I have just discovered that I am part of America’s 1 percent.
Not trying to brag too much here, but actually, I’m even more elite than that. I’m in the less than 1 percent club that you “99 percenters” would just as soon run over, if you could.
I ride a bicycle. Only 1 percent of America can make that claim on a daily basis, according to bikesbelong.org. I also bike to work, which puts me in an even more exclusive club – the 0.56 percent club to be exact – of people who use pedal power for their daily commute.
Frugal Man’s 1997 Huffy has seen better days, but it still gets him around town.
Part of the reason I do it is because it’s 50 minutes of exercise a day that I wouldn’t otherwise get.
The bigger reason is that it means I don’t have to spend much money on my car, even if it’s just a 1995 Toyota Corolla that my mother essentially donated to me six years ago.
Mom didn’t want to drive a stick anymore, and I didn’t want to throw any part of my paycheck at a car payment. We both got what we wanted. She’s driving an automatic, and I’m riding a bike. The Toyota sits in the driveway catching tree sap.
Many people, including Mrs. Fay and my three sons, think I’ve gone overboard about this. Like most of America, they wouldn’t ride a bike around the corner to get a free ice cream, let alone through hostile traffic and into downtown to get to work. They view cars the way fish view water: A functional necessity you simply can’t do without.
I see cars as a pain in the wallet and research proves I’m right.
Automobiles consume an absurd amount of income, anywhere from 15 to 35 percent. Exactly how much depends on whether you own or have to make payments on the car and whether you really want to know all the costs associated with driving it. Most people don’t. Their car is sacred, indispensable and untouchable, no matter what they’ve got to spend for it.
If you do care, there are plenty of places online to find out the true cost for operating a car. By far, the most extensive is at Commutesolutions.org, which shows a chart that includes direct driving costs like gas, insurance, maintenance, and tires. There are also indirect costs like road construction, highway maintenance, accidents and air pollution.
It also includes a few debatable costs: External resource consumption, water pollution, hydrologic impacts and road noise.
When Commutesolutions.org adds it all up, they say it costs $1.39 a mile to operate your car. That’s more than double what the IRS allows you to claim on taxes, which is 56 cents per mile.
I’m sure part of that is because Commutesolutions.org is based in California and everything costs twice as much out there. The low-balling 56 cents a mile is because the Democrats running the IRS don’t want you writing off any more of your Republican gas-hog vehicles than they have to.
If you don’t agree with either of those estimates, there is always the rate set by the ultra-reliable American Automobile Association. AAA says the average sedan costs 60.8 cents a mile; minivans are 65.3 cents a mile and SUVs 77.3 cents a mile. Even then, if you drive 15,000 miles a year, you’re still spending between $9,122 and $11,599 a year to operate a car.
I spent $44 riding my bike last year. That included new tubes and tires for the 1997 Huffy Regatta Deluxe that may have outlived its Deluxe status. The mud stains from trying to beat afternoon rains have blended in nicely with the faded-blue paint job. It’s a one-speed with coaster brakes and fewer accessories than my niece’s tricycle.
It looks like it came from a garage sale, which it did. I paid $25 for the bike, but splurged for a new tire pump, which cost me $17. Add it all up and the outlay for all my bike soars to $86, which is still less than 1 percent of what it costs the rest of America to operate a car.
To be fair, I did use the Toyota to get to work when it rained or was too cold to ride. I drove just over 3,700 miles in 2012. We’ve had a lot of rain this year so it might get up to 4,000 miles in 2013, but if I lived in a city with decent public transit, I could abandon the Toyota altogether.
Most transit buses and subways accommodate bikes, which means all you have to do is ride to the nearest transit stop and jump on. Monthly transit passes sell for under $100 everywhere except New York City where they go for $112, which is less than it would cost to park your car for a week in Manhattan.
So even if you’re living in New York, riding mass transit and using your bike, it’s an economic windfall. Plus, you get membership in the 1 percent club.
Just watch out for the 99 percenters trying to run over you.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.