Jared Soares for BI
Mina and Joe Coleman made about $250,000 a year and had $350,000 in mortgages.Then they decided to rent out their townhome and live on a boat with their three children. The couple now make less money and continue to split finances as Mina Coleman makes a career pivot.
This is part of our series Splitting the Difference, which examines the financial lives of couples.
For Joe and Mina Coleman, it made sense to combine finances at the beginning of their relationship since the entirety of their assets amounted to the jar of coins that Joe had saved up through college.
“We had about $45,” Joe Coleman said.
The couple met in Montauk, New York in 2001, during Mina Coleman’s semester abroad from Bulgaria, at a time when her future husband was working on his brother’s commercial fishing boat.
He finished architecture school, and the couple exhausted their resources going back and forth between Bulgaria and the US before deciding to get married and move into his parents’ basement in Fairfax County, Virginia. They purchased their first property with loans from family members: a townhome outside Washington, DC, that cost $190,000 in 2013 (in 2023, it has appreciated to about $400,000).
They share bank accounts and consider all income shared
Since then, they’ve kept shared bank accounts — one savings and one checking account in the US and a single account in Bulgaria — putting their varying income streams into the same pot and covering expenses from the same pool. As a couple, they’ve taken on debt for a townhome, two houses, two boats, a tractor, three cars, and Mina Coleman’s nursing degree.
Their first investment as a couple was for a mortgage on a house purchased for $280,000 in 2013 (with help from family members on the down payment) that they eventually paid off and sold for $420,000 in 2019. That sale relieved $350,000 of debt and allowed them to purchase and live on a boat with their three children for the next three years.
There have been times over the years when they’ve earned incomes closer in range, but today, living back on land, Joe Coleman brings in the bulk of income as they try to build an overseas business. Regardless of who is the current breadwinner, they treat all income as shared, and expenses from groceries and kids clothing to travel and home renovations are treated as shared as well.
Before the couple launched their boat-life chapter with their three children (then ages 9, 11, and 13), he was working as a regional director for facility management, earning a salary in the low six figures, plus a bonus, and she worked as a registered nurse, earning $60,000 a year.
Jared Soares for BI
After they bought a boat, he kept his job for two years, flying out of airports up and down the East Coast of the US to visit higher-education institutions during the week. His income, along with $1,600 of pretax income from renting out their townhouse in the suburbs of Washington — which is paid off, though they’re still making loan payments to a family member — supported them while they lived on a sailboat and went up and down the East Coast and down into the Caribbean.
They find creative ways to keep costs low
They kept costs low by anchoring to avoid paying marina fees, which can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 a month for a boat as big as theirs. At one point, after selling their boat at a small profit, which allowed them to purchase a catamaran, they also lived in a boatyard while repairing and restoring it.
“We used the showers that they use in case of emergencies if somebody spilled chemicals in their eyes,” Mina Coleman said.
On the seas, they found among the wide variety of boat families that they were considered middle income.
“You meet people that have more money than they know what to do with,” Joe Coleman said. “We are kind of at the lower middle income, and then you see people that have a boat that looks like it barely floats, and they use an outboard,” he said, referring to a type of detachable motor typically used on small watercraft.
While cruising in the Caribbean, they saved money by cooking everything — including making their own crackers — from scratch. They also homeschooled their kids and picked up odd jobs to boost their cash flow.
When a rift emerged in the family over whether to go farther out to sea across the Pacific, they decided to sell the catamaran, making a profit in June 2022 thanks to post-lockdown demand.
They’re looking toward the future and thinking optimistically
Jared Soares for BI
Today, Mina Coleman works as a freelance writer and blogger, earning affiliate income of less than $100 some months, and he works as a product coordinator, making less than six figures.
“Right now, we are not where we want to be financially, but we will get there,” she said.
She’s being supported in her freelance business by her husband, along with the income from the rental property they co-own. Altogether, they earn about half what they did before quitting their jobs to sail.
They dream of getting a Bulgarian brewery up and running in the next few years and letting their home in the Shenandoah mountain ridge continue to appreciate. Whatever their financial fortunes, they’ll split the winnings and losses evenly.
“If we go down, we go down together,” Mina Coleman said.
Business Insider confirmed the couple’s transactions and debt.