29 January 2016

Extreme Penny Pinching

Could you go without shopping for non-essentials for an entire year? Could you refuse to buy anything new, instead only reusing what you already have or buying previously used items? Could you survive on $126 a month for groceries? How extreme could you go when it comes to penny pinching?

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “But, I don’t need to pinch pennies or track my spending. I’ve got enough money to pay for everything I want and save for the future.”  If that’s the case, well done – that’s awesome! But, not everyone is in that position. Perhaps they’ve got overwhelming debt they need to get out from under. Or, they’ve got enough money to cover their monthly expenses, but don’t have any savings to cushion the financial blow that a job loss, serious illness or other unforeseen event might deliver. Or, they may even want to chuck it all in and go off adventuring – to experience life while they still have their health, energy and freedom.

Those are the types of people who might need to pinch their pennies. People like us. After many years working in corporate la-la land, making a decent salary and generally enjoying my work, it was time for a change. Scott felt the same way – running his own business was great, but he wanted to explore the world now, rather than wait until it was too late. So, we took stock of our financial situation and starting pinching pennies so that we could go adventuring sooner rather than later.

We had both seen too many people whose lives had been cut short long before they should have, as well as people who had lots of things, but weren’t really fulfilled by them. That wasn’t going to be us.

There are a number of ways you can pinch pennies. One of the easiest ways is to stop buying stuff. That’s what Cait at Blonde on a Budget is doing. She’s in the middle of a two year shopping ban and, except for things like groceries, kitchen supplies, cleaning products, toiletries and a few other items, she has committed to not buying anything new. Her shopping ban has enabled her to increase her savings, kick bad shopping habits and develop a more conscious consumer mindset.

Katy’s approach at The Non-Consumer Advocate is to use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. Katy isn’t ashamed to pick through free piles and reuse what others throw away. Her family’s frugal lifestyle helps them pinch their pennies for what’s important – like putting their children through university.

Taking on a shopping ban or choosing to do your shopping at Goodwill instead of Neiman Marcus is one way to pinch pennies, but it isn’t always enough. For some folks, it’s about downsizing and taking a more minimalist approach to your life. What possessions do you really need? What things really make you happy? What can you get rid of? For some, downsizing is dictated by the type of life they want to lead and the adventures they want to go off on. What can you really fit on a sailboat, RV or in a backpack?

When Scott and I decided to chuck it all in, instead of buying new clothes and knick-knacks, I started selling what we already had or giving it away to charity shops. You can find tons of other examples of folks who are getting ready to set off adventuring who are in the midst of doing the same thing. My bloggy pals Melissa at Little Cunning Plan and Cheryl of Mid-Life Cruising are great examples of this. They’ve been downsizing like crazy. It’s definitely painful at times, but they have their eyes on a bigger prize.

Now that we’ve all briskly set off down the path of 2016 (yes it’s the end of January already), I decided to have a look back at our expenses for 2015 and see if there were areas where we could pinch some more pennies. To be honest, I didn’t find too much else to pinch. Or rather, I didn’t find too much else I wanted to pinch. If I had to, I could cut costs some more, but I’m generally okay with our expenditure. (You can see details of what we spend on this page.)

For example, on average we probably spend about $100 a month for the two of us on entertainment which includes going out to eat, takeaway food, movies, going to events like the rodeo and fair, books and the occasional lottery ticket. That seems pretty reasonable to me. There are enough “outings” and treats to keep me entertained without breaking the bank. The other area I thought we might be able to cut back on is clothes, but we only spent $211 in that category last year.

About the only area we really spend money on these days is our boat and she’s not cheap. We knew when we bought her that there would be a number of things we would need to purchase for her and upgrades we would have to make. That’s just the way it is with boats – they cost you money. We do however prioritize what we spend on her and look for bargains when we can.

I did find one area where I could possibly trim some fat. And it might just trim some fat from me as well. That’s our grocery budget. I’ve been averaging about $230 a month on groceries just for me while Scott has been working overseas. Granted, a fair bit of that spend has been in building up our food stores, but I bet I could cut that back a bit. When I read how people in the States on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“Food Stamps”) get only $126 a month for food, I have to say I was a bit dubious that it was even possible But then I talked to some friends of mine who spend around $120 a month per person on groceries and their tab also includes things like shaving cream and kitchen supplies, so I guess I can do a bit better than $230 a month.

It will be a bit of a personal challenge for me during February – how creative can I get with my meal plan on a budget? How many pennies can I pinch over the course of 28 days? I'll let you know.

What about you - are you a penny pincher? If so, what are your tips and tricks? And just because I'm nosy, how much do you spend a month on food?

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27 January 2016

South Florida Fair | Cheesy, Greasy & Good Fun

I went on an outing yesterday to the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach. Yes, an outing. Life can be rather quiet here at Indiantown Marina, so I get rather excited when I get to go on an outing to someplace other than Walmart. I’m kind of like a puppy dog who wags its tail enthusiastically, jumps around excitedly and pees a little on the floor whenever someone says, “Want to go for a walk?”  

When a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go for an outing to the fair, I wagged my imaginary tail enthusiastically and jumped up and down screaming, “Yes! Let’s go to the fair!” When he told me that he had a free ticket for me, I started running around in circles with joy. A free outing to the fair. What could be better? By the way, let’s just be clear – unlike a puppy dog, and despite my excitement, there was no peeing on the floor. Although, there are times that I wish I had a tail. I bet some of you do too.

I remember going to the county fair as a child. There were all sorts of farm animals to look at, greasy and sugary treats to eat, games of “chance” (chance being code for “we’ll take your allowance money and maybe give you a goldfish or a tacky stuffed animal in exchange”), rides that would make you a bit sick because you ate one too many corn dogs beforehand, and bands who were either dreaming of one day making it big or who had once been big but were now bitterly playing the county fair circuit and hoping for a comeback.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a fair in Florida. Surely, it would be different than the fairs I experienced growing up in Ohio. After all, West Palm Beach is a city on the East Coast, not some hicksville town in the Midwest. Turns out, I had nothing to fear. My friend promised me that there would be pig races at the fair. I guess even retired snowbirds like to see farm animals doing stupid things while they're sitting outside among the palm trees.

You’ve probably heard that pigs are smart. I can vouch for it. Do you know why pigs agree to run around a track for the amusement of humans? It’s because the winner gets an Oreo cookie. Even pigs are piggy. They like cookies so much they’ll race for them. Heck, I might even run a race for an Oreo cookie, provided it was a short race. There’s a limit to how much energy I’ll expend for chocolate.

We checked out some of the other animals at the fair. There were the usual cows, goats and sheep, but there were also some animals I don’t ever recall seeing at the fair when I was a kid. Like a zebra, camels, alpacas and some sort of South American rodent like thing which was cute as a button. Despite the more “exotic” animals on show, the goats were my favorite. I want one, but I suspect convincing Scott that we need a goat on board will be more of an uphill battle than my current let’s get a boat cat campaign.

There was a whole tent dedicated to rabbits. When I saw that on the fair program, I wagged my imaginary tail again and jumped up and down screaming, “Let’s go to the rabbit tent!” So many rabbits all in one tent. I had no idea that there was so much variety in the rabbit world. I even saw one that looked like a Siamese cat. I kind of want a rabbit now too. To be honest, I actually wanted to free them all from their cages. I can't imagine it's comfortable sleeping on a wire floor without any padding. If Scott doesn’t get back to Florida soon, there's a strong possibility that I'm going to turn Tickety Boo into a modern-day Noah’s Ark.

After getting our animal fix, we headed off to see all the shows. It kind of reminded me of being on a cruise ship, but on land. There were singers, bands, magic shows etc. to choose from. First, we saw a really cheesy band led by one of those guys who is big on audience participation. I’m always the person who cringes in the back when those types of performers hop down from the stage and start wandering through the audience. Please don’t pick on me. Please don’t turn me into the butt of your corny joke. Fortunately, there were plenty of snowbirds who were happy for a bit of limelight instead. They actually waved their hands in a bid to be picked. Go figure.

Then it was off to see the Celine Dion impersonator. I don’t really get impersonators. This lady certainly could sing and she can pull off a short sparkly dress and high heels, so why does she spend her time pretending to be someone she isn’t? Maybe there’s more money in doing tribute acts than getting gigs as yourself. Well, I guess it works for her. The audience loved her act and I didn’t see as many people walk out on her as I did in the earlier show with the cheesy band.

Next up was the ice show. Yes, an ice show. I guess this is what makes county fairs in Ohio different from fairs in Florida. We had 4-H competitions and prizes for the best strawberry preserves, while in Florida, they get the glitz and glamor of ice skaters doing twirls and jumps. Fortunately, none of the girls got hurt while their partners were swinging them around in circles with their heads just inches away from the ice. Part of me always wants to yell out, “Honey, wear a helmet! You could get hurt doing that. And, while you’re at it, put a sweater on. It’s cold out there on the ice.”

No fair could be complete without greasy food – like Elephant Ears. I haven’t had one of these in years. They’re basically a piece of flat dough that is fried in a ton of oil and then sprinkled with an obscene amount of powdered sugar. Sadly, the one I had wasn’t as good as those I remember from my childhood, but I still managed to scarf down a good chunk of it.

Well, that’s the news from Indiantown, Florida. It’s pouring down buckets today, so I think I’ll work on an indoor project. Like converting our v-berth into our very own petting zoo complete with goats, rabbits and maybe an alpaca or two.

Have you had an exciting outing lately? What did you get up to?

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25 January 2016

Pretzel Lady

I post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Except when I don't. Like last Friday. When my mom didn't see anything on the blog on Friday, she sent me an email asking if everything was okay. Moms always know when something is wrong. That's what makes them moms. Well, my mom's intuition was right again. Something was wrong. I had a tummy bug and pretty much stayed in bed all day. {By the way, living on a boat when you have a tummy bug = not fun.} Blogging just wasn't happening. But, I'm all back to normal, eating chocolate with reckless abandon, and we've returned to our regularly scheduled programming on The Cynical Sailor.


I've got a few names at the marina - Ellen, the Crazy Cat Lady and the Pretzel Lady. Ellen is pretty obvious - it's the name my mom gave me. It's a good name. I like it. I'm usually the only one around named Ellen. So, imagine my surprise when I saw that someone had written down my name on the BBQ sign-up list a few weeks ago and said I was bringing dessert. I don't like being told what to do, so I crossed dessert off and wrote down pretzels instead.

Turns out there actually is another Ellen living on a boat by herself at the marina just now. What are the odds? I wonder what she thought when she saw that someone crossed dessert off and wrote in pretzels instead. I bet she doesn't like being told what to do either.

I used to always hate these potluck things because I never knew what to bring. Or, I've got a great idea for what to bring, but never have the required ingredients on board. But, now I've discovered pretzels and they've transformed my life.  

Okay, I know what you're thinking. Pretzels? Really? You might as well just slap a bag of potato chips on the table. That would be just as exciting.  

No, we're not talking about ordinary pretzels here. These are magical pretzels. They have the power to get people's attention. Sometimes, it's in a good way and they say things like, "Wow, these are great! They go perfectly with a beer!" Unfortunately, other times, they say things like, "Oh my god, what is on these! My mouth is on fire! Quick, hand me a beer to wash down the taste!"

Yes, they're spicy pretzels!

Super simple to make. You take a bag of ordinary pretzels. You know how pretzels are a great low-fat treat? We're going to change all that by pouring a lot of oil into a bowl. Then we add a package of ranch dressing mix, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper and garlic salt. Mix, let sit for a few hours so the spicy oil sinks in and enjoy. I use this recipe here.    

The last time I made them, I doubled the cayenne pepper and lemon pepper. What can I say, I like spicy food. Some people complained that they were too spicy. So, this last time, I cut back on the spice level. I'm sure some other people will complain this time. Too spicy for some, just right for others and bland for a select few. It's like Goldilocks and those bears all over again.

Just so that everyone knows what to expect, I labeled the container - "Spicy pretzels (but not as spicy as last time)."

Lately, I've extended my pretzel repertoire and have added pretzels covered in cinnamon sugar, chocolate and sprinkles to the BBQ potluck rotation. I haven't heard anyone complain about these ones. Just goes to show you that sugary treats are always popular. 

This is another easy way to transform low-fat pretzels into something your doctor would recommend you eat in moderation. 

Same basic principle as the spicy pretzels, except that you need a heat source. I use a microwave, but you could probably do this on the stove or in the oven. You mix up cinnamon, brown sugar and white sugar with some vegetable oil. Toss your pretzels in the sugary oil and then heat up for a minute in the microwave. Stir and heat for another minute and repeat again. Then, you sprinkle some chocolate morsels in the bowl, melt slightly in the microwave and give it another stir. I use this recipe here

You're then supposed to spread the pretzels out on some large baking trays. Well, clearly the author of the recipe doesn't live on a boat. Where would I store large baking trays? And considering my oven is the size of a bread box, what would I use large baking trays for?

You learn to adapt when you live on a boat. Some waxed paper spread out on the table works just fine. Let the pretzels set for a while, put in a container and tuck away in the fridge until needed. 
Like with the spicy pretzels, I labeled these so that people know what to expect - "Cinnamon sugar pretzels with white chocolate and sprinkles for extra fun." If I were you, I would use semi-sweet chocolate instead. I switched to white chocolate for this last batch and it didn't melt as well, so I ended up with some pretzels having rather ugly white chocolate clumps on them. Make sure you do add sprinkles though. They won't really stick that well to the pretzels, but they're colorful and make you smile when you sprinkle them on.

What types of things do you bring to potlucks? Go on, share your recipes! I'm always looking for new ideas, especially things that are easy to make.

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20 January 2016

Taco Tuesday & Famous Kiwi Sailors

The crowd at Taco Tuesday after a few beers and vinos. They use old Corona beer bottles for salt and pepper shakers, which Jane is modeling for us, or sticking up her nose. Not really sure which.

In an effort to save pennies, I don't go out to eat very often. But, when I do, I have three criteria that have to be met: (1) food that's cheap as chips; (2) food that tastes so good that you want to overeat to the point that you wish you had worn pants with an elastic waistband; and (3) good company. Taco Tuesday at the local pub in Indiantown fits the bill. If you get there during happy hour, draft beer is only $1 and you can get tacos for $1 a piece, or, my personal favorite, tostadas for $1.50. I can walk out of there with a happy belly and a smile on my face for under $10.

Taco Tuesday is very popular with the cruisers at the marina and last night it seemed like everyone turned up for the cheap beer and food. Which made for some very good company and interesting stories. Like one woman who told us how she crashed her boat into a bridge and sunk it. She's still sailing today. Obviously, on a new boat. She seemed very chipper when she told us the story. I guess if you have a disaster like that you really only have two options: (1) learn to laugh at the whole experience and keep on sailing; or (2) swear off boating for the rest of your life, move to a landlocked part of the country and raise ostriches.

I spent some time talking with one couple who have a boat down the dock for me. The conversation went something like this:
"Sailing was my husband's idea."

"Oh yeah, mine too."  

"He decided he wanted to buy a boat, learn to sail and go cruising."

"Same here. Mine got into racing and crewing on boats, fell in love with the whole sailing thing and then started a brainwashing campaign to convince me that buying a boat and moving on board was a great idea." 

I then started telling them that once I realized how serious Scott was about all of this sailing and cruising stuff, I decided to take a sailing course when we moved to New Zealand. I was explaining how I liked the fact that it was a woman who taught the course and that the majority of the students were women. I think it helped make me more confident to have some knowledge and skills under my belt when Scott and I chartered our first boat together in the Bay of Islands. A much, much better idea than having Scott try to teach me to sail.

As I was talking about my sailing course, the guy mentioned that he had seen some great sailing videos by a famous Kiwi female sailor. Turns out it was the same woman who taught my course - Penny Whiting. How odd to be in a pub in Indiantown, Florida eating tostadas and talking to a guy from New England who knew who my sailing instructor was in New Zealand and had seen her on You Tube. He even talked about how she demonstrated tying a bowline knot. Oh, how I remember her teaching me that. I wasn't very good at it. She politely suggested I might want to do some more practice at home.

It took me back to those early days when this sailing thing was so foreign to me. And this is one of the reasons I love the fact that we have a blog. I can go back and read about earlier experiences, like taking Penny Whiting's sailing course. If you want to check it out, you can find it here. There's a picture of a bunny rabbit in the post. If you know anything about bowline knots, that might make sense to you.

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18 January 2016

BBQs, Tornadoes & Social Media

I'm not sure this roof would stay on during a tornado.

Indiantown Marina hosted a BBQ on Saturday, which they do most Saturdays provided the weather is cooperative. The marina provides and grills the meat and everyone brings a dish to share. There were a lot of salads this time, which is a good thing. It helps balance out my chocolate intake.

When I looked around the table I was sitting at, I realized that I had met everyone there through blogging and Facebook. It's kind of strange to think about the fact that social media is how I meet a lot of the people these days. After all, I'm pretty new to this stuff - we've only had our blog for 2 1/2 years ago and I joined the dark side and set up a Facebook account less than two years ago.

Sitting on one side of me were Matt and Jessica from MJ Sailing. After following their blog for a couple of years, it turned out that they were our neighbors in the work yard at the marina when we bought our boat here in April. I think they've been at Indiantown Marina for a year now. It's kind of frightening to think about the fact that we've all been here for so long. Of course, we did take our boat to the Bahamas during May and June, so at least we managed to escape Indiantown for a while.

On the other side of me were Bruce and Michele from Sailing Wind Spirit. I got to know Michele through our blog and then got to meet her and Bruce in real life when they shipped their boat to Indiantown from Oregon. They've been in the work yard for a few months. I think it's been almost three months, but we probably shouldn't say that out loud. I think they wish they were already out there cruising. But, they too have been sucked into the vortex that is Indiantown Marina.

Across from me were Laura and Hans from Knotty Cat Tales. Laura contacted me a couple of days ago via our Facebook page. They had their boat stored at the marina and were planning on splashing her so we made arrangements to meet up.

Laura and Hans were due to splash on Friday, but severe weather put a stop to that. The marina canceled all the splashes that day due to high winds, thunderstorms and tornado watches. Like everyone else, I stared out my hatch during the height of the storm wondering if any of the boats on the hard were going to tumble over. Fortunately, the tornado watch never turned into a tornado warning at Indiantown.

I grew up in Ohio - we had tornado drills in school and there were times at home where we spent hours in the basement with the radio on hoping one of the twisters didn't strike our neighborhood. But here at the marina, there aren't any basements. There aren't really any suitable shelters to hide out in. Sure, I guess a few of us could cram ourselves into the showers and bathrooms by the office. They don't have windows, so that's a plus, but I'm not sure how long the roof would last.

Severe weather sucks. But, on the bright side that meant Laura and Hans got to join us at the BBQ since they weren't able to splash until Saturday. They planned on heading off to Stuart yesterday, but we had some more severe weather, so I'm not sure if they managed to get out of here.

I got a 4:30 AM wake-up call on Sunday with wind rocking my boat back and forth. Winds gusting 40+ MPH, rain, lightening and another tornado watch. An invigorating way to start the day. Who needs coffee? Well, I do. I quickly made some in case the electricity went out. After the worst of the storm passed by Indiantown, a tornado formed ten miles to the east of us. Fortunately, our tornado watch never turned into a warning, although there were plenty of warnings in other parts of Florida and the severe weather caused loss of life and property damage.

It was windy the rest of the day, but once the tornado watch had been lifted and the gusts settled down into the 20-30 MPH range, it was so much more relaxing. So relaxing, in fact, that I took a long nap. A perfect way to spend Sunday afternoon.

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15 January 2016

Boat Cards For Tickety Boo

Tickety Boo can be kind of a demanding creature at times. All the other boats at the marina have boat cards and she was starting to feel left out. After listening to her whine and beg for weeks, I finally relented and got her her very own boat cards. She's also been asking for an SSB transceiver and AIS, neither of which she'll be getting anytime soon, so hopefully her new boat cards will keep her occupied for a while.

Actually, I really wish I had ordered some sooner. Just yesterday, as I popped my head out of our hatch (kind of like a meerkat) to head out for my morning walk, I noticed a guy staring at our boat. I'm not sure who was more surprised to see the other. He started apologizing profusely and I clambered off our boat to chat with him (if you saw Wednesday's post, you'll know that this can be a bit of a process which leaves bruises everywhere). 

Turns out he's considering buying a Moody 34 (the Moody 346's little cousin) and was sizing up Tickety Boo to get a feel for how big the cockpit is (it's relatively tiny, one of the trade-offs of our awesome aft cabin). The Moody 34 is pretty much identical to the Moody 346 - the only real difference being that we have a swim platform, which makes it so much easier to board our boat.    

Not many folks in North America know too much about Moody boats, so it was fun to talk with him. He said that he travels past the marina every day on his way to work and I invited to come back one day and have a look inside our boat so that he could get a feel for the set up and condition compared to the boat he's considering. It would have been so handy to give him a boat card with all of our details so that he could touch base.  

After my walk, I headed into the big town of Stuart to pick up Tickety Boo's cards. I ordered them online from Staples. You can get same day pick-up or have them delivered. Delivery costs extra, so since I had errands to run in Stuart, I opted to pick them up. One-sided color cards with a matte finish start at $7.99 for 100 cards and go up to $9.99 for 500 cards. Of course, Tickety Boo got top billing with her name in bold, followed by the names of her humans, her hailing port and our contact details, along with a picture of her anchored in the Bahamas. It's not the flashiest boat card out there, but it will do.

It was pretty simple to design the card online. And, if you register with Staples, you get 10% off your order. A buck might not seem like a lot of money to get excited about, but when you're living on a budget and you have a boat that is constantly wanting shiny new things, every penny counts

After picking up my cards at Staples, I headed to Walmart to collect a prescription. They told me it would take a few hours and I considered my options. Wander the aisles of Walmart looking at things I don't need like banana slicers, cat food and mascara, sit in McDonald's and watch the snowbirds savor their Big Macs or go to the movies. 

We rarely go to the movies - by the time you get your ticket, popcorn and soda pop, you've spent a fair chunk of change and the movie usually disappoints. But, I've been wanting to see the new Star Wars movie and now that I had "saved" 10% on my boat cards, going to the movies while I waited for my prescription seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to spend the afternoon.

So, everyone had a great day yesterday. Tickety Boo got her new cards, I got to see Star Wars (which didn't disappoint) and I didn't buy anything that I didn't need at Walmart (as long as you don't count the brownies that found their way into my cart). Hope you guys had a great day too!

{If you want to see other examples of boat cards, check out Astrolabe Sailing.}
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