Bob over at Boat Bits is a critical thinker. He's not afraid to confront issues directly and dissect them until he understands them. He's also not afraid of ruffling anyone's feathers, nor is he afraid of discovering some tenet he held is, in fact, incorrect. Refreshing. His blog was one of the earliest in my blog reader, one where I knew I could find someone willing to call B.S. when it was needed, and it's needed quite a bit in the marine industry. He recently challenged me in an email exchange regarding the costs of cruising and, soon after, he did a post, A Small Thought About Budgets and Boats. Go ahead over and read it. I'll wait, as it's important to this discussion.
Well, maybe not.
Before you can understand the realities of the cruising budget, you first have to understand reasons why people want to go cruising in the first place. It's important enough that the whole first chapter of the book we wrote deals with it. After a few years of doing this, I've found that there are about three styles of cruiser budgets. You have the bare bones Lin and Larry Pardey budget with no fridge, little electrical, very few electronics, no eating out. Some of these folks are able to cruise for $500-800 in third world countries by eating a lot of beans and rice, doing very little boat maintenance, trading work for parts when boat maintenance is needed, and never ever spending time on a dock. Next up is the group of cruisers that is mostly comprised of retirees living on pensions, investments, and Social Security. They eat well, mostly on the boat, with some treat excursions out a couple times of month. They do most of their own boat maintenance, read more than going out for entertainment, and socializing is usually potluck dinners with other cruisers. They try to anchor or to use mooring balls for the most part but may end up on a dock at least several times a month, mostly to reprovision. The last group is the varying degrees of independently wealthy who live mostly in marinas, eat out nearly every day, frequent concerts, movies, galleries, and shopping, and hire someone to do most, if not all, of the boat maintenance. Of course, there are the folks who don't fit these neat categories, like a few younger cruisers we know who were able to sell a successful business which they worked hard to create, or who telecommute successfully from the boat. We fall in the middle group, along with most of the other people that we know and have met along the way. There's no question that the vast majority of cruisers on the east coast fall into this group. It's also the majority of the links in our cost of cruising side bar.
- You will never have enough money set aside to go cruising.
- The boat will never be ready to go cruising.
- Money fills a void. You will spend pretty much everything you have to go cruising.
- Cruisers fall victim to Cost Creep, that insidious parade of "small purchases" that increase ever so slowly...
those dreams usually blind the newbie or part-time boat owner to what is
right in front of their eyes."
Normal daily expenses on the boat include:
Miscellaneous supplies (paper goods, cleaners, rags, towels, flashlights, batteries,water filters,etc)
Clothing and shoes
Tools and equipment
Bottom cleaning or supplies to do it yourself (scrapers, etc)
Entertainment (books, Kindles, movies, computers, museum tickets, concert tickets)
Transportation (bus fares, cab fares, metrolinks)
Make yourself a spreadsheet and play with the numbers. You're going to find that while living on a boat is definitely cheaper than living on land, a lot of the numbers are the same. Food will likely be more expensive, you will likely drink more alcohol due to socializing, water is very expensive in the Bahamas. Gasoline for the dinghy and diesel for the boat are both going to be more expensive than on land. Marinas charge a premium because you can't just drive somewhere else to save a couple pennies. Depending on how much land travel you do, that category can have a huge impact on your budget. Remember that communication (phones, internet) is often one of the largest items on the list. Once you get some numbers you think you can live with, talk to some cruisers and show them your list and see what they think. Remember that everyone lives at different comfort levels, but their input can be invaluable in determining if you're dreaming a pipe dream.
If you're already cruising, how does your current budget compare to what you thought it would be? We definitely spent substantially more than I had planned and hoped. One of Bob's critical thoughts was that few cruisers are willing to admit that they made mistakes on their spending. As I look back on the years since we bought our first boat in 2007, there aren't many of those "WTF was I thinking, I spent HOW MUCH for that, and Boy-Howdy-I'll-never-make-that-stupid-mistake-again" moments Bob refers to, except for the initial purchase of Kintala. We clearly spent way too much money for the boat initially. We clearly spent way too much money on the surveys and inspections we hired out that were jokes. And we clearly had to spend way too much money to replace equipment that was on the list in the ad that wasn't actually there or wasn't functioning. Stupid, yes. We were the dreamers, they were the predators, and we were blind to what was right in front of our eyes.
Since leaving, though, our higher than expected expenses can be tied to two major issues: too much time spent on a dock, and Cost Creep.
Every time you land on a dock you will spend at least $100 a day. Dock fees (average $2 per foot per night=$84 for us), electric fees if you don't have solar ($5-10 avg), and the fact that restaurants and bars and grocery stores are close, all add up to at least that $100 per day.
Cost Creep are those myriad of expenses that cause money to slip through your fingers. They are all the expenses you don't quantify when planning that add up incredibly fast. It was stuff we just didn't think about when we planned. Examples?
- Water filters: we use two types and replace them every 6 months at $100 each time.
- Water purifier: we use the Camco brand in our water tanks every time we fill them $5 a bottle, 12 per year. It's stabilized and works better than bleach.
- Ice: averages $2.50-$3.50 per bag and when it's really hot we go through one every couple days. Could we do without it? Yes, but this is a comfort choice.
- Laundry: averages $1.75-$2.50 to wash and $1.50-$2.00 to dry. We wash by hand a lot, but when we're near a laundry we generally use it.
- Water: in the States it's usually free, but in the Bahamas it swings wildly from $.20-$1.00 per gallon.
- Batteries: we go through a lot of AA and AAA batteries. We use rechargable when we can, but due to electrical draw on the inverter we do use a lot of disposable ones. I lucked out recently and got a box of 72 of them for $14 on a Groupon special but we frequently pay that for a dozen of them.
- Internet access to Skype with grand kids: There is virtually no free internet in the Bahamas. You can get data cards for $30 for 2gb, or you can go to a restaurant and order a meal and get very slow internet, or you can go to a coffee shop and get a $5 coffee and use the internet, but open wifi is virtually nonexistent. Even the restaurants and coffee shops change the password every single day. Have grand kids? Figure minimum $10 to Skype with them.
- Oil: We change the oil every 100 hours. Not a huge expense, but just another one at average $20 per jug.
- Engine diapers: they're required in a lot of places and we change them frequently. $.85 each.
- A spare impeller kit for our water pump is $85.
- A new toilet brush $3.95. Toothbrushes - about the same. Boat cleaning brush? Set you back $50
- Some new towels to replace the ones with threadbare holes $8.25
- Boat cleaning stuff: Prism Polish (we use a lot of it for stainless and fiberglass and ports), Simple Green, bleach, rags, etc. Just the Prism is $29.95 per can.
- Oh and then there's ice cream...nuff said.
- Stereo system: Turns out we like our iPads better with a Bluetooth speaker. We were able to sell the stereo we bought and recoup all but $20
- Spinnaker: Not knowing the difference in spinnakers due to lack of experience, we bought a symmetrical spinnaker that we found used at a good price. Turns out it was a good price because no one uses them any more. Turns out we will never deploy a spinnaker with a short-handed crew. Yes, I realize that some people do. Just not us. $375 lost and the spinnaker gifted to a friend of ours to make bags with.
- SSB: We bought a used SSB for the boat and after carrying it around for a year, we sold it for what we paid for it. Turns out that installing it in Kintala would have been a nightmare of epic proportions and we were done with nightmares. We spent $99 and bought a portable receiver instead.
- Cordless power tools: We already had cordless drills that we brought which died within a few short months. They require a lot of power to recharge, they're expensive to buy, and the replacement batteries cost more than the whole new set. $135 for a lower-end cordless, or $27 for our corded drill. No brainer there. We threw away the cordless ones when they died and bought a new extension cord that will reach all over the boat from the inverter.
As you read through the data so graciously provided by other cruisers in our cost of cruising links, and as you scour the internet for some I missed, here's a few concise tips to keep in mind.
- Try to come up with a sustainable budget that matches your resources.
- Expect the unexpected and find workarounds.
- Develop your creativity. Some of the best budget savers are those that were created as a result of budgetary pressures.
- Be kind to yourself and to your significant other. If you make a mistake, even a whopper, dust yourself off and start over.