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Duke Grad Exposes How He Lived in Van to Avoid Student Loans

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I’m so glad Deb Nardi sent me this article on Ken Ilgunas, a Duke graduate who is now telling all about how he lived in a van to stay out of debt while finishing his grad studies at the University.

By the way, before that, he had completed his undergrad studies in Buffalo, and ended up with $32,000 of debt because of it.

And he was turned down for 25 paid internships after that with his college degree. So he was working at Home Depot for $8 an hour.

Before he went back to graduate school, he dedicated two and half years to working and paying off the student loan debt he accumulated.

Even after all of this, Ken was NOT willing to give up on his education. In fact, he seemed to be even hungrier for it. But how would he afford it without getting another student loan?

His solution? To create his own “Walden on Wheels,” as he calls it.


Photo Ken Ilgunas

“The van was more than just a way to save money. I wanted it to be an experience, to see how little I could spend. I didn’t want to be borrowing money from my parents any time I had a hardship.”


Photo Ken Ilgunas

Read the original article and see more photos of his van dwelling set up at Yahoo! Finance.

Preview and consider buying a copy of Ken’s book, Walden on Wheels, where he goes in depth about the experience.


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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Cahow
    June 16, 2013, 10:13 am

    “Duke Grad Exposes….” Bwhahahahahahahahaa, Alex!!!!

    What is this, TMZ? Oh, Alex, thanks for the FREE laugh this morning before the whole kit & kaboodle of us go out to honour Dad. 🙂

    Perhaps, “Duke Grad Shares…” would have been less sensational a headline, me thinks. (LOL) But, good for Ken and bravo for him honouring his parents and not tapping into their income as so many selfish brats do nowadays. I had toyed with this idea for years, myself, but couldn’t find a safe place in Chicago to park the van where it wouldn’t be vandalized or stolen. Nice idea, I’m totally into it and say “Bravo, exposé Ken!” 😉

    • Alex
      May 22, 2014, 12:31 pm


    • rich
      May 22, 2014, 10:47 pm

      Duke outlawed this practice once he was “outted”. Ken is a very special guy. Hope you’ll all buy his books and support his projects.

  • Angie
    June 18, 2013, 9:07 pm

    I have also lived in my van for about a year and a half. cheaprvliving.com has great ideas.

    • Ruth
      November 17, 2013, 11:39 am

      This young man is a genius! If I had gone back to school much younger, I would have considered this, too….but unfortunately, at 58 and married, it would not have worked out too well. I applaud him and will definitely buy his book!
      Thanks for posting this. It may give others the idea to try this and save a bundle!

      • Alex Pino
        November 18, 2013, 8:59 am

        Thanks Ruth glad you enjoyed it like I did 🙂

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