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Here is something that I have been contemplating the past few days: What is a year of your life worth?

Before I get directly into that subject, I’ll start with a story. When I was 19 or so, just out of college, I began to work part time at my instructor’s martial arts school. Some months later, in an exercise to illustrate the intangible value of our classes, he had me sit down in his office and list on a piece of paper all of the benefits that I felt that I had acquired by training there (I was a student as well as an employee). While I can’t recall exactly what I wrote, I’m sure that I listed confidence, physical fitness, and a dozen other things on my paper.

What is it all worth?

Once I was done writing, he then asked me to put down a dollar value beside each of the benefits that I had listed, an amount that I felt each of them were worth to me. Not having a ton of money at the time, I’m pretty sure I listed fairly small amounts for each one, but the sum total was still significant, at least to me. At the end of the exercise, he simply asked that, assuming it were possible, if he was willing to write me a cheque for the amount of money that I had listed on my paper, would I give back all that I had gained in exchange for the cash? As you can imagine, I said no.

time

Back to the original question, what is a year of your life worth? If you’re gainfully employed (not a vagabond like us), I assume you could quote your income, whether that be an hourly wage, salary, commission, or whatever. Simply adding a year’s worth of that money together would give you a sum, but the question is, given the choice, would you consciously sell a year of your life for it? That is, after all, what you’re doing. Most people, however, fail to consider it. A strictly theoretical question? I’d suggest that it’s not.

Time, more rare than jewels

We all know people, some intimately, who are on a 2-5-10-20 year plan to go cruising. Many of these are folks that insist that they need to work another X number of years to save up enough money to cut the dock lines. It’s important to recognize that, in a situation like this, these people are essentially trading time for money. Time, a fixed asset, infinitely more rare and irreplaceable than the most precious of jewels, and money, pieces of paper or numbers in a bank account that can be acquired in an unlimited number of ways. We’re all aware that our lives are made up of a limited amount of years (months, days), or at least we should be. If you had insight into the exact number of months remaining in your life, each represented by a page on a paper calendar, would you tear off a year’s worth in exchange for a sum of money? If so, what would be your price?

In my mind, this discussion doesn’t solely relate to those in the early stages of cruising preparation. Think about those who are ready to go sailing now, and are boat shopping. When comparing two vessels, one that is virtually turn-key, and one that is a fixer-upper that will take 2 or more years of work to prepare for a voyage, what should the difference in price be for someone who is, with the right boat, ready to go cruising now? Most would add up the value of parts and labor to make the second boat seaworthy, but completely fail to add in any value for the years of their life that they are relinquishing while waiting for the project boat to be completed. A mistake? I’d say yes.

What is a year of OUR time worth? That’s a great question, but one that I don’t, and perhaps never will, have an accurate answer for. In spite of that, I do believe it’s worthy of some consideration.

50 Comments

  1. Very well true and in my mind a very healthy perspective. In fact, this is a big reason why we’ve moved from a 5-year plan to a 1-year (almost to the day now) plan. Seems like everyone we’ve talked to has said the same thing, “Once you go, you’ll wonder why you didn’t go sooner.” That and the important to pick an actual date (day/month/year) to go vs. we’ll go in 5 years or in 2020 etc…

    For for me, this post really hit the nail on the head. I’ve read your blog for a while now but felt I had to say thanks for sharing. We’re in a difficult phase for us at the moment, selling a house we love and working on the boat constantly in our ‘free-time’. It’s nice to have a little inspiration from someone who understands the motivations behind that. Thanks for sharing.

    -Erin

    • Hi Erin. Thanks for commenting! If I can share one bit of advice for you, it would be this: do pick a date that you want to set sail but keep that date to yourselves. As you likely know already, sailing and schedules don’t mix, especially that one. We knew people who found themselves under a lot of peer-induced pressure to leave the dock when their boat really wasn’t ready. Just my 2 cents.

      • Thanks Mike and good advice. Our goal is to have the big stuff done well in advance of our date and I think we’re coming to grips with the fact that it will never be 100%…so we’ll just whittle away as we go. Neither of us is the type that’s going to let anyone else dictate our departure date. It’s just a lot of moving parts with two jobs to manage our way out of and so much to coordinate, so for us ‘the date’ is the time to make those big moves away from work and onto the boat. To your point, from there, the rest will be dictated by our progress on ‘the list’ and our comfort level with both our and the boats preparedness.

        Thanks for the message and again, I really dig the vibe of this message. If the only thing keeping you from doing something you dream about, is $$$, then consider the costs of delaying it. For us, those costs go way beyond $$$. At least that’s what I took away from it, at a time when a little perspective was helpful. The process of downsizing and changing a well established life, is scary for most of us. Even when it’s to follow a dream.

        Fear is a mind killer…

  2. One factor seems to be missing from your equation: what if you have kids?

    Twenty years ago we were penniless – with two kids – but we KNEW that once the were off our hands, we’d sail into the sunset.
    One has already flown the nest, the other one within the next 12 monts.
    We bought a fixer-upper 10 years ago. All these years later, the boat’s as good as ready, and so are.

    Are all those years wasted? I think not.

  3. Wow Mike!

    Wonderful piece of writing – evocative!

    Kudos

    Bob
    s/v Eolian
    Anacortes

  4. Mike,
    A very thought provoking post.

    As I recently sold my business and was wanting to now be free. I considered myself healthy, pretty fit, I played competition racquetball. Could run up the length of my boat underway. And then I wasn’t! My hips went. It took several years to figure out what was happening. Cruising? Not really.

    Now I am recovering . I’m getting literally my life back. And boy am I grateful. Will I trade off another year, not on your life! I will go alone as my wife is unwilling to give up work. For me time has been shown to be finite. The question thrown at me is , cruising is unproductive what are you doing with your life. Travel and interaction. Cruise in winter, RV and motorcycle in summer. That’s my plan!! Thank God, I am able again to do it.

    So people, you may not have the time you think you have!
    Do it, and do it now

    Fred
    SV Lady J iii

  5. I always enjoy thought provoking writing. Nicely done! I had this same thought a few months ago. Since that time I’ve secured a year-long sabbatical, took sailing lessons, rented my home, sold my motorcycle, and purchased a 1989 O’Day 322. I spent my two-week spring break cleaning and sailing her. School lets out June 2nd and by June 4th I’ll be on board outfitting the ‘seaReed’ for my 14 month sailing adventure.

    I know exactly what I’ve spent so far and exactly how much money I WON’T be making during my sabbatical; Putting a dollar value on this adventure will be impossible.

    -t

  6. Great writing as always Mike. Powerful words that provoke deep thought.

    Thank you,
    Bill

  7. The worth of the time is only part of the story.

    If I invest now and spend two years fixing up a boat while still earning some money, how much less would I enjoy it than going out cruising now? Try putting a monetary value on that!

    And if I take the turn-key boat, what will I have to fix in the near future, which would already be fixed in the two years on the other boat? That changes the previous values again.

    How ready am I to go cruising now? Sometimes there’s a point in life, where we’re ready for a change. And sometimes, one needs to work up to the point where we feel comfortable with change.

    Am I willing to drop financial stability before discharging my obligation to child support and the loan-sharks to go cruising under the constant threat of those catching up with me? Or do I prefer to clean up my past messes before I run off?

    All those considerations are just as important as how much time I have left.

    And while it might look pathetic if I die while tinkering on a boat while dreaming of cruising instead of doing it, how much less happy was I?

    • Your reply seems a tad defensive. I hope I’m misreading that.

      The money part is simple math, IF you could figure out the value of your time.

      Note that in my example I wrote “…for someone who is, with the right boat, ready to go cruising now?”

      Any if you’re happy, truly happy, then that’s all that matters, isn’t it? But if you do die, what will you care if people think that you’re pathetic? You won’t.

  8. Mike, this (hopefully) hits home with a lot of those folks contemplating the jump to full-time cruiser status. Or ANY cruiser status. The Buddha quote is spot on. Time is a non-renewable resource, just how much sand IS there in left your hourglass?

    We met a fellow a while back on St John, he started by asking where we had rented our dinghy. No, its mine, I told him, we use it to get home, pointing out to our cat on the ball. Told him our story to that point. “Wow, I always wanted to do that” he tells me and I paused, then politely said: “No, I don’t think so.”

    We that are out there are the 1% of the 1% – 1% of people aspire to casting off the lines and sailing away and of those, probably 1% actually do it. Insert your reasons for not going here.

    The Yabuts: “Ya, but your kids are all grown”, or “Ya, but, your millionaires” (Check our website, we sure as heck ain’t!)

    Friends of ours cruised for 18 months many MANY years ago, on a 30 ft mono, no fridge, minimal electronics and their advice to us still rings true: “If you really don’t like it, you can always come back.”

    We’ve got into the 6-up, 6-down cadence and that works nicely for us, your results may be different. But I’ve said it before, the sunsets look just as pretty from the back deck of a 72 ft cat as they do from a 30 ft mono, drinks just as refreshing….OK maybe the cat has an icemaker.

    But go, and sooner than later. Go big, go small, just go. The rocking chair races will be there when you’re done with the adventure, and man, will they make great stories.

    Fair winds Mike, Rebecca, our wakes will cross at some point I’m sure.

  9. Bingo! Yes, well said Mike. How would I ever had put a price on another year waiting in Tennessee for my house to sell instead of taking a small step backward and buy a boat not quite what we wished but well worthy to have gotten us out here.

  10. Getting anxious to sell ZTC? 😉 Selling my boat was harder than I thought, and took MUCH longer than I thought, and I got a lot less than I wanted (35% below original asking price, because I got anxious to sell).

    But, to your point, I had spent a year living on a boat, not in a beige government cubicle. Totally worth it. More people need to be less scared.

  11. Mike: I remember i was at you home installing a basement door when you told me that you had decided to sell the gym and planned on going sailing . My reply was, if that is what you wanted then that is what you should do . I have followed the journey that you and Rebecca have chosen and all i can think of is ENVY . That is why i have chosen to sell my home and start my journey out west . Mountains , Trails , Horseback adventures and canoeing . Property is listed its just a matter of time my friend . Thank You for all you have done for me , what i have gained from your teachings and posts is priceless ,compared to what i paid .

  12. Many of us have known or heard of people dying much to early.
    To live life to its fullest daily would be a great Mantra for everyone.
    But….. Living life to the fullest is different for everyone.
    I would think that in comparing 2 vessels one would want to choose the vessel that best suits their needs in comfort, reliability and financially.
    Sometimes that might mean a fixer upper to that person, the refurbished boat is more desirable and the work put into possibly enjoyable for some.
    I don’t think you feel your last year a waste getting Frost ready for her big trip. Time and money well spent.

    • There is a value, monetary or otherwise, on all that time. People can only truly compare apples and apples, new boats with fixer-uppers, if they understand that. Whether or not it is well spent is a personal call.

  13. Trust me, we would have left yesterday if we could have. But there’s that pesky little matter of buying a boat that’s in the way….unless you’re a trust fund kid, you still have to save up to buy a boat that will take you where you want to go, safely.

    • True, and there’s no turning back the clock on that. You can only start when you start. Fortunately for me, the same martial arts instructor that I mentioned in the post encouraged me to start saving for “retirement” when I was 19.

  14. Great post! I’ve been preaching this to my husband the past few months. It’s time to quit work and get on the damn boat! He’s finally getting on board!

    • On board… figuratively, literally, or both? 🙂

      • Mentally … have to paint the non-skid, put all the deck hardware back on, then redo the plumbing, electrical, and a couple of bulkheads before moving onboard. We aren’t trying to get everything done before moving onboard, but wanna at least get these big, safety things done. We didn’t realize what a project boat we bought, but we’re learning a lot. Problem lately has been getting the mindset that it’s okay to shut his business down. The mental part of making the change can be tough, but he shares the same dream and it’s about that time to focus on these projects full-time. We’ve knocked out a lot these past few years, but ready to speed up the pace!

  15. Hi Mike,
    love that post and agree it certainly encourages people to think and evaluate. I feel there is a potential fault in your equation. You seem to assume the current live or pre cruising life has zero (pardon the pun) value and the cruising life is it 100% happiness. I feel that people who are completely unhappy and unfulfilled in their current, pre cruising state, will not achieve a great deal of happiness as full time cruisers. I am convinced it is a mindset that makes us happy and our surroundings modulates this happiness.
    As a 50/50 cruiser and Trauma Surgeon I see to many lives being put on hold for the elusive future that many of my patients do not see or only in a very limiting physical state.
    Therefore your post is very important in stimulating a reevaluation of our current situation and state of mind and an encouragement to implement changes if they are neccessary.
    cheers
    Nils
    PS I love your writing and its style and honesty

    • I largely agree with you, Nils. Thanks.

      Speaking only about ourselves, we would much rather be cruising at this time than fixing up a boat. As such, there is a cost associated with the time that we are investing in this project. It is not without value. If, on a happiness/fulfillment scale, cruising equalled 10 to us, and our time here only equals 4 (not zero, but 4), then the net cost is 6, on whatever scale you choose to measure that on. 🙂

  16. Loving the Maths
    There should be an APP where you can input happiness current/cruising, free time dollar value/boat fixing time dollar value and come up with a individual recommendation based on your boat, age and health…….
    We should talk to the MAC people 🙂 🙂
    cheers
    Nils

  17. What is a dollar worth? If you have a million, not much. If you have only one dollar to buy rice for the whole week, it is worth a great deal.

    So while I agree that time is irreplaceable, I would like to phrase the original question differently:

    If you had to set aside savings to buy one additional year of life, what is it worth? For example, would you be willing to give up all meals out, all movies, every car younger than 10 years, live in a poor neighborhood, no toys, and a whole lot more (perhaps adds up to $300K with compounding) for your whole life, would it be worth it? I would say no. On the other hand, if I’m asked to give up a mega-house, new car every 3 years, and other things I don’t covet, sure, maybe. What is the value of leaving an estate (would 200K be worth more to your kids than a year is worth to you?)?

    Hard questions.

    No right answer, just food for thought.

    • That’s another way to look at it. I would also suggest that the value of a year changes with your age, and your perception of how much time you have remaining. Note I said perception because how much time you have left is not solely a factor of your age. We all know many people die young.

      If a Dr. told you today that you only had 1 year left, I’d say the value of another year would increase substantially, and in this case, all those things that people deem important would drop in value like a stock market crash.

  18. Hi Mike, I keep thinking about how many years I waste raising my kids the traditional way instead of cruising with them. My kids will turn 13 and 15 this year and I know I stuck on the same way working M-F full time serving us and paying bills until kids grad schools to start their own life way. I met couples with 3 and 5 years old kids recently during picnic birthday party and wonder why they wasting their time like I did? Why don’t they grab their kids and go? They decide I am crazy because in emergency situation with kids no hospitals in 5 minutes distance in the ocean. I lost 10 years of my life to proof that it not worse it and kids could be much healthy and immune by living outside breathing fresh air without bunch of vaccinations which mandatory to enter daycares and schools. Education wise I would prefer home schooling instead of silly kindergarten and funny elementary school. Also small kids are all yours, they listen YOU and you have an ability to raise them your own way without peers pressure and society which affect them not always in the good way. If I can reverse time and get this shiny idea of cruising in my head and enough funds to start and support our livings and enough knowledge to do so, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so 10 years ago. Those 10 years didn’t worse the money I earn and the health I damage by eating all our processed food staffed with hidden sugar or chemicals which cause obesity, inflammations and cancer. I understand the way you brought it up, Mike. I know if I will be on the boat on my 50th birthday as I plan, I may not have enough time to enjoy it, but I definitely will use each minute of this time. All my liabilities will disappear when I gone and all my assets will be used by next holder, so life is good and short and I got what you say – the sooner you get it “out” then better for you, means for me now since I am on my way to cruising at least mentally feeling feed up with this perfect society and traditional way to handle life routine. I feel like a toy in someone else hands locked in my office, run all day long to get money to cover ridiculous bills… I want those sunsets you mention and to be fit like Rebecca and happy like both of you. I hope to waive you one day from my boat and scream – hey, folks, how are you? 🙂

    • Hi Roza

      I truly hope that my post didn’t make you feel bad about your present situation. The ocean will still be here for you when you’re ready!

      • No, Mike, definitely no regrets of present life conditions! We live in beautiful place, all stable and nice. I don’t think teens will appreciate being “grounded”on the yacht with parents instead of their city life, they need schools and society and many things at this age. My hubby said if we did cruising for last 10 years, we would come back with teens to financial zero to start all over again which may push us to think we made wrong choose ! 🙂 Whatever we talking about, we all need certain financial freedom first to start with life adventure or anything else 🙂 Understanding coming from different sides usually…. Once I saw a women on paddle board during our trip to Hawaii, I felt in love and purchase my own paddle board. When I am on my paddle board moving away from the shore, all smells of BBQ and gasoline and all noises disappearing and replacing by ocean wind and smell of freedom. I can only stand, sit, lie down and move slowly on my paddle board, but I can compare or multiplies my feelings on my paddle board with amazing feelings on my future yacht crossing the ocean towards new islands and adventure… I feel bad only about people who not using their opportunities in time or don’t understand what they loosing. I am glad you encouraging them also your own way not to delay their departure. Once we saw your journey, we felt in love with your way to live and really appreciate that you share with people your experience and especially exercises you manage to do together and in your small yacht space, very helpful for us to learn and follow! Your couple inspired us and I am happy that ocean will wait for us too 🙂 See you there? 🙂

  19. By the same token, what’s a day of your life worth? A day ( or two) sailing vs. a day working in the office or a day sitting home worrying about things you can’t change. Same principle no?

  20. I found this post to be super inspiring. I’ve been scheming like crazy to move toward a cruising lifestyle, even just for a couple-three years.

    You ask a couple of very provocative hypothetical questions. I think it is worth answering them directly. How much is a year of my life worth? I’d say $150K. Maybe even $200K.

    The problem I have is that there is no goddamn way I’m going to make anything close to that number. I can make about 50K, and at great personal distress. It’s definitely not worth it. Not even for a single additional year.

    The main problem I see isn’t this larger conceptualization of what time and mortality and all that is worth (they are beyond value)… it’s how to already have the resources to cut the lines and head out. This is the more difficult, impossible to define element that I’m not sure positive thinking and inspirational sloganeering can solve. The money’s just not there. The mindset is there. The frugal mindset is there. The minimalist land life is there. The money just isn’t there.

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