How to Kill Your Car

JunkerWith gas prices being so high, I have been thinking about how to save at the pump for the last few months. I realized that becoming self-employed was going to help since the commute to my day job was causing me to need to fill up every 5 or 6 days. Since quitting your job isn’t an option for everybody, I also tried to think of other ways a person could kill their need for a car. I have come up with several main options. You too can save yourself some money on gas and vehicle maintenance by opting for alternative forms of transportation. Here are a few of the ways I can think of that you can kill your car.

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 Frugal Living, Retirement 

We Bought Schwinn Midtown Bikes

Schwinn 26This week, my wife and I went to Costco and picked up two bikes that we’d been looking at for quite some time. Some cycling purists would say that you should always get a bike from a local bike shop. While I agree that the personal service at a local bike shop is far better than at Costco (no explanation necessary), the reality is that there are two reasons we are getting these bikes and neither involve hardcore mountain biking or racing.

First, our little suburban area of Columbia is designed for biking. All the little shopping centers and parks and lakes are separated by an intricate network of walking and bicycle paths. On Wednesday, I rode around a nearby lake, through some paths, and popped out beside a little shopping center with a Subway to eat lunch with my wife and her co-worker. On the way back, I did some exploring and easily found the right path to take if we ever want to bike to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Manor, as well as our gym. Forget walkability scores, bikability is where it’s at.

The second reason is that I work from home and find myself doing a lot of intra-city driving to places where I am taking small roads. Why not replace the use of my car with a bike? Lower my already relatively small carbon footprint, get some exercise, and enjoy the fresh air! I’m not ready to sell my car but I’m certainly going to be using it less and less now that I have a bike.

The bikes were a good $200 a piece. While in the pantheon of bicycles, $200 is considered cheap, in the pantheon of bicycles I’d be willing to buy, $200 was about the limit. I understand that you get what you pay for and a “good bike” costs in the thousands, but I don’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. My wife doesn’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. For now, we can enjoy the heck out of our $200 bikes and then upgrade if necessary. We are acting our age financially.

For security, we bought two OnGuard Bulldog STD 5010LM Bicycle U-Locks as they were the highest rated sub-$30 lock by Scott Elder of He wrote about his experience trying to break into a whole bunch of bike locks and this one was the best of the bunch under $30. Again, you can spend much more for a beast of a lock (and those with $5000 bikes should buy a beast of a lock), but these should fit our needs just nicely.

Do you own a bike? Any tips or suggestions?

 Frugal Living 

“I Can’t Afford A House” Syndrome

Grocery Shopping on a BikeOn a drive up to a local restaurant last week to celebrate our friend’s final Master’s class, my wife and I were listening to this segment of Marketplace on commuter bikes. The segment talked about how more people are biking to work and how expensive these commuter bikes were. They range anywhere from a couple hundred to five figures! It’s an astonishing price to pay for a bicycle but here’s the truly astonishing part about it – many pay without any reason to.

First, Marketplace talked to Richard Fries of Bikes Belong, a bicycling advocacy group, and he said that you just need a simple bike to get you from A to B. All you need “is the bike that Curious George had. You know what I mean? Fenders, chain guard, a little rack to strap your books onto. Does wheelies. Gets around town.”

Then they talked to Susan Brady, just a regular Jane consumer who bikes every day to work:

Brady: I mean, the cool thing about bikes is you can spend a little or spend a lot, and they’re all gonna pretty much do the same thing.

Cole (Marketplace reporter): That’s what I’m wondering, why you would spend a lot.

Brady: Cause I thought I’m never gonna be able to buy a house, so I might as well buy a nice bike.

Woah. Now, it’s one thing to justify the price with good reasons and another to justify it like that. For example, high end mountain bikes are expensive because they are made of carbon fiber (to be lighter), have high end shock absorbers (to handle the rugged terrain), and other similar characteristics that improve performance and durability. While you do pay a premium, it’s likely that most seasoned mountain bikers recognize what they are getting for their money. This is the very reason why I advocated Acting Your Age Financially and how you shouldn’t hit the premium aisle before checking out the discount bin.

While the Marketplace segment might have had some editing involved, the fact that Brady’s best response was that “she can’t afford a house” is astonishing. That reasoning isn’t uncommon though. I had a friend once email out to a bunch of our friends lamenting the fact that home prices are so high in our area. There’s no way he could afford a home here. That’s when someone pointed out that the reason he can’t afford a home is because he has a boat and a new truck to tow the boat.

We all make decisions and trade offs, don’t say you can’t afford a house and then go out and buy a ridiculously expensive bicycle. You sound foolish and it’s insulting, especially to all the hard working Americans scraping by and saving all of their money so they can afford a place of their own.

(Photo: kamshots)

 Cars, Personal Finance 

Can You Really Give Up Your Car?

Higher gas prices suck, but you’re willing to pay them. You’re willing to pay them, much like I’m willing to pay them, because you pretty have no choice but to fund the extravagant palaces of those oil rich families in the Middle East (if you think Exxon is making insane profits, it’s nothing compared to many of the ruling families over there) right? Well, if you’re like me, you’ve probably considered what it would take to surrender the keys to your car and came away with the conclusion that life would be too difficult without your car… but would it?

Mass Transportation

If you live in a major city, mass transit is your best “next alternative” to a car. For people in New York City, with an intricate subway system, this is a no brainer. In fact, very few people who live in NYC have cars because it’s simply not worth it. Why pay for a car, insurance, gas, and parking when you can easily get around the city for a subway token or cab fare? If you need to leave the city, rent a car or go with a ZipCar. If you need to move a lot of stuff, rent a truck or van.

In fact, if you live in a major metropolitan area (the full list of participating cities, surprisingly NYC isn’t on the list), Google Maps can give you a “Take Public Transit” option that includes walking. The next time you do a search between places in a city, look for a “Take Public Transit” link in the Directions section (next to the Drive There option) and it’ll explain exactly how to get there. Pretty useful!

Unfortunately, if you live in the city then you’ve already realized this. If you don’t live in the city, you can’t benefit as much from this. If you live in the city but work outside of it, again you probably can’t benefit significantly from this either. That puts you in the same boat as those people who live in the sprawling suburbs. Is it really possible to give up your car? The answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the work. Transportation comes down to figuring your options and taking advantage of the resources you have available, which oftentimes is time.


If you have a bicycle, you have the second best mode of transportation available to you (the first being your legs). The key here is to take advantage of it by researching how to get to different places using only your bicycle. I knew a guy (Paul G, this is you if you’re out there) who would bike a twenty minute car commute once a week (or more, I can’t remember) for the exercise. This is the same guy that one day came in with a broken thumb because he fell into a big crash at a weekend bike race! He knew all the little detours underneath highways so that he never had to cross a major highway. If you want to bike to work or to the mall or wherever, you need to find yourself a Paul G. either in person or on the internet.

Incidentally, you should never try to cross a highway. If you can’t find a way around, scrap the idea of biking into work entirely. The danger is simply not worth it.

Also, there’s a petition to Google to provide a Bike There feature like the “Take Public Transit” option mentioned earlier. If this is ever made available it would be awesome.


This option requires a little planning at the buy/rent phase, meaning you need to plan the idea of walking someplace into your decision to buy a home or rent a home/apartment/condo. We lucked out and bought a house that gives us the opportunity to walk to a library, bank, supermarket, liquor store (this is crucial!), neighborhood bar, and some random food places (that we’ve never eaten at).

When you are thinking about buying a place, keep this in mind when you’re surveying the neighborhood. How easy is it to navigate the area on foot? Are there a lot of paths? Are they well lit? While you can’t walk to work, at least you can try to find a place that is within walking distance to a lot of other places you’d frequent.

Other Modes of Transportation

I’m at a loss to think of any other modes of transportation other than by train, bike, or foot… anyone have any clever ideas? Segways are out of the question. 🙂

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