J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Money/Personal Finance (Page 1 of 5)

Gambling With Your Time

Hold ’em or fold ’em.

An analogy: each hour of your life is a casino chip. You can cash in (relax and enjoy life) or place bets (expend effort and willpower in an attempt to get more rewards).

What are the rewards? Whatever you value. Health, wealth, love, admiration, respect, fame. Or, if you’re Conan: crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women.

Odds aren’t the same in every casino. In some casinos, no matter how you place your bets, you’ll lose. Some casinos even cheat. But if you’re fortunate enough to live in a country with low rates of corruption and a thriving economy, the odds are probably decent. If you make good bets (expending effort in reasonably smart ways), you’ll get rewards.

But even good casinos favor some patrons over others. Certain combinations of gender, ethnicity, age, physical attractiveness, sexual orientation, etc. may convey better or worse odds.

So how do you bet? What’s the best betting strategy? How do you get the most chips?

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Eight Months Without a Car, Cost and Convenience

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The eight-year-old’s bike.

Back in February when Kia and I turned in our leased Fiat 500 and decided to do a “one-month experiment” of living without a car, I suspected that the experiment might last longer than one month. But eight months? No way. I was sure we’d have another car by now. But it turns out there are a few advantages to not having an expensive hunk of metal to care for, including:

  • On average, it’s cheaper (about $150/month less).
  • It’s great to not worry about your car (will it break down or get stolen/scratched/dented/broken into/ticketed).
  • We save time on car maintenance and paperwork.
  • All three of us are fitter, stronger, and leaner (details below).
  • I feel more physically and socially connected to my neighborhood.
  • Our carbon footprint is reduced (though still high — we sometimes fly on airplanes).
  • I get to use my phone like a magic wand to summon friendly drivers to my house who arrive within minutes and take me wherever I want for a reasonable price and I don’t need cash not even to tip (thank you Lyft).
  • Local grandparents have been great sports about having to drive a bit more (thank you!)
  • Given our situation (we both work from home, our kid goes to school three blocks away, our neighborhood has a Walk Score of 91/100, local car-sharing options), we’re pretty much the ideal family to NOT own a car.
Our neighborhood Walk Score

Our neighborhood Walk Score

Costs

Back in February I calculated our average cost of car ownership at $440/month, as follows:

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Don’t Waste Money

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Burning money — not always a waste?

Recently something clicked for me, a reconciliation of the personal finance philosophies of Mr. Money Mustache and Ramit Sethi, two “rich life” bloggers I follow. The former retired in his thirties via ultra-aggressive savings and a serious no-frills lifestyle (drying clothes on the line, buying cheap staple foods in bulk, bicycle as main mode of transportation, etc.). Ramit, on the other hand, loves to ridicule budgeting (few really do it) and advises his readers that they are better off putting their attention and energy into earning more money (via starting online businesses, freelance work, side jobs, and/or negotiating higher salaries). Superficially it would seem that these two approaches are diametrically opposed, but a unifying principle revealed itself to me after a recent transportation experience. Don’t waste money. I’ll get into what that means (at least what it means to me) a little later.

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Why Basic Income Makes Sense in the United States

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Basic income, or a citizen stipend, or a technology dividend, or whatever you want to call it, makes sense. Here’s why:

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No Car Month 4 — The New Normal?

Just another commute.

Just another commute.

May was the fourth month our family went about our business without owning or leasing a car. We still used a few cars, including the CityCarShare car-sharing service and the occasional Uber or Lyft ride, but we also got around more by foot, bicycle, skateboard, and scooter.

The experiment started in February, with the end of our Fiat 500 lease. I’ve posted a short update each month since (here’s March, and April, if you want the whole story to date). In May we started to get the feeling that not owning a car is the new normal. It just didn’t feel like a big deal to run errands on foot or via self-propelled means. A few things that spring to mind:

  • This month we made an extra effort to make sure we were pulling our weight in terms of dropping off/picking up our daughter from cross-town playdates, either with her grandparents or friends. This meant heavier CityCarShare use. Also, we reimbursed some friends and family for extra driving they did on our behalf during the first three months of the experiment. Basically, we’re trying to not be those people who congratulate themselves for not owning a car but then bum rides all the time, or assume other people will happily do all the driving (and absorb the related costs).
  • I got some more upgrades to my bicycle, including thicker tires for a smoother ride, and switching from fixie mode to single-speed (with the option to coast). On my Critical Cycle this was just a matter of flipping the back wheel, but I had the guys at the bike shop do it so as not to find myself inadvertently and unexpectedly riding a unicycle at some point.
  • In the process of exploring new ways to get to a client in South Berkeley I ended up having one of the most epic longboard rides of my life. I took BART to the North Berkeley station, then rode the longboard all the way down Virginia to 4th Street. Smooth pavement, gentle slope, no traffic, all the way. Slalomed all the way down, fast enough to be fun but not so fast to get the wobbles and crash. So fun!

Total transportation costs for May, including amortized expenses:

  • CityCarShare — $142
  • Lyft (including in-app tips) — $51
  • Uber (including cash tips) — $20
  • car expense cash to family and friends — $30
  • amortized bike upgrades — $25
  • additional public transportation spending — $10

Total: $278. By comparison, total transportation expenses were $289 in April, $290 in March, and $225 in February. I would predict that if we continue our “no mooching” policy, in addition to our “no declining social invitations because we can’t easily get there” policy, our expenses will average out at $275-300/month.

Looking at available leases that we would seriously consider, we could get a 36-month deal on an eGolf for $219/month and $2349 due at signing. Other car leaser approximate costs would include:

  • $75/month for State Farm insurance, including loyalty and good driver discounts
  • $80/month for gas, bridge tolls, and parking
  • $50/month average cost of repairs and maintenance
  • $15/month amortized DMV registration

So that comes to $504 a month. So even at the upper end of the no-car lifestyle costs, we’re saving $200/month.

After 4 months, I’m starting to get a feel for the overall pros and cons. Here’s how we would characterize them at the moment.

JD’s Cons

  • Cross-town transportation requires a little more planning (though the CityCarShare app is very easy to use, and almost always we can pick up a car within a 5-minute walk).
  • I still don’t love using Uber or Lyft. Most of the drivers are really nice and completely competent, but we had one “Crazy Taxi” style driver, and one guy who got completely lost. Getting in a car with a stranger is always a bit of a crapshoot, now matter how you slice it.
  • I sat in a CityCarShare Prius (my first time driving one) button mashing for several minutes before I managed to turn the damn thing on.

JD’s Pros

  • Better fitness from biking (now more comfortable with my high-end seat and fatter tires and coast-mode), skateboarding, and walking.
  • Transportation is generally more relaxed — it’s nice to be out and about on sunny days, and not stuck in traffic.
  • It’s great not having to worry about your car (where’s it’s parked, if it’s OK, if someone has stolen it or broken into it).
  • We’ve probably lightened our environmental impact, at least somewhat. Less CO2 emissions, less fine particulate pollution, less noise pollution.
  • Save $200/mo. on average.

8-Year Old Daughter’s Pros

  • “I like that we don’t have to go get gas anywhere, because CityCarShare usually takes care of the gas”
  • “I like that I can play in the driveway when we don’t have a car there.”
  • “I usually like the cars that they give us.”

8-Year Old Daughter’s Cons

  • “I don’t like that we have to walk to get a car.”

Kia’s Pros

  • Kia has discovered that walking/biking is often just as fast as driving, for short trips.
  • She really enjoys walking family outings.
  • She likes the “car shopping” aspect of CityCarShare (get to know a particular model, and know that if you don’t like a feature you don’t have to live with it for a long time — for example finicky seatbelts, beeping while backing up [Prius], odd button placement).

Kia’s Cons

  • “I mostly really like it.”

Moving Forward

The fact that our neighborhood is highly walkable (close to schools, close to stores) influenced our decision to buy the house we did, but this feels like the first time we’re fully taking advantage of it. I realize that not everyone has it so easy, but for us it makes sense to at least try out the no-car-ownership lifestyle.

Maybe we’ll eventually lease or buy a car, but I could see us continuing the experiment indefinitely. I’ll provide an update at least a few times a year, but this will be my last monthly post on the topic.

If you’re currently on the fence, what’s preventing you from making the leap? Many of what I considered to be insurmountable problems turned out to be relatively easy to solve.

If you have any questions about how we’re making it work, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Or just share your own thoughts and experiences.

No Car Month 3 – The Honeymoon Is Over

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Our family just completed month #3 of living without owning or leasing a car. We still use cars occasionally (via CityCarShare, standard rentals, Lyft, and Uber), but there’s no hunk of metal in our driveway that we own, maintain, or are otherwise responsible for.

It’s still going pretty well, but this was the month that the thrill of not owning wore off, some of the hassles became more evident.

At first I was enthusiastic about all the exercise I was getting, and I got significantly leaner during the first month with all the extra walking and biking. But then I started eating more — especially more desserts (I’d earned it, with all the exercise) — and I gained the weight back. Overall I’m still lean, but my hope that not owning a car would be an easy ticket to getting shredded proved overly optimistic.

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