FAQ: what does it cost to live aboard Nine of Cups?

tight ass santa  

So, what does it cost us to live aboard Nine of Cups? This is a very frequently asked question. Some people assume that living aboard a “yacht” automatically assumes a high cost of living. Others have no idea and are just curious. Some are interested because they're dreaming of sailing off into the sunset one day. In actuality, once you own the boat, you can live aboard quite inexpensively or it can cost a mint. If you're in charge, you get to make the decisions.

Before we answer the question, some discussion is necessary. We keep track of every penny we spend. While I (David) am admittedly a bit sloppy when it comes to leaving papers, parts and clothes lying around, I am quite compulsive about other things like boat maintenance, repairs and tracking our expenses. Marcie is quite compulsive about keeping things neat and tidy below. So while Marcie tactfully and patiently stacks all my daily debris on the Nav station or in the laundry each evening, I am busy entering each day's expenses. Thus it fell to me to write today's blog. The budget we use is an average over the last few years, and I am quite confident it is reasonably accurate.

I have broken the budget into four basic categories. The first is basic expenses. This covers all the usual day to day expenses like food, clothing, liquor and laundry costs. This varies a bit depending on what part of the world we are in, but is a pretty accurate average of our basic expenses. One of the line items in the basic expenses category is the cost of health care, and we will probably do a blog soon that is devoted to this subject. We do not have health insurance. The amount we budget is the approximate average amount we have spent over the past several years. We've found that health care in many areas of the world is quite good and costs far less than in the U.S. Stay tuned for this blog in the next few weeks.

The second category is for the expenses related to operating, maintaining and repairing the boat, such as fuel and marina costs as well as routine maintenance and repairs. The operating expenses are almost all directly related to boat size. For example, Cups is 45 feet long and she takes twice as much bottom paint at $200/gallon for us to do our annual antifouling as it would for a 35 foot boat. Likewise, repair and replacement parts cost more for bigger boats. Bigger boats also have more stuff aboard, and therefore, more stuff to break. So if you are contemplating a smaller or a larger boat, your operating expenses will likely be considerably different depending upon your decision. There are a lot of other variables in this category as well. How much time you spend in marinas, how much motoring you do, how many of the repairs you do yourself versus having someone do them, etc. all have a big effect on how much you spend.

The next category of the budget is local expenses – the money we spend when we are in port and seeing the local sights or traveling inland. A good portion of yesterday's blog was devoted to this topic. One further observation, however, is that we tend to spend far less than the usual tourist. If you have flown to some exotic place for a ten day vacation or have stopped in a port for the day as part of a cruise ship itinerary, you are apt to spend a lot of money seeing everything there is to see in the short time you are there. You may have saved all year for the trip (or will spend the next year paying it off), and are probably not as cost conscious as you would be if it were your lifestyle and have days or weeks to explore a place.

The final budget category is called accruals. This category allows us to budget for major expenses that occur every once in a while, like replacing an engine or the sails, or flying home every 18 to 24 months. I think this is an area that is overlooked or glossed over in many cruising budgets. If your plan is to outfit your boat and head out for a two or three year Pacific cruise, then it is probably justified to omit this section. All the big repairs can probably be put off until you return and won't actually be an expense while you are cruising. If you are planning to go cruising indefinitely, then you really should expect to have some major repairs and refits. Likewise, if you plan to fly home to visit family, it ought to be part of your budget.


budget on the iPad


So to get back to the original question, what does it cost us to live aboard Nine of Cups and maintain our lifestyle? We will happily provide you with a copy of our monthly and annual budget on request, but the answer to the question is just over $34,000 per year.

We've read many articles written by cruising folks and talked to lots of other cruisers, and I'm not always convinced that everyone really accounts for everything they spend. That opinion aside, I think our budget is probably pretty close to the mean. We know several cruisers who do just fine on a much smaller budget, and just as many that spend a great deal more.

While we try to be frugal, we also feel we can carry the frugality too far sometimes. Though we work hard not to waste anything, by the same token, we want to enjoy our life aboard. Our reason for sailing around the world is to experience new cultures and new places. It's definitely cheaper to stay aboard and not spend any money ashore, but it kind of defeats our purpose of sailing around the world if we never get ashore to experience anything. It all comes down to evaluating what's important to us … and to you if you're considering this type of life … as to what will be spent where and how much.

If you like the opera or dancing or scuba diving, that's where your entertainment budget will lie. If you prefer living in a marina all the time or enjoy gourmet food and eating out, you'll spend your money there. It's all about choices...little ones and big ones. “Shall we eat out tonight?” is a small choice. If eating out every night, however, means you have to get a job or stop cruising, is eating out regularly worth it? There are no right or wrong answers. It comes down to individual preferences and those preferences will determine your cost of living aboard. We hate when people lecture at us or tell us there's only one way to do things. Having lived aboard for the past 13 years, we're sharing what's important to us.

If you are interested in getting a copy of our annual budget, send an email and we will happily send it along.


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Frugal versus Cheap

Frugality. The definition in my Sage dictionary is “prudence in avoiding waste”. Nicely put. It then goes on to give synonyms which seem to diminish its value in my perception. Parsimony (nice...but no one usually knows what it means), thriftiness and finally penny-pinching. Cheap on the other hand connotes stinginess and an ungenerous nature. I think we're frugal, not cheap. We keep to a budget. We actually account for everything we spend...from postcards to boat batteries, laundry to souvenirs. We just like to see where our money goes and it's always amazing at the end of the month when we determine what things we've frittered away our money on. It's definitely not meals out, but sometime we overdo on wine purchases or books or entertainment. Though we might not alter our spending habits, it's still nice to know where the money goes and where we could cut back should it become necessary. We both agree that boat parts and repairs take precedence over most other expenditures.


fresh market in guadelupe


We hate to spend money on something we can't really enjoy. For instance, if we sail instead of motor, we save on diesel. At $1.65/liter (that's US$7/gallon), this can really add up. That said, there's sometimes more enjoyment in the arrival versus the process of getting there, so in that case, it might be worth the diesel expenditure. The point is, we weigh the enjoyment/necessity factor and make the decision. It doesn't just happen without some thought involved. When we save by not turning on the engine, we think of it as “credits” towards something that we'd enjoy more like going to a museum or a wildlife sanctuary. It's all about making choices.

We prefer to eat on the boat rather than eat at restaurants...obviously cheaper. I frequently pack picnic lunches for day-long excursions. We've found that when we have limited time some place, we hate to waste that time looking at menus and waiting for food service, when we can suss out a nice place to picnic and have some fruit and cheese, soak up the ambiance and not miss a minute of sightseeing.

I try to research every place we visit to determine what entertainment is free and what activities we think will be worth paying an admission fee. Self-guided city walking tours are fun and free. They give us the layout and feel of the city and if I've done my homework, we see the highlights without incurring major costs. We always see more when we're walking anyway...the architecture, statues and artwork tucked into nooks and crannies, historical markers, buskers. Many festivals offer free admission. The Royal Botanical Gardens are free here in Hobart as they were in Sydney. They might ask for a gold coin donation (Aussie $1 and $2 coins are gold in color), but a day in the botanical gardens is definitely worth a dollar or two to us and goes to a good cause.




On the boat, we're recyclers. An old dock line becomes a ocean-plait rug. We have several on the boat and we also give them as gifts. Old jacklines become the hoists for our homemade courtesy flags. They're also great for retaining extra jerry jugs in place on deck. Old sails become canvas buckets or are used for patching. The salvaged parts of our old bimini became the cover for the outboard and several ditty bags David uses for stowing various tools and parts. We try to make sure that nothing of value goes to waste.

If we're doing a haul-out or major repairs, we bite the bullet and stay in a marina. If we decide to leave Cups for any period of time, we also prefer her to be in a marina or at least on a sturdy mooring where someone can watch out for her every once in awhile. Otherwise, we prefer to anchor out. No fees involved.

I might add that we were not always this way although we've both been pretty conservative spenders most of our lives. We did, however, buy a boat, sell off all of our land anchors and head off into the sunset over a decade ago, so there go the theories of logic and sobriety out the window.

If you follow this blog, you'll know that I've always shopped in thrift shops and love going to yard sales. Part of me likes the adventure and the challenge of finding something I need or want and not paying full retail price for it. I was always a coupon-er, too, although that's not as popular here as it is in the States. We do get fuel discounts with our grocery purchases and they especially work to our benefit when buying diesel fuel for the boat. A diesel fuel purchase last week with a discount coupon saved us $27. We also stock up on paperback books when we're back in the States at 25-50¢ each. Books in the rest of the world are very expensive. We read them and then trade them. Twenty five books purchased for 50¢ each become 25 new books... over and over and over again. Kindle may change all that.


grocery sales


At the grocery store, we're pretty good about buying what's on sale. Unless there's some special occasion, like turkey for Christmas, we don't shop with a preconceived notion of what we'll be having for dinners for the coming week. Instead, we tailor our menu choices around what's available, in season and on sale. I remember finding and using recipes for breadfruit in the Carib and taro in Vanuatu.

We shop at local markets when we can and buy in quantity when it makes sense. Onions and potatoes are particularly good buys here at the moment and store well. When bought in 5 or 10kg sacks, the cost per pound/kg drops drastically. We do not buy frozen foods nor any prepared foods. Well, licorice sticks, chips and cookies once in awhile... although with the junk-less New Year's resolution those purchases have nearly disappeared. (You gotta splurge once in awhile!) I can-process (jar) turkey burger (mince) and chicken which we alternate with caught fish when we're out at sea. We pick local fruit and berries when it's available and can those for later use as well. Can-processed food, by the way, can last a year or more.

When it comes to buying something we could make ourselves or buying a service we could perform ourselves, we're usually willing to expend hours of our own labor, rather that buy a product or contract a service. If we make it, we know how it's made and the materials that go into it. If we perform the service ourselves, we know what was done and how it was done. Part of our rationale for this is being prudent as much as frugal.


buying melons in fiji


The primary difference between frugal and cheap? I think it's the intent. We always attempt to pay our way. We don't sponge off people. We don't try to gyp anyone out of money that's due them. We don't avoid paying national parks fees or sneak into museums to avoid paying admissions. We are discriminating, however, in which parks and museums we choose to visit. We're not extravagant in our tastes. We're okay with inexpensive wine and home brew. We're not embarrassed to tell people we'd prefer not to eat out in an expensive restaurant nor attend an activity that doesn't seem value-rich.

Frugality has become more of a challenge and a game for us than a negative issue and it's allowed us to continue sailing for these past 13 years with the hope of many years to come. When we quit sailing, it won't be because of lack of funds.

So...how much does it actually cost us to live aboard Nine of Cups each year? Stay tuned for Part II of this blogpost. And if you're interested, we'll also share our budget with you.

And the nautical terms from yesterday are:

Futtock - curved timber that forms the rib of a ship

Sny - Curve of a ship from amidships to the bow or stern

Joggle - notching process

Trunnel - wooden pegs (or dowels) used to fasten timbers together


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