Payoff Team Member Jillian L. shares what she discovered about saving money working 371 days on a cruise ship.

I learned how to save money in a place I didn’t really expect — I learned to save on a cruise ship.

Sounds weird, right? When you list ideas for ways to save money, going on a cruise probably wouldn’t make the cut.

From the bow to the stern, every corner of the ship is another chance for you to spend more money. There are drink plans, fine dining, fancy shows, shore excursions, spa experiences and more. Quite simply, like an unseen iceberg, cruises can puncture a giant hole in your hard-earned savings and sink them down to Davey Jones’ Locker.

However, there’s a way for you to get a much different experience. I discovered how to save on a cruise ship because I went as an employee. I spent 371 days at sea and only spent $5,000.

I’m Saving Away

See (sea), until then, I was never much of a saver. When I was a kid, I earned an allowance of $1 a week for completing my chores. Rather than giving the money directly to his adorable yet irresponsible child, my dad would mark it down in a little notebook.

Each week my balance would grow. I had my very first “checking account.” But the second I’d saved up enough money, I would drag my dad to the toy store and buy a shiny new Barbie with my hard-earned chore money.

My older sister, on the other hand, never spent a dime. By the time she hit high school, she’d saved about $400. It took being trapped on a boat for more than a year for me to learn what she’d mastered by age 4.

I definitely didn’t immediately learn to save on a cruise ship. Steps 1 through 5 were that I no longer had to pay (1)rent, (2)insurance, (3)food, (4)gas and (5)car payments. All those basics were provided free by my employer.

So of course, that meant I could spend my entire salary on frivolous merriment. Duh.

I Obviously Didn’t Know What I Was Talking About

Over the first few weeks, The Storyteller in me acted like I was a passenger on the ship. I treated myself to spa experiences, shopped in every port and spent way too much money at the crew bar. Drinks were always on me.

Soon enough, pay day arrived and I lined up with the rest of the crew to collect my hard-earned cash from the Crew Purser. It’s actual cash too. They paid me in $100 bills like I was in a rap video.

Along with my salary, I also got my bill for onboard expenses. Within a couple of seconds, I had to part with a pretty large portion of that money. Leaving me with a much smaller stack of hundos. It’s pretty jarring when you have to give them back. It felt like super taxes.

Talk about a wake-up call. The tangibility of cash made my spending hard to ignore. When you’re spending imaginary money on a plastic card, it’s easy to forget that you’re giving away cash as cold and hard as the sea.

Slowly but surely, I began to learn the value of saving versus spending.

The Amazing Benefit of My New Saving Mentality

My new saving mentality allowed me to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do had I gone on a shopping spree each time we stopped in Bangkok, although, believe me, I was tempted.

Because I saved, my friends and I had a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting a Tiger Temple just outside of the city. We spent the day feeding baby tigers, playing with the teenagers and riding elephants down to a bathing pool where we all splashed around together. To this day, it’s one of the best experiences of my life. If I hadn’t learned to be a bit more discerning with spending, I may not have been able to participate in that amazing day.

Learning the value of savings helped me create a bit of a Cash Cushion when I returned to shore life, and also got me started on a down payment for a house. I never regret the money I didn’t spend at sea because I was able to create lasting memories while still being fiscally responsible.

So whether you save on a cruise ship by being a sailor for a year, working a side hustle or just being a bit more discerning in your spending, know that the results will be worth it. Sure, the instant gratification you get from buying something feels good — but it’s even more rewarding to treat yourself to something even greater down the road.

Written by Jillian L.  from Payoff’s Operations Team

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