How a 24-Year-Old Tesla Engineer Paid Off $14,000 in Student Loans By Living in a Van

For young millennials hoping to pay off burdensome student loans, living in a car seems to be the tried-and-true solution.
The Tesla employee, Jason Roesslein, paid off $14,000 of his student loans after he lived in a van for five months while working for the company. Roesslein thought of the living arrangement idea after moving from Illinois to the Bay Area and realizing the exorbitant prices for rent.
The young engineer lived from October 2014 to March 2015 in his 2006 Dodge Sprinter van, or what he liked to call his “studio on wheels.” For five months, the resourceful millennial showered and ate his meals on his company campus and gym. At the end of that time period, Roesslein had almost $10,000 of extra savings that he used to pay off his student debt entirely.
Roesslein wasn’t the only one who had the grand idea of saving money by living in a car. He told Business Insider:
“At the same time as I was developing those thoughts, I met a guy who works at Tesla, who at the time was living in his Subaru Forester. He’d been doing it for a year.”
That same coworker gave him the idea of living in a Sprinter van. He continued:
“That planted the seed in my head. It would be big enough so that you can stand up and have everything you need in there, but it’s also not an atrociously large vehicle, and would be fairly maneuverable.”
The engineer didn’t ask for much either. He wrote in a post on Medium:
“My housing hunt had turned into the desire for a small mobile space to lay my head, cook and eat some food, store a few things, and hang out for a bit each day.”
His idea materialized in reality when he purchased a 2006 Dodge Sprinter off of eBay for $13,000 and picked it up in Houston, Texas. Surprisingly enough, it was cheaper to fly to Texas and drive the vehicle back than to buy a used van in the Bay Area.
After the initial upfront cost for the van, Roesslein spent a grand fixing it up. His main costs after that were $100 for car insurance and $75 for his cell phone plan a month.
Roesslein made the most of his living conditions and slept in a sleeping bag on top of a sleeping pad. He recalled that he found it quite comfortable:
“Some nights it would get fairly cold, but I had a small propane heater and a zero degree sleeping bag — and, it’s nice to sleep in the cold.
“At first you kind of feel stigma of living out of a vehicle — and before you do it, it seems like it’s a big deal — but after doing it for five months, and especially looking back, it’s not a big deal. The logic is sound, no one really cares, it’s fun, it’s a bit adventurous, a great way to simplify things, and allows you a lot of freedoms that having an apartment and paying rent get in the way of.”
He also enjoyed the convenient perk of an easy commute to work, as he often parked the car in the company’s lot. He added:
“Essentially, you just sleep wherever you end up, whether that’s work, a coffee shop, the gym, or a mountain bike trail.”
After paying off his student debts and living in the van for five months, the Tesla engineer threw in the towel on his nomadic lifestyle. Roesslein explained:
“It’s nice to have your own space — a quiet, consistent space — that you can make what you need it for, whether it be thinking, side projects, hobbies, or reading. The van, at least in the state I had it, wasn’t really that. I didn’t really feel comfortable going back to it just to hang out.”
Driving a big van isn’t as easy as it looks either. He said:
“I decided I would rather spend the money to have a personal home base type of thing, and then get an adventure mobile for going on little side trips.”
Still he gets a big nostalgic about the good old days living in his cabin on wheels. He writes:
“Having the van was a nice way to get away from everything else, and just focus on whatever you want to focus on, whether it’s learning or reading, or your life.
“I am strongly considering getting back to it. Stay tuned for van life part two.”
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