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Gen Y Money 'I spent half my salary on rent,' says millennial who lives out of his van

Name: Florent Conti

Age: 26

Annual income: $19,000

Savings: $7,500

Debt: $0

What he does: Freelance video editor, journalist

Where he lives: In a van

Forget the mid-life crisis. Florent Conti is in the throes of a quarter-life one – and he’s happy.

Having started adult life the way many people do – Mr. Conti graduated with a BA in political science and Canadian studies in 2012 from McGill University – he started a 9-to-5 job as a video editor and journalist in Toronto. Though he moved up through the ranks, disenchantment soon set in.

“I spent half my salary on rent,” says Mr. Conti, who had a $47,000-a-year job but hadn’t factored in Toronto’s high rents. “I slowly came to the realization that, having no mortgage, no debt, no kids, I would perhaps be better off living more free with income insecurity than living with a monthly paycheque just to pay for rent and endure a toxic work environment,” he says. “I wasn’t into the over-consumption thing.”

So earlier this year, Mr. Conti quit his job and moved into a van. “I sold all my stuff on Kijiji, found a camper van from 1997, and left my apartment on the Danforth. I started living in the van in March.”

“I just want to shoot videos and discover people’s stories,” he says.

Van life agrees with him. “I have never slept so well in my whole life,” says Mr. Conti, who travels all the time, working on contract in a variety of locations across Canada. He spends two to three nights at a time parked in Wal-Mart parking lots or on Crown lands, sources water at pumping stations and is always on the hunt for “good WiFi.”

Mr. Conti’s life is spartan: He eats a lot of pasta that he cooks on his propane stove, has cut back on his wine consumption and doesn’t eat out. He sleeps on a couch that converts to a bed – a challenge when you’re 6 foot 3. He pays in cash instead of using credit cards, and rarely buys clothes. “As long as I can have the minimum income I need, I can cover my costs,” he says. “The more you have, the more responsibility you have.”

“I’m really interested in how comfort undermines your aspirations.”

But the lifestyle has its downsides. Mr. Conti has cashed in his RRSPs and lost his stock options when he left his job. He’s always hunting for short-term jobs. And he admits that dating can be tough when you’re always on the move.

“Sometimes when I see my friends having that secure lifestyle, with the relationship and [the career] going somewhere – I’ve learned from past experience it could all come to an end pretty quickly.”

And so the road beckons. “I had no idea the van life would be for me,” Mr. Conti says. “I would rather do this than waking up at 45 and hating my life.”

Top financial concern: Finding part-time work. “Next month I’m going to be doing some office work. I have a couple of contracts for December and January. I’m still figuring out the freelance thing. I’m not looking at saving for a couple of years.”

His typical monthly expenses:

$0 on rent. “The price of my camper represents one year’s worth of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto. But at the same time, it is my house. Home is where you park it.”

$40 on storage locker. “I asked U-Haul to give me their smallest locker size. I still have a couple of boxes of sport items and clothes I thought I would need but that I know I will eventually donate. The decluttering process is a constant one.”

$350 on groceries. “I eat a lot of stuffed pasta from No Frills, pesto, veggies. I’m free to cook anything because I have that propane stove.”

$50 on eating out. “I tend to avoid eating out. I’d rather spend that amount on going to coffee shops [where I] work.”

$20 on alcohol. “I will go for a good bottle of wine from time to time.”

$15 on coffee. “I usually get a regular coffee when I need good WiFi from Starbucks.”

$90 for cell phone plan. “I’m with Bell and it sucks but I need it – because you can get lost in the middle of nowhere.”

$70 on car insurance and car registration.

$0 on clothing. “I had a lot of clothes to choose from back when I had a regular job with a lot of useless shopping trips. I gave them away on Kijiji. I have a pair of Blundstone boots. I’ve had them for seven years. I wear them all the time.”

$120 on gas. “I go 800 km on a full tank of gas.”

$12 on laundromats. “I am self-sufficient for 12 days in terms of clothes and also water.”

$7 on propane. “It powers my kitchen.”

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