Saturday, January 3, 2015

"It's so much cheaper to live on a boat", or is it??

We have been collecting and publishing our living expenses for going on 4 years now (just follow the 'Costs' label to see them all).  And when Kristi and I took a year off to help out her folks, we continued our tracking - as a way to allow comparison between costs for us to live on land vs. on boat. Now that we have resumed the water-life, let's take a look at the two sets of numbers:

2014:  - A year on Land
Viking Star Cost to Not Cruise December 2014
(Click for larger view)

2013: - A year of Cruising
Viking Star, Cost to Cruise December 2013

At first blush they look somewhat alike:  $35K vs. $37K, with the life-afloat being slightly more costly.  But as is often the truth, the devil is in the details.  Before that, perhaps a review of the 'ground rules' we use is in order.  In short, we work to include all costs associated with the 'life style', but do reserve some items that are not really directly related, or perhaps a more of a personal choice.

We include all costs with the following exceptions:
  • Income and business taxes (Sales taxes are included as they are 'built into' the price of items)
  • Business-related travel (Airfare, auto rentals, etc)
    • Though I do report meals (Still got to eat)
    • We include costs for moorage of Viking Star during travel - Kristi often gets the place to her self :-)
    • We include 'personal' travel, example the trips Kristi took back to Minnesota, as well as my travel back to Viking Star last August.
  • Gifts given - such a personal choice.
  • Others - Always an others - and case-by-case.

A comment on the 'Others'.   It seems Others is just a way to account for poor-planning, or a way to hide details one would not wish to be known.  So far we have not excluded anything outside what is noted above, but in 2015 we will.   We are intending on doing a charter trip to the BVI, and will be handling its costs much like we have business travel:  include costs for Viking Star, meals, and such - but not airfare, boat rental, fees.  Cruisers often travel, but what value does a read gain when that travel can be $10,000 to France for a month vs. $500 to a friends beach cabin?  IT is a judgment call, and one we will make case-by case, as well as rarely.  (BTW, to further mix things up - our BVI airfare costs will be under $100, using up flyer miles..  So there!)

The Details:

In comparing the two years one must also keep in mind a major detail:
  1. We own Viking Star free and clear.  There is no boat-payment, but there is insurance and maintenance.
  2. While in Minnesota this past year we had NO housing costs.  No rent, insurance, nor maintenance.   We did however split groceries, and Kristi and I covered utilities the last few months (placed under the Misc category).
  3. Likewise we had no car expenses (though we did pay for Gas when we took long trips)
These details can make a bit of a difference.  Even if we owned our own home there would be taxes, maintenance, and insurance, as well as utilities.  Depending on where one lives perhaps $5-6K or more depending on needed maintenance.  Add on mortgage payments and we are easily in the $15-20K range, maybe more.  Even renting would be in the $10-15K range or more (again, depending on where one lives).  Toss in another $1,000 operating costs for an auto (and auto payments if one does not own their car).   Utilities brings in another $4K or so for water, power, garbage, internet, etc.  But as we would be boat-less take out the maintenance and moorage (about $5K) and that leaves us with at least an additional $10-25K, or even more on top of the 'land spending'.

Even using the bottom $10K of this range, our land costs are now adjusted from $35K/year to $45K/year.   Vs. the $37K for the boat life.

It is fun to look at 'data', but that is often not information.  Kristi and I talked a bit about the differences, and here are some of our thoughts:
  • Groceries is interesting - it appears to be half the cost on land vs. water, some factors to consider:
    • While on a Boat we can not drive to Winco or other discount stores - food costs us more.  Maybe 30% more.
    • We tended to have a (eahm) larger Booze Budget on the boat than on land.  Sundowners vs. the mostly 'dry' prairies.
  • Dining Out / Entertainment - also appears lower on land
    • Kind of the same as above.  Hard to get a burger for under $20 at waterside establishments.
    • Plus, we had little to no access to coffee shops on the prairies!
  • Personal - MUCH more costly on land than water
    • Access = opportunity = action.  
    • Kristi and I learned a long time ago to keep costs down, stay out of the cities while boating.
    • However on land there are lots of services (UPS, Fed-Ex, etc) who are more than happy to 'bring the city to you'.  (Yes, we could have stuff brought in via Beaver plane - but come on)
  • Medical and Insurance:  About the same.  We were after all still in the USA.
  • Transportation:  Kind of a wash - but remember the above re: automobile
  • Communication:
    • A bit unfair data shown on land as we did not pay for communications outside of our personal cell phone. 
    • What is a typical monthly bill for internet and TV these days?  $100?  $150?
  • Misc:
    • Here is where we tossed in items that we had not created a category for, example:  Utilities, purchasing a new appliances for the household, etc.  

So what is the bottom line?  I would say:  Overall all it is less expensive for Kristi and I to live on our boat.  Maybe by $10-15K a year, once making all the adjustments talked about above.   And remember, that is comparing things to costs in rural / farmland Minnesota; not the 'cities' (which are sure to be even higher)
Plus, we get to vacation 8+ months out of the year!

We do hope our efforts to collect and share this is helpful to some.  I know when we first started looking into this life, cost data was hard to come by.  And we looked to break that trend over the past years.


  1. I just wanted to say thank you for the effort to post financial details. There are so many people that post wonderful photos and inspirations of their "alternative" living styles but so few post financials with it so that those of us considering the options can make informed dreams :)

  2. Thank you, you are welcome.

    When we were 1st starting out, we learned a bunch from others - and do hope to pass that on. Which is why we do more then the 'photos', but also other learned insights: things that worked (and did not), and even something about the feeling around this life style.

    Best of luck with your plans! When asked 'So how do you like it so far' I let Kristi answer - she most often replies "It has been good except for 4 days". Not too bad for 7 years.