Saturday, March 2, 2013

Making Ends Meet

Hand over your snap shackles, cotter pins and epoxy resin!

A reader recently asked me what we do for money on the boat.  I get this question from time to time; I write about the price of tinned beans often enough that people understand we aren't living off a trust fund.  So they are curious.  How does your average human being leave work behind?

His note contained the flattering suggestion that maybe my writing paid the bills.  Writing and sailing are indeed a natural fit; both pay back far more often in intangibles than in cold, hard cash.  I remember my pride after selling my first article.  I waved my contract at Erik, and proudly informed him that I would be able to spring for a whole week of groceries.

"A whole week, eh?"  Erik continued fixing the bilge pump.
"Well, most of a week." I looked at the figure again.  "If we went shopping at the outdoor market in Cartagena."
"At the very least we could get the good brand of beer this time."
He looked up from his work.  "Oh?  Then write on, dear lady, write on.  Hand me the vice grips, would you? "

So, in the absence of J.K. Rowling money, how do we compensate?  Most cruisers I know have a portable skill.  They can weld, waitress, teach, or rebuild an engine.  When they are short of funds, they stop and work for a little while, then sail off again when the cruising kitty is healthy once more.

But the best way to keep your tiny pile of money is not to spend it.  An overdeveloped sense of frugality is a plus.  We do boat work ourselves whenever possible.

This is exactly what I wanted to do with a rainy Sunday afternoon.
You begin to notice the little things, like whether the supermarket in Panama is selling 5 oz tins of tuna this week, or 6 oz.

You can't fool me, Charlie.
And when things are on sale?  We stock up.

So maybe I really, really like beans, okay?
We are slow to spend money on luxuries.  If we have learned anything aboard Papillon, it is that we like doing stuff more than we like having stuff, so if we are spending, it will be on an experience.  We've dropped some old habits; in the past 2.5 years, we have only been out to the movies twice.  But we get to lounge around on the beach with sea lions, and swim beside giant sea turtles, so I can't say we are hard done by.

I asked the kids how we should make money for the boat.  Stylish thinks we should run a fruit stand.  I'm not surprised.  When she was six, Stylish opened a lemonade stand in front of our house.  Her adorability factor was so high that people often pressed money into her eager little hands without accepting a lemonade in return.  I had to shut down production when I realized that she had raked in almost $25 in less than an hour, and we still had a third of a pitcher of lemonade sitting on the table.  So she may not be the most reliable witness of capitalism in action.

For now, Erik is stuck with the heavy lifting on the work-a-day front.  But when columns about family life on a boat become the next big trend, I've promised he can retire.

Who knows?  Maybe we can buy the good beer every time.

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