Posted on April 13, 2016
The burning question on everyone’s mind, that most folks are too polite to ask: how the ever-loving heck can you guys afford this? There are so, so many ways to answer this, and I think it’s really important to keep in mind all of our privilege that has allowed us this opportunity; but there are a few specific things you might want to know about us, if you’re curious about the money…
First off: we are not independently wealthy trust-funders. For two of the six years we’ve been working towards cruising, Michu was in nursing school and we were living below the federal poverty level for a family of four. Our current income is almost exactly on the US median. There is no secret stash of cash. We are pulling this off as middle-class Americans.
Second: well, there was an inheritance: $35,000, to be precise. We used this money to purchase our boat ($25,000), and to pay for the survey, shipping, insurance, and yard costs for the first year. Not receiving this money would have pushed back our departure date by two years, and given the age of our kids, that would have been a bummer. This money was important to our schedule, and probably made it easier to take the leap to boat ownership, since it wasn’t money we’d sweated for ourselves, but it wouldn’t have prevented us from leaving.
Third: we’ve had help from family. Michu graduated from nursing school debt-free, and that was in no small part thanks to many wonderful family members who pitched in to help with tuition and other expenses. We don’t get scheduled cash from parents, but we have gotten help with projects like our new roof. Both our cars came from Michu’s mom. Christmas money helps pay for groceries. Equally important: there are folks who’ve got our backs. Talking with friends who are social workers, I feel like one of the huge differences between families like ours, when we were living with very little income, and families who cannot escape poverty is the safety net of folks who can lend you the money for crucial car repairs or medical bills. We try very hard not to lean on our family for financial support, but knowing we have that insurance is not something to discount or take lightly.
Fourth: we have been squeezing every penny for six loooooong years. We live in a small duplex. We grow a lot of our own food and cook almost everything from scratch. The gifts that we give are almost always homemade or homegrown. Everyone’s clothes are secondhand or gifts. We are insane users of the public library, free outdoor concerts, free art activities, free museums–free everything. We rarely see the inside of a restaurant. Our vacations are to state parks and visiting family. We limit our driving to save on gas. Biggest social activity: potluck at our house! Dry the clothes on the line, turn out the lights, turn down the thermostat. We are not going to the show, or getting everyone together to go out for drinks: we are going cruising instead. Since Michu’s finished school and started working, all of our small measures have added up to a savings of almost $20,000 a year.
Fifth: how much it costs. I think people have an outsized idea of the real costs of purchasing a “yacht” and traveling for a few years. Living where we do, no one would blink an eye if we said we’d purchased a Bass fishing boat and a couple of snowmobiles, or if we were remodeling the kitchen or buying a bigger house. It’s expected; but it would cost more than our boat. Sailboats are inexorably linked to wealth, and our boat new would have probably been about $300,000 back in the day; but so far, our total costs associated with the boat–including purchase, storage, and refit–are probably hovering around $80,000. Of that, $35,000 was from the inheritance, and a hilarious-but-not-really-funny $29,000 has been recovered from insurance (freeze damage from Texas, and damage from the mast being dropped). This, of course, values Michu’s incredible amount of labor at $0; but as a stay-at-home mom whose labor value has been similarly calculated for years, I’m pretty comfortable with that.
We’d feel kind of silly saying OUT LOUD how much we expect to spend while actually cruising, especially when our first year will include spending time in expensive areas like NYC and DC, and blowing a significant amount of cash on transiting the Panama Canal; but when you think about the costs of living on a boat, it’s important to remember that we won’t have expenses like a mortgage, car expenses or electric bill to pay (thanks, solar panels!). We expect to anchor out the majority of the time (free!), and we won’t be paying for things like music lessons or soccer. We’ve researched quite a bit how much other families are spending, and we’re feeling pretty good about coming out on the cheaper end of the spectrum–especially with a well-found boat and the experience of living frugally for the past six years.
We’re keeping our house; rental income will give us a bit of a cushion for when we return to land life. Yes, the IRA is suffering while we’re gone, but only for a few years. And hopefully, when we’re done cruising, we’ll be able to sell the boat and put the money towards a new home–one that never threatens to sink.