Monday, August 23, 2010

Going (mostly) car-free

Most parents dread the day a child turns 16 and gets a driver’s license. We fear for their safety, and shudder at the thought of car insurance premiums that double—or worse—overnight. For many families, a new driver in the house also means there will be an extra car in the driveway.

Not at my house.

My daughter recently started her junior year of high school as a licensed driver. Because her schedule includes a mix of online courses, a night class at a local college, and two classes at her local school, the only realistic option is for her to drive each day.

A few months ago, my wife started trolling craigslist for used vehicles, but buying another reliable car is outside my financial comfort zone at the moment. I’m among those American workers who managed to keep my job, but lost annual pay raises, my company’s 401(k) match, and a significant portion of my old salary. My pay stubs look about like they did when my daughter was 10.

Fortunately, I have a sturdy commuter bike with fenders for wet weather, and I own studded bike tires for icy days, and a fat bike for snowy ones. So, instead of paying interest on a used-car loan, I’m handing over the keys to my 4Runner each morning, and giving up the option of driving to work. And I’m kind of looking forward to doing this for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always told my kids that it’s easy to love bike commuting when you choose to do it. Pedaling into freezing rain is more tolerable if you know you didn’t have to. But there’s also something nice about cutting options and stepping to a higher level of commitment.

Besides, she leaves some cool mix CDs in the car stereo.

1 comment:

Grill Meister said...

Excellent choice Tim. I did the same thing when my kids were teenagers. My two older kids were only a year apart so they shared my Suburan for a few years of high school. We couldn't afford to help them out with buying a car, but it was very easy to say "Hey you guys can use the Suburban all you want." as I was riding to work all year round anyways. I actually allowed them to save enough money from their part time jobs to actually end up buying their own vehicles by the time they were seniors.

BTW - My youngest son Andy's car blew a head gasket and is now commuting to work everyday and loving it. He's come to realize that it only takes him 5-10 more minutes to get there than it did driving. I sent him a bunch of winter clothes to continue into the fall. Hopefully he'll follow in his dad's footsteps.