(by Capt Lisa Batchelor Frailey)
Why are all-inclusive vacations so popular? Because the majority of the expenses are paid up front, so you can fully relax on vacation and not worry about constantly shelling out money for daily expenses. If you’ve already paid for it, then it feels free!
This is especially true when you’re sharing expenses on a vacation, whether ashore or afloat. Even the best of friends have different spending styles and priorities, and nothing dampens the vacation atmosphere more quickly than constant questions of “Who’s paying for what?” On a bareboat charter, the cost of the boat itself comprises the largest shared expense, and is paid well in advance. Nonetheless, how you handle the collective daily running expenses onboard can make a big difference in your crew morale. Whether you’re a group of friends sharing expenses, or a couple wanting to maintain financial harmony onboard, a Charter Kitty makes sense. This is not a euphemism for Poker Night or a feline mascot, but a method of pre-paying shared expenses during your charter. Successful bareboat charter crews keep spending issues to a minimum and achieve that “all-inclusive” feeling by establishing a well-organized Charter Kitty.
As in most aspects of a smooth bareboat charter, a little advance planning goes a long way. Be sure to include the Kitty as a topic in your crew’s charter planning discussions; buy-in (pun intended) is important. The actual mechanics of running a Charter Kitty are pretty simple. If you can balance a checkbook, you can manage the Kitty! Every crew will find their own way to “skin the cat”, but here are some tips we’ve found useful on our charters.
How much is enough?
Estimate the cost of your charter’s running expenses. Consider provisions, beverages, fuel, ice, water, moorings, dockage, customs fees. Discuss what additional expenses you’d like to share; your crew might choose to use the Kitty for cocktails or a meal ashore. Try to decide this in advance, so you’ll have enough cash to cover. It’s better to overestimate and splurge a bit at the end, rather than ask for top-ups midway through the charter. Crewmembers should still carry cash or cards for personal expenses, with cash in reserve to contribute in the event a Kitty top-up is necessary.
Nominate a Purser
Remember “Gopher” from The Love Boat? He was the ship’s Purser – the one responsible for handling the money onboard. Your charter Purser will handle the day-to-day management of the Kitty. The Purser should be organized, and good at making change. The only tools needed are a separate wallet or envelope (to keep Kitty cash separate), perhaps a small calculator, and a tally sheet or ledger. We use a sheet that resembles a check register; hand-entries are simple to make, and it’s easy to decipher where the cash is going and how much remains.
Feed the Kitty!
Once you’ve estimated your cost, split that cost amongst the crew, and have each crewmember contribute their share. If you’re chartering in a country that uses US dollars, it’s often best if crew members bring cash, and pay the Purser once onboard. If a different currency is used at your charter destination, it may be best to pay the Purser in advance, have the Purser deposit the cash/checks to a debit account, and use the debit card to withdraw local currency at an ATM. You’ll get a better exchange rate than using most currency exchange offices. Just be sure the debit card is programmed to work at your destination! Alternatively, each crew member could independently withdraw at your destination, and feed the Kitty with local currency. A cash Kitty is generally easiest to work with onboard, however you choose to feed it.
The daily mechanics are quite simple. The Purser starts with a full Kitty kept in a separate envelope or wallet, and records the balance on the ledger. Whoever is charged with buying a service or product gets cash from the Purser, pays the bill, obtains the receipt, and gives the change and receipt to the Purser. If the buyer uses his own money (perhaps the Purser is off snorkeling!), he later presents the Purser with the receipt, and is reimbursed from the Kitty. The Purser records the item purchased and its cost, and calculates the balance remaining in the Kitty. It’s a good idea to keep the receipts for reference.
Top-Ups and Rollovers
The Purser should keep the Captain and crew apprised of the “State of the Kitty,” so you’ll know if you’re making ends meet – or if you need to modify the Kitty’s spending patterns. The ledger will point out where the money is going, so you’ll know what to target. In the event that expenses exceed your estimates, you’ll need to top up the Kitty enroute. This is the time to call upon the crewmembers’ cash reserves (see above “How Much is Enough”). If you’ve got Kitty cash left over at the end of your charter – great! There are lots of fun options for the extra cash. Splurge on your last evening, divvy up the money, buy a lottery ticket, or donate to a charity of the crew’s choice! Remember, since you’ve pre-paid, it feels free!
For families or couples not sharing expenses, running a charter kitty may still be a great idea – even if the cash is from your joint account. The pre-pay aspect helps you achieve that all-inclusive atmosphere, so you don’t feel like you’re being “nickel-and-dimed” each time an expense arises. For many charter expenses, using a cash Kitty is often the easiest option. Credit card companies often charge fees if the purchase involves a foreign currency. Some vendors charge additional fees to cover credit card processing, and others simply won’t accept credit cards, so be sure to have plenty of cash.
The greatest advantage to a Charter Kitty is minimizing onboard spending issues for a more enjoyable vacation and preserved crew friendships. But the advantage continues well after your charter. Keeping a good record allows you to review your expenses, targeting specific categories to help you streamline future costs. Apply your “lessons learned” to make the next charter even better. If you’re lucky, that winning lottery ticket purchased with leftover Kitty cash will pay for your next trip!