Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cost of Living ... Afloat

Posted: March 10, 10:26 am | (permalink) | (0 comments)

I love the conversations we get into when we tell people we live on a boat, year round, without a house or lots of “stuff.” Some people are amazed, some are clearly baffled, some ask practical questions, some shyly share their own dreams of freedom from the rat race. But some skeptically give us some version of “must be nice,” implying that only someone with lots of money would be able to buy a boat big enough to live on, much less travel in. There’s a cynical joke among boaters, when asked how much it costs, to say, “as much as you have.”

How much does a car cost? If you’re thinking, “new Mercedes from the dealership;” and I’m thinking, “used Chevy from Craigslist;” we aren’t going to be able to have a very productive conversation about the cost of cars. And it’s the same with living on a boat, just as it’s the same with the cost of the boat itself. How big? How new? What kind of amenities? You really need to know yourself pretty well to come up with a sustainable budget because you need to understand what creature comforts you require to keep it from feeling like you’re camping out instead of living at home. Bear in mind that there’s no right answer here. You don’t get extra points for living an unnecessarily Spartan lifestyle. But that definition of Spartan varies also. What you think is a luxury, I can’t imagine life without, and vice-versa. Like any other budget, land or water, it’s really about distinguishing between “wants” and “needs.” Having said that, understand that I can’t tell you what living on a boat and cruising would cost you. I can only tell you what it costs me.

So here’s what living on a boat and traveling costs the two of us in the southeastern US: on average less than $2500 per month. That doesn’t include the purchase of the boat itself or our medical insurance, and we don’t have a car.

$500 boat maintenance -- conventional wisdom in boating circles is to budget about 10% of the boat’s value for both long-term maintenance and periodic replacement of major systems like sails or engine; as well as annual upkeep like painting.

$400 food and sundries – everything we buy in the grocery store, including shampoo, sunscreen, cleaning supplies etc.

$100 drinks – booze really should be part of our entertainment budget, instead of a line item, right?

$200 communications -- includes two cellphones, internet service, and a mail-forwarding service so perfectly suited to our needs that it deserves a post of its own. If your mail-forwarding service is provided by a family member and you are content to catch free wifi hotspots instead of having an actual data contract, you will pay much less. I pretty much demand reliable internet; lacking it is my feeling of “camping out” – fine for a weekend, but not something I want for every day of my life.

$150 boat insurance -- varies according to your cruising area, your experience & record, and of course, the value of the boat. Ours requires us to stay north of the Florida line from June to November (hurricane season) or the rates go up. Way up.

$1000 marinas + fuel + entertainment -- At first glance, it seems somewhat odd to lump these 3 together. When we’re traveling a lot, making a lot of miles during the trips north in the spring or south in the fall, fuel can cost us $400-$500 per month. But then, during those traveling months, we aren’t staying in marinas very much. Nor do we go out much in the evenings; we’re just too tired. When we’re staying in one place, our marina costs and entertainment costs may go up, but we’re not paying for fuel. So it more or less averages out. For marina costs, the places we like to stay average on $2 per foot per night when we’re just staying a night or two (varies by location and amenities, but you can see the advantage of living on a smaller boat when paying by the foot!) or $15-$20 per foot per month for longer term (again, varies by location and amenities). Entertainment is generally books, museum and event admissions, dinners out, occasionally renting a car to explore the local area.*

$150 misc. -- includes taxis, laundry, clothing, all the other odds and ends of life. If the clothing budget seems small, remember that in this cruising life, you really don’t need much in the way of fancy clothes. I can go months between occasions that call for something more formal than a polo shirt and chinos!

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* Addendum:  Wise commenter "Chuckles" pointed out that this $1000 is flexible up or down.  You can spend less: you anchor out instead of staying at marinas; cook aboard instead of going to restaurants; read books or play board games instead of going to events; walk, bike, or bus instead of renting a car.

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  1. Enjoying your own company goes along way too. Also being able to do maintenance yourself will occupy lots of time as well, I spend all summer maintaining my boat to haul out every winter...Lol

  2. Yes - enjoying your own company really tames the entertainment budget beast! We do a fair amount of our own maintenance, but there are some things that we either (a) hate to do; or (b) are inept at; or (c) can do, but it would take all day, and a pro can do in an hour.

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you - limited internet while underway. Back in the real world now.

  3. We are putting the house on the market later this year, buying a boat, and living on it. We will not be in a marina. My main concern, actually my only one, is a reliable internet connection. I met a couple cruising who use an international modem, with different SIM cards depending on where they are. Have you tried this? What is your opinion? Also, are there any affordable options for when your sailing? I'm an author and a fairly consistent internet connection is key for me. Thank you!

  4. Hi Ella, yes, that's pretty close to what we do. It's not necessarily fast, but you have internet wherever you have phone service. Depends on whether you just need to send/receive email and manuscripts or download big stuff like videos, of course; as long as you aren't bandwidth-intensive you're fine. And welcome to the lifestyle!