannot take CHRIST out of CHRISTian. CHRISTian is not an adjective, or human vanity (vanity/blasphemy). THE APOSTLE Paul made it a point to suffer with the most hurting people. INCREASED his humanity and CHRIST ianity, FAITH. He did not say, I should not suffer this, I am a Christian. He defines CHRISTianity. I gave my advice on a screen and electricity and costs to get some reality on the situation. IN ADDITION using the name of CHRIST vain or wrong brings evil you want to avoid.

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