Money.... Money.... Money


By Liz Tosoni

Here in the small bay of Benao, Feel Free bobs at anchor, taking a short rest, en route to Costa Rica.

She had a long day yesterday with good winds from the stern. One visitor came on board, a seagull, surprising us with her boldness and poor table manners. There were dolphins too, merrily keeping us company, pleased to see us at sea again.

Benao is a beautiful spot about 100 miles south and west of Panama city, surrounded by rolling green hills, almost bucolic if you don’t happen to notice the surf beach to the north and west. In fact, it’s one of the premier Panamanian surfing destinations but luckily for us, the eastern corner of the bay offers good protection from the prevailing winds, and holding is excellent. We departed the big city that gobbles money with abandon, and are happy to be under way again. Happy!

Leaving that good city, meandering through the maze of big ships awaiting their turn through the Canal, we recalled that the end of 2011 found us reeling with the amount of money we were spending.


    Here’s a list of the major expenditures:
  • About $4,000.00 in haulout, dry storage and marina fees.
  • $2,750.00 for a new mainsail. The old mainsail had certainly paid for itself after nearly 20 years of use (the same one that was sporting Feel Free when we bought her in 1994) and many thousands of miles, almost all the way around the world, so it was definitely time for a replacement.
  • $512.00 in air freight costs for the new sail.
  • $2,650.00 for a new dinghy. The old one literally blew up, sitting on the foredeck, the morning of our Canal transit!
  • $1,750.00 for a new outboard engine. The old one was eight years old and starting to cause major problems. An on board ‘must-have’ is a reliable outboard, so that was another ‘no-brainer’.
  • More than $1,000.00 for provisions. Panama is one of those shopping meccas not only for groceries and staples but for all and sundry so we wanted to make sure we were well stocked before departure day.
  • $859.00 for Canal transit fees.
  • More than $1,000.00 for hardware items such as lights, pumps, inverters etc.


Then January 2012 came along and the spending spree continued and spiraled, seemingly out of control. We bought a membership at Price Smart so we could buy more and in bulk.


For bargain shopping, I took regular trips to the longest pedestrian only street in the world.

Abastos is a mega market the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Turkey or Tunisia, with mountains of delectable fruits and veggies at great prices: 10 sweet grapefruits for $1, 3 pounds of green beans for $1, a huge bag of bananas for 70c, pineapples, melons, papayas, green peppers, whatever you can imagine, all priced low, low low.

Every day, we came back to the boat laden with goods. Were we becoming shopaholics? Purchases included eye exams and new glasses for Tom, dental and doctor appointments, more hardware, booze, more groceries, taxis, a new sewing machine, a huge amount of Sunbrella fabric, a new portable generator, anchorage fees, pharmacy and first aid items, shoes and clothing, dinners out and pizza and beer nights.

One of the Cruising Guides to Central America and Panama, by Eric Baicy and Sherrell Watson states that “You can find just about anything here so be prepared to spend lots of money.” Now that is the understatement of the century. The Liza Minelli song from Cabaret comes to mind ........

Money makes the world go around...the world go around...the world go around. Money makes the world go around, It makes the world go 'round. A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound ...a buck or a pound...a buck or a pound. Is all that makes the world go around. That clinking, clanking sound...Can make the world go 'round. Money money money money, Money money money money, Money money money...

Well, if that is true, that money makes the world go around, then at least we were helping to keep the world go ‘round while in Panama!

But wait a minute, let’s take a hard look at the big picture. We need to put this whole thing into perspective. Among all those purchases, does anything strike you as extravagant? The answer is NO! Virtually all of the things we were buying were utilitarian, practical, useful, needed items.

Next, let’s scrutinize the first few months of 2011. What did we spend? Well, as it turns out, we were in the San Blas Islands and guess what? We spent very little. Very little. What do I mean by that? I’ll be specific.

Expenses for January 2011- $563.00, February 2011- $600.00, March 2011- $650.00, April 2011- $3,025.00 (including airline tickets and haul-out).

The summer months found us back in Canada, working, actually earning money, and spending next to nothing as room and board were included in our compensation package.

Total expenses for 2011 were approximately $19,000.00, a figure which is about average in terms of yearly figures over the past several years.

People always wonder and sometimes ask “How do you manage your budget, sailing around the world?” and “How much do you spend in a year?” and “How can you afford it?”

Well, during our very first five years of cruising (1985-1990), our expenses averaged about $1,000.00 per month. Those were the days!

From 1990 to 2002, the average jumped 75% to $1,750.00 per month. Keep in mind that during that period, we graduated from Hoki Mai, a rusty old steel 41 footer to Feel Free, our fiberglass 51 footer, and that a larger boat costs more than a smaller boat. Haul-outs, replacement and repair costs, dry storage and marina fees are all higher by virtue of the additional 10 feet of boat length. Replacing Feel Free’s mainsail cost more than twice as much as replacing Hoki Mai’s did. Also keep in mind a 2.5 per cent annual cost of living increase and the increased spending is not surprising.

I just re-read an old article on the costs of cruising that I wrote for Cruising Helmsman (Australia) in 2002. Here’s an interesting excerpt: “In the ‘old days’, our costliest month amounted to $3,750.00 which included the purchase of a SatNav ($2,000.00) and a haul-out in California ($750.00), while the least costly month was in the Tuamotus of French Polynesia and amounted to a mere $84. Compare that to our most and least expensive months of the present period: $5,082.00 (including a blister repair job) in Mexico and $363.00 in the Marshall Islands.”

Here it is, 2012, another 10 years past the date when that one was written and what has changed? I have to admit that I haven’t been keeping as detailed a record as I did in those days. However, I do have some figures that might be of interest. Following are the numbers for 2004, a fairly typical cruising year and the year we sailed from Australia to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand:

Month/Year Place Expenses
January 2004 Australia (Gladstone) $1,899.10
February Australia (Bundaberg) $2,753.41
March Australia (Bundaberg) $2,980.00
April Australia (Cairns) $935.70
May Australia (Cairns) $2,537.55
June Australia (sailing east coast) $178.90
July (Darwin)Australia/Indonesia $3,389.55
August Indonesia $1,000.00
September Indonesia $316.00
October Indonesia/Singapore/Malaysia $1,377.00
November Malaysia $2,078.00
December Malaysia/Thailand $2,119.00

The year-end summary for 2004 tells us that we spent $21,562.00 in total. Divide that by 12 and you get a monthly average of $1,796.83. This is really a bit of a revelation as it means that we actually spent more money in 2004 than we did in 2011! (Mind you, in 2004 we were on the boat non-stop for 12 months, no working, whereas in 2011 we were cruising for only about half the year as we took time out to re-stock the cruising kitty.)

Looking further at the records I see that another revealing year was 2009, the year spent in the Mediterranean with no work stops (Malta, Tunisia, Spain, Morocco, Canary Islands) and then crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Remarkably, the total amount spent that year was actually lower than both 2011 and 2004, approximately $18,000.00.

So what does all of this accounting reveal? I think it tells us that our spending patterns have remained much the same over the previous couple of decades, and that our yearly expenses have not increased.

Taken as a whole, despite all that spending at the end of the year, 2011 was much like most other cruising years. The low cost months balanced the high cost months. This is very heartening news for Tom and me, and I hope it might also help future cruisers look realistically at their own budgeting issues.