Van Life: How one couple beats the high cost of living In San Francisco

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ByDion Lim via KGO logo
Friday, October 26, 2018
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The cost of living in the Bay Area is not cheap. So this couple decided they'd live in a converted van.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The cost of living in the Bay Area is not cheap. So what lengths would you go to in order to save money on housing?

According to, the average one bedroom apartment in San Francisco in September of 2018 was $3,300. In San Jose, not much better at $2,600 and $2,500 in Oakland.

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So when married couple Paris and Lovell Lee decided to move to San Francisco for school, they didn't even bother with looking at apartments. Not wanting to be in debt, these Navy veterans and full time students made the decision to live in a converted van.

Their previous life in Los Angeles couldn't be more different.

"Our life in LA was so glamorous! We had a Jacuzzi, we had a pool outside and big windows," reminisced Paris.

Lovell mentions they even had two cars, a Mini Cooper convertible and a BMW 7 series.

RELATED: American Dream of buying a home may be unattainable for majority of Bay Area residents, study finds

For a year and a half, as the two finish school for marketing and directing, they live in about 60-square feet of their van. The floors are faux wood, the bed a converted futon and there's a small barrel-turned-toilet inside.

By living this lifestyle, the couple is able to save thousands. Their expenses total just about $1,000 a month, with the bulk of the money going toward food (a lot of packaged tuna and brown rice) and the van's $300 van loan payment. The rest goes toward a gym membership so they can shower, cellphones so they can use the internet in the van and the occasional parking ticket.

Tickets and towing weren't their only challenges at first.

"We didn't know where to park in the safest areas, so we've gotten our windows busted and we've gotten towed...but now we know where to go."

RELATED: Effort underway to help find solutions to address Bay Area's housing affordability crisis

They also admit to arguing a lot in the beginning, and not being aware of each other's space. But the process has also made them stronger.

Paris says while they're prepared to live in the van for up to 9 years if necessary, their end goal is to one day buy a big house somewhere and raise their children in it. But for now, they say they want to share their story of frugality, shedding the materialistic life and showing others it can be done.

"You don't see many people of color living in a in a van as black people, we wanted to show people that are low income housing that if you want to choose to go to school, that you can live in a van. There are other options."

You can follow their #VanLife adventures at