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Old 12-02-2023, 09:51 PM   #1
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Join Date: Dec 2023
Location: Minnesota
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Looking to jump into skoolie life!

Hi all! I've dreamed about trying van or bus life for years, but recently I decided... why wait? I'm searching for a mid-size or maybe a big short bus, so I'll feel comfortable to live in it full time with my cat, a medium-sized dog, and my books. Oh, and I miiiight want to tow my Jeep Wrangler if I can.

I've got a smaller (?) budget, hoping to buy and convert for less than $12k total, but I'm so new to this that I don't know where the big cost sinks are yet or if that budget will be feasible. I don't have ANY construction experience and I'll probably need to hire help to figure out the electrical stuff. Yikes! But I'm excited about the lifestyle and committed to making something I'd be happy to live in.

Right now I'm in the very earliest stages so... where do you all source buses to buy? I've searched sites like FB Marketplace, Craigslist, and Carsforsale, but if you all have secret bus links by all means hook me up! XD

I'm happy to join the community here, and looking forward to learning from all of you in the forums!

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Old 12-02-2023, 10:40 PM   #2
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All the information is right here and all you have to is search till you can't stand it anymore. Govdeals has lots of busses all over the country. Please fill out your personal information so we know what's up.
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Old 12-03-2023, 10:14 AM   #3
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Buy a camper or RV for <$8k, keep the $4k for repairs.

If you like it, learn the systems and how to duplicate them in a school bus. If you don't, sell the RV and move on with your life.

Purchasing the bus is the cheapest part of the skoolie build. Since you admittedly have none of the necessary skills, and likely none of the tools you'll need either your chances of success with a $12k budget is minimal.

Set aside your ego and visualize your intended build. Make a detailed list of all the subsystems you require: water, sewage, fixtures, appliances, furniture, cabinets, shower/bath, heat, air conditioning, batteries, generator, and charger/inverters.

Then research the costs of your needs/desires plus the materials required to mount them. IMHO the cost of upfitting a skoolie is significantly higher than buying a camper or rv you can use the same day.

Good luck, you'll need it.
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Old 12-03-2023, 01:56 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StorytellerTreehouse View Post
I'm searching for a mid-size or maybe a big short bus, so I'll feel comfortable to live in it full time with my cat, a medium-sized dog, and my books. Oh, and I miiiight want to tow my Jeep Wrangler if I can.
You could tow a Jeep with a fully-converted mid-size bus, but I'd avoid trying it with a cutaway. Not that it couldn't be done, but it's not going to be fun. Do you already own the Jeep or are you factoring that into your budget?

Quote:
I've got a smaller (?) budget, hoping to buy and convert for less than $12k total
My first skoolie was purchased for $3500 and converted for $12,000. I used a LOT of second hand items to do that and my solar system was absolute garbage as a result. Minimally insulated, but relatively comfortable.

This was almost 6 years ago though and just buying a bus these days seems to eat up nearly half of that budget. I'd be surprised if you can find a shorty or a mid size for $6k-8k in good condition with the market how it is.

Materials are another sore subject for the cost conscious. When I was converting my bus in 2018, a 4x8 sheet of 1/2 plywood at my local supplier was under $16. I'm spending $55 per sheet of the same wood now.

My current skoolie was purchased this year for ~$6500 and I've already spent around an additional $24,000 in appliances, insulation, and components and haven't even started building in it yet.

Quote:
I'll probably need to hire help to figure out the electrical stuff. Yikes!
Hiring help is an awesome idea, but hired help isn't cheap. Plan your must haves first. Literally all of the non-negotiables. Determine what comforts you need to have, and have some idea of the "aesthetics" you're after. It'll help you determine what's truly within reach, but you might find that you need a bit longer to save to make those things a reality.

Quote:
so... where do you all source buses to buy? I've searched sites like FB Marketplace, Craigslist, and Carsforsale
Govdeals, govplanet, purplewave, craigslist, marketplace, and reach out to your local school district to see when they send old buses to auction.
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Old 12-03-2023, 03:21 PM   #5
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Just for point of reference, I spent about $12K on materials to put in my $5K (oops $7K with turbo rebuild) bus. Can it be done cheaper? Yes, but your results will largely reflect your budget unless you come across a lot of free hardware
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Old 12-05-2023, 06:32 PM   #6
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hello storyteller treehouse!
we recently stayed at the treehouses near cave junction in Oregon.
what a very cool experience!

ya know its hard to convert busses when ya have no knowledge on construction / electrical.
you would definitely need some help.
i spent more money on conversion and motor/chassis than i did on the purchase.
its reliable now which is very important that most people dont think about.
remember school districts are getting rid of them for a reason LOL.

i kept my conversion really really really simple that works well for me.
you dont need to do all the fancy stuff.
im up to $23k

enjoy the build!
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Old 12-06-2023, 03:15 AM   #7
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For some reason YouTube has served up a whole string of budget vanlife videos.

And that reminded me of some conversions I’ve seen that are OK and done cheap using whatever can be had. Thrift Store, Ikea, Curb Score, Garage Sale.

Of course all the necessities get scaled down to the basics and it takes more effort to live in it.

I ran into a woman in Quartzsite with a short bus that she was converting in the parking lot of one of the gem shows. She had bolted regular furniture in there, painted up colorfully. It looked good.

Throw in some some LED lights, a cooler full of ice, a “groover” and a camp stove and you got it. Maybe a small solar setup for the lights.

Say, under a $1000
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Old 12-06-2023, 04:15 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
For some reason YouTube has served up a whole string of budget vanlife videos.

And that reminded me of some conversions I’ve seen that are OK and done cheap using whatever can be had. Thrift Store, Ikea, Curb Score, Garage Sale.

Of course all the necessities get scaled down to the basics and it takes more effort to live in it.

I ran into a woman in Quartzsite with a short bus that she was converting in the parking lot of one of the gem shows. She had bolted regular furniture in there, painted up colorfully. It looked good.

Throw in some some LED lights, a cooler full of ice, a “groover” and a camp stove and you got it. Maybe a small solar setup for the lights.

Say, under a $1000
I mean hell, I can just put a sleeping bag on the floor of my empty bus, and bring a coleman stove to cook with, and I'm in the club for $100. You can go as cheap as you want or as expensive as you want. Most like to go somewhere in the middle.
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Old 12-06-2023, 04:25 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by nikitis View Post
I mean hell, I can just put a sleeping bag on the floor of my empty bus, and bring a coleman stove to cook with, and I'm in the club for $100. You can go as cheap as you want or as expensive as you want. Most like to go somewhere in the middle.
I just put that out there because I think a lot of us, myself included, have an idea that an adventure vehicle needs some level of capability and comfort. It’s funny to see my bus next to someone’s 40’ monster factory motor home with quad slide outs. I of course think they are out of their minds
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Old 12-06-2023, 07:50 PM   #10
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Yeah but that's what makes it so impressive. My 28 year old bus, built for $20k having equal or more amenities than a $120k RV, and have better safety rolling capabilities as well with your own customization and not how a manufacture chooses it for you.

Of course not everyone is shooting for such lofty goals, but it's possible if you can do most of it yourself. Some of us are fine with 4 walls, a mattress, and a stove/fridge.
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Old 12-07-2023, 10:10 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
Of course all the necessities get scaled down to the basics and it takes more effort to live in it.

I ran into a woman in Quartzsite with a short bus that she was converting in the parking lot of one of the gem shows. She had bolted regular furniture in there, painted up colorfully. It looked good.

Throw in some some LED lights, a cooler full of ice, a “groover” and a camp stove and you got it. Maybe a small solar setup for the lights.

Say, under a $1000
This is a good, no great, point. I tend to mentally overbuild projects I read about here, but I forget to take into account comfort is relative and there is truly no baseline for what these conversions should be.

You could run a mini fridge and power string lights on a large enough "jackery" type battery pack with a few solar panels on the roof. Actual home furniture is cheap or free depending on what you've already got, and there are plenty of places that you can comfortably live near year round without going over the top on insulation and heat/cool sources.

Habitat for humanity could be a great place for cheap solid wood cabinets as well.

I've seen a lot of really thrifty and well put together ultra budget builds in Quartzsite and Ehrenburg over my travels as well.
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Old 12-07-2023, 11:05 AM   #12
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It can get even cheaper than that!

If you’re just running lights and charging a phone you could just do that off the starter battery, but if you wanted to keep that separate you could cobble together a 100W panel and charge controller to charge tool batteries. Probably $300 or scavenged used for even less

Cot and foam pad $100

Propane stove $30

Mr Buddy $100

Bucket toilet and supply of bags $20

Foot powered water pump and 5 gallon water bottles $50

My first camping in the bus was a foam pad and sleeping bag.

This is also a good time to express gratitude to the universe for my good fortune of having a roof, clothing and food!
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Old 12-07-2023, 03:31 PM   #13
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For sourcing buses, besides the usual suspects like FB Marketplace and Craigslist, check out local auctions and school districts selling off their retired buses. Sometimes you can snag a good deal there. As for the budget, it's doable, but keep an eye on unforeseen costs – they have a sneaky way of popping up.
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Old 12-09-2023, 02:01 PM   #14
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Thanks for the input (and honesty) so far! I appreciate all the helpful suggestions. To answer a few of the questions/concerns folks have expressed:

Yes, I already own the Jeep (it’s my only vehicle at the moment). It’s a 98 Wrangler Sahara, so super small and basic. Good to know that the mid-size would be better for towing! The options I’ve looked at so far are in that range.

I understand the concerns about my lack of experience, but I’m absolutely the kind of person who would be comfortable starting out with something on the rustic side. I already have a decent 2-burner camp stove, and I’m 100% used to wilderness camping, so the interior stuff can be improved with time, as long as I have the basic necessities. I’m already sort of planning to have it be a “living” project that I upgrade as I go. ;)

That said, thank you all for the honesty about the budget/cost. I’ve got a bit of wiggle room to work with, so I’m not dead set on a $12k build.

I have access to a very large shed where I could work, as well as some tools. While I’m hoping to do most of the work myself, I have some support in the form of my dad (used to drive school buses, worked on farm trucks, and is an experienced remodeler). I also have friends who can help with heavy lifting and all that.
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Old 12-10-2023, 09:41 PM   #15
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Conversion budget

Bought my Thomas MVP ER 34 foot bus for 6k from a church.spent 3 years converting it snd now in it for 35k.I did everything myself and used quality materials for solid construction and bought quality generator ,stove,ac unit ,house batteries,inverter etc.12k budget is going to be tough and speaking firsthand from experience; DO NOT SKIMP ON QUALITY WIRING.I built a deck on my Skoolie and used “outdoor rated “ 16/2 speaker wire,protected under deck from water and it dry rotted in one year.Amazon sells tons of cable made in China and this stuff is crap.I rewired my lighting on the deck and now use marine grade tinned copper wire used in boat applications where salt and water are evident.so the moral of the story is use quality wire now which cost double but saves you headaches down the road.
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