21st Century Dad
One Dad's Thoughts, Ideas, and Feelings.
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Downsizing to 1 Car

September 10th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Illustration: Elliott Kim

One month ago, we made a family decision to downsize to one vehicle. We took inventory of our needs and our expenses, and it made sense to get rid of one car. I am glad to be free of life’s most inconvenient convenience.

We’re not disadvantaged with the lack of one car due to our circumstances. One parent stays at home with the baby and home-schools the older child. I’ve learned how to use public transit and I ride my bike whenever I can.

The prevailing attitude in South Florida is that a car is a necessity. The lack of a car would be a hindrance. I have not felt that hindrance. Did I miss the meeting? Did I not get that email? I’m supposed to feel stuck! Why has an overwhelming sense of liberation come over me?

  • I’m not a believer in multi-tasking, but this is as close as it gets. I’m getting recreation, exercise, and transportation at the same time.
  • Riding the bus gives me opportunities unavailable to me if I’m driving. Try reading or watching a video podcast while driving. Oh wait, this is South Florida. I wouldn’t be surprised if people did just that.
  • Riding the bus insulates me from the bad drivers. Everyone thinks the drivers in their city are the worst. South Florida drivers really are among the worst in the nation.
  • Riding my bike is a much more intimate interaction with the aforementioned bad drivers. I choose my bike routes accordingly. I’ve discovered some great scenery because I’ve had to find alternates to major thoroughfares.
  • I eliminated $600 of monthly expenditures.

My current work situation allows me to carpool with a friend of mine. Beer is cheaper than gas now, so I buy him a 12-pack once a week, and I even get to drink 2 or 3 of them.

Sarah Palin is keeping all you fact checkers very busy, so I’m going to save you some time. A 12-pack of Heineken works out to be about $9.70/gallon. Okay, so in Europe, I’d be right. However, the amount of gas I’d burn in one week commuting costs significantly more than the beer used to fuel our friendship.

The point is, (I find myself saying this a LOT to the resident teenager) there are alternatives to the automobile. My bitter and contested divorce from conventional wisdom has allowed me to explore the options I am currently using.

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27 Days on One Tank of Gas

May 13th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad
Sport Utility Vehicle
Photo: SocialTechnologies.com

Crunchy on the Inside With a Soft Suburban Outer Coating” started its life as a lengthy and thoughtfully written article. I decided to split it up into smaller chunks over several weeks. The first installment came out on Earth Day. The mid-section of this article series has expanded due to the timing of events.

Maybe you employ every gas-saving tip out there, but there is more money to squeeze from other areas in our lives without suffering for it. Some tactics even improve the quality of life.

Finally Filling Up Again

The insidious “E” light came on today as I was driving home from work. I know this doesn’t mean “Get gas now or be stranded on the roadside!” but it always imparts a sense of urgency. Besides, I spotted a screaming bargain at $3.73/gallon (15 years ago in Europe or Japan, dozens of cars would be lined up at that gas station).

I made it 27 days between fill-ups. I paid $6 more at the pump this time.

The Real Cost of Gas

Gas prices are an easy target. The per-unit cost has gone up significantly, but what impact does it really have on our budgets? Let’s examine a hypothetical (and realistic) scenario here:

The Almost-Good Old Days

  • $3.00/gallon
  • 25 mile round-trip commute.
  • 25 MPG


  • $3.73/gallon
  • 25 mile round-trip commute.
  • 25 MPG

To keep this simple, we’re isolating the cost of commuting to work. I’m Asian and I got bad grades in math all through school. Let’s keep this simple, OK? Based on the assumptions outlined above, we have a fuel cost of $15/week in the past. At the higher price, we have a weekly fuel cost of $18.65. We’re talking about $3.65. Can you find $3.65 worth of fat in your weekly expenditures? Yes, the percentage of increase is gruesome, but what is our total expenditure increase over the medium and long term? Oh, and BTW, you can trust these figures. I’m not that bad at math.

Think Outside the Pump

I’m not making light of the budget stretching that’s going on. I also recognize that many people have longer commutes or less fuel-efficient vehicles than the scenario outlined above.

I get my share of “woe-is-me.” There’s a teenager living here. If a solution to your problem is within reach, the last thing I want to hear is whining. Enlist your creativity (or mine) and find the money you’re throwing away.

  • Chances are, in a 2-car household, one car gets used more. Drive the one that gets better mileage more.
  • One can of soda per day represents $10/month. Drink water instead.
  • Attention smokers. Cut out 3 cigarettes a day and there’s your $15/month.
  • Do I really have to talk about the oft-vilified Starbucks Latte again? Dunkin’ Donuts coffee costs less and tastes better.
  • Visit my buddies Frugal Dad and Mike.
  • Ride your bike instead of driving.
  • Take the bus.
  • Buy stuff on Amazon instead of driving to the mall.
  • Stay home and read my blog.

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21 Days And Counting on the Same Tank of Gas

May 6th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Public TransitThe last time I filled up my tank was April 15th. It was so long ago, I had to dig in my bank statement to find out. I spent $37.02. That tank of gas would cost me $43 $45 today. That’s why I have been riding my bike and using public transit.

I admit, my results are skewed. I was without the full-time employment portion of my income strategy for 2 weeks. My current gig gets me out the door at a reasonable hour and guarantees that I can leave work promptly at the “official” end of office hours.

I’m pretty handy with the most of the Adobe Creative Suite (hint hint hint to anyone looking for freelance graphic designers). PDFs of the bus timetables and maps can be easily sliced up, organized in iPhoto, and imported to my iPod. An essential piece of public transit warrior gear can become even more useful.

Reducing one’s reliance on an expensive resource is always a smart move. Commuting by car would represent a monthly fuel cost of $64. That’s not inclusive of the total cost of driving or the personal driving that I do. I am clearly coming out ahead by riding the bus. Reducing my gas consumption to 1 tank of gas per month is a realistic goal. Taking the bus to work costs me $40/month.

Driving less also translates into higher resale or trade-in value on my car when it’s time to phase it out.

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Crunchy on the Inside – Driving Habits

April 29th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

UPDATE 29 April 2008: After some reflection, Renee and I realized one car sat in the driveway for 2 days, and another is almost through day 4. Last night, I went to the post office, picked up some small items at Walgreens, and did some grocery shopping all on the bike.

I started this series on Earth Day last week. This is installment #2 of “Crunchy on the Inside With a Soft Suburban Outer Coating.”

Your Navigator on a Suburban Expedition

Sport Utility Vehicle

Photo: Murray Barnes

Living in the suburbs almost requires a car. Public transit spread thinner and eventually disappears as you venture further from the downtown area. This is painfully obvious in South Florida. The infrastructure was built without public transit in mind. However, I do my best to use public transit and ride my bicycle whenever I can. Two bus lines stop within a short walk from my front door. Others are accessible via transfer, a longer walk or bike ride.

Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood where a few local stores and restaurants are within walking distance. Even more businesses are within biking distance. I feel the guilt when I drive to places I could walk or bike to.

One of my top criteria for an automobile is fuel economy. I wanted a hybrid, but I just didn’t have the budget for one. If you do the math, the savings aren’t significant. You won’t recoup the difference in price at the pump over the life of the vehicle, even as prices go up.

You can’t win. The hybrid will get you halfway from New York to Boston before a Hummer gets you around the block. A conventional car may burn more fuel, but what happens to the toxic chemicals in the batteries when these cars make it to the junk yard?

Some people have a legitimate need for a large automobile. What grosses me out are the people who drive SUVs and full-sized pickup trucks as status symbols. Their sheer size requires more resources to build, maintain, and outfit with humongous tires. Ever notice that no one in a full size pickup truck drives like an old lady? How badly do you need to beat me to the red light? Do you really need to get there first? Bad driving habits burn even more fuel.

Improving Fuel Economy

Is this still linkbait or is the topic played out? Gas prices show no signs of returning to sane levels. Just do a Google search and you’ll find tons of great tips. My number one tip is to just drive less. Every day I take the bus is one more day I can put off filling up the tank.

Mike at FromMike.com is doing the “60 MPH challenge.” As you increase speed, your fuel economy goes down. At speeds in excess of 60 MPH, it drops off precipitously. I commend Mike for his efforts. It can’t be easy in a car like his. If I had a Dodge Charger, I’d be tempted to be heavy on the foot too

We’re Still Not All That Crunchy

How are we “not quite crunchy” in the car department? One of our vehicles is a 2000 Mitsubishi Montero Sport. Yes, it’s a big honkin’ SUV. I was surprised to find out how well it does considering the size of the vehicle. We’re averaging about 18-20mpg overall. Our other car (a Pontiac Vibe) does noticeably better at 25-28mpg overall. We do a great deal of suburban driving. On our recent roadtrip to Daytona Beach, we fared much better.

We all know that idling the engine burns fuel. South Florida is a brutal place to live if you don’t have air conditioning. If we’re running errands on the go, one parent and the baby stay in the car with the engine running. Why go through the ordeal of unbuckling the baby from the child seat only to strap her back in 5 minutes later?

Further Reading

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