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Crew and the Cost of Living Crisis: Save or Splurge?

Are you a saver or a spender? Are you being more careful with your wages now that there’s a global cost of living crisis? Or do you feel nicely insulated from it on Planet Yacht? In so many countries bills, fuel and groceries are all shooting up in cost, inflation is going up – it’s all feeling a bit apocalyptic. The war in the Ukraine is affecting the cost of so many things, it’s been a bit of a crash course in just how dependent our countries were on resources, fuel and crops from that region. It’s also been a lesson in how unpredictable the modern world is.

Should we be more careful? Or go all-out to enjoy life for the moment? As crew it’s easy to feel a bit detached from it all, isn’t it? Living on board with bills and food covered, minimally or untaxed earnings…for many yachties life hasn’t changed that much. Does the news cycle rolling on the crew mess TV freak you out and make you want to save your money for the future? Or does it make you want to dash out and run up a massive bar bill?

I wish I’d saved my yachting money. I mean, I do have a great selection of sunglasses and some amazing photos – but I should have a lot more than that to show for all my graft. I wish I invested in property ten years ago like my cleverer friends, but I never got around to it. I try not to give myself too hard a time over it - I did pay off student loans, have supported myself and all my endeavours for a good few years and built up a decent wedge of savings. But if anyone says the P words around me I get pretty frazzled. I have no property and no pension coming my way at all, and that makes me feel a bit queasy. 

All this talk about unpredictable futures has been the thing that has finally focused my mind on the dull world of financial security. But it’s a bit late for that now, most of my money has gone. I know many crew have been far better than me with their money, but to be fair some have been far, far worse. 

It is easy to lose the plot financially in yacht world. There is a double assault on our sense of reality – being surrounded by yacht-owner levels of wealth can start to seriously distort our idea of ‘normal’ and then the large amount of disposable income can start to make big self-indulgent purchases into a regular occurrence. Even just spending a few weeks in Monaco can start to make bumper to bumper Bentleys seem normal.

The K Flag cars

I remember once telling my mum I was popping off to do one of the regular 10,000 Euro ‘petty cash’ pick-ups for a yacht. She couldn’t believe I’d be walking about with 10,000 Euro in my bag. I had by that point internalised that amount of cash as ‘petty’ and was happily leaving the bank with it and thinking little of it. I once got annoyed that a supermarket in France wouldn’t take my 500 Euro note. We all had a pile of them back on the yacht as we’d been paid our tips out in them. On reflection that’s a bit obnoxious, it’s a pretty ludicrous denomination unless you’re hanging out exclusively at Eden Roc. 

Junior crew are often the nuttiest when those first pay packets and tips roll in. The novelty of all that cash can send a person a little wonky. I remember a deckie friend getting madly carried away in a Monaco casino on a drunken night off and spending absolutely thousands.  I think we all felt a little sick the next day when we heard of his losses. Other effects are more gradual and that’s where it starts to bite the senior crew. Expensive wine habits, high end restaurants, buying higher and higher end clothing, sports equipment, cars… the line between the handbags and the golf clubs of the yacht owners and the crew can start to blur, and it’s quite hard to rein that back in when we step outside yacht world. Like a luxury-product-osmosis, we absorb it and end up thinking we are the target demographic for these brands. When we are working hard for those wages and tips it feels easy to justify a splurge: ‘why shouldn’t I have X,Y or Z?  I’ve worked hard all season/year etc etc’. The problem is it can kick off a golden handcuffs situation where leaving yachting, if you so wish, becomes harder and harder; because when financial reality bites a lot of us come running back into the fold. I always remember hearing that adage: ‘It takes three attempts to leave yachting’ and I can definitely relate. So many of my friends too have been driven back by the need for cash, and quite often that need is driven by an inability to downgrade our lifestyles.

The K Flag money v2

It's weird how everyone has a different line on what is acceptable and unacceptable spending. It’s funny seeing the different priorities everyone on board has for their cash. There’s often a gender divide too - I’ve seen a few judgy stares from the boys when the stews dive into their ASOS deliveries, only for some insanely high-end snowboards and bikes to arrive the following week.

Sometimes the status symbols are not our fault – we get some mad gifts. I had a fresh-out-of-uni friend who went home from her junior-stew season with a handbag given to her by Naomi Campbell. In her local pub someone complimented her on it. “Thanks,” she said. “Naomi Campbell gave it to me.” Her friends fell about laughing before slowly realising she was telling the truth. Needless to say, she paid the bar bill that night. I ended up using a weird quilted Chanel bag as a gym bag for a while as an owner’s wife didn’t want it anymore and neither did anyone else.  (It was pretty gross). I looked it up online after smashing it into my gym locker for months on end and found it was worth 1,500 Euro. Now I just think, why didn’t I sell it?  Probably because I was in the midst of Planet Yacht financial delirium myself and didn’t think much of it.

Sometimes owners and guests pass on crazily valuable items. Those items become like little totems of the weird world we inhabit. Rolexes as bonuses, Prada handbags as thank-you gifts – the badges of the super-rich can start to seem like our badges, until we leave yachting and realise that watch could pay three years car insurance, or something equally useful and boring.

The K Flag drinks

To be honest, despite my regret at not becoming an amazing Buy-to-Let landlord with a property empire, I’m still aware that I could drop dead next week and then my years of having maximum fun and spontaneous enjoyment from my wages would prove well founded. However, despite a lot of poor decision making and a long held belief I wouldn’t live past 30, this has not happened. This deeply flawed theory that I used to justify a load of daft purchases and bottles of Whispering Angel has not held water and here I am, still alive and poorer than I should be. Delayed gratification has never been my specialty and I suspect I’d have been profligate even without the loony influence of yachting, but it definitely gave me more varied and exciting ways in which to spend.   

I have moved ashore now, and reality, especially the financial one, has been breaking over me like a big fat wave on a rough day in the Golfe du Lyon. Like I say, it makes me queasy.  Meetings with financial planners, taking out life insurance, paying out money on forms of financial admin I never even knew existed… It's all so REAL and un-fun. Unless I conk out tomorrow, my live-for-the-moment financial ‘philosophy’ is looking more and more flimsy, and some days I regret the fun and frivolity. Other times, however, mid-form, spreadsheet or sensible decision, a photo memory pops up of me helpless with laughter with friends, tanned and happy at Sheer Rocks or Plage Mala and I think that money wasn’t wasted one bit.    

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