Category Archives: Living Car-Lite

Reducing our dependency on our only vehicle, a 2005 Honda Odyssey, has been a rewarding family journey. Join us here for the trials and tribulations of transporting four children, primarily by bicycle and for the details on how we grocery shop, attend parties and play dates, commute to school and work, and travel out of town.

Critical Mass

Our local Critical Mass ride was celebrating it’s second anniversary tonight. We were all so exhilarated to be there with the 120 riders. This is an approximation of our route.

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We biked from home with our friend Ashley and her one year old daughter. It was their first ride. We had all sorts of troubles getting out of the house when trying to hitch our second trailer to her bike. We decided to use the rear bike seat instead. When we finally headed out, it was with 5 minutes till start time, but the crowd didn’t leave us behind!

 

 

This was Elliot’s first CM. He was amazing out there tonight. The other riders were very concerned about him on the down hills and he was smokin’! He made it up all the grinds, even the one I couldn’t. We are all sort of basking in a bike high.

 

 

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The New Family Caravan

As part of our efforts to trim the fat, financially speaking, we are driving less and biking more. I have whittled our car miles down to less than 20 one day each week for the past several weeks. We have been working down our errands and appointments to places with in walking/biking distance or in proximity to places we need to go in our van, which we are trying to sell (hint, hint).

The most troubling thoughts and planning has been on how to transport four children when there is only one adult. The past week and a half has put this scenario to the test. There were many different ways this problem could have been solved. Our 9 year old can ride independently but needs an escort for traffic areas. Our 7 year just got his training wheels off a couple weeks ago and has no experience on the streets. We didn’t even consider having the 4 and 1 year old on bikes. We looked at trail gators, triple tandems, follow me tandems, a double tandem and a single with trailer, and Xtracycles amongst other things. We didn’t have big money to invest initially so here is what happened.

Elliot learning to ride without training wheels at the park, June 2011.  

Last year someone loaned us a small Fisher Price bike trailer. We had one adult bike, the trailer, a toddler rear seat and bikes for the older children. Brent would take the little boys out in either the seat or the trailer depending on where they were going and how many were needing to go. Elliot and I stayed home and London rode along side.

My neighbor got wind that we were a bike short and offered up one in her basement that needed some work but wasn’t being used. Wonderful! I took it to Huntington Cycle and Sport for a tune up, rear tire and crankshaft adjustment. $50 and 60 minutes later I had a bike. Another friend heard about what we were doing and saw how small the trailer was for our 4 year old and gifted us a beautiful Yakima trailer. I have some of the most generous caring friends.

With Elliot getting better at riding and shortening our errand distances we started out. Our first single parent ride was to a local community garden to volunteer. Elliot and London rode independent. I hauled the little boys in the trailer. It worked wonderfully. It was a great practice trip to see what we needed to get packed, where every one would sit, how helmets and tools and first aid kids were going to be used, etc. We were now a family caravan on the streets of downtown.

Our caravan parked at the community gardens, July 2011.  

Car-Free vs. Car-Lite

Brent and I had a heated debate about the purpose of not using our van this month. It really was all my idea and we do have two vehicles sitting out there in the driveway that can be used. Some of our reasoning for going Car-Lite can be found on this blog’s car-lite family page. Here are the specific reasons for not driving our car for the month of August.


By the Numbers

There is a significant financial savings gained from keeping those vehicles in the drive way. Here are two charts I have kept on Mint.com. The first graphs our insurance, fuel and loan payments as well as any maintenance expenses. The second shows just our gasoline expenses.

Gas Only

 

All Auto Expenses Combined


I really thought July would have been a lot lower in gasoline. I only drove the van one day a week for errands. Then I remembered we paid for the gas for both trips to Elkins for Brent and we went to Charleston three times in one month. It adds up quick. June looks more accurate for what our expense would be if we reduced our driving, but we drove to Charlotte that month too, so I guess this is just a real life snap shot. It’s not reflecting any extreme measures, but more of our transition to using the van less, but also driving it when we had to.

 

What I get out of these graphs is that we spend, on average, $600 each month for our cars. I took a huge measure to knock out half of that expense by paying off the van loan today. After I get the title I will call our insurance company and reduce the coverage to liability. Maybe we will have a little less green on those charts in a couple months.

 

Different POV

The second thing I did was revisit the issue of selling the van. I see selling it as a way to drag ourselves out of the pit of debt that has consumed me and my family for the past decade. With it’s sale I can put more money toward more debt, and there is plenty of it, debt, not money.

 

Brent and I do not agree on this issue. The van still represents a lot of freedom and security to him. It’s a huge pain in my ass. I am doing just fine to not go anywhere far or anywhere at all. I have learned to tolerate the heat and take each incline on the bike one stoke at a time. I have been whittling down our errands and bringing our doctors closer to home. Brent is scared of the car traffic and having the children out on the roads. He’s concerned about the expense of buy a new van later and putting money into the Cavalier to keep it running. I should really ask him to weigh in on all his concerns here. They are very valid, but I just don’t see that as reasons to not try our hardest to pursue this route to financial freedom, however long it may be.

 

He brings up that renting a car will be more expensive; a minivan was running $100/day last I checked. I counter with, “where are we going?” He doesn’t know. Then I bring up the hope that Marshall University will get the ZipCar program they discussed last year. It would be a compromise in price and convenience of having a car. I should call them soon about this possibility.

 

Brent is concerned about school pick up. What if the baby is sick or napping and Brent’s in class and the children need to come home? I think we know enough people who would be able to bring them back or stay with the baby while I go out to get them.

 

Then there is the, “What about the weather?” Again, I don’t know exactly. We don’t have extremely rough winters, by my standards. The winter that Avery was in the hospital for two straight weeks we walked in snow nearly every day and it was fine. The roads were clear enough to drive, so the same roads should be clear enough to bike? Walking is still an option. Not going is still an option. The bus in an option.

 

There are many single car families in town. There are several folks we know who commute in all weathers by bike. I am sure there are many people in town without cars, but I only know of one. Finding out their solutions is also on my research list. I feel that each challenge is one to be overcome, not one to be answered with the mini van.

 

Car-free vs. Car-lite 

Many people and families live without cars. Many people also live car-lite, by which I mean, they have a family with one car and make do, or drive less. I will make a list of them all later.

 

I do not plan to live car-free. After this month I intend to drive the children to school in the morning. I still think we will be doing our grocery shopping by car. For August, I want to see how much we can do without the car. I want to strip away the dependency on the vehicles and see exactly what we need them for. August is a good month to try this experiment. Two of the children start school on the 15th. Brent starts back to teaching on the 22nd. Avery starts preK on the 22nd as well. It will give us time to figure out how to get around in the early weeks, then add a week of commuting to school with two big kids, then a week of commuting with three. There will be a week of getting everyone home by first taking up two and bringing home four, then a week of taking up one and bringing back four. It’s sort of a step it up program in bike commuting, up hill, with children.

 

We may discover that I can get a lot of grocery shopping done when it’s just me and Oliver and we can load up the trailer and bring it home and put it away with no extra little bikes and bikers to take out. We might find out that the children love biking to school so much they are easier to get up and out the door in the morning (I can hope). Our regimen might provide us with enough exercise that we won’t be paying for soccer, basketball and swimming this year (more savings!). The children may sleep better and focus on homework with more intensity. Maybe Brent will like that I can’t call him home to pick up the children because the baby is napping and he will get more work done. There is the possibility that we will save enough money that Brent and I could date regularly again, something we gave up with the budget crunch of 2009. I see a lot of great things coming from not driving this month.

 

It may be that we hate living without our cars and we miss going to, I don’t know, Target or friends out of town. Traveling with out our van in the rain and snow might be a complete bear. Perhaps someone gets hurt and we immediately sell our bikes and swear off leaving our home ever again. Dramatic? Perhaps. I just wanted to give some weight to ideas that might swing a bit further in the direction of car usage.

 

A Verdict?

We will keep our vehicles for now. Until we know what we need them for and which one to keep. Sometimes I think we should give away the Cavalier and keep the van. Other times I think sell the van, keep the car. Then I have moments of give away the car, sell the van, good ridden to them both. We would give away the car because it was given to us and it’s not worth much more than the satisfaction of knowing someone who needed it would be using it. One last idea is to donate the car, sell the van and then later, six months, a year, or when ever, buy a crossover vehicle that is better on fuel, seats six and is less than $10000 that we can pay for in cash.

 

It’s certainly a lot to think about.

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