Every cruiser has their own budget; big or small. However, they all travel the world, witness beautiful sunsets, and spend time in stunning bays. What changes slightly is their lifestyle.
Before you set off sail cruising, you’ll need to have a rough idea of how much you’ll spend each month, so you know how far your cruising kitty will get you and whether you’ll need to make some money along the way.
In this post we go through the expenses you’ll likely need to account for when cruising, give you a rough estimate of how much we spend on these and show you an example breakdown of our own monthly budget. Remember though: when deciding your budget, you’ll need to find the right budget for you.
We are comfortable with our tiny budget of £500 per month because we’re young, frugal, and adaptable. Other people will need to account for two or three times more than that amount because their dinghy doesn’t row as well, or they love wine, or they plan to visit a lot of attractions. Only you know what your ideal budget is, based on your needs.
Let’s look at the expenses you’ll likely encounter when sail cruising.
Mooring or Marina Fees
Do you like to stay in marinas and have easy access to showers, launderettes, and restaurants? Then this will probably make up the biggest slice of your budget. Marina fees vary widely based on the size of your boat and the location – they can go from £12 to over £250 a night. Look up prices for the areas you want to visit before setting off. Mooring balls are generally cheaper, but they still get priced by size in touristy areas.
We’ve never been to a marina – we anchor most of the time and occasionally use mooring balls when that’s the best or only option. We’ve typically been asked for around £15 a night on a mooring ball and our boat is 7.9m long. Luckily, we haven’t been charged extra for the fact that we have a catamaran.
Sometimes, no matter how frugal you are, you have no choice – you may get caught in a storm and you’ll need to head over to a marina or there might be a swell and only the mooring field is sheltered. For example, when we were in the Isles of Scilly, we had to head over to the harbour and stay on a mooring ball a few times, because it was the only comfortable place for the winds and swell forecasted.
This is our biggest expense, as we always eat on board. Just as on land, your budget for food will vary based on your diet, hunger, and habits. We try to shop for local foods and smaller brands to save money. We also only buy vegetarian foods, apart from the occasional tin of tuna (they cost a lot!).
For now, we’ve spent an average of £65 per week on food. It’s always good to read up on the countries you’ll visit to find out about the cost of life.
This might not apply to you, if you have a watermaker. Water is generally available free of charge, however some marinas will charge you by the litre. Until now, we’ve managed to find free water all the time, but we know at some point we might need to spend money on it. A typical price is 50p per litre. Be smart about it – look for public fountains, campsites, and quays.
We try to save as much water as we can by using salt water a lot – we wash our dishes and clothes in salt water and then rinse them in fresh water. This saves us a lot of painful trips to shore, carrying 25L jerry cans. To give you a rough idea, we aim to consume less than 10L of water per day when we’re at anchor – we’re quite ambitious!
Petrol or Diesel
You’ll need diesel or petrol for your boat engine and petrol for your outboard, if you have one. How much you spend on these is ultimately up to you – are you ok sailing at 2 knots for a while, or happy to stay put, on light wind days? Are you confident approaching an anchorage under sail? Do you row or use the outboard when riding your dinghy? These factors will determine how much juice you need.
We sail as much as we can, but approach anchorages under engine, and we try to row our dinghy as much as we can. Our monthly petrol expenses (both our engines are petrol) are around £60.
You’ll almost definitely need gas for cooking. Your gas consumption will vary based on how complicated your recipes are, whether you use the oven, and how much you cook on board.
We try to limit our hot drinks consumption, eat fruit for breakfast, and have salads for lunch when it’s warm. When it’s cold, we’re guilty of using hot water bottles most nights. Overall, it balances out at about £35 per month. This cost will now probably go down, as Campingaz gas is cheaper in Europe.
Your phone usage will depend on whether you need the Internet for work or just for pleasure and how many calls you make. We’re lucky – our £15 per month contract allows us to use our data and calls everywhere in Europe and we can get by with our allowance for both sail planning, work, and pleasure.
Eco-friendly toiletries can cost quite a bit of money, but the most expensive product you’ll need to buy is sun cream and after sun: you’ll need tons of it. We spent about £50 stocking up on soaps, shampoos, sunscreen, etc before we set off. Two months later, we still have a massive stock.
Make sure you get the best prices for these products and to stock up when you find good deals. Our initial investment is proving very worthwhile.
Don’t forget you’ll need laundry liquid, washing up liquid, loo roll, and more. And if you’re buying eco-friendly products, you’ll need to put more planning into it – it’s very hard to find them with limited access to inland. We usually spend £10 per month on household items.
This one is completely dependent on your lifestyle. Do you indulge in dinners out a couple of times a week on land? Then it’ll be hard to change this habit completely, especially when you visit seaside towns with delicious-smelling restaurants by the quay every other day. It can be hard to resist when it’s sunny and warm, you really fancy a drink and you see tanned tourists enjoying a dinner out, looking like they’re having a great time. Guilty as charged.
We know we can have a weak will power sometimes, so we include a small allowance for meals out in our budget – around £60. To stretch this allowance as much as possible, we try to go to cheap places, or we pick up a takeaway to share.
As an example, yesterday we had lunch for £4 by sharing a salmon baguette and a pain au chocolat – we bought them in a bakery, sat in a beautiful park and drank our own water. Another bargain treat was having a pizza margherita, a portion of chips, and two beers as a sit down meal for £14. You’ll soon get used to ordering the cheapest items on the menu, as it means more fun nights out, without having to cook or wash up.
Drinks or Ice Cream
When it’s sunny and hot, it can be hard to stick to your own warm water bottle when you’re out and about. If you know you’ll often be on land exploring a town or hiking, take this little expense into account. We’re guilty of buying cold drinks and ice creams when it’s hot, especially as we don’t have a fridge on Kittiwake.
Every boat needs maintenance – from oiling the teak, to changing light bulbs, to replacing rusty bolts, to servicing the engine. It goes without saying that the more complicated the boat, the more maintenance it will need.
If you have lots of systems, such as pressurised water, a watermaker, a windlass, a fridge, a shower, then you’ll need more time and money to look after these.
We have a very simple boat with none of these fancy systems, so our maintenance is limited to the essentials. We stashed away about 1/10 of the purchase price of our boat to use on boat maintenance for year 1. The bigger boat you have, the more expensive it’ll be to maintain it or even run it.
The budget you allow for these depends massively on whether you plan to fix your boat yourself or use marine professionals and how complicated your boat is. Going through a marine professional costs a lot of money and usually includes the added cost of staying in a marina for a couple of days. We’ve never used a professional to upgrade or fix Kittiwake, so we cannot recommend how much to keep in the bank for this.
If you’re willing to fix everything yourself, you’ll often need new boat parts, bolts, tools or materials. We recommend keeping a contingency of a few thousand pounds available on your account for the repairs, just in case.
Remember that you can be resourceful sometimes and make do with what you have on board. For example, our tiller pilot arm broke when a big wave hit our rudder the other week. Initially, we looked up places where to buy hard wood all around town, then we realised we could simply repurpose our homemade gaff hook for it – we’ve never caught a fish bigger than a few pounds anyway!
Yes, upgrades can be unexpected. You may think this doesn’t apply to you. Think again. I’ll give you two examples of upgrades we never would have thought we’d need.
When we set off we had an old autopilot original from the ‘70s and our prototype homemade windvane as self-steering methods. We were confident we could make do to get to the Med, especially as I (Elena) like to helm in all weather conditions. Except, the autopilot broke after using it once and the windvane needs tons more work to steer the boat reliably. It also happened that I get seasick on night passages – something we didn’t expect at all. So we had to upgrade to a tiller pilot out of the blue.
Next. We always thought we’d be ok without a fridge – we read tons of articles and books with other cruisers stating you just need to get used to it, and you’ll even love warm rhum after a while. Then, we experienced a heat wave or 30degrees the other week, which spoiled our precious cheese, and now we’re seriously thinking of ways to build a DIY fridge.
Whatever your budget, keep aside some contingency for unexpected upgrades, as they have unexpected prices! If we need to make an unexpected upgrade quickly, we use our contingency money, and then we work more and spend less for a month or two, so we can get our savings back right away. Funnily enough, we spent much more on unplanned upgrades than on maintenance and repairs so far.
Charts and Sailing Guides
Every sailor needs a good chart and a sailing guide to plan their trip. These can be rather expensive, especially if you want to buy detailed charts for a lot of areas.
We ask for charts and guides as Christmas presents from our families in advance, so we only need to buy the odd ones here and there along the way. What is working really well for us is using Open CPN on a cheap tablet as a chart plotter for real time navigation and sailing guides and the Almanac for planning and detailed information on ports.
Whether you need to budget for attractions or not, depends on your travel style. If you’d like to visit the odd museum, theme park or historic building every now and then, make sure you keep some money aside for it. We don’t visit any place that costs money to see for now, as our budget is tiny.
This isn’t a monthly one – you usually pay yearly. Depending on your boat and your level of experience you may opt for full cover or third party, and some boaters don’t bother with it at all. But get a lot of quotes, and make sure they at least offer cover for the areas you’re going to. In some places it’s mandatory to have at least third party insurance. The amount you pay will depend on the value and condition of your boat and cruising areas.
Leaving the comfort of a house and good amenities to go sail cruising is a big change, so make sure you don’t drastically alter your lifestyle, or you probably won’t like it in the long term. Think of the things you can’t say no to: a haircut by a professional? Protein shakes? Books? Fresh laundry out of a washing machine? Add an allowance for these things in your spending plan. You need to be comfortable with your cruising life, or else you’ll soon run away screaming.
Every now and then some other extras will pop up, such as courtesy flags or new fishing lures.
Depending on what countries you cruise in, you may need to add health insurance to your budget. We’re lucky at the moment – we get free healthcare all over the EU.
We’re fairly frugal, so our monthly budget is £500 for the two of us. Sometimes we can’t stick to it, as there are unexpected expenses or we consume more ice cream than we really need to, but it’s good to have a target every month.
Here’s a simplified breakdown of how we spent our money last month:
We went over our target by £73, but we’ve earned extra cash last month, so it’s all good. Our biggest unexpected expense was the mooring balls – we didn’t expect that some places, which were listed as anchorages on the Almanac, were taken over by mooring balls and we weren’t expecting a lot of anchorages in the Isles of Scilly not to have good shelter.
We also realised we’re spending a lot of money on food, even though we’re eating vegetarian 90% of the time. This is because we’re often hungry on long day sails and fresh produce is more expensive in France. We’re going to try and look at what we eat and buy more carefully, but we hope the food will get cheaper once we get to Spain and Portugal.
Overall, we’re really satisfied with our budgeting so far – the amount we spent this month wouldn’t even have covered our rent on land!
- When you buy a sailboat, don’t spend all your budget on the boat. Keep about 1/3 of the price you pay for the boat to get it ready to cruise, and have a maintenance budget set aside.
- Write down every single expense on an Excel sheet, so you can keep track of our spending and improve your habits over time. It’s a great way to keep control over your money (and avoid any impulse purchases), especially as with a smartphone you can have your Excel sheet with you at all times.
- Remember: just like it’s impossible to make exact travel plans when living on a sailboat, it’s quite hard to plan exactly how much you’ll spend each month, so allow yourself some breathing space by having more contingency money put away, in different accounts.
- And if you work while you cruise, try not to spend it all, if you can. We earn money as we go and we try to put away something every month, so we can extend our cruising kitty even longer. We challenge ourselves to never delve into the cruising kitty and contingency savings and to spend less than what we earn each month. This means our cruising kitty is growing, rather than getting smaller.
If you love stationary products like me, you might want to have a look at these lovely budgeting planners to help you keep your expenses on track.
How do we know all these things? Not just through our limited experience, of course. We read a lot on the topic to figure out how to live cheaply on a sailboat before we set off. Here’s some of our top recommendations for further reading:
- A must-read is Voyaging on a Small Income by Annie Hill;
- You can also find some excellent tips in The Cost Conscious Cruiser by Lin and Larry Pardey – this one’s a classic;
- And finally, we cannot fail to mention the more modern Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away Forever by Rick Page and Jasna Tuta. We learned a lot from this book when we started planning our sailing adventure.
- If you’re simply looking for a few tricks on how to keep costs down, check out this Practical Boat Owner article.
What’s next for you? Do you need ideas on how to generate money while sail cruising? In this post we show you 13 ways to make money on a sailboat. If you’re ready to pack up and sail into the sunset and are looking for a budget cruiser, here’s four dirt cheap, but sturdy boats easily available in Europe. If instead you’re still considering the liveabord life and you’re not quite sure whether you have all the skills you need, check out this post, where we explain in detail where to start to prep for your voyage of a lifetime.
Did we miss anything? If we left out any potential expenses, let us know and we’ll add them in!