From high mortgages to the high seas: Trading monthly expenses for monthly experiences

Living in the Boston area, most of us have felt the sting of high housing costs, whether you rent or own. But what if there was another option? A way of life where you can spend less and, get this, you don’t have to cook or clean either. More people are getting creative and saving money by trading monthly expenses for monthly experiences.

What does that look like? The top two options are taking up full-time residence on cruise ships and dipping a toe into the all-inclusive hotel pool.

“I am currently packing to go for a month-long stay at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico,” said Ben Keenan. He says he’s trading in his hectic life in the city for the trip of a lifetime: Packing up to live at an all-inclusive resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for one month, to see if it is truly cheaper and easier than his current daily grind.

“It’s a hypothetical, of course, that somebody could live this type of lifestyle for cheaper if they have the ability to do so,” Keenan said.

The idea came about while Keenan’s friends were searching and they were stunned by the high cost for a two-bedroom rental.

“So, we kind of joked around, like at this point, you know, it would just be cheaper to get a hotel room. And, you know, is it cheaper to get an all-inclusive hotel room? Or what if we could go live by the beach?” said Keenan. “I decided to look it up for myself and, shockingly, it wasn’t that much more expensive.”

A 2024 study from SmartAsset found the average salary needed for a single adult to live comfortably is $124,966 in Boston. For a family of four, that amount is $319,738.

The study used data from the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

We asked Keenan how he felt about paying $2,300 per month for a 500 sqft space.

“It is jarring, to say the least,” Keenan said. “It’s something that I never thought I would actually do. But once you end up paying month over month over month, you kind of just… it’s a part of your daily routine, right? I use every inch of space that I have because I paid for every inch of space that I have.”

After he broke down his housing costs, he went online to see if he could find an all-inclusive resort within the same range or cheaper. He found a lot.

Keenan made a TikTok video about his findings, and it went crazy.

“People never considered the fact that there is an alternate way of living,” Keenan said.

The Burk family says for them, it’s not hypothetical, it’s their way of life.

“For us travel life is normal living,” said Angelyn and Richard Burk from their cabin on a cruise ship. “We’ve proven to ourselves we don’t need a house; we don’t need a home base; we don’t need a car.”

Angelyn and Richard Burk sold their home years ago… trading a high mortgage, for the high seas.

“We had two incomes, we saved one income, and we lived off the smaller income, our yearly costs were close to 75 thousand a year,” they said.

But since they’ve been cruising, that number has changed drastically.

“The last two years or so, it was $35,000 or less a year,” they said. “It’s incredible how you can make that so much more affordable when you bundle in your food, your entertainment, your transportation.”

Redfin’s Chief Economist, Daryl Fairweather, broke down the numbers for us.

“The (housing) market is fairly balanced right now,” Fairweather said. “I don’t think it feels good for anybody.”

According to a recent Redfin study, buying a home costs more than ever, with prices hitting all-time highs and mortgage rates rising.

The median mortgage payment in the metro Boston area at the end of 2023 was $4,855 according to Redfin. That doesn’t include property taxes, insurance, or HOA fees.

“I mean, you would have to be making $200,000 to comfortably afford that,” Fairweather added.

So, what about renting?

The average rent in the city of Boston this spring was $3,079 according to a study by Harvard University and Boston Pads.

But remember, whether you buy or own, those are just the base costs for living accommodations. You still need food, transportation, internet, utilities, entertainment, etc. The average person spends about $1,500 per month on the low end on all of that. The number is significantly higher for a family.

On a cruise or at an all-inclusive, all the “extras” are included – a big draw for retirees and remote workers.

For a cruise, there is a huge range in pricing depending on what you choose. According to Cruise Critic, a budget-friendly trip could run as little as $50 per day, not including taxes, fees, and tips.

Realistically, that number ends up being closer to $100 per person per day if you share an inside cabin, or roughly $3,000 per month.

There are also several ways to save even more. Many cruise lines offer special promotions and have loyalty programs, so the more you spend the more nights you can get for free.

For an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, there are a wide range of budget-friendly properties ranging from $100 to $200 per person per night. Bringing the total to $3,000 per month on the low end.

Travelers can also use credit card points to book free room nights at both all-inclusive properties and cruises.

Another perk – not having to cook or clean.

Of course, there are some extra costs associated with all-inclusive living like eating at one of the upscale restaurants, laundry service (which can run upwards of $30) or purchasing an alcohol package on a cruise.

For some, a seemingly small price to pay, to live large.

“People think life is expensive. I got to do what I got to do. You don’t have to stay where you are. You could live a different quality of life if you wanted to reinvent the thinking of how a traditional life is supposed to look,” Keenan said.

A Seattle-based company saw Keenan’s TikTok and helped him test out his theory.

We checked in with Ben at the two-week mark. So far, his budget was on track.

The best part according to Keenan? Not having to cook or clean, “I didn’t realize how much time I spent planning, cooking, paying for food, the best part by far is that I don’t have to think about anything except what I want to eat,” he said.

He said he wasn’t sick of vacation life, but he was starting to feel a little homesick.

You can track his day-by-day journey on TikTok and Instagram @benkeenan.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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