One of the popular myths about working on cruise ships is that we have no expenses. Sure, food is provided and we don’t pay for commuting or rent or electricity but life isn’t as simple as that. You still need toiletries, internet, laundry and for most people, alcohol. And then there are luxury purchases. People like to own stuff. And of course, you are traveling so naturally you’d need to spend money to do touristy stuff at ports. Nevertheless, it is probably easier to save money as there are less temptations and the alcohol is duty-free. Having said that, if you were content to live in a windowless room the size of a closet, cooked all your meals at home and were frugal about other needs, you would arguably save more money, if you were doing a similar job in a developed country.
Cruise ships these days are like floating resorts, equipped with many opportunities to spend money. There’s a mall, spa and a number of paid specialty restaurants which many crew have the opportunity of patronizing as well. I’m reasonably disciplined at managing my spending especially since I’m not that fussy about food. There was one time in university where all I ate for an entire month was Vegemite on toast. Admittedly this was because I was poor and didn’t have much choice. On the bright side, I looked very slim by the end of the month.
That’s sort why now, I’m usually satisfied with crew mess food. Because I know it could be much worse. Its actually taken me 4 months before I started getting bored of the multiple varieties of rice with possibly pet-food grade meat that is served to us. I now try to avoid any red meat because I’m unable to identify it. Or pork because I’m fairly sure those pigs died of obesity.
Another curious oddity about crew members is how freely they spend money when on shore leave. They will take taxis to tourist traps where they happily part with their hard-earned money for over-priced drinks and average quality food. Perhaps that’s what they need to feel like they too are on vacation, so who’s to say what is the right or wrong way to spend your money. Obvious, not all crew are like this. In fact, some are the complete opposite, opting instead to be very frugal with their money and refusing to spend money at ports. To each, his own. But it’s a bit of a shame to visit a place and not see any of it. Then again, not everyone on ships are here to travel.
My personal vice is online shopping. Since our home port is in Florida, we have a mailing address there for crew mail, which is collected once per cruise. The best thing about online shopping on US sites is that you can usually get free shipping. So not only do you save money but it’s like receiving gifts every month. So far I have splurged on clothes, electronics, gym supplements. You’d be surprised how much you can spend despite having “no expenses”. End of the day, we all need to find our own balance of comfort vs frugality.