One of the questions we receive most often is about our cruising budget. How much does it cost, how much did we save, and how much do we spend every month. The answer is not a simple one, but we can say our yearly living expenses are now a tiny fraction of what they used to be while we were working on-shore full-time.
Several years before Chuck retired we started a master list of things we thought we needed to go cruising. Our idea was to purchase everything while we were still working. Over the years we slowly crossed items off the list and added some new ones. The West Marine catalog was our best friend. One item did not make the original list; the water maker. I had to convince Chuck it was worthwhile spending the extra cash, as water makers are a bit pricey, but I am pleased to state after all this time we have no regrets having done so. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for other things on the list. The West Marine catalog can be your worst enemy as well. We spent hundreds of dollars on items and gadgets we were convinced we had to have only to just give the stuff away later. Just enough stuff but not too much stuff; the balance between these points is important when provisioning and cruising on a small boat. Annie Hill's book, "Voyaging on a Small Income", was dog-eared and torn from being read and re-read to bolster our resolve not to go overboard in our spending.
We saved money towards our cruising kitty by consciously changing our spending habits. We identified dining-out as our number one expense and started cooking at home. Today groceries are still our highest monthly expense, usually running four-to-five hundred a month, but it is only a small fraction of what we used to spend. Cruising means we now have time to enjoy wandering around the market and preparing a good meal. While not opposed eating out once in a while, we are always mindful it is too easy to get sucked back into the habit of spending money unnecessarily.
Cell phone bills, gym memberships, insurance policies, and storage locker fees are all monthly expenses we eliminated. No more monthly subscriptions to suck the life out of our bank account. We figured - why pay for stuff we never use? We know it is possible live with no monthly obligations other than the basics; food and shelter. The cruising life for us is about priorities, long-term goals, and enjoying the life we are able to afford. Do you own your stuff or does it own you? Are you willing and able to live within your means?
How about transportation? We have bicycles or will take a bus or cab occasionally but we both prefer walking if we can; it keeps us active and is a great way to get to know the area. Most importantly, we are not paying hundreds of dollars a month in car payments or insurance and if we need a car badly enough we will rent one.
Alcohol can be another large monthly expense for some. Chuck prefers quality over quantity and generally avoids bottled beer, choosing instead the better offerings of what is on tap. Liquor does not make our top-10 list of priorities so we usually have very little on board. We do not drink while passage-making for safety reasons since it is just the two of us on board.
We also spend far less money on clothing. While working we were both required to maintain extensive wardrobes. Before we left to go cruising we gave away roughly half our clothes. If we need anything now we will visit The Salvation Army first as most of their clothing is nearly new. Chuck has picked up several brand new Pendleton wool shirts for only $15.00. On a 27' boat we don't have a lot of room for clothes so our rule is, "Buy a shirt, give a shirt away -- and only buy something if you need it, not because you want it.” You do not need to be wealthy to dress well.
We realize we are different from most folks in that we do not have children or grandchildren. There are no expectations within the family that we fly home for visits. Cruising with children is possible, maybe not on a 27' boat like the Vega, but there are many stories of families voyaging long-term on limited budgets.
Our cruising budget is such that we can spend our winters moored snugly in a harbor. It is possible to save even more money by anchoring out year-round but if you have kids or pets or work onshore be aware the dingy ride can sometimes be challenging (read miserable) if you need to go ashore no matter what the weather, especially during the winter. We find anchoring out during the summer and staying in port during the winter is the best solution to easing our yearly expenses. We choose our winter harbor based on price, amenities, and how close the nearest market is. When your home is mobile you can choose any neighborhood you like. Staying in a harbor over the winter also allows us to relax from the 24-hour demand of someone always being on watch and alert to tides, currents, water depth, and wind. We take advantage of the winter months to edit video and add content to our web site.
It is fair to say the size of your boat will determine most of your monthly and yearly expenses. The bigger the boat the higher the moorage, fuel, and maintenance costs will be. Over the years our moorage has ranged from zero to over $800.00 per month. Our maintenance costs have averaged roughly $100.00 per month over the last twenty years. Keep in mind we had the advantage of owning the boat and living aboard before taking off to go full-time cruising so we knew what we wanted to do to make Lealea suitable for cruising and could take the time to save for big money items and to gradually outfit her for our adventures. Twenty-four thousand dollars for maintenance can sound scary but it is important to remember, just as with maintenance of your current home and transportation, some repairs are more expensive than others. It is a good idea to feed your maintenance kitty and to avoid borrowing from it to serve other wants. One-hundred dollars per month spread over twenty years is a far cry from the expenses related to maintaining automobiles and houses over the same period. Important as well is your degree of self-sufficiency in performing routine maintenance and repairs. Our budget has included use of professionals but only when the task at-hand exceeds the capability, capacity, or competence of skipper and mate.
In summary, there are so many variables to the question of how much it costs to go cruising and really the best answer is, "as little or as much as you wish to spend." To become a cruiser you should begin to adopt the cruising lifestyle now – think about how you will address daily living and how you will make changes or accommodations so you can continue to enjoy the things important to you. A good way to determine the cost of cruising is to take our basic guidelines as probable expenses while looking at your own current costs of living on the hard. It is not possible to pinpoint with total accuracy what your costs while cruising will be but it is pretty simple to figure out what your savings will be once you have eliminated the expenses associated with terrestrial living. Many blogs and books, in particular Annie Hill’s book mentioned above, offer comprehensive budgeting discussions and tools. When it comes to deciding what to purchase and add to the boat – remember to focus on real needs and reliability of your various systems whether they be rigging, electrical, head and galley, instrumentation, and so forth. Crew comfort is based in large measure on whether or not things aboard work as they are supposed to. Once you are relatively certain your needs are taken care of and that you have provisioned with a prudent supply of spares to maintain your systems, carefully consider your wants. While some may be happy living a very Spartan lifestyle, most like to have some “stuff” that brings a sense of personal comfort. Allow yourself the pleasure of some things that provide a good measure of contentment but avoid the tendency to cram every nook and cranny onboard with things that serve no purpose.
Are we rich? Hardly. We live a very simple life on a 27' boat but we are wealthy in so many other ways. Remember, the simpler the life the lesser the costs.
"Go small, go simple, go now." Lin Pardey