I'm not sure if this is common or not, but I can never seem to get more than +/- 20 ducats per year until around the 1500's and the only way I can do better after that is colonization. I've played as Portugal, Norway, and the Date, experiencing the same problems every time. I chase free trade and other techs that improve my merchant compete chance, but even having 5 merchants in the richest 3 CoT's around me doesn't seem to make much of a dent. On top of that, I'm constantly falling behind the rest of the map tech wise. I never mint anything in order to keep all money invested in progress, but always seem to be playing catch up. I keep my army small, usually around 5k men and little to no ships at all, with maintenance at zero. Is this common? What can I do to make more cash and keep tech up?