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This man lives on $800 per month in a Prius

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I hope I never live in a building again.

My tiny Prius home is filled with luxury, ease and all the space I need. The world feels vast and limitless.  I am house free with everything I need close at hand in poetic flow.

Those are the first words you encounter on David Swanson’s blog, Luxury Living in a Prius.

While most people couldn’t stomach the idea of living out of such a tiny vehicle, the retired potter-turned-adventurer has lived in his Prius for six years.

He doesn’t crave a bigger rig. Doesn’t want a fancy campervan. He’s slept outside the Prius just a dozen times, and feels most comfortable cozied up in his hybrid.

So, why a Prius? How did David even get here?

Why David started living in a Prius

Many years ago, David was a successful potter and martial arts enthusiast in Wisconsin. As time went on, he had a harder and harder time using his thumbs. He’d developed severe arthritis from his work.

David had to stop working and start living on disability.

At first, he moved into a 34′ motorhome with a wood stove and solar, spending four winters trading working in sustainable gardens for parking spots.

But he got tired of getting only 6 miles per gallon. David had heard about other people living in a Prius and the minimalistic lifestyle appealed to him.

💡A Prius is special vehicle for car dwelling. It has “Ready Mode”, which means you can operate the vehicle using just the battery, keeping it warm or cold throughout the night. Some Prius dwellers say keeping the car in Ready Mode all night long uses just 1-gallon of gas.

David bought an inexpensive salvaged 2006 Prius which he completely rebuilt.

“Right from the beginning I was committed to making my Prius into the best home I’ve ever had,” said David. “From there, I’ve tweaked and refined and minimized and organized and I love the space. I love my little car.”

How David made his Prius camper comfortable for living

David tweaked his Prius to make it even more comfortable to live out of. He removed the passenger seat to make way for a 2-inch teak board.

Living in a Prius means getting creative. This teak board is David's kitchen during the day.
David removed the front passenger seat and added a teak board, which serves as a kitchen during the day, and part of his bed at night.

During the day, the board serves as his little kitchen area. At night, he rolls his sleeping bag out and lays his head in that space.

For his bed, he uses a Thermarest backpacking pad on top of a Thermarest Mondo King 4-inch mattress. Then, he uses two sleeping bags from Enlightened Equipment Company, which can be snapped into one large bag.

David also installed 200-watts of solar with a lithium battery on his Prius, which he uses to power his induction stove for cooking, his 12-volt Engle portable fridge and a folding electric bike.

Solar panels mounted on the roof of a Prius camper
These are the solar panels David mounted on top of his Prius.

“Based on gas savings from running the Prius in Ready Mode much less often, I have nearly paid for the panels and controller in the first 6 months of using them,” David posted in the Facebook group Prius camping.

David also replaced his driver’s seat with a comfortable leather seat which he found in a junkyard for just $65. He can sit there for hours, reading, meditating or watching his tablet.

He has magnet-hung curtains for privacy.

The perfect setup for someone living in a Prius. Functional and comfortable.

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David lives on just $800 per month in his Prius

At first, it was a big adjustment to live with less, but then, David became accustomed to his lifestyle change.

“Now I feel wealthy – more financially secure than I ever had in my life. I had times where I made $10,000 per month and had way more financial stress. Now everything is budgeted and I don’t worry about money and don’t think about it,” said David.

I feel wealthier now on $800 per month than I did on $10,000 per month.

Here are his biggest money-saving tips:

Learn to stay satisfied on cheap food

David spends time figuring out which foods are cheapest – or most expensive – per calorie. Even though David used to be an avid vegetarian, now he eats meat because it costs less.

Pot of food cooking on a stove in David's Toyota Prius.
David cooks healthy foods inside his Toyota Prius on an induction cooktop.

His way of thinking is this: He’ll get more calories and stay fuller longer from a pound of beef than a pound of veggies.

“Butter is the cheapest per calorie. Nuts are a close second,” said David. “Then come meats and fats. Find comfort in the foods that are cheapest.

Don’t pay for overnight camping

The most David will pay for overnight camping is about $1.50 per night, when its really worth it. The day we spoke, he was camping at a serene hot springs in Arizona – worth the money.

“Learn where to park for free,” David said. “I’m committed to not sacrificing to do it, it has to be a new, fun discovery. I take time to not just find any place to park but somewhere scenic and nice and free. Sometimes, I still park at WalMart.”

David spends about half his time camping in cities and half in nature. The keywords he looks for are “rustic, scenic, dispersed and tent.”

He likes to find small, free campgrounds in National Forests and on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, otherwise known as boondocking.

After parking in the forest, I can then go into a state park and use the showers and grab some free water.

Don’t buy new clothing

David can’t remember a time when he bought a new item of clothing. Usually, he goes to thrift stores and garage sales to find cheap treasures.

“The other day, I got a $250 cashmere sweater for just $3,” said David.

Ask yourself: “Do I need this?”

Another way David keeps his expenses down is to really analyze everything he owns. He asks himself questions like this: “Is this making me happy? How important is this? What will my like be life if I don’t have this thing? What do I use every day? I haven’t used this pot for six months, do I really need it?”

David cuts clutter out of his life and keeps only things that matter to him. He loves cooking, so he prioritizes space in his Prius for an induction cooktop and a mini wood stove for cooking outdoors.  

He said it’s important to be able to get rid of your emotional attachment to stuff.

What David does for fun while living in a Prius

David is a huge fan of biking, which is why he keeps a folding, rechargeable electric bike in his Prius.

“I love finding places that are meditative and beautiful,” he said. “Finding a place to go requires experience, expertise and intention. I love to ride my bike somewhere to just sit and take everything in.”

David loves riding this folding bike while living in a Prius. You can see his comfortable bed inside back hatch.

He also spends time on his computer watching movies. He loves listening to the radio. He does yoga twice per day.

And everywhere he goes while living in a Prius, he finds friends.

“My social life is now so much bigger,” David says. “It’s almost annoying sometimes. I crave being alone because it’s so easy to meet people. There are so many nomads out there, and a great diversity of nomads.”

In fact, David was interviewed for the book Nomadland, about CamperForce workers who live in vans and RVs. After the book came out, David was asked to be an extra in the upcoming movie and ended up being filmed in a scene speaking with star Francis McDormand!

Why David can’t see himself in a house

During the winter months, David likes to take short trips to Baja where the weather is warm and the living is cheap. He parks his Prius in his cousin’s driveway and enjoys views of the Sea of Cortez and the desert mountains.

A time or two, he tried to sleep inside the house.

“I can’t stand it, so I go back to my car,” he said. “All this cleaning, organizing, walking around, climb up the stairs – I don’t want to do that. I use the bathroom and put some of my kitchen things in her house, but that’s about it.”

Check out this older video of David and his Prius:

He also likes spending a couple days at RTR, otherwise known as the Rubber Tramp Rendevous in Quartzsite, Arizona. The event attracts thousands of nomads.

David is happy he’s a nomad, that he’s found the perfect tiny home in his Prius.

As he concludes on his blog:

I  cook and eat inside the Prius. I sleep with a full view of the stars through my windows. I watch the sun rise and set in places few billionaires ever will.

The temperatures in the Prius are always perfect in the way only a modern hybrid vehicle can provide.

I am financially secure having learned the joys of living life as a frugal nomad.

’I am my own man. Ain’t nothing richer than that” Sam Shepard, “Blackthorn”  2011

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7 thoughts on “This man lives on $800 per month in a Prius”

    • I absolutely agree that he is inspiring. This gentleman has already mastered the lifestyle that I’m currently learning. Bless him and every nomad out there!

      Reply
  1. How do you get away with removing your front passenger seat? I’m living in a small Toyota Camry and I’m afraid of not passing inspection if I don’t have my front passenger seat installed.

    Reply
    • Hey Nicholas! I don’t know the answer to that specifically. You might want to think about joining the Prius Living Facebook group and asking there. I know David answers questions in that group. Good luck!

      Reply

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