We Should Have Spent the Money

Clay Ratliff
4 min readJul 2, 2023

Sometimes being frugal can bite you in the ass

Penny pinching can pinch back
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

My wife and I recently sold our home and bought a sailboat to live aboard. We have no experience living aboard a sailboat, and she had never sailed before. My sailing experience was limited to teaching myself to sail Hobie 16 cats, 13-foot Sunfish sailboats, and a week-long liveaboard ASA class. We aren’t the first to do this and won’t be the last, but we have learned a lot we didn’t know over the course of the past 3 months, including what we didn’t know we didn’t know.

We Could Do This Because We’re Frugal

We could never have bought a boat in the first place if we weren’t frugal people. We don’t like to spend a ton of money on “stuff”. We drove a 17-year-old car that had been paid off for most of that time, we don’t replace phones until they stop working and can’t be easily repaired, we opt for functionality over aesthetics, and don’t carry a balance on credit cards from month to month. This gives us good credit and makes it easy to get good terms on loans. This is how we could afford to get a decent loan, have a decent downpayment, and still have a budget that would allow us to address the deficiencies that we knew would be there when we purchased.

We Lost Time and Money Because We Were Frugal and Prideful

We also pride ourselves on being DIY buffs. We’ve performed many changes to multiple homes over the years. My wife taught herself how to lay tile, we install our own flooring, we don’t hire painters, and we do our own remodeling, only hiring out what we can’t do ourselves like cutting out a new countertop. This has also allowed us to not only save money but also add value to our homes. We intended to take this same approach with the boat. We knew a boat was not a house, obviously, but we also thought because of our success doing these things in our homes we could learn to do them to our boat as well. As with most things in life, this turned out to be both true and false. Yes, we’ve learned a lot and are learning more every day. We’ve learned to replace bilge pumps, shower sump pumps, and clear raw water pumps. We’ve fixed broken heads and learned to prime a diesel engine while trying not to run aground in a shallow river channel. At the same time, we planned larger projects, like overhauling the electrical system and replacing the canvas bimini with a fiberglass hardtop. I mapped out what I wanted for the electrical overhaul, bought batteries and various other hardware that would be needed, started upgrades, and was forced to stop them due to unexpected problems that no amount of googling seemed capable of helping me solve. I wasted months of time and enough money that I’ve procrastinated calculating the amount. Primarily because we couldn’t even entertain the idea of spending that much money at once and because my pride wouldn't allow me to let go of the idea that I could learn and do all these upgrades myself in a reasonable amount of time, while still working full-time, and keeping the boat livable. I have no doubt that I am capable of doing the work. I also have no doubt that I can learn everything I need to know to do the work. But I cannot do it working only on weekends in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time, and certainly not while keeping the boat livable. And by reasonable time, I mean anything less than a year.

What’s Your Priority?

We’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and hire professionals to do the job for us. After speaking with them at length, crawling through the power system with them, and giving them our immediate and long-term goals they came up with estimates of time, and money, which leave us in a position to do any expansion work ourselves. It will cost a gut-wrenching amount of money, at least for us. It will also be done in a few weeks, require us to move off the boat for only a few days, and make it possible for us to live on anchor or a mooring ball for extended periods rather than pay for marina dockage every time we stop. Saving money is all well and good but if I’d made peace with my pride, and we could have been objective about spending the money in the first place, we would have done this before we moved onto the boat and saved not only a few days of hotel bills but also been saving marina slip fees this entire time. In other words, it would have paid for itself much sooner and we still would have learned as much as have without the frustration and pain.

Sometimes being frugal means looking at the bigger picture and thinking in the longer term. Make sure that you frame frugality in terms of your goals, not the pennies you’re saving in the now.

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Clay Ratliff

Looking for our dreams in the second half of our lives as a novice sailors as we learn to live on our floating home SV Fearless https://svfearless.substack.com/