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A Simple Six: Why Car-Lite?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why Car-Lite?

We have lived in Huntington, WV for five years now. It was a good transition for us from Buckhannon, WV. The whole family took well to having a variety of things to do each and every day with other parents and families. I was able to find a MOPS group, a Mother's Club and great libraries. There were a plethora of wonderful parks, many grocery options, an art museum, theaters, dance companies, a river, swimming pools, and of course, we had a good neighborhood with a school playground right around the corner. Every day there was something on the calendar for my pregnant self and my two children, then ages 4 and 2. We were movers.

Being new to a community requires a lot of effort. It's hard work getting to know your resources and amenities. Combine that with trying to make new friends and relationships and it gets very emotional too. We settled in nicely here after all this time. And it has been a long time for us too. Before this house in this city, we had been moving to a new address every year, sometimes across state lines and twice between time zones.

How and Why are we choosing to Drive Less NOW?
Because we have such a wonderful network of friends, because we have a small, locally accessible community with good resources, because we have a moderate climate (by my standards), because we have some public transit, because my children are ages 9, 7, 4 and 19m, because we live less than two miles from both the children's school and Brent's office, because we have done it before (although with fewer children), and because we just needed to cut our expenses somewhere, I feel that we can live as six with just our old 2000 Cavalier.

Today a good old friend whom I hadn't seen in well over a year, stopped in for a visit with her two young children. The issue of me trying to sell our van came up, as I sort of urged it to. I need a buyer, and I will keep talking about it till one comes along. She asked me all sorts of questions about the situation. Here is my paraphrased Q&A:

  • Why are you selling your van, isn't it a necessity with four children?
    • Our motivator was trying to make sacrifices to live within our means. We had already given up our cell phones and tightened our budget in other areas. We were all set to sell our home earlier this year and move somewhere cheaper and smaller and then it occurred to me that I would rather sell the van than the house. We are keeping the car and five of us can fit into it, so this was a good compromise.
  • What about when you need to go out of town?
    • We may rent a van, or we will decide if we won't go. It will be a matter of necessity. We are also fortunate to have a Greyhound and Amtrak station downtown. I heard talk of a car share program at Marshall University, but I don't know what's become of it.
  • What about in the winter?
    • The way we see it right now, we will either grin and bare it or we might just give up in January and buy another van. I am far more likely to like cold weather than the 90 degrees we have tolerated this July, it is the snow that concerns me. I do like that we are keeping the car and we have the option of just not going places sometimes.
  • If you get a new van won't you be paying more?
    • I hope not. My logic, as flawed as it may be, says that if I could sell a six year old van with 90K miles for $11K, then I ought to be able to buy one for that price if I need to. Since we have been making our payments now, I would hope to be in a better place in five months and be able to make them then too.
    • Selling the van is also part of a larger picture. By selling the van and taking the proceeds to pay off our balance then use the remainder to pay down our second mortgage (combined with the extra income we are getting this summer thanks to Brent's many many hours of labor) we will be able to have a home value to loan amount ratio under the 80% needed to refinance our primary mortgage. It's a plan that may or may not work, but I have given myself till January to put all my efforts into it.
  • We don't live in a big city. This is the sort of thing people do in NYC or Chicago, you can't just walk and bike every where. Maybe you should just keep the van and try living without it for a couple months.
    • That's what we have been doing. We have been weaning ourselves from the need to drive everywhere. We use the van one day a week for errands and we have been using it one other day for tennis, but I think we solved that trouble with the bus. We have had other things arise where using the van could have been avoided, but it is still in the drive way so we have used it. For instance, a couple weeks ago Brent's group that he is working and living with, was an hour away so I took the children to see him. Family time is very important. I had saved enough gas from our fill up in late June to get us to Charleston, WV on July 9, where we tanked up and I still have 3/4 left. Good thing too, because we are going back to Charleston on Saturday to pick him up.
    • We don't live in a big city, but everything we need is less than four miles and we are keeping the car. I am not saying this will work long term, but it is the catalyst for the financial change we need. I see it as something we can try for six months and evaluate.
I really like answering questions about what we are trying to do. I see it as a way to analyze the situation and get some perspective. Perhaps we are crazy and this won't work. Where do you see this whole thing could go wildly wrong? What other choices do we have when it comes to saving money?

I did talk to my friend about how my husband doesn't want to spend three weeks working away every summer. He doesn't want to work after the children go to bed until the wee hours of the morning on extra projects. He wants to spend time watching them grow. I want to maintain a budget that sets him up for one job with one salary and the time he desires. I want to grow a healthy financial future for us all.

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