It's Not About Being Rich

Recently, after a presentation at a Commodore’s Ball, I was approached by a fellow in his early fifties who half whispered, ‘You’re rich, right? I mean how else do you do what you do?’. I laughed and he laughed, his discomfort clearly evident in the whisper behind his hand. Eager to put him at ease I replied, ‘probably not any more so than you’. He looked puzzled so I tried to explain what I meant. I don’t think I succeeded in convincing him that he could make our choices if he were so inclined but I’d like to think I gave him some food for thought.

Most people who don’t own a cruising boat think those of us who do, have inherited our wealth or won the lottery. When you own two boats as my partner and I do, questions about how we can afford such a lifestyle are even more common. But we are not wealthy nor are we ‘trust fund brats’, to use a popular adage these days. To the contrary we’re of modest means in most respects, having simply made choices – some difficult, some not - that are right for us at the moment. These choices are all encompassing – from how we manage our money to how we choose to spend it, and includes career choices and the way in which we live on a day-to-day basis.

When we acquired our old wooden cruiser ten years ago, she cost us less than the price of a good used car. We resolved to remain a one car family and Red Witch and her associated maintenance costs constitute car number two. Boat number two is our ‘cottage’, a Muskoka cottage by some people’s definition – a log hut in the woods by others. Costs of vacations that our contemporaries take annually or bi-annually are similar to the costs associated with the annual upkeep of our boats. There’s a little more to it of course. Day-to-day choices we make about the ways in which we manage and spend our money contribute significantly to our ability to own and enjoy two boats. For example, we are not inclined to eat out more than a few times a year at most; we eat much better at home and enjoy a good bottle of wine with our meals – good wine that at restaurant prices is well beyond our budget. Neither of us is inclined to change our attire with prevailing fashion trends; I love my fifteen year old trench coat as much today as the day I bought it, and many items never go out of style.

The one car we drive is an economic classic: low on fuel, least likely to attract thieves when parked as it is at various marine and airport sites around the country, and maintained with regularity to extend her longevity. The vehicle we owned prior, sported swatches of duck tape on the roof in her later years but she ran beautifully. A severely rusted frame led to her demise after fourteen years of faithful service. Our land base while compact, boasts all the comforts of home. She’s located in the country and off the beaten track where taxes are less than a quarter of what we paid while living in the city several years ago. We depend on wood and passive solar for heat when we’re in residence and are comfortable depending on electric heat to keep the frost in abeyance when we’re away. Sharing our home with a family who loves skiing in the winter months as much as we love sailing in warmer climates at the same time of year has proven mutually rewarding and carries the cost of the house when we’re cruising.

For the most part, it’s not how much money a person has that enables them to indulge in their passions, but rather, how they go about managing their worth however meager or otherwise it may be. If you don’t think this is so consider keeping a money diary for six months and documenting every penny you spend. Include quarters for pay phones and parking meters – after all, every penny counts. This exercise was a precursor to changes we made in our spending habits many years ago that helped us make necessary changes in order to enrich our lifestyle in non-materialistic ways. We also adopted an ‘acquisition philosophy’ that continues to be instrumental in keeping our spending habits in check. It is simply this: we don’t buy anything we don’t need unless we’re prepared to give something away or throw something out. If for example, I want to buy a new T-shirt, or linens for the table (my weakness), I know that I must be prepared to part with a T-shirt and linens I already own. More often than not, I’m not prepared to trade the old for the new so the desired items remain in store. In addition to reducing how much money we spend, this philosophy lets us live clutter free for the most part – both on land and on the boats – and keeps closets and drawers from spilling over with more and more stuff.

Choosing self employment as an option to progressive senior management positions is a choice we both made at different times on our respective lives. We’ve been able to evolve our career fields in such a way that we work productively both on land and when living afloat. Life on a boat is not all sun, sand and sea – daily routines keep us grounded and earning a living as we meander from one port to the next contributes to the sense of purpose each of us needs to sustain us. It also enables us to support our lifestyle because after all, we’re not rich - really! There are advantages and disadvantages to self employment; it’s not for everyone. We do not have a guaranteed monthly source of income nor do not have company pensions to look forward to in our sixties. However, every choice we make in life – whether it’s to work for ourselves or for someone else - consists of gains and losses. We lose the security of a company pension in our later years but we gain the flexibility we desire currently therefore the benefits of self employment (for us) far out weigh any disadvantages.

Some of our landlubbing friends are skeptical about our purported means of affording two boats and I’m almost certain most remain convinced that we have a lottery windfall tucked away offshore. I’ll say again: it’s all about choices. In choosing to drive two newer model imported cars, one and a half boats are the trade off. In choosing to eat out a few times a week, dinner on deck with a good Chablis on ice while anchored in a palm tree-fringed cove is forfeited.

We don’t live better necessarily than our land-bound friends nor are our choices better – our lifestyles are simply different owing to the different choices we’ve made about how to live our respective lives. I love land life and delight in indulging all it has to offer no less than I do life afloat. How I go about deriving pleasure from each is a matter of personal choice.

Perhaps I lied when I said ‘we’re not rich, really because if fact we are rich in the ways that really count: we are healthy, live productive, purposeful lives, are very much in control of the lifestyle choices we make, and at the moment, those choices are ones from which we derive considerable benefit and happiness. True wealth lies not in money but in how we take what we have and make the very best of it.