I converted the van myself so that I could afford something nice. It took me a month full time to plan my build, and two more to build it out. Now that I know what I’m doing, I could do it in half the time (especially if I spent more on the van up front to reduce mechanical fixing time).
This may seem like a lot of money up front, but when you realize it’s your primary mode of transportation as well as your living space, it makes more sense. You also don’t need to pay it all up front. You can buy a used, already converted van, and get a regular used auto loan to cover it, at 3-4% interest. Making payments is MUCH cheaper than rent, and at the end of your term, you’ll own it free and clear and can really start saving money.
I bought most of my stuff through Amazon. Amazon Prime is phenomenal while working on the van, as I could get the supplies I needed in two days, or pay a bit more for overnight. They offer free trials, a $6/month membership, and a special trial just for students!
I hunted for a used van for a few weeks. I knew I wanted a diesel because they get good gas mileage (23 MPG) and last awhile (500k-1mil miles). I knew I wanted something I could stand fully upright in. This pretty much meant I needed to get a Dodge/Mercedes sprinter. From 2004-2006 Mercedes shipped it’s engines to dodge to assemble. That made them the cheapest options. I got a good deal on one with ~250,000 miles on it, for $6900. It needed another $2000 in repairs (I tried to do as much as I could myself to lower the price).
Total to get a mechanically sound van: $8900
Wallas XC Duo Stove/heater combination: $2600
Used DC Marine Fridge: $150
Insulation: Thinsulate roll $550
Floor insulation, plywoood, and vinyl top: $150
Welded steel bed frame & plywood: $600
Latex Mattress: $250
Vent Fan: $250
Gaming Projector: $550
Two Insulated Projector Curtains: $300
Cabinets (lumber, stains, and two base cabinets): $300
Video Stereo Receiver: $200
LED lights: $40
Sheepskin seat covers: $100
Caulks, glues, electrical supplies, tools, etc: $200
Some of these can be omitted for your build, or replaced with something cheaper. After totaling everything up, this living space was cheaper than I thought it would be. I also now have an asset that I could turn around and resell it for $20,000+