“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”—Virginia Woolf
If you’re just joining us (hello!), I recommend you read a few other posts first to get more context about our upcoming sailing and travel excursion. They are Garrett and I Just Quit Our Jobs to Travel and Sail the World, How We Made the Decision to Quit Our Jobs to Travel and Sail the World, and How We Learned How to Sail and Prepared to Buy a Sailboat.
In How We Learned How to Sail and Prepared to Buy a Sailboat, I clued you in on how we got into sailing, saved money, and bought a sailboat. Today, I want to share how we saved even more money to be able to quit our jobs to travel and sail full-time.
When we bought the boat in September of 2016, I flat out refused to live on board while we went about our normal lives. There was no way I was going to live on a 35’ sailboat, shower in a public bathroom, and go to work at my corporate job every day.
My rule was this: if we were living on the boat, we had to be traveling with the boat. However, we knew that we’d ultimately have to spend some time living on board before leaving to cruise, if only to adjust to the lifestyle. With this in mind, we added our names to the liveaboard waitlist in our marina as soon as we signed the new owner paperwork for our boat. Yes, there is a waitlist. There’s a rule in Sausalito that only 10% of boats at a marina can be occupied by liveaboards, and it’s a surprisingly coveted living arrangement in the Bay Area.
For the first year and a half of boat ownership, Garrett and I kept our San Francisco Nob Hill apartment and drove to Sausalito to sail and care for our Rafiki 35, which we renamed Thisldu, on weeknight evenings and weekends. We tried to go sailing as often as possible. Garrett was a quick learner. Me, not so much. Admittedly, I’m still not as strong of a sailor as I want, or think that I need, to be. I’m working on it.
We started to crowdsource information about how much we should save. We spoke directly to friends that had cruised and asked them how much they put aside and how much they ended up spending. I reached out to cruisers I’ve built connections with on Instagram and asked what they recommended. I referred a lot to the spending reports that fellow San Franciscans-turned-cruisers John and Michelle published every month. And what I started to find was: everybody’s spending patterns and needs are different.
Some people cruise alone, some in families of five or more. Some only live “off of the hook” (their anchor) while others like to pay for the amenities offered by marinas. Some stay on their sailboats all of the time, others leave their boats behind to explore inland. Some months you’ll only have to buy food and fuel, others you’ll have to spend a lot more to replace something on the boat. All of these things contribute to a wide range of costs. Garrett and I talked through all of our options, and all of the things that we wanted to do with our trip, and committed to a number that we felt comfortable with.
Buying the sailboat used up most of our savings but we still had enough set aside to invest in projects like installing a roller furling, getting a new jib sail, and covering the brown vinyl 1970s cushions. Garrett put together a checklist on a sheet of white lined notebook paper that we’re still crossing things off of today. He installed an autopilot, pulled the boat out of the water to get the bottom cleaned and painted, wired a new radio, and set up AIS. We got new cushions for our bed in the v-berth, replaced the light fixtures with soft-glow LED bulbs, and resurfaced the settee table. We, and when I say we I really mean Garrett, got the boat as ocean ready and as liveaboard ready as possible.
In the early winter of 2018, something inside of me shifted and I felt ready to start pursuing the liveaboard life. Mostly, I started to resent the amount of money we were spending on our 385-square-foot studio apartment and was worried that we wouldn’t be able to pay off debt and save enough money to travel. As soon as I told Garrett how I felt, he jumped for joy at the prospect of making his dream of living on a sailboat come true.
We started communicating with our marina and asking about our position on the waitlist more frequently, and in March 2018, we were granted liveaboard status. We gave 30-day notice to our San Francisco landlord and as of April 1, we were completely out of the apartment and one hundred percent living on our sailboat.
It felt insane at times, and it still does. There are a lot of things that I love about living on a sailboat, and a lot of things that I…don’t love. I talk to those points in more detail here: Living On Our Boat: One Year In!
Moving onto our sailboat was worth it, and if I’m being honest, necessary if we wanted to put aside enough money to travel on for a couple of years. It’s no surprise to anyone that San Francisco is expensive, and we really struggled pay off our debt and put money into savings every month while living in the city. Of course, Garrett and I could have been a lot more frugal. We could have said no to dinners out with friends. We could have turned down the opportunities to travel cross-country to visit our families. We could have declined wedding invitations. But we didn’t want to.
If you remember back to the lists we made of the five things that we value the most, relationships were on both of ours. Garrett grew up in Michigan, I grew up in Connecticut, we went to Michigan State University, and both spent time living in Rhode Island, Arizona, and now, California. As a result, we have friends and family scattered throughout the United States and abroad. It was, and still is, really important for us to be able to spend time with our people, wherever they are. It doesn’t matter whether it takes a flight to Chicago to visit my in-laws or a dinner in San Francisco to spend time with our friends—if the expense allows us quality time with the ones we love, we don’t think twice.
So we didn’t dial back on traveling or socializing, but we did change our mindset about certain things. Not only is it extremely expensive to rent in San Francisco, it’s extremely easy to spend money in San Francisco. This city is at the center of innovation, and there’s an app to make anything and everything in your life more convenient, at a cost. Uber and Lyft for transportation, Instacart for grocery delivery at the end of a long day, GrubHub, DoorDash, or Caviar for dinner…we were spending too much money on all of these conveniences. With the mindset of trying to save for this trip, we began to cut back on our unnecessary spending. The amount of money we saved by not ordering takeout or opting to walk instead of calling an Uber…it was significant.
This switch in our behavior, coupled with us pursuing new, higher-paying career opportunities, allowed us to save a lot more. We are lucky to live in a place and work in industries that allowed for so much growth.
Still, though, it wasn’t enough. That all changed when we moved onto our sailboat and cut our living expenses in half. We could finally put a substantial amount into savings every month and in March 2019, we both became 100% debt free. At last, in the spring of 2019, we felt like we had enough money set aside to fund our travel and cruising adventures.
To summarize, we didn’t really have an organized, methodical plan to saving money. We didn’t work off of a strict budget. We could have absolutely been savvier with our spending. We definitely could have saved more by traveling less. I know that other people are a lot scrappier when they’re saving to cruise or quit their jobs. I know that. Garrett and I did the best that we could to save money for this adventure while still trying to be fulfilled with our day-to-day lives over the past five years. I will also note that we are fortunate to live in a place where there is an abundance of career and income growth opportunity—both of which we worked to take advantage of in our time here. Our savings methods may have been unconventional, but they worked for us.
So What’s Next?
It has been a little nerve-wracking to have a countdown to our final paycheck. To accept that no more money is coming in. Part of us feels like we just started to feel financially secure and it’s crazy to walk away from it all. As of now, we don’t plan on returning to San Francisco, and with that, have to accept that we might not ever make the same type of money that we do today. We struggled financially for most of our 20s—I can look back to multiple days in my journal where I wrote something like, “we only have $0.88 in our bank account right now, and we don’t get paid for another two days.” I hated feeling that way, and I’m afraid of ending up there again. I’m determined to not let that happen.
Our plan was always to try and save enough to not have to rely on producing income while we traveled, but we are by no means opposed to working. Garrett has a lot of experience in boat maintenance and care. I want to pursue travel writing. I’ll work behind the register of a shop. Garrett will take odd jobs. What I’m trying to say is, we’ll do what it takes to bring money in—we just didn’t want to put ourselves in the position of really needing that money to come in.
We’ll figure it out if we have to. We always do.
It’s scary, sure, to walk away from the things that we have and the trajectory we’re on. But the need to go on this adventure is greater than the fear of what we’re leaving behind. Like I said in my announcement post, every bone in my body feels like this is the right thing for us to do.
Aside from all of that—the scary, the unknown, the leaving-behind—there is so much exciting stuff ahead of us! A summer in Europe, a cruising season or two that will take us from San Francisco to the Caribbean…it barely feels real.
This dream of ours has been in the works for almost five years and I’m really, really proud of us for making it come true.