Full Disclosure – Financing My Liveaboard Life



A lot of people dream of cruising full time. Inevitably, those people look at stories of other cruisers and liveaboards and ask themselves “How do they afford to do it?”. I have often asked that same questions and what I’ve found is that every liveaboard and cruiser has a very different story to tell. This is my story. This is how I plan to finance my cruising lifestyle this summer and why I am doing it in my own unique manner.


Wealth and Poverty Today

Stormy wrote a blog post a few days ago that really spoke to me. Many of the thoughts he gave expression to are the very same conundrums I’ve been wrestling with over the last three years. With poverty on the rise, it is increasingly difficult to live a decent life. I have always feared poverty and I worry about my friends and loved ones who are in danger of becoming impoverished.

jean_jacques_rousseau_quoteIn college I was always broke and I hated being poor. Many of my generation (30 and younger) have a hard time finding employment or making a decent living. I have worried about succumbing to this statistic. Over the last few years though, my attitude about it has changed drastically. I have come to believe physical poverty is largely an engineering problem. A problem that can be solved by the careful application of the appropriate technologies and a strong connection with your community. I have crafted my liveaboard lifestyle with these concepts in mind.

But I also feel that we face more than just a poverty of wealth. We are suffering from a poverty of culture. I took a trip the other day to a big box store. Throughout the trip I tried to look at people – people driving, people shopping, people working. When I looked around me, all I saw was unsatisfied people living unsatisfying lives, and giving those lives over to unsatisfying jobs. …Just like I’ve been doing for the last three years.


Perspectives on Life

What I have come to realized is that I have been chained to my cubical lifestyle by fear. Fear of not being able to pay my debts, fear of bad credit, fear of lack of health care. I know there are millions of other people in the same boat: they hate their current lifestyle but they are too afraid to change it. It is for these people – people like me – that I write this blog.

My breaking point occurred when I realized that the pain of losing another summer of my life to a cubical job was greater than the pain of a future of not being able to pay my debts, the bank repossessing my home, or getting cancer while not covered with health care.

Once I could see through my fear, I was able to contemplate what life would be like in these worst case scenarios. I have embraced these scenarios. Visualized them. Mentally walked through what a day in that life would look like.

A life of safety and security, but unhappiness, is not a life worth living. I am less afraid of death than I am of sacrificing my youth for an uncertain future. My cousin died a month ago. He was three years older than me. He was working on a cell tower and fell off.

A technician I worked with died last winter. He had lymphoma, caught a cold, and died two weeks later. I saw him two weeks before he died. He appeared to be the picture of health. I had no idea he was sick.

It could have been me that gave him the cold. I can only assume he stayed at work so that he could have health and life insurance at the end of his life. He risked his life every day, knowing that with a dysfunctional immune system the slightest illness could kill him.

How do you think they envisioned their retirement? A big part of the lifestyle I am adopting has to do with recognizing and embracing my mortality.

It was drilled into my head at school that I needed to think 30 years out. I needed to maximize my 401(k), dollar-cost-average my stock portfolio, invest in real estate, pay down my debts (from going to school), and get a secure job with a steady paycheck. The likelihood of dying before realizing the gains of this long term planning was never discussed. Lessons on self actualization, work-life balance, or achieving happiness in life were not taught to me or my class mates. Apparently, those concepts are not important.

When we left Orcas Island three years ago, I made a serious effort to ‘grow up’. I accepted the cushy corporate job, I bought a house, I maximized my 401(k), we were even talking about trying to have kids. But I wasn’t living my values. Every day the daily grind ground down a piece of my soul; to the point that the thought of another summer living this lifestyle is abhorrent to me.


Planning for Failure

livaboard_financing

Picture by Michael Vernon

But what about the real physical threats of poverty? Food, water, shelter? I wrote in Paycheck Dependence and other articles about my plans to cut my costs of living and provide the basic necessities of food, shelter, and electricity with my boat. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Here is how I plan to finance my liveaboard lifestyle:

Over the last nine months, through a lot of self discipline and hard work, I’ve saved about $15,000. I’m setting $10,500 of it aside as cash in a safety deposit box. That way no debtors can access the money. Each month I will charge a pre-paid debit card with a portion of that money. Regardless of my ability to meet my debts, I’ll have $1,500 each month for 7 months to pay for groceries, utility bills, moorage, laundry, and other basic necessities.

I worry about my debts because I have a lot of them. I’ve still got about $30K in student loan debt, a fat mortgage, and credit cards that I wracked up installing a rental unit on the property. Our house has been up for sale for almost 6 months. If the house sells in a timely manner, I’ll be able to wipe out all the debt (except the student loans). If it doesn’t sell, then it will not stop me. I accept the potential for financial fall-out and I am prepared for it.

In the fall, if I haven’t found a steady source of income that is in line with my values and allows me to work from the boat, then I will seek contract work, as I discussed in Fighting Fear of Failure. I’ll look for a 6 month engineering contract within the Puget Sound. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll find any work I can. I’ll work at Taco Bell if I have to. We’ll continue to live frugally, save money (our ‘cruising kitty’), and try again next summer. And I will continue to try until I succeed.


Planning to Succeed

I’ve talked at length about my plan to fail, because I think planning for a worst case scenario is more important than planning for a good one. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” has been a motto I have followed my entire life. With my bases covered, here is how I plan to succeed:

I’ve been playing with websites, blogs, social media, and open source hardware for the last three years. I feel that I’ve reached a certain level of mastery to aspects of it; skills that could be very useful for small business owners to make use of. Over the last few months, I’ve been creating a website for my latest business venture, Pacific Online Promotion Strategies.

I’ve had one client for the last six months. I’ve brought her several thousands of dollars in extra business. I just signed up a second client and my preliminary research suggest I’ll be able to increase their sales significantly. When I quit my job in a few weeks, I’ll begin going after new clients in earnest. I only need four to five clients to cover my costs of living.

I’ve already written one small field guide to boating in the San Juan Islands. This summer I plan to write one or two more. This won’t make me rich, but I’m hoping I can grow this insignificant revenue stream into something more significant over the next few years.

In addition to those *serious* endeavors, my wife and I plan to explore the funner side of entrepreneurship. I have been making fishing lures for the last couple years and giving them out to friends. The overwhelming consensus is that they are superior for catching fish than any store-bought lure anyone else has tried. I plan to make and sell them on Etsy this summer.

My wife makes a mean crab cake. It tastes even better when you add her spicy ranch sauce that she has perfected over the last few years. We plan to set up a booth at local farmer markets this summer to sell them, to see if it’s worth our time. We are also looking forward to doing more cooking with seaweed. I plan to introduce seaweed, like ulva sea lettuce, into our diet this summer in a big way. I may also package and sell some of it for the adventurous foodies who want to try out our recipes.

The main point of this summer is to have fun. To change my lifestyle. To live in line with my values. To contemplate and integrate happiness into my life. I don’t know if I will succeed, but I am mentally prepared to fail. I don’t know if I’m right, but I know I’ve been living wrong.


“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
-Mahatma Gandhi


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Comments
23 Responses to “Full Disclosure – Financing My Liveaboard Life”
  1. Mom says:

    You Go Chris! I’m rooting for you and Annie. I know you will be successful. You are braver then most of us. I love you – mom

  2. You are part of the new generation who knows that real wealth is in having your time on this planet belong to you, not to someone else. We’ve tried to raise our children to understand this, even while my husband worked in a cubicle. I never did. I always had flexibility and wished that he had, too. It’s nice to be at the beginning of your life and know that you have the luxury of many years to make this plan work. I’m sure you will be successful. Love what you did to make sure you could live even if the debts couldn’t be paid. People should not have to graduate from college with huge bills. Of course, that’s why we are still living in a house and not on a boat in the middle of the ocean somewhere. We are seeing our second child through college. We feel like it’s our responsibility to get our kids through college so they don’t graduate with the kind of debt that puts them in a financial disadvantage from the start. We feel very lucky to be be able to do that. Maybe we didn’t have our freedom early in life, but we want to make sure they do if they want it.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Melissa!

      It’s great to hear your perspective on it. I think a lot of people are reaching similar conclusions about debt, value, and life, despite approaching those conclusions from vastly different life experiences.

      I appreciate your support!

      Chris Troutner

  3. Ben says:

    Great post Chris! It’s all about leaving the fear in the cubicle. I did it back in 2007.. never looked back EVER. I keep making less and less money and living better and better.

  4. Ann Nye says:

    We wish you and Annie the best of everythig as you embark on your new life!
    Love, Ann and Joe

  5. Suzanne says:

    Chris: Best wishes achieving your goals. It’s great that you have a plan and it is wonderful to hear from others who are tired of selling their souls to have some pre-packaged “American Dream” that may or may not align with one’s values or ever make one happy.

  6. Chris, this is a great post. You are not alone in these thoughts. We can’t wait to escape from our corporate lives for something real.

    Personally I believe that people have long been driven by fear to lead unsatisfying lives. Thoreau wrote that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…There is no play in them, for this comes after work.” He wrote these things in 1854, before many of the common trappings of our current generations.

    Only the truly introspective are willing to give up perceived safety for enjoyment of their lives.

    Keep going and keep writing about it.

    Fair winds,

    Jesse

    • Chris says:

      Jesse, thank you for the support. It’s gratifying and vindicating to get encouragement from others who understand what I’m talking about.

      I certainly plan to document my successes and failures here. With spring here and my job finally coming to a close, I plan to blog a lot more too.

      You and I are on parallel paths. We’re very much in the middle of selling the ‘stuff’ we’ve accumulated over the years on craigslist and ebay. I really enjoy reading your blog.

      Cheers!

  7. Alan says:

    I want to thank you for your last post regarding “full disclosure” it came for me at a perfect moment in the lives of my wife and I here. My wife has worked for 10+ years for a surgeon as an assistant. To make a long story short, her boss has been abusive for years and now to make matters worse, has sold the practice to a new oral surgeon who is even more abusive. Of even more important, the new guy is dangerous.

    My wife has the most integrity of anyone I know and quit her 40g a year job rather than be a part of a business with an operating philosophy of ‘make as much $ as possible regardless of danger to the patient while abusing the staff as much as possible’. She is in her early 50’s, so the likelihood of climbing to that income level again is not too realistic. Especially where we live, since this is a pretty economically depressed area.

    At first I felt that “what if” fear you wrote about. Then reading your thoughts and the link to your friends blog about how many days your have to live and whats really important made me have a complete turn around and see what a good if not great thing it is. I was able to think back to my days living in the San Juan’s when I was your age. Not much cash but living hard and sweet. It’s reconnected me to getting back to finding right living.

    Over the years raising kids, saving for retirement (from what?), maintaining insurance and so on and so forth you loose the perspective on your ever dwindling store of days and whats really important. Thanks to you and your blogging friend for reminding me what it’s all about. To that end my wife and I were out exploring new bays and ways today. A perfect day. No angst, no worry about a nebulous future, just beauty. So thanks Chris at least in a couple of lives you’ve made a difference.

  8. Carrie says:

    Wow. Your website and your writing is amazing. I’m all choked up after reading this article… I relate to so much… the fear, the status quo, the ambivalence… should I have a real job with a real paycheck and real health insurance? or can I really do what I love? can I really be a human being? not a consumer?

    Way to do it man!

    we’re doing it too – living in a tiny house that we designed and built. we’ve been in it for over a year now and it’s great! not without difficulties though… it is very small!

    take care and thanks for the inspiration!
    Carrie

  9. Katharine says:

    Hi,

    I enjoyed reading your article and wish you tons of success as you forge your way in the world.

    I have mixed feelings about the path you set forth. I’d love to share some thoughts here, but want to be clear that I am encouraging you on your journey which has been and is very different from mine!

    These are thoughts I have and still grapple with. I am very lucky because I have been able to create a life of art for myself, but it has not been without it’s sacrifices. I am oftentimes not able to enjoy daily things like joining friends for dinner at a restaurant, going to a movie, renting a movie, going on a trip. I can be creative and figure out great stand ins for these things, but it often doesn’t align with what’s going on for other people. I can’t go support a friend’s endeavor because I do not have money for tickets or to donate. I oftentimes feel bad about this.These are tiny things, but sometimes I think it’s easy to lose sight of the value of a paycheck. Perhaps I value it more because I’ve never had one! :) The grass is greener….

    Also re: health insurance. I have begrudgingly always paid individual health insurance which has cost me a fortune. The reason I do this is because I know that if I am to get sick and not have the money to pay for it, it doesn’t only affect me. It affects my family and friends. If I were to get cancer without insurance, I may be okay with it and feel ready to die, but I know that my parents would mortgage their home and friends may do the same to pay for my treatment. When I am not responsible for myself, I think others who care about me are left holding the bag. Beyond insurance, I sometimes worry that others are the ones who pay for my lifestyle. What are your thoughts about that?

    Sometimes we put so much pressure on the necessity of our work coinciding with our dreams. I remember traveling in Australia and loving their motto of “working to live” vs. what I think is more common in the US “living to work”. For me, the idea of work being an instrument to living….to providing for our basic needs, takes so much pressure off it and allows for me to feel fulfilled without counting on my job for that purpose. I don’t know…..though I work very hard and far more than 40 hours on my “work”, I have not ever had a “regular/real” job so I am definitely coming from a different perspective, one that has been full of incredible experiences that I never expected, but also one where I have often felt deprived of other experiences I have wanted because of the cost of admission.

    I guess I feel really envious of the experience you describe where you choose to live the life you have without anxiety or concern about letting your debts go unpaid – does that feel like others are left responsible for your life, even if those others are institutions to which you agreed to pay? Is it possible to have a “real” job AND have a fulfilling life? I agree that no job is worth having if you have to sacrifice your wellbeing, but I wonder if it’s possible to have a job, that while it may not be “meaningful” or self- actualized, may contribute to a meaningful and self actualized life?

    Would be interested in hearing your thoughts and really hope that my intent is clear in this comment and that I am in support of your journey.

    All the best.

    • Chris says:

      Katharine,

      Thank you for your comment. It was clearly well thought out and worded. I appreciate you taking the time to solicit my opinion on this and allowing me to clarify my approach to health care and debt. Thank you too for the empathy.

      It sounds like to me that you are able to pay your food and rent by selling your art, even though you may not have the money to do frivolous things like go out to restaurants or movies. The impression I got from your comment was that you have reached a financial equilibrium between your life, your money, and your art. That equilibrium is what I am searching for in my life right now.

      My experience with wealth and poverty in my life has been one of extremes. I’ve spent a few years living on $10K per year. I’ve also spent a few years living with more than $100K per year. Both are abhorrent. With my website consulting and frugal living, I hope to find that equilibrium where I can make $25K to $50K per year and not hate my work life. I dig what you said about ‘working to live’. That is precisely what I am trying to achieve in my life.

      In regards to health insurance, I completely understand your view. Because private health insurance is so prohibitively expensive, its importance in ones life is a very personal decision. For me, I have decided that it would be better to live a life according to my values, even if I can’t afford health insurance, than to let my ability to pay for health insurance stop me from living them.

      In the event of cancer or some other deadly disease, I accept the risk of death. It remains to be seen if I’ll maintain that attitude if I’m ever struck down with a disease, but I believe I will stand by my ideals. I wouldn’t let my friends or loved ones put themselves into financial calamity to pay for medical treatment. We all die. I accept that I will die. I can’t change that. What I can do is try to live the best way I know how until my time is up. I will bear the cost of that attitude.

      I am 31 years old. I have spent my life following the ‘rules’ and have wound up completely unhappy and unsatisfied with my life. Looking back, I wish I had been less concerned with doing what I was ‘supposed’ to do and spent more time just sailing around in a boat. I am more concerned with enjoying the next 10 years than I am surviving the next 30.

      The handling and responsibility of debt is also an incredibly personal choice. My situation is fairly unique, and I don’t prescribe my approach to anyone else. Here are a few more details about my specific debt situation:

      Our house has still not sold and we’ve been told that no bank will finance the new manufactured home (there are two homes on the property). That means that a buyer would have to pay for the manufactured house outright, and then come up with 10% to 20% to put down on the rest of the property. Finding that kind of buyer is unlikely.

      At the same time, I view the property is a ‘no-brainer’ for a prospective buyer. At present interest rates and with 10% down, the rent from the manufactured home alone would pay the mortgage for the entire property. However, this can’t happen because the property doesn’t fit into a banks nice little pigeon hole.

      Due to our difficulty with selling the house, we are seriously considering going through a foreclosure and bankruptcy process. At first, I was concerned with the ‘dishonor’ of ‘coping out’ on the debts I agreed to pay, until I considered this:

      The reason I can’t sell the property is because of artificial requirements imposed by the banks, not due to a lack of interested buyers. I purchased the property below market value and have spent close to $50K on improvements to the property. I am selling it below market value (according to two different real estate agents I’ve consulted). In the event of a foreclosure, the bank will be able to sell the property for the amount of the loan and any difference will be more than made up for by the 10’s of thousands of dollars I’ve paid in interest over the last three years.

      The only real victim here is me. It was my naivety at trying to live a life outside my values that caused me to make the poor financial decisions that I made.

      Is it possible to have a ‘real’ job AND have a fulfilling life? Yes, but not in my case. The only way I could sustain my debts is to have the kind of cubical job that I’ve had for the last three years.

      Just as I was too young to realize the implications of the amount of debt I was incurring to pay my college, I was too young to seriously make a 30 year commitment on a house and the debt it incurred. Many people today are suffering from these same mistakes.

      Is the ‘honor’ of paying debts important enough to sacrifice the healthiest years of your life? That is a question that everyone in my position has to ask themselves. My answer is no.

      • Katharine says:

        Dear Chris,

        What an incredibly thoughtful reply. I really appreciate your taking the time to craft a response and for your incredibly honesty. I think it is really brave to be so honest.

        What you say makes a lot of sense and I respect your decisions and thought processes that led you there. It sounds like you have and are working hard at making life work for you from the most wholistic perspective possible.

        It’s refreshing to hear how much you have thought about it all and how much you have considered and decided to accept the sacrifices that come along with every lifestyle.

        I tend to get really frustrated when I hear people say things like “follow your bliss” or live your dream, etc….because when you “live your dream” – it can be wonderful, but it is also not an experience without immense sacrifices and it seems like we are in the era of “the secret” where there is an expectation- and actions that are based around those expectations- that we only need to act as though we have things, are things, etc and somehow I feel like responsibility to each other is lost. However, I also think it is best for one another if we are able to make choices that bring us closer to contentment because I believe that if we are more solid in our lives, we are kinder and that kindness carries power in the world. I think I kind of lost my point in this paragraph….ha!

        Anyway, all this to say, thank you for your response and I am cheering for you!

  10. Just wondered if you had heard of ‘person to person’ lending? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer-to-peer_lending The reason it came to mind is that I was listening to a broadcast on NPR and they were talking about how fast this is becoming the wave of the future due to the very kinds of ridiculous requirements that banks tout. It’s safe, and there are organizations dedicated to this kind of lending. If you go tot he NPR site and search on it, you can probably pull up the report. It may be a way to help buyers get your house.
    Also, since my last comment our 28 year old has decided she has had enough of corporate BS. She has moved home to save money, and is going to quit her job in a couple of months and try her hand at a website based business. She is going to Scotland for 6 months in December, and then to parts unknown. We are happy for her, and also a little scared for her. I don’t know what the future will bring for her, but I do know that we didn’t bring her into this world to be beaten down by corporate greed and to work a job where she doesn’t have an opportunity to use her God-given gifts. She needs to follow her heart. The rest will come into focus as she goes. The time to do these things is when you are young and healthy and unlikely to need that fancy health insurance much.
    Also wanted to comment that we read a lot of sailing blogs, one of which is written by a young couple sailing down in Mexico. They are now pregnant with their first child. This would be exciting news except that they cannot afford to have the baby in the U.S. because they would be saddled with huge financial debt before the kid even comes into the world. So they are choosing to have the child in Mexico where they can afford to pay for what amounts to good quality healthcare. They are fortunate to be in a position to make that choice. It is unconscionable that they have to make it.

    • Chris says:

      Hey Melissa!

      I have heard of peer-to-peer lending, but I don’t know much more than that. I’ll check into the link you provided. I thought it was still a fringe / micro-loan thing. I had no idea it had reached the level of being able to help people afford houses.

      I have mixed feelings about your daughter’s actions. I wish nothing but the best for her and your family. If she is comfortable with living a life a frugality and voluntary simplicity, then I think she’ll do fine. She certainly sounds like a kindred spirit. Breaking into a web-based business that pays enough money to live off of is hard to do. I’ve been chipping away at it as a hobby for the last three years. Things have only recently started to pick up for me since I shifted to working with small businesses. Now that I have a couple clients and I am proving that I can make money for them, things are starting to go a bit easier. I’m still a ways away from being able to cover my costs of living.

      What is the name of the blog about the couple you spoke of? I think I’ve seen it, but it’s not ‘ringing a bell’. I’d like to check it out. Their story is not unique. It sounds just like some of the stories in Michael Moor’s documentary ‘Sicko’.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Here’s the link to their blog: http://bettiedelmar.blogspot.com/2013/06/so-what-are-we-doing-now.html?showComment=1372478393910#c5762926589231070090
        Claire is unlikely to try doing the kind of work you are describing. she’s not a web developer. She’s just looking at ways to make enough money to travel for awhile and hopefully carve out a career for herself along the way. She has some good business ideas but needs time to develop them. Also I think she is more interested in traveling than being rooted in one spot for now. I think she wants to have these experiences while she is still young enough to do it, and not tied to one place. and she would like to learn how to make a living creatively. We, too, have mixed feelings. In some ways I wish she was the kind who could just be satisfied that she had a good job. On the other hand, I’ve always known she would never be satisfied with 9-5 working for someone else. She has always been the entrepreneurial type.

  11. I so enjoyed your story and i wish i would have had your attitude at your age… but I had two small daughters. They are now grown and successful in their own ways. My oldest (30) is a professional NHRA Pro Stock driver and my youngest (27) is a personal trainer and planning on being married. They both have been raised well and can take care of themselves.

    My Michael and I purchased a 44 ft Morgan nearly two years ago and in 726 days we are ‘breaking free’ from the Third Coast and heading for our dreams.

    I have mixed feelings and I know I will miss my children and any children they have but living a life of drudgery of sitting behind a desk every day making someone else filthy rich is not a goal of ours. As you, I have ‘happiness’ and fun times but the dream in now reachable!

    God Bless you and your wife….and please test our blog. AdventureUStwo.blogspot.com Peace.

  12. Tom in California says:

    Hey Chris, I really enjoyed your writings. You are certainly a lot more forward-thinking, than I. But I’m going to move in your direction of thought and practice. I’ve been a musician, artist and inventor ~ my entire life. I’ve been quite successful in each realm ~ but no one has taught me the financial planning. I lived so much in the ‘now’. And while this Zen tact has kept me prolific, where’s the ‘do-re-me’ at my 64 years of age – life? My three kids are raised and I live alone in senior housing. Lucky and not-so-lucky. I’ve gotten soft and don’t trust it. I feel an insight from your writings. So, please keep them coming…!!! ~ Tom in California.

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