Cutting back on transportation costs

Sandra talks about her quest to reduce how much her family spends on their daily commute, one small step at a time.

Sandra E. Martin 0

Photo: diego_cervo/iStockphoto

Last year, we went from a two-vehicle family to a one-only. And it felt great.

Matt had moved on to a new job, leaving his employer-supplied car behind. Because he had to drive a lot for his position as a health and safety specialist, his old job came with wheels. That seemed like a bonus, because gas, insurance and payments were covered. In reality, however, it was a drag. I couldn’t get insured on Matt’s work vehicle, and I knew from my years covering personal finance that most insurers like you to have “continuous insurance” — the financial upshot being that if you take a few years off, say, because you moved downtown and wanted to see if you could live entirely without a car, if you ever wanted to own a car again, you’d pay a higher premium than if you’d stayed insured the whole time. (I’m reading the preceding sentence and see that it’s as complicated as one of five-year-old Isobel’s plot synopses; let me know if I need to unravel that a bit more.)

In addition, we had two little kids, and when the weather was really bad and I had to do solo drop-off, daycare was just too far away for us to walk with umbrellas. So, realistically, we needed a second vehicle… sometimes.

We looked into AutoShare, which many people use and like. But again, the problem was access: Our house isn’t within walking distance of a pick-up location, and with two little kids…. You get the picture.

So we decided to lease an inexpensive minivan, with enough storage for all the baby gear we’d need to lug to day visits to my parents’ home in the suburbs and overnights at Matt’s parents’ farm in the country. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that the van was an utter lemon, even giving out as we’d merged onto the highway one day. (Thank goodness Matt was driving — I’d have flipped!)

The bonuses of one-car living in the city are too numerous to list here: We never have to worry about where to park the second car (in our old house, we had a shared driveway, and in our current home, we have only one designated parking spot). The kids are older, so when I do solo morning drop-offs, we simply walk. Our new vehicle is smaller and uses less gas than the minivan.

True, we still pay the same or slightly more in insurance because Matt now drives our primary vehicle to work, but he also receives a car allowance, which balances that out.

We’ve just taken the next step in commuting cost cutbacks, now that the girls are both in the same daycare again. (Isobel, who is going into grade one in September, started at the school-age centre this week! Hooray!) One drop-off point means… maybe I could ride my bike to work a few days a week?

Today was the perfect day to test it: The girls were allowed to bring their bikes to daycare, for a ride around the playground, so I said, “Why don’t we all ride our bikes today?”

I got in my exercise (I haven’t been to the gym, despite the fact that it’s RIGHT IN OUR OFFICE BUILDING, in ages).

I’ll save a transit fare each way ($6).

I avoided my usual brushes with aggravated, crammed-in transit commuters (a Twitter friend noted this morning that a woman passed out on the streetcar she rode to work — too many people in the summer heat).

My goal is to bike to work three times a week for the rest of the summer. That small move alone will save me $144 in transit fares — and will gain me a priceless amount of well-being.

Are you trying to reduce your family’s transportation costs? How are you managing? Share your tips and trials here.

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