How Selling Our Second Vehicle Changed Our Lives

How selling our second vehicle changed our livesI know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being completely serious: selling our second vehicle, and becoming a one-car family, has changed our lives in ways we never expected. (Mostly in terms of financial freedom we never believed possible on our tiny income.)

Here’s the story.

Our Financial History

Like many young people of our generation, Ben and I have always struggled with money. Not because we’re bad with money, but because we just can’t make any.

school-dayMy first day of school as a married woman.

We got married when I was still in university. For the first four years of our marriage, I was in school full-time. Ben went from working shift-work at a factory to working for my carpenter dad to starting his own carpentry business. We eventually had kids and I put my degrees to work by becoming a stay-at-home mom. (That’s what liberal arts degrees are for, right?)

So our household income has always been low. But we have always been frugal. We were raised by frugal Mennonites. We shop at thrift stores, buy used vehicles, cook from scratch, and DIY all our home renovations. Our idea of a fun, indulgent night out involves going to a local bookstore to flip through (but never buy) some books and share a venti frappuccino.

Despite our frugal lifestyle, though, we could never get ahead. We never got into debt, apart from our mortgage, but we could never make a savings, either. Our bank account always hovered around the zero mark.

We had no safety net in case of financial emergency, and absolutely nothing set aside for retirement. I felt constantly anxious and we fought about money often.

Month after month, year after year, we would look through our budget and wonder, where on earth can we cut back? We were already spending the minimum possible amount on everything. We almost never ate out; we didn’t go to the movies; we didn’t have satellite for our TV or data for our used smartphones. We biked instead of driving whenever we could. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. All of our technology was outdated. We didn’t go on trips or buy new clothes. What else could we possibly do?

(I am leaving out the year we lived in the hospital with our son and were financially supported solely by our wonderful government and absolutely incredible community.)

The Vehicles

We owned two used vehicles, both for which we’d paid less than $10,000 (in cash). Ben needed a truck and trailer for his carpentry business, for picking up materials and for bringing cabinets to his installation sites. We needed a family vehicle for everything else. So we owned a 2003 Ford F150 and a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

But it felt like we were constantly pouring money into these vehicles. Repairs, gas, insurance, license plate stickers, maintenance . . . it never stopped. These inexpensive, used vehicles were sucking our bank account dry. They were like black holes for money.

But we thought that was just how it had to be. We needed the two vehicles.

Or did we?

Last summer we came across the blog Mr. Money Mustache. He promotes a frugal lifestyle similar to the one we were living, and writes about it in an engaging way. He calls it “baddasity,” and we thought it sounded exciting and life-enriching. But he had one interesting, new idea: ditch the second vehicle.  Even more interesting: ditch the work truck, even if you run a business like Ben’s.

After reading this fantastic article, Ben approached me with this shocking idea: what if he sold his truck and started using the family van as his work vehicle? The van would in fact work double-duty.

He only rarely needed to pull a trailer — less than once a week. The van could handle that. Most of the time, he could probably load his materials into the back of the van. The rest of the time, he was working from home.

And since I stayed home with the kids, I only rarely needed the van, too. There were usually two vehicles sitting in the driveway, sucking up money just by existing. Even with one vehicle between us, our transportation needs would rarely conflict. And when they did, one of us could bike.

Losing the Work Truck

see ya, work truck!

Within a matter of weeks Ben had sold his truck. And suddenly we had an extra $5200 in our bank account. For the first time, our bank account was well in the black, with no reason to go down any time soon.

And the money kept piling up. We got a $1200 refund on car insurance for the year. We saved about $1000 on fuel and $500 on maintenance by not using a truck. Ben had planned to replace the tires that year, which would have cost another $1500.

That first year, we earned/saved $9000 by not owning and operating a work truck.

It was mildly inconvenient for Ben to do all his work with the family minivan, but definitely not $9000 worth of inconvenience.

What To Do With All This Money?

It was thrilling, for once, to have extra money. What should we do with it??

The first thing we did was create an emergency fund. We’re not big fans of Dave Ramsey in general, but we felt this was a first good step. It lifted a huge burden from my mind to know that money was there in case of emergency.

And beyond that, we knew we ought to invest some of our money. But how?

Investment planning is not our forte. There are likely better ways to invest extra money than the route we chose. But one thing felt like a safe bet: to use it towards our mortgage.

The amount of money you can save in interest by putting cash towards your mortgage is mind-blowing.

We figured out that by putting down an extra $8000 on our mortgage, we would be saving almost double that in the long run on interest (i.e. close to $16,000.)  (The savings on extra mortgage payments for you will, of course, vary depending on your interest rate, amortization and size of mortgage. But for some, it could mean doubling your money, as it did for us.)

Another bonus? The sooner our mortgage is paid off, the sooner all of our income becomes pure spending money, with which we can do whatever we want — from investing and saving to just plain old spending on things we want (including donating to good causes). We estimate that our first extra payment alone shaved off almost two years from that goal. We are eager to enjoy that freedom as soon as possible!

And there’s more!vacation

In addition to putting down all that money towards our mortgage, in the second year we were also able to do the following:

  • buy some good used bikes and a bike trailer for getting around town
  • visit the dentist without guilt or worry (first time in six years!)
  • experience general freedom to purchase things we needed, and get the best quality
  • start saving up for our next mortgage payment!

We plan to continue putting extra money down on our mortgage every year — ideally at least $5000 — until it’s paid off in full. In doing this we hope to shave off more interest and more years to reach financial independence.

All that freedom from getting rid of the work truck that we thought we “needed.”

In Sum:

So, basically, a $5000 clunker we were maintaining to mostly sit in our driveway had the potential to suck up $20,000 of our hard earned money and life energy over the years. Once we got rid of it, all that money slowly trickled back into our lives to go towards smarter things.

We feel more relaxed about our financial situation and we have more freedom to choose where our money goes.

We’re not promising we’ll never buy a second vehicle, but the benefits of going without for a few years have already been enormous.

If you have more than one vehicle, maybe you’d benefit from giving one up, too? Just something to consider!

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Felix in the News (Again)

Photo credit: Dale Molnar

 

Hi friends!I just wanted to pop in briefly to let you know about some recent news coverage Felix has gotten.

The local chapter of CBC did a story on Felix a few months ago while he was still in isolation (I shared those links here.) They contacted us a while ago to ask if they could do a follow-up story, now that Felix is out in the world. We were happy to welcome them into our home and share our story.

So if you’d like to read, hear or watch a condensed version of Felix’s story, here you go! They did a wonderful job. We had all had a crappy night and none of us were at the top of our game. But the folks at CBC did their magic and made us sound totally coherent.

  • There was a really great TV story, but as I went to link to it, I found that it seems to be gone. Bummer! You would have loved it!

That’s it for now. Hope everyone had a great summer. Hope to be back in this space with some of my own words soon!

 

Our (Super-Relaxed) Kindergarten Homeschool Plans

Resources and inspiration for a relaxed homeschool kindergarten year

Lydia is turning five this month, so I’ve decided to add a bit of “schooling” in our lives, starting this September.

(Last year I explored the reasons we didn’t send her to preschool or do “homeschool preschool” with her.)

Our plan is to be super-relaxed. We’re not buying any curriculum, and in fact plan on doing very little formal instruction (if any). I lean towards the unschooling model, which assumes that children learn everything they need from the world around them as long as they’re given a rich environment and an an enthusiastic adult guide/facilitator. I tend to believe that kids learn best when they’re led by their own interests, and when “subjects” are intermixed and tied to real life.

I’m just not too worried about kindergarten. As long as she has some basic pre-reading and math skills and gets a chance to hear lots of stories and play with friends, I’m happy with that. I want to spend lots of time working on practical life and self-care skills, creating art, and maybe introduce some handcrafts. And I’m psyched to learn stuff with her!

I do want our home to be stocked with helpful resources. And I plan on putting a bit of effort into guiding her learning. I’ll be satisfied if we spend an hour a day doing “educational” stuff together, even if it’s just one subject on a given day.

So here are a few things I’ve looked into and/or purchased to help enhance her learning this year and beyond.

Of course these subjects and materials all overlap . . . which is kind of the point.

Math

Math is the subject I’ve spent the most time thinking about because school ruined it for me. Early on, I got the sense that I was “bad” at math and that it was boring and too abstract. I’ve hated it ever since.

So I’ve been totally surprised that in all of Lydia’s early encounters with math, she’s been enthusiastic and quick to pick it up. I want her experience with math to be vibrant, exciting, and vitally practical.

spielgaben

The first resource I sought out, then, was a Spielgaben set. (It just arrived in the mail this last week. Squee!) Spielgaben is a gorgeous set of all-natural (mostly wood with some cotton) manipulatives that encourages hands-on learning. They can be used for creative play, but I’m most excited for their potential for learning mathematical concepts. Speilgaben is expensive (we’re talking in the $400-500 range), but I believe it will be an invaluable resource for many years to come. (And we’re saving so much by not buying a curriculum.)

spielgaben - symmetry gameLearning about symmetry

(I first got introduced to Spielgaben through the blog Happiness is here. Check it out and get inspired!)

Bedtime Math - Laura Overdeck

I recently took out the first Bedtime Math book (Laura Overdeck) from the library, and Lydia LOVED it. Every page offers fun, silly math problems in a range of difficulties. I was stunned by her enthusiasm. She loved doing Bedtime Math more than reading story books. I could bribe her to get ready for bed by reminder her that we would get to do Bedtime Math. It was amazing to me. I look forward to going through the rest of the books.

I also purchased the digital book Moebius Noodles, which I confess I haven’t read a page of, but looks super-exciting.  I learned about it from this exciting article, entitled “5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus: Why playing with algebraic and calculus concepts—rather than doing arithmetic drills—may be a better way to introduce children to math.” Yes, please!

In the future, I want to explore Life of Fred for math, but I think Lydia’s still a little young. We’ll probably try it in the spring.

Language

For reading, I plan to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. I know it’s not very unschooly, but it would help me feel more confident that I was teaching her the right skills in the right order. I’ve read the intro and it looks solid. I’m just waiting for her to show an interest in learning how to read, because I’m sure as soon as she wants to learn she will take off.

Otherwise, I plan to just do LOTS of reading aloud together. The more I learn, the more I realize that this might be the most valuable thing you can do for a child’s literacy.

If you can instill in your child a love of reading, you will unleash unlimited learning potential. And what better way to encourage that love than by reading together? If nothing else, I’ll continue to read to her before bed every night.

Arts

For visual art, I plan to do the obvious: lots regular art time together! I love painting and drawing and experimenting with new materials, and look forward to explore these things together.

For music, I enrolled her in dance lessons at the local dance studio, which will be once a week. In addition to dance instruction, I hope this will also give her a chance to interact with other kids and get instruction from another adult besides me.

Science

My only plan here is to make sure we occasionally get science-y books out of the library. She’s really interested in the human body lately, so I think we’re going to be taking out lots of books on the skeletal system and the like. I can probably get her interested in books on birds and butterflies, too.

Other

museum

I want to place a strong emphasis on learning practical life skills (baking together, caring for herself and her environment, etc). I dream of doing lessons on folding laundry, preparing snacks, tying knots, and stuff like that.

I’m also interested in Waldorf-inspired handcrafts (things like knitting, felting, embroidery, etc). But I haven’t put too much thought into this yet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself!

And that’s about it. I’m sure I’ll come across more resources as we head into the “school season,” but I’m not in a rush.

I can’t wait to learn together!

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