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

If you live in Seattle (or any number of pricey areas around Western Washington) you’ve probably felt the sting of high housing costs. Whether you rent or buy – living, in general, is pricey. 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. KIRO-7′s Elle Thomas explores the creative ways Seattlites are saving money by trading monthly expenses for monthly experiences.

Seattle is one of the most expensive metro areas in the nation. From housing to food, transportation, and everything in between, there’s no shortage of high costs to live in this big city.

Now, people all over Western Washington are starting to break the cycle of – commute, work, cook, clean, pay bills, sleep, repeat – by exploring new ways to not only save money, but have a more leisurely life.

The top two options – taking up full-time residence on cruise ships and dipping a toe into the all-inclusive hotel pool.

Unconventional, sure. Possibly? Absolutely.

“I am currently packing to go for a month-long stay at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico,” said Ben Keenan as he sat in his Ballard apartment.

“Why?” asked KIRO7′s Elle Thomas.

“It is expensive to live in Seattle,” Ben laughed.

Ben Keenan is a born and bred Seattlite, but right now he is getting ready 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 in Seattle.

This of it like a social experiment.

“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 for an apartment in the greater Seattle area. 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.”

He tallied up his monthly expenses, only including things he would have at an all-inclusive resort to make the comparison.

Rent = $2300/month for a 500sqft one bed, one bath in Ballard

Utilities = $300

Wi-Fi = $40

Car + Insurance = $320

Food = $400

Dining out = $300

Drinks/Entertainment = $300

Gym = $40

Total: ~ $4000

Sound high? It’s not.

According to TripALink, the cost of living in Seattle is about 54 percent higher than the national average.

And a 2024 study from SmartAsset, the average salary needed for a single adult to live comfortably is $119,392. For a family of four, that amount is $283,712. Or $57.40 per hour.

The study used data from the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

Recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics show households in the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area spent an average of $93,905/year in 2021 and 2022. A significantly higher amount than the $70,052 national average.

Most of those costs went to housing ($33,090), transportation ($14,481), and food ($6,562).

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.

“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 added.

A Seattle-based company saw the TikTok and asked Keenan if he wanted to test it out.

He wasted no time in accepting the offer, securing a property for a one month stay, and starting to plan for the things he may not have – his everyday luxuries, like an in-unit washer and dryer.

“My boss was really supportive, you know, they saw what I was doing here and they’re like, yeah, you have the ability to continue to do the job that you’re doing, go enjoy the sunshine,” Keenan said.

While he’s there he’s keeping track of what he eats and drinks – placing a hypothetical dollar amount on everything based on what he would spend on groceries or to eat out in Seattle.

The goal is to tally everything up at the end to see if his number comes in lower or higher than his current monthly spend.

“Things are going to be a little more expensive, but you are paying for something that everybody does for you. So, while I’m paying for food here, I’m also paying for somebody to cook for my food there,” said Keenan.

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

The best part? 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 (he misses the rain).

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

So, yes, Ben has already proved it IS possible to live at an all-inclusive… and we know what you’re thinking, there’s no way other people actually live like that.

But they do.

“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 Seattle 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 (in Seattle),” they said.

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

“The last two years or so, it was 35-thousand (dollars) 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.”

Our KIRO7 crew took a cruise around one of Holland America’s cruise ships, docked in Seattle, to see what all the hype is about.

“We are kind of a floating city on the sea,” said Holland America Cruise and Travel Director, Erin Karpovich. “We’ve got the same kind of services you would find in land.”

Restaurants, pools, bars, hot tubs, cleaning service, games, live music, shows, ever a library – it’s all included in the base fare.

Of course, there are some extra costs, like if you want to buy an alcohol package, eat at specific upscale restaurants, or have someone do your laundry.

“If you’re ready for a little bit of adventure, why not castaway on your retirement on a cruise ship?” Karpovich smiled.

Admittedly we still weren’t convinced this way of life was truly cheaper, so we sat down for an e-visit with Redfin’s Chief Economist, Daryl Fairweather, to break it down.

“We like to say, this is a buyer’s market, this is a seller’s market… is this anyone’s market?” asked Kiro’s Elle Thomas.

“The 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 home cost in Seattle? $830,000.

“So just the principal and interest alone is $4,600 for a typical home in Seattle,” Fairweather said.

That doesn’t include property taxes, insurance, or HOA fees.

For a median-priced home, property tax would be around $735 per month, home insurance would cost roughly $230 per month, and the median HOA in Seattle is currently $360 per month.

Those extra costs bring the $4,600 figure to $5,925.

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

So, what about renting?

The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Seattle is currently sitting around $2,300 per month, a two bedroom is closer to $3,000 and higher.

But remember, whether you buy or own, there are just the base costs for living accommodations. You still need food, transportation, health insurance, internet, utilities, entertainment, etc.

A TripaLink study estimates Seattle residents spend $272 on utilities, up to $500 for food, $100 for those who use public transit, $200-250 for gas and another $75-200 for car insurance for those who own a car, roughly $325 on entertainment, and $200-450 on other expenses (including fitness, health insurance, clothing, haircuts, phone bills, cable/streaming).

Based on those numbers, the average Seattlite spends $1,500 per month on the low end on all of that. The number is significantly higher for a family.

With the “extras” a renter would spend $3,800 per month on the low end, a homeowner would spend $7,425.

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.