High housing costs have many Americans considering unconventional ways to cut costs, including living in their car, to save money.
While living in your car can have some risks and require some planning, it’s not impossible to make it work. Here are the pros and cons of living in your car to save money, and how to decide if this lifestyle is worth it.
What it’s like trying to live in your car to save money
There are plenty of ways to save money by living in your car. Living in your car eliminates one of your biggest expenses — housing. You also won’t have to worry about the other costs that come with renting or owning a home, including utilities, decorations, and internet. Plus, the confined space of a car also encourages a more minimalist lifestyle and reduces the amount of stuff you need.
The best part? It’s likely that you already own (and pay) for a car, which makes moving into your car an affordable transition. Outside of just saving money, living in your car gives you the freedom to explore the world around you and embrace a nomadic lifestyle.
Transitioning to living in your car full time takes a lot of organization and preparation. You’ll want to factor in all the various costs of owning a car, including maintenance, car insurance, and gas. Many car dwellers recommend tinting the windows of your car or buying car window covers to give yourself more privacy and keep your car cool (note that you may not be able to do this with a leased vehicle).
You’ll also want to make sure your car has a strong security and safety system (especially if you’re shacking up with a pet).
Next, get all your documents in order. Make sure your license, vehicle registration, and car insurance documents are up to date. You’ll likely have to downsize your belongings before you move, so now’s the time to donate or sell the items you no longer want or need. Another option is to rent a storage unit, which can cost an average $190 per month depending on where you live.
Lastly, stock up on the supplies you need to make living in your car comfortable:
- Thick blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows
- Tarps or camping equipment
- A camping stove and cookware set
- Anti-theft devices
- Cleaning materials
- Non-perishable food items
- Water containers
- Flashlights with extra batteries
- A first aid kit
- A portable battery to charge your electronics
- Dash cam for added security
Is it illegal to live in your car?
There’s no federal or state law that prohibits sleeping in your car. But many cities and municipalities have their own bans on it. It’s also generally illegal to camp overnight on public property, including parks and parking structures. And finding the right parking is a challenge we can all relate to.
There may also be laws against sleeping in your vehicle during certain hours of the day (typically at night), which is why it’s important to read up on local laws before getting anywhere.
Like any other driver, you’ll also want to abide by the rules of the road and obey any traffic laws. Since you may be on the road frequently, you may want to drive during safer times of the day or week. For example, Sunday has the least number of car crashes, on average.
Dealing with the challenges of living in your car
It’s very possible to live in your car and thrive, as long as you understand some of the challenges that come with it.
Common issues people encounter when sleeping and living in their cars include:
- Finding safe places to park overnight, especially if you are parking illegally (one suggestion we have is finding a local church parking lot)
- Dealing with extreme temperatures during hot or cold weather seasons
- Lack of storage space for personal belongings or groceries (which often requires multiple trips from stores to your car)
- Maintaining good hygiene without access to nearby showers or bathrooms
- Having enough gas money to keep moving around
- Potential legal issues from local authorities if you get caught parking illegally
Higher food costs
Food costs may become your biggest expense, especially if you don't have access to a kitchen and are living in an expensive city. There are a few options to keep your food costs down, including setting up a cooking station within your car (if possible), cooking outside your car using a portable stove, or using a friend’s kitchen to prepare meals.
Access to bathrooms
You’ll want to be in proximity of a bathroom and shower when living out on the road. Car dwellers recommend getting an affordable gym membership for showering. Some gyms are open 24 hours a day, making them also a good option to park overnight and get access to Wi-Fi.
Parking Safely Overnight
Finding a safe place to park at night is another big challenge that comes with living in your car. If you’re traveling to a new location, you’ll want to scope out a place to sleep before you get there using Google Maps. Typically, the best places to park are in parking lots at large retail stores or gyms, or on busy streets with other cars. Try to do research ahead of time to make sure you’re not parking in a location with high rates of car theft.
Living in a car also means dealing with the weather. During hot days, park your car in a shady area, set up a battery-powered fan, and crack the windows to get air flow. During colder weather, layer up and wrap yourself in a sleeping bag or additional blankets. You can also use a battery-powered heater to trap heat inside your vehicle.
Living in your car can also be fun
While living in your car comes with many challenges, it can be an exciting way to live, not to mention affordable.
Assuming you have a vehicle that is comfortable to sleep in and you're able to find legal places to park, living in your car can be an incredible experience. It gives you a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility. You can go where you want, when you want, without having to worry about rent or a mortgage. And if you get tired of one place, you can simply pack up and move on to the next.
Additionally, living in your car forces you to streamline your belongings and live more simply, which can be a very freeing experience. But if you're prepared for the challenges and open to new experiences, living in your car can be an incredibly rewarding way to live.