Van conversion: How to save money during the build process

Some money saving tips we used during the conversion process for our 2017 Ram Promaster 2500

After writing some of the build process and financial reports, I realized there were some places that would be easy to save a bit of money. I am constantly trying to find ways to save just a little bit of money here and there. The build process for Edith is no different. I was amazed at the difference those little savings added up to.

Credit card rewards

I will call this tip a qualified tip. I don’t think I have to explain this, but DO NOT finance your build with credit cards if you cannot pay it off, in full, every month. Interest payments will completely negate the rewards and increase your overall spending instead of saving you anything.

This tip gave me a bit of anxiety when I considered recommending this method. If you are responsible, it can give you a large chunk of change back. It’s not unusual for stores to offer 5% cashback. Lowe’s and Amazon both have offers along these lines. Lowe’s Home Improvement cards offer an actual DISCOUNT of 5% if you make purchases with their card. Amazon rewards card will give you 5% cashback at the end of the month based on qualifying purchases.

We were able to claim $50 cashback just from purchasing our Nature’s Head toilet from Amazon. These rewards can go toward your build or they can go toward other things you would have been purchasing anyway.

Do some research and determine if you’d be able to take advantage of this money-saving technique. I will say that we were able to obtain thousands of dollars worth of materials from Amazon, so the 5% cashback made sense.

Save up for your vehicle

This may not apply to everyone. But, if your vehicle of choice is above a certain dollar amount you will be very tempted to finance it with a loan. We decided not to finance our purchase, and I’m hoping that I can convince you to delay the purchase for a little while longer and actually save up for it in advance.

When my wife and I went to purchase Edith we fell in love pretty quickly. She was around a year old at the time and fell right in our price range. When it came to the paperwork, we came somewhat prepared. I had a down payment ready, notified my bank of a large withdrawal and amped myself up enough to go through with the purchase. We had all of the money for the van in the bank, but I wanted to go through the approval process. Mostly because I didn’t have a check from my bank with me, but it opened my eyes to the amount of money that gets spent on interest.

After what must have been 14 hours (at least it felt this long), we finally had approval for the remainder of the cost after our down payment. 7% interest for 72 months. Yeesh. That put our payment at around $350 a month for 6 years. I later found out that the Promaster is considered a ‘commercial’ vehicle, which may explain the interest rate we were approved for while having an ‘Excellent’ credit score.

With that interest rate, it was going to cost us an extra $6,000! That ends up being 18 payments just to cover the interest. Moral of the story: paying for our van out of savings paid for about 40% of our total build cost!

Keepa price tracker

Keepa is a service that works to help you get the best price for an item. It’s a browser add-on, but can also be managed through email and telegram.

Keepa price tracker historical price chart
Historical pricing chart for an Amazon product

The idea behind Keepa is to look at the historical data for an Amazon or eBay product and know when it’s smart to make a purchase. Keepa helps in a few ways:

  1. Shows you historical pricing data directly on the product page
  2. Allows you to set a notification so you can get the deal you want
  3. Arms you with knowledge to know when NOT to purchase

I didn’t get to use this particular tool during the build process, however I have since used it since the start of quarantine to help purchase reasonably priced household items. This price tracker only applies to Amazon and eBay, but you might be surprised what portion of your build can come straight from Amazon.

There is a possible downside to using Keepa, however. If you get caught up waiting for the lowest price, you may just end up watching the price climb indefinitely. It’s sort of a gamble. The good news is, you can usually find an alternative product to purchase instead.

If you look at the chart above, you will see that’s essentially what I’ve done. I wanted a microphone for less than $50 since, historically, I could see it below that price before I found it. Often times, it would be $40 during lightning deals. When I started tracking the product, it was $56. The price has since climbed closer to $80 and I have no way of knowing if the price will ever fall back down again.

All-in-all, I would say Keepa is worth trying out. I base this mostly on my success in purchasing a few things that were hard to come by when people were panicking. It also serves as an inventory monitor to send notifications when things go on sale again at the price you wish.

If you decide to try it out, consider using our affiliate link to get started. (affiliate link)

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