More Money, Less Bird Poop

Here is how the typical conversation goes when I tell people I don’t own a car anymore:

“That’s cool that you sold the MINI Cooper. What are you going to buy?”

“I bought a new bike.”

“No, I mean what kind of car are you going to buy next?”

“I actually don’t intend to buy another one at this moment.”

“…Seriously? How are you going to get around?”

“My bike. That’s why I bought a new one. It’s faster.”

“What are you going to do in the winter?”

“Bike or take the bus, if I have to.”

“Really? You’re hardcore!”

To clear up any confusion, I am not hardcore. Riding in the rain makes me cry. What I am is extremely impatient. I live four city miles away from my job downtown. If anything threatens to disrupt the normal flow of traffic, the drive can take up to 45 frustrating minutes. By contrast, my bike ride never takes more than 25 minutes, even in freshly fallen snow.

The decision to sell the MINI was an easy one. I simply never drove it. The car sat in the street for weeks collecting rust on the rotors and mounds of bird poop on the sunroof. Spending money on something that did little more than house my cd collection seemed frivolous. So I cleaned her up, wrote a clever Craigslist ad and sold it in three days to a nice couple genuinely interested in the amount of tread remaining on the tires.

Now that the car is gone, I feel lighter. No more worrying about it getting scratched, hit or flat-out stolen from its semi-permanent parking spot on Chicago Avenue. No more paying for premium gas, Mobile 1 oil changes and a steady string of maintenance repairs. Best of all, the money I was spending on a car payment and insurance gets to remain in my checking account and put to better use – like a savings account (or travel, let’s be honest).

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to go car-free living in a city like Minneapolis. Bike boulevards, extended bike lanes, greenways and – depending on the neighborhood – conscientious drivers exist in abundance here. We’re less fortunate when it comes to decent riding weather. With an annual temperature swing of roughly 100 degrees, dressing for “the conditions” varies wildly. Winter riding gets the most attention because it appears to be the most difficult. Staying warm, dry and illuminated, while managing to remain upright through snow and over ice takes some practice, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a far less stressful commute than the drivers crawling along Portland Ave. at a cool 5 mph clip the day of a major snowstorm.

I’ve been car-free for almost two months and haven’t regretted my decision once. I like approaching situations more creatively and intrepidly. Performing mundane tasks has turned into a fun challenge; Luke took the car out of town this weekend and I needed to do some grocery shopping. My solution was to hook a couple of side panniers onto my rack and ride to the store 15 blocks away. Running errands on my bike encourages me to patronize small neighborhood businesses, rather than running out to the big boxes in the ‘burbs. And then there are the obvious benefits of getting more exercise and time outside, which provides a vital balance to sitting inside, staring at a computer screen All. Day. Long.

I understand that many people can’t give up their car, but it is possible for nearly everyone to reduce the amount they drive. Start making small shifts in your behavior, like leaving the car at home for trips that require less than a five-minute drive. Try biking to work on a Friday. I personally believe there is a greater sense of freedom than restriction in being less dependent on your vehicle. Perhaps you, too, will begin to see how liberating (and financially rewarding) it is to let the car collect a bit of bird poop once in a while.

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