What You’ll Save

mighksXSince the beginning of 2007 I’ve been tracking how much money my wife and I save by biking for transportation. Everybody knows it’s expensive to operate a motor vehicle, but it’s fun to actually add it up and see how you’re doing.

“Saving money” can be a complicated assessment.  A very big part of how much money you spend on transport has to do with where you live, where you work (and your type of work), and of course there are other factors — kids, overall health, etc.  Carol and I live near downtown Orlando and I work downtown.  Carol works at home, but also visits clients on occasion.  Even if I never biked at all and drove my car everywhere, my annual miles traveled would only be about 8,000 miles; a good bit lower than the average.  I bike about 2,000 miles per year, which is far lower than most recreational club cyclists.  Most of my trips are 2 or 3 miles, but I’m on the bike almost every day.  If I lived farther out in the suburbs and biked the same types of trips I’d “save” much more money by biking, but I’d also spend more with each auto trip I did take.  It’d likely work out costing me about the same, but I’d be spending much more time getting places instead of being where I need or want to be.

The savings calculator spreadsheet I created not only tracks how much we save on gasoline, but also the per-mile savings of total motor vehicle ownership and operation costs (using AAA estimates), carbon dioxide not emitted by our cars, and calories burned — expressed as scoops of ice cream (not the low-fat kind).

So how much have Carol and I “saved”?

For 2012:

$486 in gasoline

$1,478 in total vehicle ownership and usage costs (includes gasoline)

2,654 pounds of carbon dioxide

233 scoops of ice cream

Since 2007:

$2,566 in gasoline

$8,916  in total vehicle ownership and usage costs (includes gasoline)

15,935 pounds of carbon dioxide

1,489 scoops of ice cream

The monetary savings will actually project into the future even if we stopped biking today.  Why?  Because we have two 10-year-old cars with only about 110,000 miles between them.  Our 10-year-old Subaru has only 60,000 miles on it and could easily go another ten years before needing replacement even if I quit cycling.  Buying an equivalent new car would run at least $25,000, plus the investment opportunity lost from that spending.

Of course this does not include what we’ve spent on bicycles, repairs, related equipment, accessories and clothing.  It also does not account for the health benefits we realize by being physically active on a daily basis.

Expecting that some of you might want to see how I calculate those savings and perhaps do it yourselves, I’ve created a Google Document spreadsheet you can copy and use yourself.  There is also a document which explains how to modify it for your own specifics.


10 replies
  1. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    But I’m sure I eat more since I started biking everywhere, so that’s an offset to dollars, as well as carbon footprint, especially since my diet includes some meat.

    I’m in the habit of figuring how much I’ve saved on gas each day, which is easy in my case since for my commute would work out to about half a gallon for the round trip. (Based on a rough national average mileage of 20 MPG, since I don’t actually have a personal motor vehicle anymore; my family has one total.) That makes me feel less guilty about spending money on coffee or vending machine items at work, it’s just my unused “gas money”.

    Unfortunately, since I’ve been bike commuting for 10 years now, I think my family’s lifestyle has absorbed the savings, ’cause I don’t even notice it. If I wanted to buy and operate my own car again now, it would look like a huge expense and maybe we couldn’t even afford it at this point! But hopefully we are doing something more enjoyable with that money now, so I guess that’s a good thing!

  2. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    As many have noted elsewhere, if you really want to reduce your “carbon footprint,” eating less meat, and reducing your home electricity use through efficiency and/or adding photovoltaics, would have a much larger impact than biking, or driving a more fuel-efficient motor vehicle.

  3. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Regarding the photo: that’s Lakshmi (my Xtracycle) ready to haul about 100 lbs. of manure compost, plus some seedlings and tools, from our “farm” back to our home; about 6 miles.

  4. hokan
    hokan says:

    I like a comparison model that includes time. Travel time as well as the time it takes to earn the money to pay for transportation. Ivan Illich looked at this in Energy and Equity (1974), excerpt here: http://clevercycles.com/energy_and_equity/

    In his model, the less one earns, per hour, and the less one travels, the more cost-effective cycling becomes compared to motoring. For me, middle-middle class and traveling around 5-6 thousand miles a year, I save some, but not a bunch, by using a bicycle and not owning or regularly using a car.

    Of course, this model is incomplete for me. It doesn’t account for the fact that I enjoy riding my bike. Driving a car is a chore.

  5. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Obviously, it isn’t all about carbon footprint – Russian Roulette would be the best way to minimize that, since living longer uses more AC and other resources – as various studies have claimed.

  6. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    I see my post is not posting. I am now trying it without the links. Here goes:

    I see that according to our local Automobile Association, the cost of owning and operating a typical car is over $10,000 per year. Excluding car parking costs. Unlike many American cities, governments do not subsidise car parking in downtown Toronto, so the median commercial car parking cost is $4,035 per year per car.

    So by not owning two cars, my wife and I just saved over $28,000 per year. No wonder we have money to do other things.

    Of course, even in farthest-flung suburbia, the capital and maintenance costs of a garage and driveway will be considerable.

    Source for car costs based upon driving a Toyota Camry LE car 18,000 km per year is page 6 of:

    • Kevin Love
      Kevin Love says:

      I seem to be consistently unable to post the other link, to car parking prices. I will try again later.

  7. Fred Oswald
    Fred Oswald says:

    For those who do own a car, a significant source of savings is in auto (liability) insurance. I can (and do) honestly tell my agent that I do not drive a car regularly to work. I’ve been averaging about 20 car commutes per year over the last dozen years. Last year (2012) was by best — only 6 car trips vs 221 on a bike. And this is in Cleveland, which gets snow in the winter.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Commute Orlando had a great article by Mighk Wilson last month, in which he tracks what he and his wife have saved by using their bicycles for transportation and errands. He is not speaking just of gasoline and other operational vehicle costs, but carbon dioxide and ice cream (calories burned expressed in scoops!) as well. Check out the full article here. […]

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