How I Pump the Breaks on My Car Expenses

by | Aug 23, 2021 | Hustle

In the beginning…

With blog posts dating back to 2011, Mr. Money Moustache is arguably the Godfather of the FIRE movement. His high savings rate made it possible for him to retire in his early 30s in Longmont, Colorado. And he’s known for biking year-round, even in the snow! He says that even in his working years, he would never live somewhere that required a car for his commute. His rant on the true cost of commuting is a sobering wakeup call at just how costly a 40-mile round trip daily commute is to both our time and our wallets.

Another example of auto-frugality

Want a second case study? The many hidden costs of vehicle ownership are nicely spelled out by the blogger at Declutter Finance, in a post he lovingly calls his worst “investment.”

breakdown of the hidden expenses of a car

And another

On Dave Ramsey’s radio show, listeners will often call in asking how they can get themselves out of their impossible debt. Because of the horrible drain of vehicle ownership, once he finds out they have a car payment, his first advice to them: “sell the car!”

Dave, like many people in the FIRE community, prefer to buy something pre-owned (or “new to me”) and make the purchase in all cash. These are just a few examples of people who recognize how a car can erode any chance at a halfway respectable savings rate.

Me and my HomoMoneymobile

Me with my 2005 Honda Element

My story isn’t too different from the ones above. While I did buy new, I was able to pay off my $20,000 on the car within a few years and I’ve had that same car for over 15 years. My Honda Element, which now has over 200,000 miles on it, has served me well over the years. It’s been a moving truck, a cross-country travel bus, a camping tent, an equipment van for my freelance video production business, and a mobile dog kennel.

For that last example, I removed one of the backseats and keep the other one stowed upright so there’s plenty of room for my pup’s huge donut bed wherever we go. That way, she has her pick of her donut bed in the back or the passenger seat next to me.

Road tripping with my pup

Despite the many ways I’ve enjoyed my Honda Element over the years, my favorite use of it may have been in the past 9 months. That’s when I was able to let it sit in the parking garage mostly unused as a 2-ton paperweight!

Mountain man

Sweet relief

Nearly a year ago, I drove from San Diego to DC for a temporary work assignment. While living in a walkable suburb of DC, most of my traveling was easily done by walking, riding the Metro (subway), or renting an electric scooter.

Suddenly, the mental stress of driving, merging, parking, and road rage was replaced with the peacefulness of walking most places while listening to podcasts and audiobooks on my AirPods. For me, driving less has been such a welcome change of pace! My goal when I get back to San Diego: find ways to continue the freedom of a car-less lifestyle as much as possible. If this appeals to you at all, here’s some suggestions how you, too, can “pump the breaks” and slow your roll with your own car expenses.

Row of rental bikes

Options to drive less and save more

Earlier this month, it was National Bike to Work Day. When I see holidays like this mentioned on the news, I always wonder how I can get started making that a possibility. Whether you want to slowly dip your toe into the car-less pool or dive in head first, here’s some options to explore.

Negotiate FT or PT telework. Currently, my gas budget is around $250/month. The prospect of cutting that expense in half or more with continued telework in my work week is very appealing!

Downsize from a two-car to a one-car household. The example above from Declutter Finance may have sounded extreme, with a single car costing $1,100/month, but I have a feeling it’s pretty comparable to most Americans households. So, if you’re a family looking for ways to reduce your spending, going from two vehicles could be a real gamechanger to get the party started! This was one of the first steps taken by the Rieckens Family in their documentary, Playing With Fire.

Incorporate more walkable errands into your week. Not only will you save on gas, but you’re get more Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) and exercise!

Move closer to your office. This may be a hard sell, but it’s worth considering, even if it’s only for a few years of your Hustle phase of life.

And once you’ve reduced your average miles per month… call your auto insurance carrier to negotiate a lower premium. But before you make that call, research some comparable rates with other carriers. The ChooseFI blog has a breakdown of all the terms and considerations for car insurance if you want to “bone up” on insurance lingo before calling around. Some options that do the price shopping for you are compare.com and www.policygenius.com. If you’ve really reduced your car usage and want to just pay by the mile, www.metromile.com has plans starting at around $29/month. As a word of caution, those lowest rates mean foregoing all the standard types of coverage. Below is a screenshot of the estimate I got from Metromile after putting in terms that were a little more comparable to what I have now with GEICO.

My car insurance estimate with Metromile
Scene from Dude Where's My Car

And then…

To take these savings a step further, I was originally going to try creating new income by renting it on www.Turo.com, the Airbnb of rental cars, during the times when my car wasn’t needed. However, after learning about some cases of criminals using Turo to smuggle drugs in the San Diego area, I’ll be skipping that option.

If you found anything useful in this blog post, or maybe you have a ninja trick for driving less that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below or in the HomoMoneymakers private Facebook group.

That’s all for now. See you on the sidewalk!

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