Part of the reason I restarted this blog was to make a challenge for myself. I would use it to chronicle my observations and thoughts, and receive input from my friends, family, and readers.
The challenge: Go 1 month without driving my car.
There have been several motivating factors behind deciding that this would be my challenge.
First and foremost, my main motivation is based on my personal finance goal to get out of debt. I’ve been reading a lot of things from Get Rich Slowly and various other financial lifestyle articles. They all have the same underlying theme: make more than you spend.
There are two ways of accomplishing this:
- Increase income
- Decrease spending
I was doing very well with #2 up until a few months ago when I moved to Arlington. I was paying $900/mo. to a $311 car payment, which significantly cut into the highest interest debt I owe on my Nissan. After the move, I was forced to cut back on my debt reduction strategy to $600/mo. That’s still about double the monthly payment, and all things considered, is still a great way to bring down my overall total.
Like many things in life, the only thing that stays the same is change. I received a letter a few weeks ago saying my student loans were coming out of their deferment period, and that I would have to start making payments starting in October. This was yet another thing that was going to force a schedule slip for my car debt plan.
Reflecting on things I’ve learned from GRS & others, I looked at the master formula. My general go-to approach has always been cut expenses, but I’ve reduced all of my expenses to what I feel I could comfortably achieve already. The only other option was to increase income.
This obviously meant some sort of second job. My one requirement: nothing that requires me to “request off” work. I am a fully independent adult, and can make my own choices. One thing I strongly value is never asking permission to live my own life. That post will be saved for another day.
I tried to apply to be a Teachers Assistant at Hopkins. Having just recently graduated, I thought it would be a great transition to become a grader. I was a TA once back in undergrad, and it was a pretty good gig. I sent a few emails to my favorite professors, but never heard back from most. The one I did hear back from decided to not use a grader.
I looked into freelance work. Not having a strong network of outside clients and without a portfolio of unclassified work, I don’t think freelance work would net me much money for the time commitment, although I’m still looking into this.
I considered becoming a high school tutor, like my roommate. He does this work as a second job, and seems to rake in a good amount of cash from it. I’m told I can set my availability, as long as I’m willing to drive to the student’s home. In metro DC traffic, that could vary from 10 minutes to an hour or more.
The Ah ha! Moment
The straw that broke the camel’s back and made the light bulb turn on came from dear old Uncle Sam in the form of a pair of property tax bills. One from Fairfax County, and one from Arlington County. A whopping $350 I should have been expecting.
“$350 so I can sit in traffic? Jeesh,” I thought to myself. “Saving time is expensive.” And that’s when it clicked.
All the while I was looking for a second job, I was willing to trade the extra time I have for extra money. But if you look at a car not as an essential piece of transportation, like most Midwesterners and those who live in cities without decent public transport, but as a time saver, it becomes a way to save time in exchange for money.
Looking at my monthly budget, I pay or save the following for car related expenses:
- Car payment – $600
- Car insurance – $555 every 6 months
- Gas – $100 (growing – figure hasn’t been adjusted for new commute)
- Maintenance – $25
- Taxes – $350/yr
This amounts to just under $850 month I’m spending to drive to work. On average I spend 35 minutes door-to-door in the morning, and about 50 minutes on the return home. That’s 85 minutes per day.
On the contrast, the two days I’ve taken the DC metro to Bethesda, I’ve gotten there and back in 65 minutes each way.
Extrapolating that out for the whole month, I save, on average 15 hours per month driving instead of taking the metro.
The DC Metro is not cheap, either. With recent rate hikes, each trip would cost $4.15, totaling about $166 per month. My company also offers to pay that with pre-tax dollars if I sign up for a special program. That would add some not-insignificant gains, but we’ll ignore that for this calculation.
Total time: 15 hours
Total cost: $850 – $166 = $684
Effective Hourly Wage: $45.60
I’m not so naive to think the cost is only time. Other benefits sacrificed includes comfort, convenience, and utility. Some metro cars have broken AC units, are packed like sardine cans, and I can no longer go on a Target run at a moment’s notice if I need something.
Ultimately though, each of those are traded by the added benefits of walking everywhere (very important for my sedentary work load), reduced environmental footprint, and less impulse spending.
The first step is always the hardest
With all of this in mind, I will start my new challenge on September 13th, and see where it takes me. Chances are, I’ll find some things I like, some things I don’t, and will have gained a valuable experience in the process.