Dude if you get 50k miles per rebuild that's horrible. and recommending the same mechanic each time is not good either, it means he has no idea what's he's doing, he's simply patching the same problem over again. this sounds like a spam post but I think it was part 13 of my transmission rebuild series that I showed everyone exactly the part that is failing. it's for the 5 speed, if you have a 99-2001 you have the 4 speed and you would need to grind out the oil channels on that thrust washer for 2nd clutch, the 5 speed's problem is 3rd clutch. the videos are on my channel on youtube under the same name "eksine"
Since, money is an issue. Agree with other posters. If van well maintained. I would go for a rebuild. Here's my
experience. 2001 (4 speed), Your's 2002 (5 speed, more reliable). ON 4th transmission. 214,000 miles on engine.
What I learned is, most places, Remove the transmission, send it out to local "re-builder", And I assume after the re-build, get back the original transmission, and re-install. (which adds to the expense. Re-builder has to make a profit, also).
ON my 4th transmission. I found a local, independent transmission shop. (highly recommended from friends and other mechanics). The owner, does the rebuild. Buys the kit, and removes/rebuilds/installs. Cost me $ 1999. Included
replacing one engine mount.
I also, added, magnefine filter, AND, change the tranny fluid every 8,000 miles. (other's recommend, every other oil change). So, far, my 4th transmission, has gone more miles than my previous tranny failures. (they average about 50,000 +/- before failing.
OH, not sure where you live, I'm in S.F. bay area, CA. (if you live here, I could PM you the mechanic I used).
Also, ask around, friends, mechanic, other 2nd generation owners you see. ASK, for recommendations...