[this is a ymoyl update.]

here’s a staggering number: in the first ten months of this year, i paid an average of $287.10 a month for fees, gas, insurance, repairs, and tolls for my car. that comes to exactly one fourth of my expenses for that period, discounting tax and mortgage payments.

i only use the car:

  1. to drive to the zendo twice a week.
  2. to drive from glenn’s house, where i live, to my house, which i rent, to get my mail, things i have in storage there, etc.
  3. for long trips to visit family, go to sesshin, etc.

that’s it. i’m paying roughly $3,500 a year for a convenience which spends at least five days a week just sitting on the street, and that doesn’t even count the cost of buying the car in the first place. i’m seriously considering joining the world of those who live without them. michael bluejay got me thinking about it, and an article in an alumni newsletter by a family that had made the switch lodged the idea in a place from which it continues to nag. my needs don’t really require a car; all three of the activities above are easily changed:

  1. i can get to the zendo by light rail and bus, or by light rail and bike. i’ve driven the route from the cold spring lane station to the zendo with an eye to its bike-friendliness, and it’s quite doable. this may not be an option in very snowy and icy weather, but then i can just not go; they won’t excommunicate me.
  2. one of my tenants just said that he would like to have my house more formally, so i’m going to be removing all of my property from it and doing a change-of-address, after which there will be no need for me to go there.
  3. when i need to go out of state, i can rent a car. it’s expensive, but i don’t imagine it will add up to $3,500.

everything else i need — stores, post office, library, barber, dentist, etc. — is an easy walk or bike ride away.

i’ve been observing what i do for a few weeks and thinking about how it would be different if i didn’t have a car. i’m going to keep thinking about it over the winter months, buy a bike and learn to maintain and use it safely, and come spring, make a decision about whether to sell the car.

what if i had never bought it in february of 2002? i don’t have easily-accessible data going back that far, but if we assume that each month over the life of owning the car has cost $287.10, between the monthly cost and the original purchase, i would have been $19,063.95 richer today. if that amount were invested at 4% interest, i’d be earning $63.55 a month instead of spending four and a half times that.

wow.

this month’s mortgage payment showed the first big change in interest since i started making extra payments. my interest payments usually drop by $3 each month; this time, it dropped by $20. the graph has made a charming little dip of its nose. so, i’m paying $20 less in interest each month, and $20 more is going into paying off the house, and i can testify to the fact that watching expenses plummet is nearly as satisfying as watching investment income climb.

i’m curious about whether other americans have come to the same decision, that the signs of the time demand giving up on investing and turning to paying down long-term debt. one more week will tell whether the country can turn itself and the world around from disasters much more serious than the economy.

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