Justifiable Cost

I spent a bunch of money on a new bicycle this week. I’m simultaneously kind of excited and kind of self-conscious about it.

Have you seen @preachersnsneakers on Instagram? I think it’s a brilliant attempt to promote dialogue on a key issue in our consumer culture. But it also heightens my awareness of the fact that any potential purchase could be similarly scrutinized. Even a purchase I think of as perfectly justifiable.

Even before learning about the Preachers ‘n Sneakers phenomenon, though, I was working this out. I wanted to estimate the economic savings that come along with a economic expenditure on a new bicycle. Did you know that research suggests average car ownership costs are approximately $8,500 a year? Maybe even higher! It’s more than just gas money. A more complete picture includes other factors as well, like:

  • Vehicle depreciation
  • Interest and financing costs
  • Taxes and fees
  • Car insurance costs
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Fuel expenses

I recognize that my values lend me towards different priorities than the average American. In addition, I pay many of the basic car ownership costs regardless of how much I use my bicycle. So, it’s not fair to say that I just have to ride my bike around for two months to pay off the investment in my new ride. Still, I’ve been playing around with the numbers a bit to try and more accurately reflect the economic impact on my household. And I’ve found it interesting to see the results.

Fuel Savings

I track my mileage, and I can confidently say that I bike about 730 miles per year (roughly the distance from Kent to Memphis!). Pretty much all of these miles are city miles. So let’s use my 2010 Toyota Corolla for comparison (which averages 26.0 miles per gallon in the city). Those 730 miles on the bicycle save our household 28 gallons of gas per year. And with prices at about $2.50 per gallon right now, that amounts to about $70 per year on fuel costs.

Parking Savings

In addition, I think it’s realistic to estimate about $20 per year in parking costs that I save in downtown Kent, from riding my bicycle. I expect our family would still get an annual Kent State University parking pass because of Marci’s job as an instructor. At the same time, we’ve never needed to have two parking passes to park two different vehicles on campus, simultaneously. I feel confident that I would be able to supplement any of my on-campus parking needs with paid lots and metered spots at maybe one tenth of the cost of buying my own parking pass — so I’m going to say my bicycling saves our family a total of $125 per year on parking costs.

Depreciation Savings

I’m confident that my bicycling also helps to reduce the amount of depreciation and maintenance on our cars, though it’s harder to calculate the levels for this. I suppose it’s safest to just factor in the depreciation costs relative to mileage costs, using my 730 miles per year as the benchmark. So on the conservative end, I estimate that I save us $50 per year on depreciation.

Insurance Savings

Calculating the insurance savings is even more tricky. The fact of the matter is that we do have three cars for three drivers in our household, and I have to pay insurance on all three vehicles. I honestly don’t know how much of the insurance I pay is calculated based on mileage, but I do know that total vehicle mileage is at least a factor in setting the level for our auto insurance. So even if I go really conservative and estimate the impact of my bicycle mileage to be between two and three percent of the total auto insurance costs, that still amounts to a savings of $20 per year on insurance.

Health Care Savings

I believe there may also be a case for building in some savings on health care. But this is also hard to calculate — since I would be carrying insurance with or without the bicycling. I’ve talked to enough of my middle-aged friends to realize that there are significant out-of-pocket expenses to go see the chiropractor, to pay the client portion of prescription drugs, to spend on a special kind of food for a special kind of diet… which I simply haven’t had to start paying yet. I know, I know. There are so many factors that go into the economics of health and aging, but I think it’s safe to say that there have been at least some health savings on account of my bicycling habit. Can we just go relatively conservative, say it’s $25 a year in health savings, and not overthink things too much?

Recreational Savings

Finally, I think it’s safe to say that bicycling is also one of my hobbies. I say I do it for health, for wealth, for the earth, and for mirth. I know that last word is the most confusing for others. It just fits my rhyme scheme. And effectively communicates the laughter, levity, joy, fun, and social connection that bicycling brings to my life.

Some people play golf. Others enjoy live-action role-playing games that require certain cards or figurines. A lot of guys my age like to spend time, energy, and money on their lawn care. I don’t do those things; I ride a bicycle (and run, and hike, and read, and blog). Still, I think it’s reasonable to say bicycling saves me a good $25 per year on hobbies (if not more). I might otherwise be inclined to spend on other hobbies, if I didn’t have bicycling in my life.


If these numbers are to be believed, my true annual savings are $315 per year. That means it will take me a bit less than four years to pay off this new bicycle. I fully expect to be riding the bicycle for that long, so I believe it’s justifiable. But if you want to talk with me about it, leave a comment below or reach out some other way.

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