Sunday, August 17, 2014

Being frugal

Sometimes I feel like I'm still in college. I still shop at thrift stores. I still eat rice and beans. I still seek out coupons for half-price haircuts.

I was frugal in college because I didn't have very much spending money. Post-college, Hans and I drove across country with $500 in our bank account and a case of box mac & cheese in the back seat. I remember precisely the three times we ate out in six weeks of traveling. My frugality continued when we moved to Washington, DC and started to actively save for our sailing trip. Yes, there were rules: One meal out once a month. Weekly allowance of $20 per person. All furniture must be found or gifted.

Life was good when we were cruising because, well, we were in our twenties and we were sailing around the Caribbean. Our expenses were minimal so we could live high on the hog. (Translation: we could treat ourselves to a burger for lunch every now and then. Of course we never skimped on the beach bars.)

Living the good life at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Moving to Philadelphia and starting medical school put the brakes on spending, big time. We were back to our college budget in an expensive city. Back to the thrift stores, back to budgeting, back to frugality.

But it's easy to be frugal when you live on a boat. Our expenses are low, our rent is low. We can't buy much stuff because we have nowhere to put it. Our vice is eating out. We love to eat out. Luckily for us, but not our bank account, Freja loves to eat out too. Bubbla vatten (club soda) and french fries. Oh yeah!

Baby Freja at a waterfront restaurant in Sarasota, FL,
patiently waiting for her club soda and french fries.

Besides eating out, we manage to live comfortably without shelling out a lot of cash. What does living frugally look like on a boat? Probably not that different from living frugally on land.

Phones. Hans has an iPhone because he needs it for work. I am home a lot so I get my internet fix on my computer while the girls are sleeping (via free wifi from the marina). I have no need for a smartphone so make do with a "burner." A tiny little phone that makes texting difficult but works fine as simply a phone and has cheap monthly bill.

Clothes. Hans chose a profession that allows him to wear pajamas to work. Not literally pajamas, but have you ever worn a pair of scrubs? Pretty comfy. How convenient that I, too, have chosen a profession that allows me to wear pajamas to work. "Mamma, can I wear my pajamas all day today?" "Yeah, sure. Why not?" ('Cause that's what I'll be wearing.)

no shirt and tie needed!
Car. Hans drives our car to work, a 2003 Volvo S60 that we bought 4 years ago for $6k and still runs beautifully. I tow the girls around in a bike trailer that cost $125 used and has no insurance premiums or maintenance costs.

our car, buried in snow in VT
Furniture. Add ten points in the liveaboard lifestyle: all furniture except the couch is built-in. We just purchased a new mattress for our bed, replacing the original which is 25 years old. $200.

Toys. Another ten points for living aboard: the girls have very few toys (no space). I am tempted to buy them new toys all the time. There is always something new they would love, but we have no space. Freja and I rotate the toys every week or so which keeps it interesting for them and the stuff in our main cabin sort of under control. A (relatively) large cubby hole by the galley table is dedicated to art supplies.

What do the girls do instead of playing with the latest and greatest toy? Art, crayons, stickers, playdough. And we go outside. A lot.

A homemade pirate. No need to buy a store-made costume. Add some face paint and a scarf, thrift store vest and, voila!
"Arrrgh matey!"
Bathroom sundries. Even though Hans is a doctor, our first aid kit and supplies are relegated to two small tupperware boxes, smaller than shoeboxes. One for the girls, one for us. I don't wear a lot of makeup or jewelry; Hans is a toothbrush/paste and deodorant kind of guy. We share the same shampoo and don't buy OTC medications for each ache and pain and cough. Ibuprofen works!

Food. I try to make menus for a few days in a row, finding that if I stick to a menu then we eat the food I buy and I buy less. For the environment and for our health, with a trickle-down affect on our bank account, I try to alternate meat days with vegetarian days. Of course, we are such suckers for eating out. We love to eat out. So I may not have fancy clothes or fine jewelry, but we certainly support the local food economy!

On the other hand, living on a boat, being a boat owner, also can be pricey. Let's not forget our starboard engine that needs a rebuild that will cost anywhere from $3 to $5k. Or the new fridge we had to buy that cost $1300. Or the new air conditioner that recently set us back another $1300. Silicone, duct tape, electrical fittings, new tools to replace the ones that fell in the bilge or in the drink: these are all maintenance costs that add up quickly on a boat. Homeowners are familiar with these types of numbers, I'm sure. But when a pipe springs a leak on a boat, or when a bilge pump stops working on a boat, it has to be fixed immediately. Our home could sink! Procrastinating maintenance, repairs, and the associated equipment isn't an option on a boat.

If something's broken, we've got to fix it. DIY as much as possible.
I live frugally out of necessity (income and space limitations), but since it's been part of my lifestyle for so long, it isn't hard and I don't really think about it. Of course I do have a wish list of things I want: Toys for the girls, kitchen gadgets, shoes, clothes, books. But, then, where would I put it? And do I want the kind of lifestyle that makes space (both literal and figurative) for all that stuff? What would I be trading in to go from living small and minimally to having more creature comforts and luxuries?

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