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Posted on Apr 12, 2013 | 0 comments

Digging a Little Deeper

Sure it can eat through mud and snow...and your wallet.

Sure it can eat through mud and snow…and your wallet.

Now that we’ve taken care of most of our “big-ticket” items to improve our savings, Dan and I are trying to tackle the smaller ways that we can find extra dollars in our budget. Not only is this important for increasing our savings to maximum levels but it also is helping to prepare us for living more frugally while cruising. If we want to have any kind of decent chance at living on $1000-$1500 a month than we have to get serious about knowing where each of our dollars goes and how to cut that down as much as possible.

The tracking part is made much easier by the online financial website that we use: Mint.com. We have all of our bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts tied in so they automatically update whenever you long in. We’ve used this program for a few years and we’re pretty happy with it, though it can be a lengthy process to set everything up and figure out what budgets you want to set for yourself. Once you have been using it for a couple of months, it can really help to show you where your money is going every month. For some time now, it has been giving us a pretty clear indication that we have been spending too much in the Food and Gas departments, so we’ve finally decided to get those under control.

Food was first and it was somewhat daunting to me to be honest. Not to play the martyr working mom bit, but it is really hard to provide home cooked meals during a working week. There’s just not enough time to be able to figure out what to make every day and go pick things up from the store so I had to find a different approach. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we have purchased a subscription to 5meals1hour.com for five dollars a month. Well, we’ve completed the first months’ worth of recipes and I can honestly say that we are way ahead of where we were last month, but I can’t give all the credit to the menus. We only used about 1/3 of the recipes on the menus, but we have still been eating at home on average of 5 days a week, which is a huge deal for us. I think just the change in mindset about grocery shopping every two weeks for actual planned meals has been the biggest positive change that 5dinners1hour has made for us. We can still improve a lot in this area, especially because I’m not a very experienced grocery shopper yet so I think we’re paying too much for our groceries, but we’re seeing a definite change in attitude and habits.

Gas spending is our other cash hog. Like a lot of people we know, it’s just something that we haven’t taken seriously before. But looking at our accounts, we have spent almost $1300 in gas alone since February 1! That’s averaging $18.50 per day, yikes! Here are a few strategies we are implementing to help us cut down this silent killer.

  1. Drive less…obviously. Eating meals at home isn’t just saving us money in the food department, it means less driving too.
  2. Walk and Ride Bikes, and not just for leisure riding. Dan has started riding his bike to work most days and we are planning to use our bikes for trips to the grocery store, library, and other close to home errands.
  3. Get rid of the gas guzzler in the driveway. We’re still working on this one, but the goal is to eliminate one of our 15 mpg SUV’s for a 30+ mpg compact car. Even if we have to spend some money over the sale of our Jeep, we should get most of it back in the end when we sell it in a year. This one has the potential to save us in the realm of $250/month!

Hopefully, we’ll find some good success using these strategies and find others to help us keep our everyday spending in check. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments!

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Posted on Mar 21, 2013 | 0 comments

A Fresh Start

Each one of those is about 21 seconds of cruising. Start counting!

Each one of those is about 21 seconds of cruising. Start counting!

I am a sucker for new beginnings. New Year’s, birthdays, and even Mondays can generally make me feel like this time is going to be different. True, I’m usually right back to my normal routine by Wednesday, but there’s always next week, right? My most recent enthusiasm for new beginnings has been brought about by finally moving into our new house this last weekend. I mean, I love Dan’s parents for sure and am super grateful that they’ve welcomed us into their home for the last 2 months, but there’s just something about having your own space.

We’re hoping that with a new house will come some new habits and a new budget to go along with them. We’ve developed some habits in the last few years that are hard to break and hard on the pocket book, namely eating out almost every day and constantly being out running around for entertainment. You wouldn’t think that the running around part would be that big of a deal, but with $3.50/gal gas prices mingled with the propensity to buy random stuff we don’t need when we’re walking the mall for fun and then the  added likelihood of eating out if we’re already out of the house, and maybe you can see how kicking that habit could add almost $1000/month to our cruising kitty.

So how do we plan to change our bad habit? Well, first we have to start by wanting to be at home and therefore having plenty of entertainment for ourselves, sans television preferably. If the only thing we have to do at home is chores, then we don’t exactly want to spend a lot of time there. That means games, books, and possibly a new garden in a nice spot in the backyard. Also, our new neighborhood has sidewalks (yay!) and is fairly close to a couple of different parks, so walks and bike rides are definitely in our future – assuming of course that the future is warmer than today. Thirty degrees in March is precisely why winter is on its way out of my vocabulary.

I’ve also found a new meal planning subscription that we are trying out called 5 dinners 1 hour. One of my biggest problems with cooking at home is planning what we are going to have before I want to make it to ensure that we actually have the food on hand. No one (in our family at least) wants to go grocery shopping after work and then still come home and make dinner. 5 dinners 1 hour is a subscription service that provides 5 dinner recipes a week with a full grocery list and advanced preparation instructions to have all five of your entrees ready to go in an hour over the weekend. Then all I have to do is heat it up and whip up a side dish during the week. There are even 3 separate menu types to choose from: classic, clean eating, and gluten free (we chose clean eating) so you can find the right plan for your family. We just started this week, so I’ll try to post an update in a couple of weeks on how we like using it.

Do you have any suggestions for us to try? Games or great books to read? A recipe that your family loves? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Posted on Feb 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Blue Water Boats

Not a blue water boat you say? This baby crossed the Atlantic. All 5 feet 4 inches of her.

Not a blue water boat you say? This baby crossed the Atlantic. All 5 feet 4 inches of her.

For anyone who has ever tried to get decent information on sea-worthy boats will know, it’s not exactly an easy task. As I mentioned in my post about Strictly Sail this year, searching in our new price range of below $50,000 and in the size range of 30′-40′ boats, the results are a bit overwhelming…like 3,602 results overwhelming. For some people out there who have been around sailing for a while, winnowing down that many choices to something more manageable would be no problem at all. But for us, we were at a loss. How can we figure out which of these boats would serve our family well over a considerable amount of time?

What we really needed was a good list of boats that fall into the acceptable range for durability and safety on the open ocean, aka Blue Water Boats. “No problem!”, we say, “let’s just search for blue water boats and see what we get.” Yea…right. Search that phrase and I promise you that you will find a million different opinions on every boat on the market, and that’s because the idea of a blue water boat is so subjective. There are boats that have safely crossed oceans that other cruisers wouldn’t think of using farther than 5 miles from a coastline. After doing quite a bit of research, we’ve found that our top requirements are a stable boat preferably with a full keel (though other types are still an option), as much tankage as possible for fresh water and fuel, good storage, good construction, and preferably one having 2 private cabins so that Carter can have his own space (and so can we!)

But which boats fit that description? Well, that’s where the Mahina Expeditions crew comes in. This group has a lot of experience with helping people choose cruising boats, and even does a day long seminar that we will probably attend at next year’s Stictly Sail. One of their best resources (in my opinion) is a listing of every type of boat that they consider to be blue water quality, along with information about how to distinguish different qualities of boat systems. We’ve been able to use this list to help narrow down the choices quite a bit, and have a much smaller grouping now of boats that we think would be really good for our family. It is nice to have some extra reassurance that we aren’t going to have to settle for a lesser quality boat due to our reduced budget.

Now all we have to do is wait until we can make one our new home! Its not as easy as it sounds, trust me.

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Posted on Jan 30, 2013 | 0 comments

We Interrupt This Winter…

Strictly Sail Chicago 2013Whoever first started scheduling Strictly Sail Chicago in the middle of January was a genius. Winter has never been our favorite part of the year (hello, planning to move to the Tropics for more than just the piña coladas) but this year has been doubly hard with the knowledge that we could have moved to Florida instead of staying here to pad our purse a little more. This past Saturday we were able to leave winter behind for a few hours and spur the excitement we’ve been missing for the last couple months. Just one day of being able to talk openly with people about our dream of cruising does wonders for our attitudes.

Three Cruising Budgets, Snapshots from the Life of Jimmy Cornell, and Perspectives from a Cruising Couple seminars filled our schedule. These seminars weren’t really intended as fact finding for us, in fact we hardly learned any really new information at all. What they lacked in new information, they made up for in validation and motivation. It’s one thing to read a bunch of cruising blogs and forums and compile a $1000-$1500/month budget that we think is realistic; it reaches the next level to hear the founder of Blue Water Sailing confirm that for us in his Three Cruising Budgets seminar. (He actually described four budgets, but the highest was labeled “Silly and Unnecessary” aka why are you even in this seminar, just go hire a 5 man crew for your million dollar yacht.)

The boats were what we really wanted to see. We won’t be buying a new boat when we leave, of course, and we probably won’t even be looking at buying a used version of any of the brands available to tour due to quality and dependability recommendations; what we wanted was to feel the size of the living space. Last year, we hadn’t done a lot of research into boats when we came and toured all of the boats. We left that day saying, “yeah, the smaller ones are okay, but I think we should look at boats in the 40-45′ range.” And look I did…at the price tag. There are hardly any good boats on the used market in the 40-45′ range that are under $50,000, and especially not ones that are close to being ready for ocean voyaging.

This year we needed to go in with the question “what can we do” instead of “what do we want to do”. It’s amazing how much that question changes your perspective, because we quickly realized that 30-35′ boats would probably do just fine for us and one little boy. (Depending on the boat, of course.) We are now looking for boats in that range with one cabin/quarter berth layout or two cabin layout (which is much harder to find in older boats that size). To be honest, I was a bit shocked to see how much that downsize of 5-10 feet slashed the price tremendously. If you search yachtworld.com for boats 38-45′ in the US between $30k-$50k, you get 197 boats boats to choose from. And let me tell you, they aren’t exactly the cream of the crop most of the time. If you search 30-38′ instead, you get 757. That’s a significant difference in selection, making it much more likely for us to be able to find what we are looking for in our budget.

While we had intended to stay for 2 days of the show, winter fought back and forced us to return home early with a nasty ice storm that came through Chicago on Sunday. We didn’t want to brave the ice in my mom’s car that she let us borrow – Thanks Mom! – because my brakes went out just as we were getting to their house Friday night. (Whole story in itself.) It seems that we will have to wait until next year to get a good second day, since last year Dan spent most of the day on his back on the floor outside of the bathroom of Navy Pier or puking his guts out inside of said bathroom. Even just one day though was enough to refuel our systems until the end of the dreariness when we can start sailing and diving again.

 

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Posted on Dec 21, 2012 | 0 comments

Even the Best Laid Plans

In any major venture in life, honest and objective evaluation must constantly be part of the planning. That is especially true for us as we try to make decisions regarding our finances and how best to provide for our dream of cruising. When we first started making plans for cruising, we estimated that we would require approximately $1000-$1500 per month for basic necessities and boat maintenance. Using this estimate, we calculated that we would like to have around $70,000 in hard savings in addition to whatever money we decided to use for a decent boat. That would give us a very comfortable 4-5 years of savings that gave us plenty of options for continuing just by adding small amounts of income from scuba diving and other odd jobs.

Then came the wait. Three to four years starts to feel extremely far away when you are constantly reading and learning about how amazing that life could be, and when the cruising experts all say to go cheap, simple, and as soon as possible. And so, we decided to move up our intended departure date to the fall of 2013. We would sell our house and use the equity to buy a boat, and hopefully save enough money to have only two years instead of five in reserves.

That brings us to today, when the honest evaluation comes in. Our house has sold and we are six months into this phase of saving. At closing, we will be receiving around $40,000 from the equity of our house. We have also saved just under $10,000 in additional cash for our kitty. It might sound like a lot to be sitting on, but we’re honestly a little less than excited about it. If you’ve ever been boat shopping, you will note that there aren’t many family friendly boats on the market for only $40,000, especially if we want to do more than coastal cruising.

After the long, hard look at our money, we’ve decided that we need to make our money work a little harder to be able to meet our goals. The way we plan to do that is by purchasing two houses immediately which we will rent out to increase our monthly income while cruising. We will live in one while saving our kitty and rent the other as soon as possible. If all goes well, we will add 2-3 more by the end of the year. The much lower mortgage payment will also allow us to save more every month towards our goals.

While our new plan may not get us on a boat in the next year, we are very confident that it will give us much a higher chance of success and that still within the original time frame. What do you think about our new plan? Let us know in the comments below!

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