Cars are Freeloading In-laws


Which is worse, the freeloader on the left or the freeloader on the right?

Cars and freeloading in-laws are the same.  They take up space in your home.  They hijack your hard-earned money.  They create problems and drama, often causing undue stress.  They can be unreliable too.  I’ve got a fix, for the car anyway.

So why do we put up with cars?  Even worse, why do many idolize them?  Even as I sit here writing, I can easily recite my top five “dream cars”.  Given unlimited resources, I would likely indulge.  But that is an incredible qualifier.  I recognize cars for what they are – necessary evils.  This is especially true when you are living on a budget, which should include about 98% of the population (I’ve always reassured my wife that if we came upon an unlimited supply of money that I would throw all of my frugality principles out the window and she could get her Range Rover).

So what is it?  Just exceptional marketing?

I believe it’s more just an extension of consumerism.  Cars just happen to be on the higher end of the price range when we think of shopping addictions.  I think that’s also the big danger.  We’ve reduced car buying to impulse shopping, much like buying clothes.  New is more exciting than used.  Luxury brands are more desirable, especially when showing them off to the outside world. And the rub is that dealerships have engineered financing packages to simulate impulse shopping.  $0 down, $299 a month.  That’s cheaper than a flat screen.  Except that you pay that every month for 4-6 years.  And you start all over again because you want the new one.  Little does anyone realizes that tens of thousands of dollars are being spent with nothing of value to show for it.

Just don’t think about it.  We’re all in the same boat.

Well I call BS.

When we were a two car household, I considered my personal car an enemy, on the same level as every other wretched bill that I have to pay.  The car is just sneakier.  Random repair bills that catch you off guard, fluctuating gas prices, insurance premiums with good driver “discounts”.

Go Multi-Modal

Anytime I could head out and leave my car in the garage, I felt a mini sense of triumph and I would badger that car on the way out, “See you sucker.  Nice try, not this time.”  I do this by biking.  While sometimes it’s just getting around our neighborhood, the real payoff has been finding a route to and from work.  All of the sudden, I could drop 130 miles a week off of my driving and rid myself of an entire vehicle.  If I were to ride full-time, that’s about 6,500 miles of commuting that my body propelled and my car did not experience.

My brother-in-law sold his car, bought a $500 scooter and used that to get to and from the park-and-ride where he takes an express bus into work each day.  He just dropped an insurance payment and a whole lot of gas and maintenance money off of his balance sheet.

Can you carpool? Is mass transit feasible in your area?  Would you consider a move, either your home or job?

Gut Reactions to New Ideas Conjure the Excuse Monster

When I started biking to work and telling people about it, most of the responses were about telling me why it wasn’t an option for them.  But I think it is more that we don’t sit and think about things that are different from what most people do.  I’ve been a working professional for eight years and the notion of biking to work never crossed my mind until about two years ago.  And I didn’t come up with it out of nowhere.  The idea was presented to me through personal finance blogs like Mr.Money Mustache and Simple Economist.

The Bike Commuter Game Plan

It takes more effort than driving.  You have to plan and think more than if you just drive.  Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. You’ll be limited in your range so you have to know your schedule in advance.  Any outside meetings coming up?  Any reason you’ll need access to your car?
  2. Look up weather conditions.  Not to decide between biking and driving, just to prepare yourself accordingly.  Some of my funnest rides have been in the rain.
  3. Change of clothes.  From time to time you will forget something, just make sure it’s not a big something.  I’ve gone many workdays without socks, a belt, and other slightly embarrassing articles of clothing, etc. Keeping extras at work helps.
  4. An area to freshen up.  I do it in a private bathroom.  I’ve heard of others that have access to locker rooms or stop by a local gym where they have a membership.
  5. Food options.  Wear a backpack and trek in food from home or check out options within walking distance, biking distance if you bring a bike lock.
  6. Safe bike storage.  Most employers are very accommodating.  I keep mine in my office but there are also racks and even indoor bike storage areas.

It all takes brain power, but it also starts to become second nature over time.  I also know that it’s on me when I choose to slump back into a comfy car and that I’m only increasing my costs, which helps me jump back on the bike.  And every little bit helps.

Take Away the Lazy Option

I struggled with consistent riding for the first several months.  It’s extremely hot to ride in the summer, which is a large chunk of time where I live.  But people do it.  And there are DIY solutions to dealing with it, just like dealing with the cold when I felt really committed to biking no matter what during the winter months of December and January.

The best thing that happened to me to really ingrain the habit of biking was when my car broke down in a major way, like the mechanic’s diagnosis was that I needed a new engine kind of major.  That estimate rivaled the value of the car so I opted to sell it for basically nothing and I then entered into a forced “testing period” where after I sold what was left of my car, became an everyday bike rider.

That was a year and a half ago and I haven’t been happier.  I wear the “one car household” badge with great pride, even though it was basically the universe pushing me to that decision.  But it really was when the option of taking the easy way was removed that I found out how much better it was to ride on a consistent basis.

What about you? Have you tried anything new to lower your transportation costs? What has worked out and what has failed miserably?

4 thoughts on “Cars are Freeloading In-laws”

  1. Mike

    What about the virtues of relayrides? It’s not hard to make 4-5K a year off your car by renting it, and then you can have it when you do need it. Even after insurance, maintenance, etc., you’re still ahead.

    1. Danny Post Author

      I like the way you think, Mike! Converting a depreciating asset into a source of side income is a major win. I’ve been a customer of RelayRides and loved the experience, but I’ve never tried to rent our car yet. I may hit you up for a guest post tutorial if you’re interested.

  2. Bart

    “He just dropped an insurance payment and a whole lot of gas and maintenance money off of his balance sheet.”
    Come on Danny, you know better. These are “Profit & Loss/Income & Expense” items. The BS is for Assets and Liabilities. He dropped the CAR off of the BS, thus reducing his expenses.
    Don’t MAKE me start correcting your grammar.
    Uncle Bart

    1. Danny Post Author

      Thanks for keeping me honest Bart! I’m an economist, not a finance major, but really it just sounded better than saying his Cash Flow Statement for some reason. Call it poetic license :)

      So, officially, Bart is correct. But, I think everyone got my point. My apologies to any that took offense.

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