I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ve always felt rich even when I didn’t have much money. But lately, I find myself worrying about expenses. But it’s not just my bank account that makes me feel like I’m cruising while poor.
Plain Talk About Money
How much does it take to cruise full time on a sailboat? Everything you have.
Yes, you can bring down costs by anchoring all the time, making your own repairs, and living simply. But every day saltwater and sunshine erode your boat.
A savvy person might be able to replace their own engine but that just means it will cost them $5,000 instead of over $15,000. And you can only restitch your sails so many times before you need to replace them.
There’s a reason people claim BOAT is an acronym for “bring on another thousand.”
Money For Cruising
We sold our house and used the proceeds to buy our boat and start us off with a small nest egg. (Learn how we downsized without stress, if you’re considering the same plan.)
The first year on the boat saw us staying in marinas because we had not yet bought an engine for our dinghy and needed to take the dog off every day. And traveling in areas with a strong tidal range meant that there were times of day when the current was too strong for me to row against (a lesson I learned the first time we anchored).
Staying in a marina was an easy choice. But also an expensive one.
And although our survey said we had found a good boat for its age, we put thousands of dollars into the engine and drive train taking care of deferred maintenance items.
I set a bottom limit for our savings. I wanted to be sure that if we needed to get off the boat, we’d have enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and a couple of month’s rent while we got settled.
But as expenses mounted, my bottom savings limit decreased until after a particularly expensive boatyard stay we found our bank account with less than $2,000. And yes, that was our entire savings.
We’ve been able to continue cruising by working from the boat. But with the boat needing a major refit, we’re struggling to build our savings to be able to cover it.
Feeling Poor Doesn’t Mean You Are Poor
Many people in the world would have to work for years before earning $2,000.
We are by no means poor. I own a beautiful, classic boat and have absolutely no debt. My husband and I both have regular work. Luckily we are healthy.
But there are a few things about our life that make me feel poor.
Poor by comparison
Studies show that people feel poor when they compare themselves to people richer than themselves. You may have heard your depression-era grandparent tell you, “We didn’t have anything but we never felt poor. We were all in the same boat.”
But when you earn less money and don’t own the toys of the people around you, you feel poor by comparison. That’s why “buy the worst house in the best neighborhood” is great advice for making money in real estate but horrible advice for your sense of well being.
We occasionally meet boaters living at anchor with barnacle-encrusted hulls on a shoestring budget. They’re too poor to be able to afford cruising. So they just stay put.
But most of our fellow cruisers in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) are retired professionals with a healthy stock portfolio, a home on land, and maybe even a few rental properties.
It’s easy to feel poor by comparison.
I love my boat. It’s beautiful.
But at nearly 30 years old, it’s showing its age. The gel coat is starting to chip. The velour upholstery looks stained and dated. The jib sail is covered with sailcloth patches.
And Meander is our home. I’d love to invest in some projects that would make it more beautiful and livable.
When you live in a space that’s smaller than the average American guest bedroom (and that includes the kitchen, living room, office, bedroom, and bathroom), you want every inch of space to work for you.
Seeing our failing chainplates and the no-longer watertight bimini covering in our cockpit, it’s hard not to yearn for enough money to take care of everything at once.
Finally, things that are charming when you choose them can be miserable when they’re forced on you.
I’ve talked to people living the dream in their RVs and exploring beautiful natural areas. But while they’re making the most of their lives, they can’t afford to do anything else.
And because they feel they have no choice, they’re unhappy.
I love living on the boat. But my husband enjoys it far less. Although he has committed to living on the boat with me, it’s not his first choice.
I try to remember the stress of feeling helpless because you have no choice. As a result, I choose not to complain about eating out three times while anchoring off the shore of Georgetown, South Carolina.
Sometimes making small choices helps when you’re unable to make one big one.
After all, cruising isn’t my husband’s dream. And a small investment in restaurants goes a long way toward helping him find the joy in my preferred life.
Cruising While Poor
So how do I cope with feeling poor while cruising?
I remind myself every day how lucky I am to travel on a beautiful boat living a rich life. To have so many blessings and still feel poor is ungrateful.
Sometimes I just have to remind myself of all the reasons I have to feel grateful.
Invest in happiness
When you have a long list of expensive boat jobs, it’s easy to go into uber frugal mode and not spend any money that isn’t absolutely necessary. But little gifts can go a long way toward making yourself feel rich—especially if you also remember to cultivate gratitude.
I’m an avid thrift store shopper. I keep a list of tiny things that would make our lives better and I comb the shelves for them in every thrift store I pass.
At one store I got a bright orange bag to keep my dog Honey’s toys in for about a quarter. The bright color makes me happy every time I look at it. And it’s terrific to get Honey’s stuffies off the floor while still allowing her to grab them when she wants to play.
I smile every time I look at my pink polka dot shower caddy that I paid fifty cents for. When I found a dollar folded up in one of the inside pockets, I loved it even more.
It doesn’t take much to bring small moments of joy to your life with a touch of mindful shopping.
Respect my worth
I’ve worked in nonprofits my entire life. And I’m fantastically frugal. I’ve never needed to earn much money to meet my needs.
But the downside of my money mindset can be undervaluing my work and its benefits to my employers.
My time is even more precious now that I’m cruising, so I’ve learned to turn down low-paying job offers that I would have taken in the past. After all, everything takes longer on a boat. And I can’t afford to sacrifice my goals because I don’t feel like I deserve to earn more money.
Cruising While Rich
Money is important. But I bet more nomads suffer from feeling bad about their lack of money than are actually indigent.
Because cruising while poor is still a pretty rich life.