Commuter Cruising Budget Killers

Here are five things to pay attention to while enjoying your commuter cruising lifestyle, they can be budget killers!

1.  Cell Phones … many US cell phone companies currently advertise “global” or “international” usage.  Most US cell phone companies are using technology that is different from most other countries.    In our experience this can lead to a NASTY surprise when you receive your bill.  If you plan to use your US cell phone while cruising, be SURE to clarify with your carrier before you leave what the charges will be.  When we did the initial research several years ago, we discovered it was actually cheaper to use a satellite phone that would always work than it would have been to use our Verizon cell phones.  The satellite phone was exorbitantly expensive as well, but we both had aging parents and families that we needed to stay in touch with once a week.

The other discovery we made is that it’s often MUCH less expensive to get a cell phone in whatever cruising ground you might be cruising.  We bought cell phones with prepaid service in Guatemala, Belize, the Bay Islands of Honduras and Panama.  The Panama cell phone actually had a data connection for internet as well.  We’d spend somewhere around $20 bucks for the phone and then if we watched carefully and bought refill minutes on triple or quadriple days, calls back to the USA cost between 5 cents and 25 cents a minute – considerably cheaper than the $1.25 plus a minute charged on the sat phone!  Beware of  communications charges!!!

Replacing Our Fried Microwave

Replacing Our Fried Microwave

2.  Keepin’ Up With The Joneses.  Just because the boat down the dock recently installed all new electronics and yours are 10 years old doesn’t mean you need new electronics.  We’ve been quite successful with our vintage 1998 radar and built in GPS, although we have upgraded our navigation equipment – nothing fancy, no chart plotters, only a Garmin GPS at the helm and the laptop running navigation charting software below for redundancy purposes.

It’s also VERY expensive to try and upgrade or replace something while you’re cruising out of the USA.  Just the shipping costs are likely to be more than the item cost.  We usually just upgraded or replaced parts that we could take with us on our annual journey to and from the boat.  We still had to pay overage charges on the airlines, but typically it would be MUCH less expensive than trying to UPS something.  We once brought a wooden crate with a below-decks autopilot which was well over size and weight limitations.   Also, depending on what country you’re trying to get something shipped into, often packages disappear before arrival and if they do arrive, often customs will hold them hostage for unreasonable and possibly illegal sums of money.  For example, when we had a new dinghy delivered to Roatan, Bay Islands – which supposedly is a “free zone”, we had to pay what we considered unsubstantiated to get our dinghy out of the warehouse … we could see it sitting there, but couldn’t get it …. after negotiating for over 3 days we finally got the price down to where we just gave up and paid it.

3.  Evaluate what you NEED, not what you’re dreaming about… sooner or later every marine system fails.  If you’re dreaming about the XYZ perfect freezer/low amp refrigeration system, but you have a perfectly adequate older Adler Barber system that keeps things cold, freezes a small compartment and even makes ice cubes, you may not need to spend the money right now for the new magical system.  There will be a time when all systems fail and then you can replace them with your oft dreamed about latest and greatest technology.  Who knows, by then, there may be even better technology … maybe good enough to even keep ice cream frozen for long periods!

4.   Travel Costs.  While cruising exotic locales can be very inexpensive, getting there and back can easily wipe out what you saved!  Part of the challenge is that we never wanted to buy round trip tickets that locked us in to returning to one place.  We wanted to be free to cruise wherever the winds and our whims blew us.  That wandering gypsy cruising routine comes with a price tag that can be unexpectedly expensive!    Another budget killer is unexpected trips back while you’re cruising … or even planned trips home for the holidays.  If these types of expenses are in your budget, it’s wonderful, but if you’re trying to stick with a fixed budget, they eat up disproportionate chunks.

5.  “Back to Port-Itis” … after you’ve been away from civilization anchored out in paradise a long time, it’s easy to succumb to “back to port-itis” — particularly relevant after long passages.  We have a “rule” that we never buy stuff on our first day back in port.  We splurge on ice cream or italian gelato or spicy fried chicken, but we try to refrain from buying stuff, particularly at hardware stores, malls and other traps designed specifically to try and snare our money.    Although I tend to be impulsive, particularly on large purchases, we try to put together a list of what we need and stick to the list.  Any large purchases and any time visiting a West Marine, Bass Pro Sports or similar marine playground, are best left to settle overnight or even few days before you succumb!  Fishing equipment, dive & snorkeling equipment, boat goodies, all are left to wait and  … who knows, by the time we get back around to it, we might decide we didn’t need (or want) it anyway!

Cruise Ship Off Belize

Cruise Ship Off Belize

Similarly, we notice a “Leaving Port-Itis” plague as well.  Before we’re getting ready for a longer passage (keep in mind, we’re not world cruisers, so a “longer passage” is anything longer than a couple of nights), we notice a tendency to want to splurge to get that new AIS system we’ve been drooling over FedExed to us so we can use it for the upcoming passage.  After the passage, while it would have been nice, once again, we managed using only our eyeballs, compass, radar and VHF radio.   I’m not saying we’re not going to get an AIS system, just that it should be a well-thought out purchase, not just a spur of the moment “oh crap, we’ll see some ships on this passage” purchase.


  1. Charlotte Caldwell via Facebook says:

    What a coincidence, I just called AT&T to get their Mexico rate and was shocked at the price . Your advice as usual is spot on.

  2. Hi Charlotte! When I checked with Verizon I was shocked as well, BUT I asked if they didn’t have a “special” plan that included North America — Mexico, US & Canada and they did! I changed plans for the winter, before I put Verizon on vacation when we left Mexico, and it meant my monthly charge stayed the same, my minutes decreased, but that was OK. So we could call from Mexico back to Illinois for the same monthly plan, no extra charge. But when I first called, all they offered was the Mexico rate! YIKES! Might be worth asking, don’t know if Verizon still does it or if AT&T offers something similar, but it was no charge. And when I returned and took Verizon off vacation, I could change my plan back to the original with all my minutes again. Good deal! But if we didn’t change, it would have ruined the budget for sure! 🙂

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