03 July 2019

FI Chautauqua and the Cost of Living on a Boat in the South of France


So I spent last week at FI - Chautauqua, in the UK.

You know, the whole FIRE movement - "Financial Independence Retire Early" thing. 
This get-together was in Shakespeare's home, Stratford-upon-Avon. 
At a pretty spiffy ol' mansion, Ettington Park. 


A friend of mine, JL Collins, started the idea years ago, and it took off.  

There were about 30 attendees and a half dozen FIRE movement bloggers, including Brandon, The Mad FIentist, Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution, Alan and Katie and Simon and Henry of Pop Up Business School, Carl - Mr. 1500, and Jillian from Montana Money Adventures.
And Jane and - Jim Collins, who wrote "The Simple Path to Wealth". (and I did the cover art!)


Beautiful location, well organized, and - a perfect time to be in the UK. 
It was fun - there was a murder mystery, a Shakespeare play, Oxford nearby, sticky toffee pudding - and the library had a proper secret door. 

Everyone seemed to be talking ALL the time.


When I mentioned that living on a boat is low cost, I got some weird looks. 
"Isn't a boat a hole where you pour in money?" was a frequent comment. 

But - really? Compared to a HOUSE?


For those who don't know, Stan and I spent this past winter getting rid of all of our STUFF. 

Selling the house. The cars. The motorized bicycles. Antiques. Rugs.
Giving away tools. The cat. Guitars. Clothes. Art. 
Books (many carloads of books-). 

One corner of the house - before.
We kept in our minds the vision of leaving.
Just the backpack, hopping onto a train (all cars sold-). 

Taking off, waving to the new owners of the house. 
Hittin' the road.

And - it happened pretty much just like that. 
But it was a LOT of work.

The same corner of the house - after.
So now, our only "home" is a canal boat. Off the grid. 

The idea was to continue traveling, which we've been doing for the past 5 years. 
Without needing to return to a house to maintain things. 

We wanted a place where we could easily close up and leave. 
A "turnkey operation". 

A boat works. 
It's simple. 

And it's cool. 
I like it.


It was accidental that it turned out to be inexpensive. 
That wasn't our main reason for doing it.

I mentioned at this FI seminar that a boat, a canal barge, is low cost living. 

So I got to thinking about it. 
Just how much does it cost? 

Then again - when this post appeared on reddit,  people were asking - so how much?

So in the spirit of the Chautauqua, where people are pretty open about financial stuff, here are the numbers. (I put it in dollars - so the comparison is easier) 

We weren't trying to live cheaply. 
This is roughly what it cost. 

Here's what I was paying to maintain the house in New Mexico:

Per Year:
$1200 home insurance
$3100 property tax
$2300 electricity and gas (ok, we had a pool)
$900 water and waste (it's NM. Water can be $$)
$1500 wi-fi (Xfinity. SO expensive. So annoying.)

So basic costs of the house were about $9000 a year. 


Here's what the boat looks like on an annual basis:



Per Year:
$600 boat insurance
$1000 mooring fees (calculated by boat length. Our boat is 14m long. 80€ a month.)
$120 for water - waste is free. We fill the water tank about once a month.
$120 propane
$300 wi-fi
$600 canal usage fee. The French waterways system charges us to use the canal.

So that comes to $2740 a year. Less than $230 a month.

We're off the grid, so no utilities as such. 
We have solar panels, which work GREAT.




Granted, it was a pretty sweet house. 
My dream house. 

A 100+ year old adobe in the Rio Grande valley. 



And - a house also requires a LOT more general maintenance stuff. 

Garden hoses and plants and parts and tools and cleaning supplies. 

We had a big yard. Gardens. Ponds. A pool. 
That is in addition to the numbers above. 

I know we spent a LOT of time at Home Depot.



Yes, you do need a visa to live in France as an American.

Here's more info on getting the original long-term visas
(It gets a bit easier after the first time.)  

Also, we're on the French health system, which is free. 

(I was paying $650 a month in the US for insurance. 
That - was the cheapest I could find, with a $7000 deductible. 

If you count the health insurance, it doubles the cost of living in NM.
-Don't get me started.)

Back to the boat: 
Obviously, there's the cost of the Boat itself. 

This is ours, Maggie May. 

She's a beauty.



You can find a good live aboard boat anywhere between $5,000 and $200,000.  
I suppose you could pay more - or even less. 

There are always a LOT of boats for sale. 
Pretty much any price.


Prices range widely. 

There's a single guy down the canal from us on an old sailboat. 
You could probably buy one like it for $3000. 

However, he usually finds a girlfriend to live with. 
So he doesn't spend all that much time on the boat. 

Works for him.

I'm not talking budget living here. 
I did that in the 70's. 
Had the ol' self-sufficient farm, off the grid. 

Catching fish and rabbits, growing potatoes. 
Kept chickens and collected mussels. 
Out in the West of Ireland. 


Hitchhiking around Europe, sleeping on the ground or in haystacks. 
I'm not living that way now. 
There's a time for everything. 

That's JL Collins. Digging turf at our place in Ireland with the landlord. 1975. He was a good sport about it.

You can do all of this for much less. 
And it would be just as much fun. 

Yes, there are also very inexpensive houses in the French countryside. 
Roll up your sleeves, those can be serious work - and time. 

If that's how you want to spend your days, fine. 
Our goal was to make our lives simpler. 
Have more time for art, music, and exploring the world. 


That it was also less expensive was a plus, not the original intention. 

Here's a place to start. Try looking for canal barges.

Our boat has 3 cabins and 3 bathrooms. 
This is pretty ridiculous, and more than we need. 
But - we have kids and friends and family who visit. 
Since Stan and I are not boat specialists, we wanted one where all the systems were integrated. 

Another question I get a lot - do you have to know your way around boats? 
Not really. Here's how much we really didn't know. 

Sure, it helps to be mechanical. Doesn't it always? 

But the canals and ports are filled with people who know all about boats. 
They've built their own boats. 
Sailed around the world with them. 
These are people who grew up with boats. 

Most are more than willing to share their knowledge. 
It's a good community. 

More about the boat hunt here. And finding a boat

So that's the basic financial picture. 

Plus, when you sell a house, there's a nice chunk of money to invest. 
FI types like that. Your income grows, too. 


Also - did I mention wine? 
Do you know how good the wine is in France - and how cheap, compared to the US?

Sometimes I wonder just how much we save on the wine alone...
I know a boat isn't for everyone. 
It's just - another possibility. 
Like van dwelling, but somehow - way cooler. 

It gives us the chance to spend more time on the things we love doing. 


With the plus side of working out way less expensive than we'd planned. 

4 comments:

  1. The cost breakdown between house living and boat living is very interesting. Thanks for that!

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  2. Awesome write up! Thanks for taking the time to break it all down.

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  3. I just found this from FIRECracker's post about Chautauqua and man, did it resonate -- my folks spent summers on a canal barge in the Netherlands for five years and loved every minute of it. Apparently when you're flying a US flag off the stern and a Maryland flag on top of the cabin you get a lot of attention from the locals. They kept the house back home for the other 9 months of the year; came in handy later when mom got sick. I went back with dad to help clean the boat out in 2017 and it seemed like a fantastic lifestyle. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    And thanks, too, for posting about Chautauqua. I'm planting seeds now trying to get my wife onboard for next year's edition...

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