Inspired by Mr. Money Mustache over the years, our family has incorporated biking as a big part of our lives. We try to bike as much as we can. The benefits are huge. Not only do we get free exercise and enjoy the outdoors, we also save on the cost of driving. We typically bike for any errands that are within 5 km from our house if it's not raining or snowing.
In this article I will focus on the financial impacts of driving less. I always knew that driving had a lot of costs however I was very surprised when we did a full analysis of what the actual cost of driving was.
Driving has some fixed costs that can't really be reduced if you need to own a vehicle. If you can find a way to eliminate a vehicle, you can significantly reduce these costs. In our analysis, fixed expenses are insurance and registration. For us, this is about $800 per year.
Variable Vehicle Costs:
The variable cost analysis is where we can see just how much we can save by biking or walking instead of driving. Since we retired, we only drive about 10,000km per year. Since we don’t owe anything on our current vehicle and don’t plan to finance any future purchases, we set aside approximately $2,000 per year to buy a used car when needed. This amounts to $10,000 on a new (used) car every 5 to 7 years. This amount also covers major repairs if it significantly extends the life of our vehicle (i.e. if major work of $1,500 to extend the life of a vehicle for 2 more years). We also budget for approximately $500 per year for regular maintenance and repairs.
So in total we spend $2,500 per year on 10,000 km. This works out to $0.25/km.
Variable Gas Costs:
We get on average 500km from a $50 tank of gas. This depends on city or highway driving. But for the sake of simplicity, we estimate that gas costs us $0.10/km. I believe this is pretty comparable to most of the new fuel efficient vehicles including SUVs and vans.
This is an excellent number for us to keep in mind. It really makes us consider the cost of taking the car out. For example, the grocery store is a 6.4km round trip from our house. So, at $0.35/km, this trip costs $2.24. This isn't a huge savings, but in reality it takes almost the same amount of time to bike as it does for us to drive. Especially when we consider putting and removing at least one child (or three) in car seats and that on our bike we can park right beside the front door of the store.
Whenever I analyse an expense, I have to remind myself that, in many ways, we are not an "average family". We only have one family vehicle, we have had our current vehicle since 2011 and we don’t commute. Most families have multiple vehicles (so doubling or tripling the fixed expenses). They likely spend closer to $35,000-$40,000 every 5 years because they will refinance a new car every time the monthly payments are done. This works out to approx. $7,000-$8,000 in annual "new car" expenses. Then we have to add $500 per year for maintenance. The average family probably uses their vehicle for more than our 10,000/year so fortunately they can amortize this cost over more kilometres.
Even with the benefit of amortizing the total costs over more km, the cost still comes up to $0.38-$0.42/km. If we add in the $0.10 per km in gas, then I would estimate that the average family’s cost of driving is approximately $0.50 per km. Or more! (This is based on on my super simplistic math calculations and observations)
With that said, here are some hypothetical examples of the cost of driving (or the savings of biking) for the average family:
Obviously a lot of other factors have to be taken into account. For example, maybe you have too many groceries that won't fit in a bike trailer. Or maybe there really isn't a good bike route to work. However, it's a good idea to always keep in mind the cost of driving for your family next time you start your engine.
We keep a spreadsheet of all the times we use our bikes. We do this just for fun to see how much we bike in a season and to motivate us. Here is how many km we biked in the last three years since we retired. (Note that when we biked together, we did not count the kms twice.)
Our first year in retirement we biked a whole 610kms! Such an accomplishment that gave us plenty of exercise, hauling our 2 kids in a trailer and saved us over $200! We biked less in 2019 because I was pregnant and had Quinn in May. We biked whenever we went somewhere with our 2 older kids, but our baby was too young for the bike trailer. Total savings $83. And this year was also a bit tricky, because now with 3 kids, our oldest is too big for the trailer so he takes his own bike but can’t go very long distances (for now). I hope to beat our 610kms from 2018 in 2021!