The Frugal Cruiser: The Budget Examined
We were having a problem with our refrigerator not cooling down quickly enough. This is one of those items you don’t want to mess around with, or you could potentially end up tossing out valuable food items, which when on a budget, take on a whole new meaning. So we called a local Grenadian out to have a look. He’s very well educated, has travelled extensively and teaches at the local university. He’s also done work for us before, and he is fast, efficient, works odd hours, and works for a reasonable fee.
He’s curious by nature, and since he had done work last year for us, asked us what we had been doing since then. We told him we had sailed up from Grenada to the Virgin Islands and back down the Eastern Caribbean chain, and were spending our second year in Grenada for hurricane season. He scratched his head, and quizzically asked, “Is this your home?” while his eyes darted around the boat. “Yes, everything we own is right here”. “Wow”, was his response. While he took that in, I explained that it was much less expensive to live on the boat that it would be on land. He was flummoxed. “Really?” he replied, “I thought all the people sailing down here had a lot of money”.
So I explained to him how we had no utility bills since we produced our power via solar, have battery banks to store the power, have an inverter, etc. I went on to explain that we also make our own water via a water maker that converts seawater to drinkable water. I also explained that we didn’t have a car, the dinghy is our car, so we only really needed to purchase diesel for the boat to use when not sailing, gasoline for the dinghy, and propane for cooking, which are very minimal costs in relation to living ashore.
He caught me spot on when he asked me about telecom. OK, yes, that’s where a higher percentage of our money goes per month. Yes, it is expensive, and it varies per island. I told him I’ve seen plans where it was as high as $5.00 US per minute and we took no part in that, but in Grenada we are paying $50 US for 5 gig. Mix that in with keeping a US plan so we can keep our US phone number, using that plan as a backup for times we don’t have a local SIM card, and also using it when we travel stateside. We’re starting to skinny our telecom bills down over time as we figure out the ins and outs, but it’s a constantly moving target moving from one country to the next, and US plans change over time.
Insurance is also something we worry about. With two category 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean this year, word on the street is that one of the largest yacht insurers that covers this area is no longer renewing and writing policies which is cause for concern. Some insurers are dropping coverage altogether without notice. It still costs less to insure a house than it does a boat on a yearly basis, but add in health insurance, and it gets very confusing. Did you know that health care in the US is the most expensive in the world? Global health insurance that also includes the US is quite a bit less expensive but is requires you to live outside of the country for a certain period of time per year. At any rate insurance is less expensive when you live on a boat and live outside the country. Prescription medications can usually be obtained over the counter without a prescription for a very low price outside of the US. And we don’t have a car, so you can mark car insurance off the list.
So far, knock on wood; our boat expenses haven’t been too high. Last Tango has proven herself to be a warhorse, with little maintenance for a “mature” girl. The A/C works, but we rarely use it, and even if we did, it runs off of the genset, which runs off diesel. Again, very little expense. We don’t have a pool; we live in a huge one, so there is no cleaning, chemicals, and maintenance there. We have no yard work to speak of. Although we are constantly reminded that the definition of BOAT is “Bring Out Another Thousand”, we have been fortunate so far and we have tried to do as much as possible ourselves, since we have the time, thanks to “YouTube” (see telecom expenses above). We do have some cosmetic work that needs to be done, but we are saving it for Bequia, as the work is high quality and the labor costs are low.
The price of groceries fluctuates between islands and also with the exchange rate. The dollar has been losing steam, so the French islands may not be as inexpensive as I remember. For the most part groceries are about on par, less expensive, or slightly more expensive, with the exception of the Bahamas & The Turks and Caicos, which are wildly more expensive. The Dominican Republic is also way LESS expensive. The prices to go out to eat for the most part have been less expensive. It costs less typically to buy a beer than a bottle of water. In the French Islands there are sparkling wines that could rival the best champagne and cost less than water.
You would think we go out to eat every day since we are on a permanent vacation, right? No, we only go out to eat maybe 2-3 times per week, and that is usually for a huge lunch. Here in Grenada a lunch that is huge to us costs around $25 – $30 EC in a nice local restaurant. We can linger, and it usually includes a beer and a nice view. That’s about $9 – 11 per person. If you see us post pictures in Facebook, they are usually from the nice restaurant, a potluck or from our boat. This is not a vacation, so to speak.
The laundry ladies save the day. Without a washer and dryer, it’s daunting to get a pile of dirty clothes, with only a bucket and a plunger. Most islands it’s fairly inexpensive to send your clothes out and pick them up the next day.
I mentioned we don’t own a car. Well we do have to get around. The local buses are usually fairly good to get around. The price of a bus in Grenada for a pickup and drop-off are about $1.00 US. They also have private local bus drivers that cater to cruisers that charge about $5.50 US per person RT to take you the hardware store, the grocery store, the bank, the chandlery, etc. They will wait on you and load all of your goodies in the bus, and drop you off at the dock. This is one thing that is unique to Grenada. Cab rides are way too expensive to consider unless you must get somewhere, like the airport on time. On other islands, occasionally we have to rent a car if we are in dire need of a large quantity of items. In some places the grocery store has a dinghy dock. Sometimes it requires lugging the groceries back in bags in the 90 degree heat and humidity.
Our holidays consist of flying stateside and staying with friends and family, except the one time we flew to Miami from the Bahamas to take a music cruise to the Bahamas (that’s another story). Pet boarding is a bit more problematic and limits the visits stateside as one of us needs to stay near our dear Jasmine, who has developed seizures in her old age. Except for the French islands, dogs are not treated the same as they are at home. Our holiday expenses have greatly shrunk in size.
As far as entertainment, we don’t watch TV; don’t get newspapers thrown to our door any longer (someone needs to evaluate this as a service to cruisers, ha!), but we have bought subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and such. Book swaps are the most cost efficient way to acquire books. I just finished reading “Catcher in the Rye”, and Lee Iacocca’s autobiography so obviously the selection is typically outdated, but you can find some treasures in there if you keep looking long enough. We occasionally buy books and music off the internet and try to download them at a restaurant offering free wifi to save money in downloading charges. Fortunately we have a hard drive with a terabyte of movies that we have been working our way through to keep us entertained. We’re working through it alphabetically and are now on the “B’s”.
As far as clothing, gifts and toys (i.e. electronic devices), we can purchase them over the internet but unfortunately don’t have an easy way to receive them since we don’t get mail (unless it’s online). We usually purchase items when we know we are going to the US, and pack the items in our luggage for the return trip. We also ask friends that are coming down if we can have stuff shipped to them so they can bring it down. While it is not impossible to have stuff shipped here, additional duty is often collected and it typically costs a lot more to do so.
While the actual cost to live on a boat varies considerably based upon tastes in eating and drinking, telecom usage, and well, basically all the decisions made regarding each item above (some people live without insurance and/or telecom, for example), the bottom line is that we are living close to the poverty level in terms of expenses, yet are not wanting for anything. We’ve got a great view where we live with a pool, we get to meet people in different countries as we travel around, and we just move if we don’t like the neighbors. It’s far less expensive than being a dirt-dweller and living in the US. And this is an eye-opener for a lot of people.