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Among the number of questions we get on a regular basis about our bus, “How much did it cost?” is right at the top. It’s actually one of the least personal questions we get …

We’re happy to talk numbers and gladly go over the cost of the bus and various projects. Inevitably, someone asks us just how we paid for it. We were debt-free when we bought it and had a little bit in savings and a sizable tax return.

However, our income was also limited as my husband was only working part-time and my online income fluctuated.

All that to say, we did this on a budget and had to be smart/thrifty with how we spent the money we had.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are some tips for doing a school bus conversion on a budget:

Buy used

The bus. The appliances. Everything. Our bus was purchased used and had actually already been converted into an RV, which saved us the hassle of removing all the bus seats. We found it one state over and paid $3500 for it.

(From what I saw when we were researching, that was a steal for an already converted bus and buses with seats still in them were cheaper.)

Because it had been converted for one person vs. our family of six, we ended up gutting the whole thing and starting over. The previous owner was also a heavy smoker and apparently had an affinity for all things brown (or perhaps he bought everything used and all he could find was brown stuff).

Even with starting over, we were able to complete the conversion for another $6000. We used everything we could that came with the bus, scoured Craigslist for free and cheap items and spent a good deal of time at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore.

If we couldn’t find something used, we found the best deal we could on new items, though there wasn’t much we couldn’t find pre-owned.

Prioritize projects

There are some projects that are more important than others. When we moved into our bus, the first thing Ian did was the sleeping quarters. We had just moved from a house into a travel trailer on my parents’ property to work on the bus and it was cramped! So our projects were, in order of importance:

  • Sleeping quarters (we moved in as soon as these were done – so much more spacious than a 22 foot trailer)
  • Kitchen (we used my parents’ kitchen until it was done)
  • Bathroom (we used the trailer bathroom until this was done)

There are really only so many things you need – a place to sleep, eat and relieve yourself are at the top. And even then, some of those can be done elsewhere.

When we first got the bus, we spent the weekends working on it as it was parked at my parents’ place about 15 minutes from where we lived. We moved out there so we could work on it every day. And by we, of course, I mean my husband …

Is it ideal to live in the bus while you finish it? No. But it’s doable, especially if you are converting it as you have funds.

Convert as you have funds

That said, there are still things we need to finish in the bus and we do so as funds allow. For instance, we live in the path of totality for the solar eclipse and were able to rent out the bus on AirBnB for the event. The funds from that are going right back into bus projects (she needs new batteries BAD).

When we lived in the bus, we worked on it until we ran out of funds, saved, then worked on it some more. Because we had prioritized projects and worked on them first, though, this wasn’t too big of a deal.

We lived with unfinished bathroom walls, which was ok, because we had a working toilet and shower.

Not all of our cabinets had drawers/faces, but it was fine because the rest of the kitchen worked.

The wood of the bunk beds was unpainted, however, the kids all had a place to sleep and retreat if need be so it was no biggie.

The takeaway

If you’re working on a school bus conversion and funds are tight, focus on finding the bus first, figuring out where you’re going to work on it and prioritize the projects so that if/when you do move in you have the most important stuff done.

Not sure how to find your bus? Check out our free guide, DIY SKOOLIE: Things to Consider Before Starting Your School Bus Conversion! It details everything you need to think about before you get started so you know exactly what to look for.