$$$ in Your Pocket

2 Oct
From biketoworkblog.com.

From biketoworkblog.com.

Hopefully that tag line did not lead anyone to suspect that a spammer has hacked my blog.  I’m not going to promise you big money working from home or ask you to send money to me to get more money later.

Here’s the thing: unless you make a lot more money than I do, having between $7,000 and $11,000 extra dollars per year would be a pretty big deal.  That’s at least $500 per month that you could spend on fun.  Or a house.  Or paying off your college loans.  Or an awesome vacation.

Where is Your Money Going?

You probably see where this is going.  According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), in the U.S. the average car costs $9,000 in fuel, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and taxes.  (See the CNN coverage here).  No, that doesn’t include the cost of buying the car in the first place.

If you drive a small car the yearly cost is closer to $7,000 per year; a larger SUV or equivalent costs over $11,000 annually.  If this seems hard to believe, I’d encourage you to make a spreadsheet and enter in every gas purchase, insurance payment, repair, oil change, etc.  It’s easy to not see how much these “little” costs add up, not to mention that major repair bill that comes now and then.

And what does the average bike cost to operate?  About $300 per year, and you can easily lessen that by learning to do some of the maintenance and repair yourself — and maybe canceling your gym membership.  So the average car ends up costing you about $25 a day to use; the average bike less than $1.  Even factoring in the cost of other transportation, including bicycling and transit along with the occasional car rental, you’d still be thousands of dollars ahead with one less car (the average American household owns 2.28 cars).

Location, Location

“But this is Richmond!” you are most likely saying.  How easy or difficult it is to go car-free or car-light does depend on where you choose to live.  Unless you live in West Broad Village (the “new urbanist” development where Whole Foods is) and never leave it, most of Richmond’s suburban areas are designed in a way that makes it very difficult to get around by bike.

But many neighborhoods the city proper, including its older suburbs like Ginter Park and Woodland Heights, are within easy walking distance of restaurants and shops and biking distance of most everything else in the city.  And of course it makes a huge difference if you live on a bus line or biking/walking distance from work.

Of course you may still want or need to drive somewhere not accessible by bike.  It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.  My family of three (two adults and one child) gets by on one small car mainly because my wife bikes to work and I bike to a car pool.  But we’re also not crazy about biking the little one to school in pouring rain or snow, and we have a deep affection for Trader Joe’s (we’re still keeping our fingers crossed for a bikeable second location — maybe at the old bus depot on Cary?).  Sometimes we even throw a bike on the car rack and do some of a trip by car and part by bike.  Even just choosing to use your car less will save you money on fuel, maintenance, and depreciation.

The rail and public transit system needs to be a bit better in Richmond to make it easy to go car-free entirely.  And I’ll confess: not having a car for every adult in the house does, occasionally, prove inconvenient.  I’d say once or twice a month it’s a pain for one reason or another.  But for us it’s far from being so inconvenient that we’re willing to take the equivalent of a huge pay cut to avoid it.  Aside from borrowing one from a friend, ZipCar is an option, as is a regular old rental for a longer trip.


The nice thing about going car-light or -free is that requires no commitment at all to try it.  All you have to do is decide: this week we’ll leave that extra car sitting and see how it goes.  If you do that, make a list at the same time of what you’d do with a few thousand extra bucks, not to mention the built-in exercise and happiness boost you get from biking.

Using your car less does mean using your bicycle differently, or possibly getting a different bike.  Even a bike imported from Denmark that can carry a week’s worth of groceries costs way less than the cost of maintaining your car for one year.  More on that soon!


3 Responses to “$$$ in Your Pocket”

  1. Bobbin and Sprocket (@BobbinNSprocket) October 29, 2013 at 12:08 AM #

    Hi there! I just came across your blog tonight whilst doing a search for bike commuter blogs for Richmond. I was just in town visiting over the weekend, having not been back in Richmond for the last several years. Richmond is my home town, but I currently live in Johnson City, TN. I am a year round bike commuter going on my 5th year of being more or less car free. My husband and I are a single car family, with that car being our company work van. I didn’t start bike commuting until after we had moved to TN, and strangely enough not until after coming to the conclusion that this must be a terrible area for cycling because I never saw anybody on a bike! Maybe every now and again I would see someone from a cycling club on a training ride, but that was about it. But over the last 5 years I’ve come to discover that this is actually a really great town to travel around in by bike and that there is a strong and growing commuter (as well as racing and cyclocross) community here. If you are ok with having to take some scenic back country routes to get from one side to the other, or if you are ok with not always having a bike lane it’s actually pretty good! And that’s where I noticed the difference between my two cities when I came home to visit. I had spent all this time away from Richmond thinking, “man, I bet Richmond, being much more forward thinking that little old hillbilly town JC, has put in bike lanes, and I’ll see people all over the place getting around by roadsters and cruisers and bakfeits…” and so forth. Boy was I wrong! I was glad to see the sharrows around in the fan and on Monument, but where are the bike lanes? Or at least wide paved shoulders? Or bike racks at Maymont? I was having dreams of coming back to visit and being able to bike from downtown, out Broad and down Parham to Chippenham out to Hugenot into Bon Air to visit my sister, but is that even possible? Would drivers run me right over if I were to use my bike as if it were any other vehicle and ride right in the lane like I can here? Have I become spoiled in a town that I had wrongly accused of being far behind other cities in the bike friendly department? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you guys! And hopefully things will improve by time I come back for my next visit. Because having to drive that big van around town is no fun! 🙂

    • bikeablerichmond October 29, 2013 at 1:12 AM #

      How I wish it were as you had hoped here in Richmond. Getting to Bon Air by bike is not at all easy, you’re quite right, although at least the Huguenot Bridge is much better now. I will indeed hope that more is in place when you return!

  2. jarendt October 3, 2013 at 12:41 AM #

    AAA has a brochure to estimate how much money you could save by cutting back on driving. Cutting back five thousand miles a year saves about a thousand dollars a year.

    AAA includes the cost of buying the car in the depreciation part of its total. Depreciation is calculated based on the difference between the price of the car new and sold after five years.

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