I have enjoyed riding a bike from the very first day I learned how to ride one, somewhere around the age of five. It is such a marvelous invention to use human-powered effort to propel a machine down the road, at greater speeds than you could possibly achieve by running. This is almost as exciting as the concept of solar power panels to me.
A picture of my bike of 25 years that I sold last weekend (I ride my mountain bike and eBike)
Over the last 7 years we have taken a very detailed and critical look at all of our expenses. Of course, the two biggest expense categories are typically housing and transportation. I am guessing that, for most people, taxes are a close 3rd place.
We took a hard look at these costs and consciously decided that we would spend far less in these categories than our peers, and definitely less than what we were able to afford. We practiced an approach using our understanding of how the hedonistic treadmill had impacted us and reflecting on our lives, enabling us to see that many of today’s modern conveniences have become the default in today’s world. It seems that modern culture dictates that you can’t live without a smart phone, tablet, internet, cable, granite countertops, and an open-concept kitchen. A good example of this luxury-becomes-need is the number of cars per household in America. In the past, the mother would stay home – raise the kids, cook, clean, and more – while the husband drove the family car to work.
The new normal seems to require at least one car per driver in the household – or more! Of course, people don’t have room to park the cars in the garage because they are packed full of other purchases they no longer need. We thought we would turn that trend on its head and do something different.
I have always tried to live fairly close to work
I was used to riding my bike when I was in my early teens. It was not uncommon for me to ride 10 to 20 miles in a day, to go to a friend’s house or to simply to explore the city. Once I turned 16 and I got my license, the bike riding frequency was reduced for many years. My bicycling became a means of exercise and enjoyment rather than my primary transportation.
Fast forward quite a few years: I renewed my interest in bicycling and joined a cycling team. This motivated me to begin riding to work, showering at the office, and then suiting up for the day’s work. After work, I would go for a ride with the team, anywhere from a 15-40 mile ride. Once I completed cycling with the team, I would ride home. I did this several times a week for years.
I continued to ride my bike long after moving away and leaving the cycling team, mainly for exercise and running short errands. I started to kick around the idea of going to one car after reading a great book called How to Life Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish. We thought we would test this concept first by parking the car we were considering selling in the garage for a month without driving it. It was amazing how little impact that experiment had on our lives. It was helpful that my wife’s job was within three miles of our house, so it was not that difficult for her to occasionally bike or walk to work. I worked remotely from home and did not have to commute to an office.
So, about 5 years ago, in the midst of our debt snowball and living on an island in the SF Bay, we decided to downsize from two cars to one!
We pulled the trigger and sold the car. We have been a one-car family for many years.
A sister photo of our one car for most of the last 3 years (“Hansel” is 6 years old)
Putting into practice a one car lifestyle
We knew that our time in California was limited and that we would be moving to Sedona as part of the excellent master plan (Imagine Mr. Burns saying “excellent”.) 🙂 The island we lived on was absolutely flat and it was very easy to get around. I tried to walk to as many places as possible that made sense. If I didn’t have the time or it was too far, I rode my bike. We also had a bus stop 100 feet from our front door that took us to a BART station only 5 minutes away. I could also walk and bike to BART. When buying that home the location to mass transit and walkability was a huge consideration.
It soon became a game and challenge of how long I could go without even riding in a car. It is amazing what you can do when you try. I can remember going weeks without actually driving a car at all.
I was in the middle of my one car per family lifestyle when MMM’s classic post What do you mean you don’t-have a bike came out. An interesting comment he made about this post that really hit home for me:
“But if I had to strip it down as far as possible, down to just one single action, and I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything else, the choice would still be simple: “Ride a Bike”.” After 13 months and 200+ posts.” – MMM
We did have some unintended consequences to deal with – the comments and negative image that multiple co-workers had about us owning only one car. They certainly felt we must be in some financial trouble. If they only knew!
I soon developed a whole new mantra that was epitomized by this drawing by Andy Singer that was posted on my office wall:
This artist’s graphic had two meanings for me. The first was – unfortunately that was the kind of successful man I had become and I needed to get running from that lifestyle as fast as possible! I need to keep saving and investing. Secondly, there is something simple about just walking and not having all those other distractions; an unconnected existence. It reinforced my new walking and biking lifestyle.
We knew the move to Arizona was going to become a reality. In a period of two weeks after my wife’s interview with her new employer and a job offer, we left California. We went from an almost perfectly flat island to 4500 foot elevation, without a level road anywhere.
In Arizona we have a hill out of our driveway, block, street, and to every local destination. Now the biking has become a bigger challenge, fortunately many of the places we visit are within walking distance. Even with these changes, in the last 3 ½ years we have been with one car for 2 years of that time. We are now considering going back to one car again fairly soon. We have proved that we can do it. Today we also have “Jack” (a Ford F150) and “Jill” (a 24 foot camper trailer) which will be our only vehicles very soon.
Some benefits of a one car lifestyle
There are definitely some benefits to sharing one car in the household. Here are a just a few we experienced.
· Cost savings
Say goodbye to insurance, depreciation, repairs, fuel, and the new car smell. Consumer Reports states that it costs $9,100 per year or $758 per month to own a vehicle. That is a lot of money to drive from point A to point B. Invest that $9,100 for 30 years making 8% and you have $1,019,549. You are a millionaire by simply being a one-car household.
You often see comments like: “But my situation is different and I can’t do that because my work is too far away, the weather is bad, etc.” I say it is really about choices of where you work and live. I know that if we can do it, most people can too.
It is strange that the more you walk and ride your bike, the less difficult it is to maintain your weight. Heck, if you have a 5- to 10-mile ride to work each day, just riding would probably be enough to cancel the gym membership.
There is more room in the garage!
We turned half of our garage into a gym with some speakers for the iPod/phone, mats, a weight bench, weights, bands, and, of course, our bike rack.
It is possible with some planning
I truly enjoy riding my bike. It is something I have done for years and plan on continuing as long as possible. The benefits of the exercise and fresh air coupled with the cost savings are enormous.
What is important is to have an understanding spouse who will also be willing to ride on occasion. There is a great post over at Brave New Life discussing how important it is for the person with the idea to give a 90% commitment to the solution when going to a one-car family. I have attempted to demonstrate that 90% so that my wife would not be forced to walk or ride to work.
My health and attitude have definitely improved with riding. I do a ton of hiking in the area, so biking is a great way to do some cross-training. I also mix things up with yoga and weights.
The overall lowered cost and hassle of maintaining two cars is reduced when you are down to one vehicle. The ROI on a savings of $758 per month on a car buys a very nice bike in one to two months. After that, there is very little ongoing cost to maintain the bicycle. For us, it makes it much easier for us to lump that money toward our passive income investments, helping us reach our goal of early retirement.
Are you a one-car household? If not, have you considered becoming one?