Category Archives: budgeting

The Current Cost of Not Owning a Vehicle

We are approaching two months in Buffalo, without a car of our own. We spent $149.50 in August, and $249.11 in September on parking, bus, train, taxi, car share (gas & insurance included), tolls, and related memberships. The break out:

August $129.50

  • $96.00 Car share
  • $33.50 Bus/train

We certainly were more conservative with our transportation dollars our first month in Buffalo. We had a lapse in income and insurance to hurdle over, but we made it to the other side, without any significant financial surprises.

September $249.11

  • $137.00 Car share
  • $49.50 Bus/train
  • $30.00 Taxi
  • $12.00 Parking/tolls
  • $21.60 Membership/mileage overage from September

There was a week in September where I felt like it was “Monday” every day. I was making mistakes too frequently. I signed up for a car share to attend Eiki’s first soccer game, then left my keys with the fob in Brent’s bike, and he was at work. We took the public bus to London’s school on her first day and I bought a round trip ticket, forgetting those were only good on the train. Then I put the adult fare in the bus slot, instead of the reduced amount for a child. It was money spent, that we couldn’t recover. We attended Eiki’s second game, but then due to the substantial walking and waiting we encountered on that particular bus route, we decided to take a taxi back to our bikes waiting at the train station. It all adds up, but it didn’t amount to much when put into the perspective of car ownership, or did it?

Then there is the issue concerning the cost of convenience and quality of life. It takes a lot to leave me feeling like something wasn’t worth my time, or was a nuisance to my day. One of the reasons we choose to bike and walk is because we want the day to slow down. We enjoy the extra time rolling around the neighborhood, under scheduling, experiencing new things, and staying in touch with the weather. However, when London missed the bus to school last week, we didn’t hesitate to borrow the car share vehicle. It was the least inconvenient mode at the time, and we now know we need to work on a better plan B. So it’s all relative.

Had we maintained possession of our vehicle with our move, and used it instead of transit, car share and a taxi, what would our costs have been? That’s more difficult to calculate. I haven’t been tracking mileage, as we are spread in five different directions daily. I wasn’t sure if we should consider the cost of the yellow school bus, and how would you? Those miles are certainly accountable, it was just too much to consider, right now. Maybe another month I will take it on.

I maintain that I am uncertain about any future car ownership. The temptation is strong to buy another van, giving us the “walk out the door and into the car” convenience for out of town trips. I think the urge might be reduced if our local car share had a van parked in our neighborhood. Family size certainly affects our costs for the bus/train, but it also necessitates a larger vehicle, and that is a cost we pay in time to retrieve it.

While we could go purchase a car, I have been researching and dreaming about a bakfiets. We are staring into the frosty crystal ball that has winter white swirling all around, and wondering, could this be the vehicle that maintains our cycling lifestyle a midst colder/harsher conditions? It’s the vehicle of choice for so many with wonderful winters. My research has led to me to learn from the following (who also have resourceful blogrolls):

  • Modal Mom, Lana is riding a variety of bikes in Ottawa, Ontario with her son
  • Copenhagenize, a multi-contributor blog about building better cities, based out of Denmark
  • Chicargobike, this parenting pair write from the windy city about Chicago infrastructure and biking around with four children

For added good reads I took a moment to look up our neighborhood’s Walk Score: 77, Transit Score: 59, Bike Score: 55.

Right. That’s it for now. Cost break down of transportation for two months without a car, and some thoughts on how to proceed as we approach the fourth season. Cheers!

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Our Path from WV to NY

A month ago we announced our move to Buffalo, NY and all the tribulations and feelings that go with such a decision. We heard back from several people about their own experiences and considered it all deeply. While we waited for Brent to wrap up work at Marshall we paired down our belonging, started boxing things up, looked into NY housing options, and pushed our house (politely) on anyone willing to listen. Now, with four days until the truck pulls away from WV, we have a place rented in Buffalo, sight unseen (thanks to new colleague), and a sales contract on our house in WV pending the usual inspections.

To run along side this, we are selling our home at a loss. We will need to payout cash at closing, which we found by selling our minivan (thanks to a friend referring us to a friend). There were several options for securing the funds, but we wanted to walk away from WV without additional debts. A clean break. I will give you all a numbers breakdown…

  • We financed $132,000 in 2006 for the home
  • Invested nearly $3,000 each of the 7 years we resided there ($21,000)
  • We agreed to sell the home for $125,000, minus our portion of closing costs (roughly $10,000)
  • We owe two banks a total of $120,000 to pay the balance of the mortgages
  • Therefore we will need $5,000 to close on the sale and the $21,000 in improvements combined with the $114,500 in P&I payments over the years are evaporated into the economy

This analysis tells me we are not very good with our money, home buying should probably include a lot more cash down and less financing, and we are presented with the opportunity to make some changes for our future. With the sale of our house we reduced our debt to only student loans and a pesky credit card purchase for a new work laptop for Brent. For the first time ever, we have a positive net worth (you know, in the financial world).

We are renting a single family home four miles from Brent’s new employer. We hope he can continue to bike commute. The NY rent is less than our WV mortgage. The space is also slightly smaller. The utilities are also projected to be less, thanks to the owners being savvy on insulation and new replacement windows. The land lords are also responsible for a portion of the utilities and maintenance. We see this as savings.

With the sale of our mini van we enrolled in Buffalo Car Share. There was a small Yaris within walking distance of our new home, and several other options (a mini van) we could reasonably ride transit or bike to. Brent’s employer has a discount relationship with BCS, and the membership includes insurance and gas for the vehicles.

Buffalo has a more extensive and timely transit system that includes busing and a light rail, at twice the cost of the one in Huntington (I hope not to compare everything, but it helps for those following along from “home.”) The airport is 7 FLAT miles from our house, downtown looks to be between 6-9 miles, but we will be between the city of Buffalo and the suburb of Amherst (where we could reasonable bike to a *gasp* mall). There are at least two pools, multiple parks, a library, bookstore, several groceries, coffee shops, yoga studios, zoo, and countless other unknown things within our comfortable 2-3mile radius. We will continue to bike. I am actually looking into a box bike now. I feel the timing might be right.

We are not committing ourselves to a car-free life. We will see how things develop. I keep hearing about these transportation prohibitive winters. Avery’s medical care needs might change. And then there is this; one of my first challenges will be the arrival of our exchange student two days (fewer than 36hours) after we pull into our new drive way. I don’t know a thing about this child, or how much luggage he will be carrying. He might not be able to ride a bike. Bringing our family up to seven members will add to many interesting scenarios. Stay tuned.

With all that said, I have more boxes to pack. More things to sell and give away, mail to forward, warmshowers and paperbackswap to put on hold, and appliances to clean.  My minimalist ways are not shared evenly with all members of this home. Those children have a lot of arts, crafts, legos, books, and goodwill.

Cheers from West Virginia to where ever you find yourselves.

Buffalo, NY or Bust

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Brent accepted a teaching position at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, NY. He begins this new chapter mid-August. The running joke around here comes in some form of the following:

A friend: When do you need to be in Buffalo?
Me: I don’t. Brent does.
Friend: Ohhhh….
Me: Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it.

It’s not that Buffalo is going to be a tragic move. The city is wonderful, unique, diverse, and will be a welcomed challenge and experience. It’s that I have a lot going on here in Huntington personally. We have a life here, with good work, great people, a fabulous home and garden, and I find the timing of all this a bit stressful and remissed. Two years ago I would be have been throwing parties and putting on parades to be setting off on such an adventure, maybe even this time last year. Yet around September 2012 I found a spark to settle in to Huntington, chase down some ambitions and dreams and set to work on them.

Avery’s illness certainly delayed much of those efforts, but I was clambering aboard that train once again this spring when it was derailed, to follow the analogy through. With in a week of making some community contacts and learning of the “perfect space” for my business concept, Brent accepted the position in New York. My happiness for him was subdued by my own bubble bursting, the rug being pulled from my feet. Yet, when everything was laid out on the table, the needs of the family as a whole, the needs of Brent’s career and personal path trumped my quest to bring a sustainable family resource to Huntington. It wasn’t meant to be I who carried out that work. And life is short, so we decided to follow this path for now and embrace all the nuances it was going to throw at us.

So it’s a Buffalo or Bust sort of summer in the Simple Six household. We made a brief trip up to the Queen City at the end of May to introduce the idea to the children, to scout out the housing market, and to visit with friends. We went so far as to put a low offer on a house out of desperation, have it countered and then, because we weren’t in love with the home (miniature kitchen) or the location (far from work, higher taxes), we walked away from it.

We need to sell our WV home in order to afford the move north (captioned home album here). We have considered renting it out, but have the feeling we’d be in over our heads with the details and then we wouldn’t be able to purchase in NY. We are considering renting in NY, but still need our house to sell. Brent must be there no later than August 19th, applying pressure to the situation. Should the WV home not sell, perhaps the family will have to live apart for a short while? Brent may have to go to NY while the children and I wait in WV. How long is too long to wait? What about schooling, added cost of two residence, rising interest rates, the strain on the relationships of the family, and so on…? It’s consuming all my thoughts and energy. Want to throw your two-cents into the arena? What would you do?

Community Benefit Events for Avery’s GBS Expenses

BikePancakeFundraiserSeveral of our friends and community members have worked together  organizing two fundraisers to apply directly toward the medical expenses incurred during Avery’s GBS this year. There will be a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning at Our Lady of Fatima, followed by a bike ride at Ritter Park led by our Critical Mass organizer, Joel, and bicycle raffle drawing thanks to a donation from Huntington Cycle & Sport. The generousity of everyone ceases to amaze us. We are indebted in gratitute to everyone. Even if you haven’t said as much, I know you are thinking of us, I can feel it.

If you would like to participate tomorrow, June 8th, more information can be found below:

Saturday’s events follow two other fundraisers held while Avery was at Children’s Hospital. The first, a benefit concert at Marshall University was organized by Ella Clark and helped us with over $200 in transportation and lodging expenses. The second was a gaming marathon sponsored by the Marshall University gaming club that successfully raised enough money to present Avery with an Xbox Kinects system and several games to use as part of his home phsical and occupational therapy.

All of these compliment the many personal care packages, gift cards, meals, and child care provision provided by countless people while we were in the hospital. I think I have sent out 50 thank you cards to date, with so many more to go.

The feelings behind these gestures and sentiments fluctuate between embarrassment and heart pounding love. With so much need and travesty in the world all these people have chosen to spend their time and energy on us, on Avery, on our community. It’s inspiring and motivating and overwhelming. It’s also difficult to be on the receiving end of such gifts. Perhaps it’s just me, but I flush with embarrassment for being in this situation, some how feeling that perhaps a series of different choices would have avoided such hardships, hardships that in the “big picture” are nominal. Please know, as I have tried to convey with a lot of sincerity, that you may never know how much all of this touches us deeply and we are grateful. We hope we can continue to give back to you all with our work and our efforts within the community and amongst the world.

Avery is getting stronger every week. He continues 2.5hours of therapy twice a week at Milestones Physical Therapy in Hurricane, WV (30miles from our home). He gets to Challenger Baseball at the LL3 fields as often as we can take him. He does his home therapy as we can get it worked in, and he is enjoying a mostly typical summer break from school. Having missed almost half of Kindergarten didn’t set him back, thanks to having an onsite teacher at Children’s who worked with our school, his tutors, and his own resolve to stay on top of his work. Avery is walking with the help of his AFOs, and has some time out of them as well. He has some foot-drop issues, but we feel those things are slowly resolving as well. The EMG showed continued signal delay in his nerves at the end of May but ruled out his condition as being chronic. He is continuing to take 50mg of Lyrica twice a day for nerve pain.

We tell our children that we won’t give them a hand unless they are showing effort to help themselves. It’s not a hard and fast philosophy, but it works for many scenarios. I wanted to let you know some of the things we are doing to help ourselves through this year financially. Our emotional and physical efforts are another story.

To start, Brent took on a summer job with a company as a contract employee. His chair also helped him secure his summer class at Marshall, which pays above his regular teaching position. We also applied for financial aid at the hospital and other medical facilities that offered it. We are still waiting to hear back. We set up payment plans where we could and double check every EOB with every bill and call back to our insurance if we are in doubt about the coverage provided (or not provided). It’s messy, but overall our health care insurance has picked up a substantial portion of our costs. The Lyrica is only $150 month, they approved most of our Ohio doctors and stays as in-network, and they covered our wheel chair rental as well as other equipment costs so far. The tricky part is going to be when the fiscal year ends June 30th and we have to start over with our deductibles while continuing to go for follow ups and therapies. Yet, we did this in 2010, with a newborn, and we will do it again in 2013, with all of you at our side. Thank you.

Our Summer Excursion: Days 33-51 Elkins, WV

This is Our 2012 Summer Excursion series recapping our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Please let me know if you would like more details about anything and I will do my best to work them in or reply personally. Follow the TAG to get the full story. Maybe I will get through the whole trip before 2013 (it’s NYE, so maybe not)!


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D33: July 4 should have been full of fireworks and bbqs and flags and maybe even parades, if you have some sort of traditional holiday flair you follow. While I am not into tradition, it was great to have been invited to a block party on our first day in a new town that had all of the above. As our history would have it, we lived in Buckhannon, WV (west of Elkins) for two years, and I worked in Elkins for part of that time. We met some great people and fell in love with this mountain community before moving to Huntington six and half years ago. One of those great people, Beth King, handles the community arts center, where I worked. She invited us to the block party! Hurray for Beth! As time would pass, many of those faces would cross our path again at the bookstore, bike shop, tennis camp, grocery, and on the street. A small town intimacy; warm and welcoming.

D34-49: The four children and I filled our days as best we could while Brent worked 12-14 hour days. We dined together as a family every night in the Davis & Elkins cafeteria and enjoyed breakfast at the Graceland Mansion every morning. Lunch was a toss up. Some days we had lunch together, and some not. Having the opportunity to be on campus with him for those weeks was invaluable to the children and for our relationship. I may not have been able to get any time away from the children, but knowing I might get 30minutes of shared parenting a few times a day gave my mommy voice a rest, and let me close my eyes just a bit to the hyper-vigilance we kept while living in a hotel. Last year we stayed in Huntington while he worked the Governor’s School for the Arts. It wasn’t impossible for me, I enjoy temporary challenges such as these, but it wasn’t ideal.

To make this entry less cumbersome, you can browse the photo gallery below, complete with captions, of our Elkins stay. It covers what we ate since we didn’t have a kitchen, how we kept our sanity living in one room, with two beds, the local bike culture, where we spent our money on extra-curriculars for the children, our geocaching finds, the views, the people, the fluff.

Spoiler: In terms of bicycling, Elkins was the best! We never drove in town, we didn’t need to, everything was very, very close to where we were staying. We walked most places and biked when we needed/wanted to save time/have more fun. I never saw another child on bikes outside of the bike parade and the park. I rarely saw other riders in general. Not sure why. Maybe they are more of a walking community? It was ideal for us. I was so spoiled, that thinking about going home to a 2.5mile ride to grocery was daunting.

I drove to Beverly twice, 10miles south of town for London’s Girl Scout camp, and utilized a carpool for her other trips to camp. Otherwise, the van just sat in the parking lot until the day we left. It even attracted ants. Ever have a vehicle with a pest problem?

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D50-51: The day before the summer program ended we were presented with a room charge for some of the damages the children inflicted on the hotel. It’s an unsettling story involving play dough in the carpet and a five year old who wet the unprotected mattress, (I don’t want to get into details but feel welcome to ask me about it anytime. Great reason to invite us over, stop by, or meet up, eh?).

So on day 50, Saturday July 21, the program ended. We had the car packed up and we drove off to Buckhannon for dinner and a drive around our old stomping grounds. We booked a hotel in Charleston, WV, an hour from home, so we could swim and jump on the beds and decompress before tossing our house sitter out one more time before our full Summer Excursion would end.

Our plans to bike and camp the Greenbriar Trail system with friends never came together. Brent was concerned about work at Marshall and an exhibit he was invited to participate with at the Clay Center. We headed home before our beach trip. I was glad we weren’t out on the trail, post derecho, in the rain, as forecasted, but I wasn’t happy to be going home. My heart is with my family and friends (new and old), following a map around the country side, city scape, coast lines, and mountain towns. Such a gypsy.

Conclusions
That’s Elkins in a blog-post nutshell. Wasn’t it dreamy? Next up, our spat at home and our last week on the road, in Charlotte, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC.

Note: I tried to include as much photography as I could, but I left out a great deal! I don’t know where it went. Maybe on the phone? Anyway. It was fun, fabulous and we hope to have more of the same again. More small spaces, more outside adventures, more new people, more crazy.

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