How Little Could We Spend?

The average American spends just over $6 a day on food.    Or so said one government study in about 2005. That’s $2190 a year. Now that is shantyboat living.  I assume that for someone to live that way now, it would take a steady diet of Top Ramen and corn dogs, with an egg or two for breakfast.  But even if the price has risen  to $10 a day to eat a modestly healthy diet, that’s still affordable for most all of us.   $3650 a year.

bill durham plan smallLet’s say you built yourself a little boat like Retreat.  Your miniature palace on the water is all paid for, including a little 4 stroke 5 hp outboard. You decide to live on the move.  There goes your rent or moorage.  There will be gas, but your boat uses about a quart per hour running at a good clip.  Four quarts in a gallon.  A gallon of gas is, say, $3.   For sake of argument, let’s say you cruise 4 hours per day.  That’s under $1100 per year.   Ok.  There’s oil and such.   Here’s another $100.  Go crazy.

So far we are up to $4850.

I like insurance.  I just do.   I’d say $250 a month for a reasonable plan.  I could get one for more and I could get one for less.   Yearly cost?  $3000.

We are up to $7850, but that medical plan will certainly have copays and deductables and the like.  Let’s add $2000.  We may  get sick.

We are up to $9850.

OK… there’s boat maintenance, some fun stuff, an internet phone bill of $40 a month.   And god knows what else.   $10,000. I don’t do budgets for fun.

So you are cruising in your little Retreat and seeing some beautiful part of the country for less than $20,000 a year.   It could be South Puget Sound, and you only move about on the calm days.   And some of those bays are mighty small, so a wind won’t harm you.  Tides?  Retreat’s happy sitting in the mud.

Fuel for the stove and heat?  You could cook with your Kelly Kettle, which I’ve done on a trip or two, and that takes twigs.   But more likely you’d prefer propane.  So go crazy and burn a gallon a day.  $1000.

Even by rounding up with some big numbers you are still living relatively cheaply.

How would I pay for that?  I can make websites.  I currently have a client paying me $80 a month, and it takes me maybe 5 hours a month… sometimes more if things go wrong.   If I could scrape up 21 clients at $80 a month each, it would all be paid for.   But that may be dreaming.   Or not.  Spend a month on the streets of a major city, hitting up small businesses like vets and the like, and you may find there’s work to be done.  You could devote 5 or 6 hours to each one a month.  Add the monthly specials, post a note for your vet clients that talks about pet care each month.  That’s four hours per day of web work.  For an extra $25 a month I’ll throw in a monthly newsletter.  Now I can get away with fewer clients.  My costs are perhaps $7 a month for hosting fees for each one, probably less, so I may have to trim a meal now back down to the $6 a day now and then.

So some of the details are off.  Some seem crazy to you, perhaps, but I see how it could be done.. and enjoyed.

But don’t you have SOME money saved?   A friend at work is retiring after 30 some years, and he is clearing $1700 a month from Social Security and an old fashioned pension, without touching his 401K, which must be up to at least $350,000 or so.   Plus he owns a house.  In a big city a normal house could sell for $200,ooo to $600,000.  Now this guy is pretty lucky in that he’s had a pretty nice job for 30 years… and your figures may be considerably different, but I believe there are options available for most anyone.  Some will certainly be more secure than others.

Forget doing 22 websites!   He could do 10 and have money to play with… but more time to read, write, and explore.   Or he could forget doing any work.

He’s about 62 and in pretty good health.  He could boat about for ten years and use his 401k and Medicare for his senior care.

Or leave work at 57, work doing websites for a few years, then do the full retirement thing at 62.  You can still work and earn up to $14000 when you retire without consequence, except that the extra SS taxes you pay on this work will add to your SS benefit later.

T32x12MARYELIZABETHOK, so there are holes in this little exercise, but at least it’s clearly in the ballpark.  And I rounded up by many thousands in my expenses.   I seem to recall that the couple who designed the Triloboats was spending something like $10,000 a year.  Can’t find the source for that though.

So that, it seems to me, is one possible way to live the shantyboat life.

Originally posted 2015-07-04 09:55:03.

A website about Shantyboats and affordable living on the water. More than 800 stories to date, and growing.


  1. I’m with you on this. My wife and I sold our house just before the crash, we bought a 40ft travel trailer and made major steps to simplify our lives. We sold off everything except my tools and some family heirlooms. The savings we’ve realized has allowed us to purchase a very nice car for my wife to drive around in, (hey I know where my bread gets buttered). We have a smaller RV for weekend trips, we get to travel as we want. I’m still driving the old beater car to and from work, 250,000 miles and going strong.
    When we travel we only drive for 4 hours, or one tank of gas, whichever comes first. We stop and spend a few days exploring locally and make lots of new friends. When I retire This will be our lives. I’m designing what I want in my Shantyboat and will begin construction this winter. ( I live in the desert so I have to wait for the weather to be tolerable.)
    So I’m a firm believer in the concept that “the first success in accomplishing something is making the decision to try”.
    Your numbers might not be “accurate” but they present a realistic view of how to start. So just start and you can address the finer points as you work through day to day life.

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