Cruising with Kids

What does it cost to cruise as a family? One family's first-year expenses

Meri Faulkner's familyWhen 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
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
(in US dollars)

1. Groceries
MEGA, the name of this supermarket - Mazatlan, Mexico
“MEGA”, the name of this supermarket
(Mazatlan, Mexico)

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
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.

We had a wonderful potluck for Carolyne's 10th birthday
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
Jim’s thermal insulated cup is the only way to help keep the beer cold in the summertime
(Gonzaga Bay, Mexico)
5. Libations

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 marina
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 - Mazatlan, Mexico
“An “auriga” is a popular
form of transportation
(Mazatlan, Mexico)
7. 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.

Tim nursing a sting ray wound
Tim nursing
a sting ray wound
(Bahia Los Angeles, Mexico)
9. Insurance

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

10. Gifts

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 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

Jim and MeriWe 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

Read also on this website
More info (external link)

What are your bigggest cruising expenses? How do you manage your cruising budget?
Let us know.
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3 comments to What does it cost to cruise as a family? One family’s first-year expenses

  • Finally, someone brave enough, rigorous enough, and far-sighted enough to track these expenses for a whole year…and then share the results. Mexico is the perfect place to be to cruise on a budget. Central America would be good, too. But you’d need to double that for French Polynesia (if not more.) Fortunately, from Samoa through Vanuatu it goes back down some.

  • Thanks for the valuable insight into your budget and expenses. We are in the process of building up the kitty for an extended – 24 month? cruise through the Caribbean and down to central america. It has proven difficult to find detailed information from other cruiser’s experiences. We have completed a couple 60 to 90 day trips that have provided some insight into our spending habits. Your post reinforces some of our observations and provides a comparable look at areas where we differ. Thanks!

  • Hi there! A friend of ours sent me this article today because my husband and I are just beginning our cruising life this coming season. I think we may have just bought your previous boat, Windfall. We were buying it from Doug and Anna… is that by chance who you sold it to? Ironic, if so! I have some pictures posted on our blog of the boat. We are heading back down at the end of October to begin cruising the Sea of Cortez for a while. Maybe we will run into you somewhere!

    Meredith and Tim

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