A lot of you have asked us for advice on how to save more money on board, and we’re happy to share what we know.  So here’s our take on it. 

Cruise ship jobs are unique for quite a few reasons.  One is that your basic living expenses are covered – room, closet, bed: check, three meals a day: check, etc – so that virtually none of your monthly salary needs to go towards those basic life expenses for which most people on planet Earth need to budget.  With this logic, you should be saving close to $1500 (if not more) each month, returning home from your contract with several thousand US dollars (or the equivalent of that amount).  And yet there are some folks who come home with very little, or, even if they have saved a bit, they blown through that money after six weeks of vacation. 

So let’s talk about taking steps to prevent your funds from running low or running out.

-First, track your expenditures.  Most of us think we have a fairly good idea of what and how we spend our money – that is, until we write it all down.  Maybe we go shopping for clothes a bit more often that we thought, or our crew bar bill is actually three times larger that what we expected, or when we combine taxi fares, food in ports, and miscellaneous expenses, we’re spending half of our paycheck.  By writing down every single expenditure each day, you can now understand not only where your money is going, but see trends in where you spend your money and if there’s any correlation between certain activities, times of the month, etc.  Every time you spend money, pull out your phone, and fire up your preferred app for tracking expenditures. Some of us use Saver – it costs $5 to download, but it’s user-friendly, you can create budgets for different categories, and you can even input expenditures in different currencies. There are other free options like Spendee and Wally that are simpler, but also quite useful.

-Budget.  Now that you know where you’re spending money and approximately how much you spend per month, decide how much you want to save, and then do the math.  If you earn $2200 each month, and you want to save $1500 of that, then your spending limit is $700.  And if you find you’re currently spending $1100, well, you need to find ways to cut $400 out.  Maybe it means making a schedule where once or twice a cruise, you make sure you stay on board – practice, read a book, do headstands – thereby spending no money that day.  Or maybe it means limiting yourself to only two shopping trips a month, and that no single trip can exceed $200.  Or maybe it means setting a crew bar budget and either not going down there every night or just drinking less when you’re there (your liver will thank you).

-Stick to it.  Creating the budget is one thing, but acting on it is another thing entirely.  One way to help yourself out is to allot a certain percentage of your salary straight to your bank account.  Most crew cards allow you the option of automatically sending a percentage of your choosing to your account, so you don’t even have to remind yourself to do this.  You’re just left with a small amount in your crew card account, and be strict – don’t allow yourself to take out money from your bank account!  Only use what’s left in your crew card, and if at the end of the month, you have a little extra, you can decide whether to add it to your bank account and save even more, or spend it as a treat to yourself.  But at least the money you’ve sworn to save is already sitting in your bank account, so you’re on pace to save according to your goal.

Again, this is all easier said than done.  But shoot big: do the math at the very beginning of your contract, and set a goal for total money saved by the time you walk off with all your luggage.  And then budget on your vacation, too!  Make choices based on your weekly average expenditures, the amount of time you’ll be home, and how much you want to dip into your funds, and be smart about it.  Finish up your vacation with a nice cushion of savings, and then you can simply start adding to that as soon as you start your next contract.

Also, if you tend to live more frugally (or want to start doing that), we highly recommend reading the Mr Money Mustache Blog.  Lots of great advice and ideas you can implement right away.

The next level in this game is actually investing your money, so that your savings earns money on itself, but we’ll get around to that a little later on.  For now, get a handle on your finances, create a plan, be disciplined, and let the savings begin!