'How I Saved $14,000 a Year in Rent'

I'm originally from Quebec, Canada, where winters are long and cold. Living on a boat was never something I could imagine back then. I was a car salesman with no trade skills or knowledge of sailing.

But I was desperate to see the world and decided to find work that would allow me to travel. I got a job on the west coast of Canada, working for the Navy in network infrastructure from a base in Victoria, British Columbia.

I rented my first apartment, but three months after arriving I discovered there was a community of local people living on boats. I thought it was such a cool way to live. Back then, I was constantly away from home. I was deployed to other parts of the world regularly and so was rarely even at my apartment.

Carly Jacobson and Mike Fortin
Mike Fortin and Carly Jacobson. The couple purchased a 38ft Morgan 382 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Fortin/Carly Jacobson

In 2014, I decided to break my lease and use my savings to purchase a tiny boat for $15,000. It was a really cheap way of living. The vessel was only 30ft and there were not a lot of systems onboard.

I didn't have a fridge, I had an ice box. I had no electric water pump or hot water. If I wanted hot water, I had to boil it. Luckily, the marina I was docked at had showers, laundry, and other utilities. It was a real hippy lifestyle and it was fun.

I left the boat after two and a half years. I knew I was going to be home a lot more and needed to save up to get a nicer vessel with a few more comforts. I decided to sell everything and get an apartment for a few years.

I moved into a one-bedroom flat which cost $1,100 per month to rent and I was paying around $200 in bills. Luckily, in Canada there are laws regulating how much landlords can increase their tenant's rent, so my payments stayed the same for five years. However, I believe a similar flat in the area would cost at least $1,800 to rent now.

I met Carly in August 2020. We hit it off instantly. This was happening at the same time as the world was entering the COVID-19 pandemic and we realized we were very like minded. Neither of us dealt well with isolation.

Our relationship really was instantaneous. It just felt like every moment was an adventure. Carly had been living at her mom's house and pursuing a career she wasn't passionate about. Shortly after we met, she decided to take a risk and move to the west coast in her 20 foot van.

Mike Fortin
Mike Fortin. Mike lived in Quebec before joining the Canadian Navy. Mike Fortin/Carly Jacobson

But as the pandemic continued and we became more isolated, it became clear to us that we didn't want to live in the very expensive, tiny buildings we call homes, filled with stuff we don't believe we need.

We really wanted to detach ourselves from that dependency of rental or home ownership. If the two of us wanted to move in together, we believe it would have cost up to $2,000 in rent, plus a couple hundred dollars more in bills.

The thought of being on a boat and having the freedom to go wherever we wanted felt so freeing. Plus with the idea of saving money each month, changing our lifestyle just seemed to make sense.

Within a month of making the decision everything was done. We only had a few weeks to sell everything, clear the apartment and move onto the boat. We had purchased a 38ft Morgan 382 which had all the systems and comforts we needed.

It's a sailboat, but the vessel has a 30HP diesel engine, which allows us to travel when there's no wind. We're able to use the marina to plug the boat into a power source, but when we're at sea we have batteries powered by solar panels, so we're fully self-sufficient. There's plenty of power to run our fridge and our water pumps.

Carly Jacobson and Mike Fortin
Carly Jacobson and Mike Fortin. The couple currently live on a sailboat docked in Victoria, British Columbia. Mike Fortin/Carly Jacobson

The boat cost $79,000. I paid a large chunk of the initial sum from my savings, but have managed to pay off the debt quickly given the money we save each month. It became clear to us soon that. given the rising cost of living in Canada, we had made the right choice.

Our docking fee averages at $650 a month. That includes sewage, parking, mail facilities and power. However, that's only if we're docked at the marina. If we leave for extended periods of time, which we often do, we don't have to pay.

Maintenance is a famous question when it comes to boats. The perception is boats are an expensive extravagance, but I don't believe that's the case if you live on one.

We think maintenance is really important. We want our home up to date. We've done a lot of work to it, but because we want to, not because we have to. We're preventing things potentially going wrong down the line. It's like buying an old house and updating the plumbing and electricity. Over the year, I'd say we're putting down around $500 of maintenance per month.

On average, we believe we are saving at least $1,200 a month by living on the boat, but probably more. Being debt free in such an expensive area, while saving that rent money monthly and having so much more freedom, has truly been a privilege.

Buying a house might be in the plans for the future, but right now, we don't like the idea of being tied up to something for 25 to 30 years. We know too many people stuck in jobs or situations they don't like, but who can't get out of their situation because they have massive mortgage payments.

At the end of the day, we'd rather have stories to tell, not things to show. We try to always step outside our comfort zone and let our adventures lead the way. We live life by going with the flow.

For right now we are happy living at the docks and saving money with full access to everything, but in the near future we plan to take off the ropes and see where the wind takes us.

Mike Fortin, 28, and Carly Jacobson, 22, live aboard a Morgan 382 currently docked in Canada. You can follow their journey on Instagram or TikTok at @thesaltygypsies.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.