When our family of 4 began our exciting transition to the cruising life aboard our 35′ Cal Cruising Windfall in November 2008, we had everything planned out.
We would explore Mexico by skimming lightly off our savings if we needed to, but the monthly interest that we received off our conservative investments would be the bulk of our revenue… keeping us afloat financially.
It was so perfect!
And as Murphy’s Law so cruelly predicts… even before we cast the line off the last cleat on the dock, the dividends plummeted to such depressing lows that my husband and I all but went into cardiac arrest! The crash of 2008 had ruined our slick cruising plans for all of 2009.
We had sold our business and our home. We had dumped major dollars into Windfall finalizing her cruiser ready status. We were on the line. We had a decision to make. We had just enough money to go back and start over. Or, we could go for it… no matter how crazy… and fulfill the quest. We opted for the quest! All we needed was a new plan.
We had no real direction for creating a budget, and we really had difficulty locating other cruisers that reported their spending. If we found them they were couples, not families, living on Social Security or other benefits that were not available to us.
So we gathered as much information as we could and compiled a budget based on the only thing left…
… hope mixed with a little logic and some of our savings.
|WINDFALL on the hook (Agua Verde, Mexico)|
Our cruising budget was $1,500US per month (or $18,000 per year) for 4 people and one dog, not including emergencies. This was substantially less than we had spent as landlubbers, so we were very worried that this was an unrealistic goal.
With our “not-so-sure-if-we-can” budget looming over us, I began keeping track of all our spending… every penny. I kept a small notepad with me and documented all expenses… every grocery bill, every dinghy dock fee, every taco stand. Then, I transferred our data onto a spreadsheet.
Surprisingly, we spent less than $17,000 our first year! That included the cost for a new Engel freezer, a fresh bottom paint job, and 3 trips to the USA!
What did we do? Eat rice and beans?
No, not very often.
For the record, Jim and I had talked in depth about how our cruising experience was not just going to be “living on a boat”.
We wanted cultural stimulation and education. I wanted to sample local restaurants and search out regional art. We wanted our children (then ages 9 and 13) to be happy. We wanted them to embrace the joy of cruising and have fun while experiencing exposure to different customs.
How did we do it?
Well, as Mark Twain said, “All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”
Our Top 10 Highest Cruising Expenses for 2009
|“MEGA”, the name of this supermarket
This was our biggest itemized cost for the year. However, since we provisioned for food heavily at many mega supermarkets, the “grocery” expenses also include things like household items, pet food, beer & wine, school supplies, hardware, etc…
For the year, we spent $5,924.73 (an average of $493.73 per month)… not bad for a crew with a ruthlessly hungry teenage boy aboard!
And no, we are not vegetarian.
We found the price of food to be slightly cheaper in Mexico than in the US, but other items such as clothing, shoes, and electronics were substantially more. We used the same principles for shopping as we did back home… we stocked up on items that were on sale.
|WINDFALL splashing with new paint
(La Paz, Mexico)
2. Boat Equipment
Things break or need replacing or you make discoveries of items that you MUST have, like our Engel freezer.
Equipment for the cruising year 2009 ran us $1,793.99.
3. Boat Repairs
Maintenance and repairs for Windfall ran us $1,487.14. This included hauling in/out and labor for new bottom paint. The paint was pre-purchased and we brought it along with us from the states.
|Carolyne’s 10th birthday and we were trapped for over a week due to weather. Had wonderful potluck instead!
(San Francisquito, Mexico)
4. Eating Out
Restaurants are expensive when you eat out a lot. We mostly cooked on board. Rather, we preferred attending the numerous potluck dinners with other cruisers that were so much fun!
When we did eat at restaurants, we frequented establishments that were less touristy and ones that the locals recommended… usually delicious food at reasonable prices!
We spent only $1,137.25 our first year, an average of less than $100 per month dining out.
|Jim’s thermal insulated cup is the only way to help keep the beer cold in the summertime
(Gonzaga Bay, Mexico)
The booze section was an after-thought as the costs were lumped in with groceries in the first six months. We are not big liquor drinkers, but we do like beer and wine. I began separating the alcohol from our groceries mid-year so that we could track our more “flexible” spending and tweak down our purchases to save money if necessary.
The actual cost of beer and wine for six months was $489.62, so the estimated cost for the year is roughly $979.24. The average comes to $81.60 per month.
5. Boat Fuel
No matter how hard you blow on the sails, sometimes the boat just won’t go!! $885.08
|Sewing the jib at the old marina
(Santa Rosalia, Mexico)
6. Marinas and Mooring Balls
While many cruisers enjoy the benefits, amenities and conveniences of dock life, we rarely frequented marinas and instead anchored out as much as possible.
We used our time wisely when we did venture into a slip and caught up on space hog or electricity sucking projects, like sewing dinghy chaps or building extra shelving in the lockers.
We spent very little time our first year in marinas and so spent only $751.74.
|“An “auriga” is a popular
form of transportation
When walking won’t cut it, public transportation is the preferred method of getting around for our family. When that is not an option, taxis are relatively cheap in Mexico if you barter first. $650.83
8. Auto Maintenance & Gas
We spent $631.42 in 2009 maintaining our economy car, not including insurance or tags. And although we drove it to the states two out of three times, it was too much hassle to store and keep the insurance up-to-date. We sold it at the end of the year.
a sting ray wound
(Bahia Los Angeles, Mexico)
This expense includes Mexican liability insurance for the boat and car, tags for the car, and life insurance.
We opted not to renew our health insurance because it doubled in cost.. Instead, we were proactive with our annual wellness exams & dental cleanings, as Mexican healthcare costs are very reasonable. $606.24
These are the things we gave to our friends and family or to the kids for holidays or birthdays. Due to the economy and our shipping restrictions, we gave smaller, more thoughtful gifts that cost less and hopefully meant more. It sounds good anyway, doesn’t it? $409.28
Our top 10 cruising costs account for 88% of our total expenses for the first year.
I believe that our success was largely due to following one major principle: Be flexible!
You simply can’t plan for everything.
For example, we exceeded our monthly budget several months that year due to unexpected costs (like the time the wind generator blew up). For us, our focus was on the annual cost. This gave us more freedom and took the stress out of budgeting.
There are many cruisers out there cruising for less and there are plenty of them cruising for more. Spending options are simply a personal choice.
We have our complete 2009 cruising expenses published on our website at www.expaticus.com under the obvious… “Expenses”.
We are also planning to publish our 2010 expenses on a spreadsheet soon… which show what happens to your budget when you buy a bigger boat!
About Meri Faulkner
We left Colorado in June 2008 and began our cruising adventure aboard Windfall, a 35′ Cal Cruising sloop. As our two children grew, we felt it was time to upgrade to more comfortable living conditions.
We are currently cruising the Sea of Cortez in Mexico for our second summer aboard Hotspur, our 41′ Tartan TOCK.
Cruising has become such an addiction that my husband, Jim, and I are committed to doing it as long as we can. After hurricane season, we hope to head to El Salvador for the beginning of our Central American tour.
We homeschool our two swabs, Tim (15) & Carolyne (10). Other scallywags include our 13 year old pound-puppy, Bailey, and Bad Kitty, a stray kitten that adopted us in Mazatlan.
Come visit Hotspur and follow our family cruising adventures at www.expaticus.com.
Read also on this website
- 12 questions to 12 sailing families
- Fear in the way, by Meri Faulkner
Like her Scandinavian forebears, Meri’s imagination bestowed almost mythic powers to unknowns that lurked ahead of her. She beat them back with an arsenal of knowledge.
- Boat jobs: Pink or Blue? …Violet, Meri says
- A mom looks back on the decision to go cruising as a family
More info (external link)
- Meri Faulkner’s new blog: The Faulkner family sails Mexico
What are your bigggest cruising expenses? How do you manage your cruising budget?
Let us know.
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