In the last year, my husband, Jeff, and I have been attempting to be a one car family. At first it wasn’t even real, since one of our neighbors snowbirds in Palm Desert and asked us to drive his Portland car. But now it is, and I find myself wrestling with transportation decisions when I really shouldn’t. It is a great illustration of how our minds can get in our way, whether it’s with spending or saving money.
First, why are we doing this? Now that I don’t work, I barely drive. Most of my social and volunteer activities are in down town Portland, and I live less than half a mile from a light rail station. When I go down town, I much prefer to take the train, because I may, in fact, be the world’s worst parallel parker. The rec center where I work out is a block away. When we had two cars, I only used mine once a week, if that. For the first couple of years of retirement, aside from road trips, I probably only drove 1,000 miles a year, and many of those I could have walked.
So having a second car was a waste, and it really wasn’t good for the car, which needs to be driven to keep working well. We are literally saving thousands a year by owning only one car. The average cost to own a car is over $9,000 a year.
For that money, I could take a Lyft or Uber every day. I can use the train all day every day for nearly five years. Yet I hesitate. If I want to go to a place where I can’t walk or easily take public transit, I tend to assign the cost of a Lyft to my activity, and mull over whether the activity is really worth it.
This is not because money is tight. We have plenty of money to do whatever we want. It’s because I am habitually and detrimentally frugal (some would say cheap). Mulling the value I get for the money I spend is so deeply ingrained in the way I think that it gets in my way.
So that is my confession. I’ve read that every strength, taken to an extreme, becomes a weakness, and this is one that has for me. What I really should be thinking about when I call that Lyft is how much fun I’m going to have, or how much good I’m going to do if I’m volunteering. I shouldn’t be thinking about money at all, because I’ve already figured out that I’m saving a ton by not owning a second car.
This is how our brains work. We are naturally irrational. We focus on the thing that is in front of us, and it takes effort to see the big, long-term picture. Whether we’re a saver or a spender, it is this short-term focus that works to our detriment.
It helps to verbalize what you are trying to accomplish. If you need to save money, talk about what you are saving for with your partner or a friend. Write it down in a journal or wherever you keep your budget. Revisit it regularly and mark your progress. If you are holding too tight to your money, like me, turn your attention to and talk about all that you have accomplished, and take joy and comfort in knowing you are on track.
For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security. It is now available on Amazon.