The Home Economics of Bicycles

Our local NPR station, KPCC 89.3 is doing a story on bicycling, and how it affects home economics in these trying times…  These are my responses to their questionnaire.

Tell the story of how your bicycle is changing your financial picture.

Largely because we choose to bike as our primary form of transportation, and do not own a car, my partner and I have disposable income, even as poorly paid graduate students. We can max out our Roth IRAs (and then some) each year, and still have money left over to rent a car once a month or so, to get up into the Sierras or out into the desert, or to visit family in Santa Barbara. We live comfortably, but frugally, and have no consumer debt. The situation would likely be very different if we had even one, let alone two cars.

In what ways has the price of gas changed your relationship with the bicycle?

I’ve always used a bike as my primary vehicle, so the “high” gas prices really don’t have much to do with my bicycle relationship. Except in extraordinary cases (someone with a long commute and lousy fuel efficiency), fuel costs are not the largest portion of the expense of owning a car. Insurance, depreciation, maintenance, financing, registration, parking tickets, etc. are all significant, but they are “fixed” costs, which you will pay largely regardless of how much you drive, and so most people take them as given, because they assume they can’t live without a car. Most of the economic benefits of bicycling only accrue when you get rid of the car completely, and avoid those fixed costs.

Continue reading The Home Economics of Bicycles

Our Electricity

After being asked rhetorically a couple of times if I knew now much I paid for my electricity, and whether I knew how much power my fridge was using ($0.13/kWh, and I don’t know) I bought a “Kill-A-Watt” power meter to see where our $18/month in electricity usage was going… just out of curiosity.  It turns out that watching a movie costs abot $0.08 in electricity.  The Cold Box (beer) uses about $3/month worth of power.  The fridge itself, usually the largest power hog in a household, is close to half our usage at $8/month. Making a batch of coffee in the french press, using the electric kettle is about a penny.  The other big electricity users are the stove and oven, and the washer and dryer (though we hardly use the dryer).  They can’t be measured with this thing because they use 220V outlets, which are generally hidden away and inaccessible anyway.

After those miniscule numbers, I was amazed to discover that a day’s worth of computation (24 hours, including some research related number crunching by my laptop, my desk light, my backup disk, and my 30″ cinema display) came in at $0.50!  So, at least for me personally, at roughly $15/month my computer is by far my largest expenditure of electricity.  Interesting!

I’d love to build (and live in) a condo that tracked the water and power usage of each unit, and within each unit each outlet/faucet/etc, in real time, posted to the web, and displayed in the communal entryway.  Visibility goes a long way to influencing behavior.