The Month I Paid $30/mile to Drive

carfreerd2

It’s feeling like 2011 here all over again. We just returned our cable box – a ‘yeah! North American sports coverage’ purchase for my husband when we moved back to Canada. And, yikes, we just sold the minivan we bought at the same time. No, we’re not in a big old mountain of debt like we were back then. This isn’t a simplify our life and save money plan like it was back then. It’s mostly rooted in common sense.

Cable: my husband is away most of the next year. We won’t get much use from our cable box. Confession: I have on occasion watched some HGTV when up with a sick kid. But that’s certainly not worth $80/month. So we’re back to just the Apple TV which is plenty of at home entertainment.

The car: we paid around $30/mile in the last month to drive. Insurance is $150/month, our parking stall is technically worth $100/month and we had a $453 maintenance bill. I’m not even going to calculate the money we have tied up in our car and what it could be earning us either as an investment or as saved interest if we put it on our mortgage. Our one trip in the last four weeks by car was out to an Air Park for a birthday party. Fun time but $703 for the 40 minute roundtrip drive seems rather steep.

We primarily bought and used the car for the school run last year. And then we got our Yuba Mundo cargo bike in the late spring and the car only did the school run on rainy days. My oldest son moved schools this fall and is now able to walk. So the car wasn’t getting much use. I’m solo parenting most of the time these days and prefer taking the kids places on the bus or skytrain, by bike or just on foot with the older two on scooters and my youngest in a stroller. We don’t need a car for 95% of our life. So it just made sense to sell our car.

Using common sense still feels a bit scary. There is a bias here in North America that families need cars. Even if your day to day needs are met by other transportation modes. What if there’s an emergency? That’s what many people ask. Well, if it’s a true emergency I’m calling an ambulance. Otherwise I call a taxi. A $3o taxi ride or an $80 day rate for a car or $2.75 for the bus – all options that are cheaper than owning a car that you’re not using regularly.

We have LOTS of car share options in Vancouver. There are four car sharing options in my neighborhood: ZipCar, Modo Car Coop, Car2Go and Evo Car Share. Yes, it’s a pain to drag two car seats and a booster to a car and install them before driving. But when you only drive once or twice a month as a family, it’s not so bad. Plus I’ve got my cargo bike, bus, skytrain, scooters and Mobi bike share. So many options for getting around with or without the kids along.

And the money side is compelling. We’ll rent our parking space out for $100 and that plus not paying $150/month in insurance should be a fine transportation budget. So no gas costs, no maintenance or repair and the proceeds from selling the car (substantial – it was a 2012 Honda Odyssey) are now working for us instead of sitting in the car and depreciating.

I’ll admit it’s daunting to go car-free this time around. We have three kids and two of them are still in car seats. Our middle child has a very slim build and I don’t think he will be ready for a booster for quite some time. So I’m coming up with some less painful plans for dragging car seats a few blocks (I like this and this plus the first would be great for Costco runs on foot). The nice thing is that I know others with 3 or more children are also car-free and loving it.

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  • Google mifold – it’s a booster that packs flat and goes in a child’s backpack. You’ll still need the carseats for a while but at least the booster won’t be a problem.

  • I know I am a broken record on this blog about our mazda5… This has to be the 7th time I have mentioned it… But anyway- this post was a really helpful reminder! I always feel claustrophobic on road trips with our mini-minivan, and every summer I get antsy for a “real” minivan. This is a good reminder that it is still cheaper to rent a minivan for our long road trips, than to sell our mazda5 and buy a bigger car.

    Day to day the Mazda5 works fine and common sense says keep it. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I see our neighbours with 4 kids (ages 7-13) driving a Mazda5. Looks like a great option for big families.
      We are giants (6’5″ and 6 ft) and with a rear facing car seat in the middle row we were pretty limited on options. If we need a car in the future and I would even consider a spacious sedan. Doesn’t give us car pool options but the $$ savings :)

  • So I have a few questions for you. Just wondering how you handle things like hauling stuff and emergency trips that aren’t necessarily medical in nature.

    I drive very little – I think I’m at about 450 miles so far this year. 26 year old Honda Civic that’s long ago paid for, $45/month insurance. And I’ve often thought that the car is a waste of money. Still, I’m reluctant to get rid of it because a) it doesn’t cost much, b) I haven’t figured out a good way to haul heavy things otherwise without it being a massive pain in the rear, c) sometimes there are emergencies that aren’t covered by ambulances, and d) I don’t want to deal with trying to hike or bike through the winter snow. No car-sharing in my area, and public transportation in my part of town is a joke.

    Perhaps it depends on what sort of things one needs to haul? I mean, for regular groceries I can easily manage on my bike or on foot – but it’s the heavy stuff I can’t figure out. I regularly buy 20-40 pound bags of kitty litter, birdseed, and other pet-related items. I’ve looked at ordering online, and while I do buy some stuff that way, for most of those heavy bags of stuff, the shipping cost is quite prohibitive. Plus, there is the emergency factor – they don’t have ambulances for cats. And then there’s the home repair aspect – trips to the hardware store are one of my major uses of the car… and when you’re in the middle of a plumbing disaster or something, it’s just hard to imagine having to wait for a taxi, or setting out on a several hour bike expedition, only to discover that you got the wrong part and need to go back. And maybe I’m just lazy, but when there’s a foot of snow on the ground, I really don’t want to deal with hauling things by hand. And what if I need to run over to help my folks with something in the winter – not an unusual occurrence…

    Anyhow, I’m really not trying to be a naysayer here, I’m just genuinely curious how you deal with those sorts of issues.

    • Hauling stuff: the car shares rent trucks and such by the hour. Plus have a walk score of 90+ where I live and we can haul some moderately heaving things with our stroller. It really hasn’t been a problem. Costco is a five minute walk away and a box of diapers fits nicely in the second seat of our stroller. We also use grocery delivery which is worth the $8 delivery fee for not having to drive, park, shop with 3 kids along.
      Emergencies: it’s a $15 cab ride to Children’s hospital, $8 to the regular hospital.
      I think if it cost us less to run our car – we had a relatively low insurance premium for our area at $150/month plus our parking spot essentially costs us $100/month in lost income – it might be worth owning an inexpensive sedan that could fit 3 car seats across instead of using car sharing at $10-$13/hr. But it is very expensive to own and run a car where I live.
      We have to drive to very little which makes the no car life pretty easy! Our biggest hurdle is the car seats.

      • Very interesting. It sounds like your decision makes great sense for you, both financially and convenience wise. The car seat thing does sound challenging though. Maybe there’s some business opportunity out there for car seat sharing? Can’t quite picture how that would work! Too bad cars don’t come with built in car seats – seems like that would make everyone’s life easier.

        I’m totally jealous of your neighborhood’s walking score. My neighborhood gets a 61 walk score and a 40 for transport – not terrible, but not anywhere near 90. Grocery delivery sounds very interesting – I’ll have to check to see if we have that or not. Last time I looked it was $25 plus extra fees for big items or large orders, which seemed pretty steep.

        I live in Denver, which is undergoing enormous growth at the moment, and there’s great fighting between the people who want more parking/car infrastructure and those who want to create a city where having a car isn’t necessary. The city council recently voted to deny developers the ability to build new apartments without building parking with them – a very controversial decision, and needless to say, those of us who favor fewer cars weren’t very happy with it.

        It just feels like we’re caught in a chicken and egg situation. Even die-hards like me are reluctant to give up their cars because there are some things that are just very difficult here without one. But at the same time, how will we ever create a city where cars aren’t necessary if we insist on building cars into our infrastructure? We’re starting to see some car & bike sharing, as well as light rail – but it only serves select neighborhoods, and the focus always seems to be on getting people in and out of downtown, rather than transportation to help with day to day stuff. Plus, we have a crazy sidewalk situation where somehow it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to provide and maintain sidewalks, not the city’s – so as you can imagine, the network leaves a bit to be desired. You pretty much have to be ready for a hike if you want to walk, especially in the winter, and using any sort of a rolling device is iffy at best.

        I’m hopeful that things will change, even if it’s slow. But I also think there are cultural things that need to happen. For example, I’m absolutely terrified of the idea of taking a cab. Getting into a car with a person I don’t know? It scares the pants off of me. I’ve done it once in NYC, and had a pretty bad experience. I also don’t know anyone who’s taken a cab more than once or twice in their lifetime – it’s just not part of our culture here. Perhaps if things like that felt safer and more “normal” it would be an easier transition. Just curious, if you call a cab, how many hours do you have to wait for them to get there?

        Sorry to ramble, I just enjoy hearing other people’s perspective and experiences on this stuff because it helps me to picture what might be possible – and gives me ammunition for when I whine at our city council members! Because if more of us could figure out how to ditch our cars, I think we’d all be so much better off!

  • Good for you! I love when people make smart decisions about cars and money!

    I was going to suggest this car seat bag with back pack straps but it’s not practical for 2 seats. If you have one it could work and then you store the seat in the bag at home keeping things nice and tidy. The wagon seems like a winner!

    https://www.amazon.com/J-L-Childress-Ultimate-Backpack-Padded/dp/B0009RNXNA/ref=ice_ac_b_dpb?ie=UTF8&qid=1477625078&sr=8-4&keywords=car+seat+bag

  • Love the car free life! We’ve been car free since we moved to Vancouver 12 years ago (ours didn’t pass aircare and we didn’t have the money to fix it up…bye bye car!). We have two little children (9mo and 3 years) and this hasn’t been a problem at all. In fact having children just meant that now we have a stroller for hauling stuff instead of carrying everytging. We have a Modo membership, but very rarely use it (I hate dealing with car seats!). We are lucky that in Vancouver there really is no need for a car. Many places are not so lucky and just don’t have the necessary infrastructure. Great post!

    • Melanie: great to meet another car free Vancouver family! There are more and more of us each year. We are lucky to have such great public transportation although as I read comments I am reminded that we pay for it with high density and expensive housing. A trade off I am happy to make :)

  • Congrats! We are car-free with two young kids (4 and 2) and love it. And I have the same answer in case of emergencies–ambulance, taxis, uber, or a neighbor–there are many options. It will be even better once the kids don’t need car seats, but it hasn’t been a huge deal for us as in town we only bike or walk. Happy cycling!

  • We have strapped a car seat (a large Britax one!) to a carry on sized rolling suitcase to get it through the airport and it was amazing and only cost $7 for the luggage strap, but might be tough with 2 seats, unless you have a more robust suitcase than us! But then you would you have to store the suitcase in the car, etc, etc….
    Loved this post. Even with just one kid I will avoid having to load him up in the car for an errand at all costs, I would way rather walk if we can! I can’t imagine wrangling all the kids into their car seats. You guys are such an inspiration!

    • That’s a smart tip Shelly. I’ve seen people with these car seat tow things that turn it into kind of a stroller? Seems good for airports but would get limited use unless you flew a lot. I’m hoping the older two can ride their scooters into the airport and check at the gate… might be crazy/not allowed but would make the trip so much easier for me.

  • That’s awesome. I hope transportation continues to work well for you. Your blog is so encouraging. We “only” have one car and are happy to make do. It’s great to hear about other people living well without being normal. :-)

  • I think it is great to be car-free! We sold our car shortly before our son was born more than 5 years ago. We have cargo-bike, lots of public transportation opions here in Munich. If we go on a vacation and need a car, we rent one. Even if the rent for 2 weeks, that is still cheaper than having a car all year round!

    I enjoy getting a good new car fully serviced whenever we need one. It’s not only the money but also the peace of mind not having to deal with car repair etc.

    • Much agreed. Hated the thought of our car sitting there depreciating in value as we didn’t drive it and yet we would still be paying for any repairs. So nice to car share and just pay for actual use!

  • While we can’t go car free because we live in the country, I was almost sick when I figured out the daily cost of my husband’s motorcycle and snowmobile that he only used on occasion. We figured he could rent these (and be riding the latest and greatest!) up to six times per year and we’d still be coming out way ahead. SO glad you wrote about this, once we actually started paying attention to the cost of these things, we’ve completely cut back (which was difficult in the beginning for my husband because he loves anything with an engine on it, but now that they are gone, like everything else, he hardly misses them at all :)

    • It’s so true: many times it’s better to rent for occasional use than to own. Had such a bad feeling when I looked at our transportation spend and realized we only drove the car once. Glad your husband is enjoying renting the newer models :)

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