Monday, April 6, 2015

Update (downdate?): Ten bikes, One car

Last October, my husband and the boys went on a weekend road trip to visit a far-away daughter.  This little road trip ended up tipping us over the brink toward saving a bit more money on transportation.

For a year or two now, my husband and I had been toying with the idea of selling off one of our two cars.  For one thing, ever since I fell in love with the bike that I'd named the SPDM, we've been sort of grokking to a lifestyle that is increasingly bike-centric.   But even more, the boys are nearly old enough to get their learner's permits, and I will totally admit I've been biting my nails over the idea of seeing these ADHD, energetic, impulsive boys in charge of a massive machine-O-death.  Ditching one car would give us an excuse to delay their initiation into the world of motor-vehicle-operation.

So almost a year ago, my sons and I had had this little conversation:
Me: J-son, when you turn 16 in September, your dad and I are going to buy you your very own vehicle!
J-son: You're going to buy me a car? Wow! What kind?!
N-son: J-son, she's not buying you a car! Our mom is too fruuuuuugal!
Me: That's right, darling; I'm buying you your very own bike!
J-son: Awwwwww.
So, September rolled around, and with it, J-son's 16th birthday.  We got him a fab bike -- and for good measure, we soon got N-son his own bike, too. So now our family is decked out with an abundance of 10 bikes.

And a month later, on their way back home from their October road trip, my husband's old car died.  Kaput.  We used our AAA membership to tow it the rest of the way home, clean it out, and donate what was left of it to a local charity. We'd made the transition to a one-car family.

And y'know, the transition has been really okay.  In fact, it's actually been sort of nice.  Here are some of the things made cutting back so easy for us:
  • Living close to work.  I'm a 10-minute walk from my office.
  • Public transportation.  My husband's commute is more like 81 miles each way, but there's an Amtrak train station 2 miles from our home; my boy's school is 7 miles away, but they can usually take a school bus.  The train and the school bus are actually nicer than taking a car most of the time.
  • Bikes!  I buy groceries on my bike.  My husband and the boys bike to and from school on many of the days they have after-school events.  Especially during the summer, we go to social events by bike, which has the added advantage that we can arrive and leave at different times.
  • Calendars.  My husband and I have long had a habit of what we call "planner meetings" where we discuss upcoming events.  Now we add the car into that discussion.
  • Sharing.  J-son's recent Lacrosse practice means staying late at school, which means no bus; so we're grateful for car pooling.  And twice when my husband was out of town with the car for an Army weekend, a good friend let me borrow her car so I could go see K-daughter.  I filled the car up with gas as a thank you.  
  • Rental.  When I give math talks, the university that invites me pays all my travel expenses, and it's actually cheaper for them to pay for a rental than to reimburse mileage for my own car.  Go figure!  So I feel good about saving my host a bit of money on my trip, at no expense to myself, by renting a car for out-of-town travel.  
Mostly, though, I think the transition was easier because we'd been planning it out in our head for a while before we actually got to the break-down point.  So we had our plans lined up (not to mention, our bikes hung up), ready to go.


  1. Nice! We are a one-car family too, and it works out pretty darn well. We find that there is an issue only a few times a year, and we have always made something work via carpooling or skipping an event. I really love not having to pay for a second car. We're saving the money to buy a replacement when our remaining car goes kaput, as it's a 2004 model. I'm hoping it will last a good while longer, but we have flexibility just in case.

    Re: biking, can you do a post on your favorite accessories for helping you be more successful with biking? How do you carry your groceries, etc?

    1. Ooh, good idea on the bike-accessory-article idea. Forthcoming!

      (The short answer to your question about carrying groceries is "backpack", but like any good academic I can give a much longer, more nuanced answer than just that).

      2004 -- heck, that's almost new, right? Our remaining car is a 2001. And discussions about what kind of car might come next have already started. I figure we've got about 5 years to decide. -MM

  2. We delayed the teen driving and never bought our kids cars. My son is now 26 and refuses to buy a car (he's frugal too--and environmental). He rents one occasionally.

    We've felt fine about giving our children all sorts of treats over the years (plane tickets to faraway places, for instance) because of all the money we saved on insurance etc over the years. Tell your guys they can look forward to some treats!

    1. Hmmm . . . that's an angle I hadn't thought of. Come to think of it, that's how our parents sold us on taking care of ourselves once we got into our tweens, instead of having a full time babysitter, as we'd had earlier.

      Two of my kids -- my stepdaughters -- both got brand new cars from their mom when they turned 16. AND they get trips and such as well! But I have one daughter like your son: 25 and happy to be a pedestrian. (In fact, she hasn't gotten her driver's license). So that helps set an "it's okay to be automobile-free" example. -MM