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Managing Money: What Cruise Ship Pay Checks Taught Me

Managing Money
By Melissa Bondar

It’s been a while since we talked about cruise ships but I was recently reading a post somewhere that said you should try to live the first few days after you receive a paycheck the same as the last few days leading up to it (in terms of managing money). I laughed because I understood the idea but then I realized, I have never fully shook the mentality of getting paid once a month.

The cruise line I used to work for would pay you at the end of each month (or in cash on the day you disembarked, which really sucked and was sketchy as all get-out while you flew home with thousands of dollars if you disembarked near the end of the month).

When I started there, I was bringing home about $2700 a month (pretax) and trying to pay $1400 in rent and utilities in San Francisco, a credit card bill that had my last semester of tuition on it (approx. $7000 balance at the beginning of ship life) and still live some semblance of a life.


Though that semblance of a life was a joke because that first contract was the most ridiculous amount of work I ever did on ships – not only because I was learning how to do the job, but because the company legit overbooked the heck out of the theaters with all their charters and we were working illegal hours like…. every day for weeks on end.

Hmmm. I still seem to have some anger over that. Deep breath. Letting it go.

Anyway, when you only get paid once a month, you spend most of the month living like it’s the last few days before your paycheck. And when you do it for five years, you get kind of used to it.

I remember being in total shock about two years into ships when September came, I got paid and I was on top of things and still had money left over. I was so financially savvy back then, I thought, “I should probably buy a Macbook now.” And so I did.

Nonetheless, over time I learned to always be a month ahead in my bills, and that habit has stuck with me for years.

The other things I learned from cruise ships’ paychecks was the idea of a daily rate. Out in the real world, most people know how much they make an hour or what their annual salary is, but to me, money doesn’t make sense until I break it down into what I’m making per day. That’s how I know whether I’m progressing or not in life.

It’s also really easy to see the impact of a purchase that way. Can I afford $20 takeout tonight? Well, I made $191 today, so I guess so.

What is $1250 in rent, really? That’s about $41 a day, so I really need to make like at least $100 a day to get by in this place and still be able to eat and save a little and maybe do something fun once in a while (yay, NYC).

A $3000 trip at $90 a day salary is 34 days of work, before taxes, so like 40-45 with taxes.

But at $212 a day, it’s more like 15 days before taxes, so like 22 maybe? And that’s a lot better.

Breaking money earned and expenses into a day by day breakdown makes them seem way more manageable to me.

Also, I might only have to give up something I like for a few days to get the equivalent of something I want and counting down the days to success have always helped.

Have you ever worked at a job with weird pay periods? What did you learn?


Published in Collaboration with brokeGIRLrich

brokegirlrich TheatreArtLife

Also on by Melissa Bondar:

Useful Things To Do in your Downtime as a Stage Manager

Burnout in the Arts: A Millennial Perspective

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