Before I got pregnant, I went car-free for my commute a few days a week on average, though looking back, I should have done it a lot more. My office has moved since then, but it was 4.3 miles away at that time. I switched up my commute between walking, running, biking, and the bus, depending on how I felt that day, and I’ve biked in both the rain and snow. I did drive often enough as well, as my job required me to drive during the day relatively often, and on days I had somewhere to be soon after work (usually the gym or meeting up with a friend). 

Part of my incentive to drive less was that I drove an older car (1996 Buick Century), and while it was in pretty good shape, it had started to get to the age and mileage where I knew it would start needing more work done. The less I drove it, then the longer I would be able to drive the car. There was a clear financial benefit to leaving it parked and using other ways to get around. 

My trusty old Buick covered in snow

Two and a half years ago, just before I had my son, I bought my 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid off my parents  for a discounted price (my dad wanted a “safer” car for his first grandbaby – i. e. one with more airbags). Since then, the only maintenance it has required is oil changes and new brakes / tires. The car was paid for in cash so there’s no loan payment to be calculated as part of the cost (I’ve never had a car loan in my life, and I hope to keep it that way. There’s nothing I hate more than throwing away money on interest).  Because my maintenance costs have been so low, and the car gets an average 35+ MPG, I didn’t think there was much savings to leave it parked for the short trips (especially if I was then paying to take the bus). Plus, life got much more complicated with a small child in tow who needed to be dropped off before work. My husband works early and long hours, so I do the drop off/pick up most days, though he does take him on Wednesdays. Our days are busy enough as it is that I hadn’t felt up to the task of looking for an alternate way to commute, let do an analysis of the real cost of busing versus driving to work to better inform my decisions, but since it is one of my goals for this year, I figured I should finally get to it. 

I now run to pick up my son at daycare on Tuesday afternoons and we bus home together, and then I run the 6 miles to work in the morning. I leave my car at work Tuesday afternoons and then drive it home on Wednesdays. I find that I actually haven’t lost out on any quality time on those days, as I’m now not wasting any of that time shuttling myself to different places, but instead I’m actively either working out or spending quality time hanging out with my son. He also LOVES riding the bus, and asks daily if it is a bus day, so I have extra incentive not to skip a week. He’s great at getting us to ride the bus on the weekends for the same reason. Even though it takes longer, his joy in taking the bus makes it an enjoyable trip. 

Waiting anxiously for the bus to arrive, transit pass in hand
Now to get down to the numbers. I’m going to focus on my current Tuesday/Wednesday alternate commute, since I have that set up already. My mother and grandmother watch our son on Wednesdays and my mother in law watches him Thursday/Friday, so those days look different. Having family childcare part of the week makes a HUGE difference in our monthly expenses ($735/month for two days a week versus $1425 if he were at daycare full time – a reasonably affordable option for our high cost of living area). Not only does our arrangement cost a lot less, but our son gets a special bond with both his grandmothers and great grandmother that is irreplaceable. We are so lucky to have the set up we do. We do have to shuttle him to different places because of it though, so I’m working on dropping the car one day at a time. 

  • Distance to daycare: 5.5 miles 
  • Distance to work: 2.9 miles
  • Total distance: 8.4 miles each way 

Using AAA’s 2016 calculation of driving costs, how it breaks down:

  • AAA considers a Camry a “large sedan,” but since it is a hybrid, it seems that using the “small sedan” option is more accurate (57.4¢/mile versus 75.8¢/mile). 
  • I don’t drive a ton of miles each year, so the per mile cost is slightly higher (using AAA’s 10,000 miles/year option. I average under 1000 miles a month so this is pretty accurate). 

57.4¢/mile x 8.4 miles x 2 = $9.64 per round trip. 

Peak bus cost: $2.75 (children under 5 are free) 

Weekly savings from ditching my car just one day a week: $6.89. (If I were to use the “large sedan” category, this number goes up to $9.99). 

Time to park this gas guzzler more often!

If you had asked me last week, I would have said I was running and taking the bus for health reasons and to lessen the amount of gas I use in a given week. I wouldn’t have thought that it would also be saving me money. Turns out, not driving just one day a week saves me $27.56/month. Not bad for something that is actually brings more enjoyment in my life. 

My mother in law watches my son at our house on Fridays, so that’s the next day on my radar to work on ditching my car. The numbers look a little different since I would then head straight to work. 

5.5 miles x 57.4¢/mile = $3.16 (savings of just 41¢ per trip, since I would be busing both directions). I would also have to leave my house half an hour earlier, so it probably isn’t worth doing because I would miss out on the leisurely Friday breakfast at home I enjoy with my son and mother in law currently. That being said, the numbers do look better if I were to bike just one way ($3.57 savings and I would only have to leave 10 minutes early, plus get a workout in). 

I unfortunately got rid of my bike when we cleaned out our carport a few years ago, but considering it was too small for me (I got it when I was 10 or 12 years old) and a mountain bike, a replacement makes sense anyway. While I haven’t started looking yet, I think I may end up with a bike again. I actually really dislike biking as a past time but will put up with it for a car free commute. (Though this may be more because we live on the top of a hill – if I didn’t have to bike back up at the end of a work day, I might feel differently). Perhaps I will start looking around for an affordable bicycle – it wouldn’t take too many trips to make it pay for itself, and paying for one would be incentive for me to use it and get my money’s worth! 

7 thoughts on “Why running the numbers is so important: when my assumptions are completely wrong

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