Experiments in Living: Quality of Life, Finances and Ethics (Part II)

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In my last post I talked about how I am examining how the various pieces of my life fit together. Some changes I made last week exemplify this mode of thinking. Going carless has implications that ripple throughout many aspects of my life, bringing benefits that far exceed the (merely) financial benefit of not owning a vehicle.

Eight days ago I sold my car. I keep checking my parking space to confirm it is not there. The space is empty, and so is my stomach. I am hungry from biking everywhere!

For seventeen years (a full half of my life!) I have owned and operated a vehicle. Watching my beautiful silver Honda CRV drive away without me was not easy. I recalled all the adventures I had with that car. However, to be fair, I have had far better adventures on my bicycles. 🙂

Eight days later I am happy with my decision. I enjoy bicycle commuting 5-15 miles a day. I feel more engaged in the city; more people talk to me, and I am quickly learning where everything is, forming a mental map in my mind. I use my bikepacking bags for groceries. There is something intensely satisfying about getting around everywhere on your own physical power. 

Sometimes it gets really hot. This is the Sonoran Desert, after all. But that is okay. I drink a lot of water and eat more, to fuel my body (instead of my vehicle). I am still learning how to monitor my energy levels and appetite, which fluctuate more during the day. I am still learning how to cook better, inviting friends over for dinner to sample my concoctions. My vegan cornbread and tamales are a hit!

It does take a little more planning to go places, but friends and family have been flexible with me. I tend to choose social engagements that are closer to my residence (i.e., within ten miles). I offer to chip in for gas, if a friend drives me somewhere (a win-win). For long-distance travel, I use Greyhound, which has the advantages of low cost, little hassle, relatively low fuel consumption per passenger, free Wi-Fi, free bicycle storage and extensive routes and schedules. And you can buy a ticket the day before you travel. In these ways, buses beat flying. 

I suppose going carless is a constraint on my freedom; however, owning and maintaining a vehicle is also a constraint on my freedom, in the sense that it demands precious time and money (money = time), not to mention the unpleasantness of driving on Tucson’s busy streets. Tucson’s bicycle paths are far more serene. The time I spend traveling is now time I enjoy. 

The other big change that happened last week is that I cancelled my car insurance and the portion of my medical insurance that pays for routine care. In the past year, I have pursued routine healthcare from clinics that take insurance and clinics that favor cash-paying patients (an “experiment in living“). I found that I much prefer the sort of care I get from a doctor whom I pay directly. What is more, I am wary of insurance companies dictating my healthcare choices and wasting my time with elaborate, paternalistic policies and unfair claim denials. Good riddance!

I now have insurance for what insurance is actually for: emergencies. There is one exception. Interestingly, my (old) dog’s health insurance policy is a mere $44 a month, a bargain when you consider the number of expensive procedures he has had. PetPlanUSA has never once disputed a claim. Perhaps we should take a cue from the pet healthcare system?

It is also interesting to compare vehicle and bicycle insurance. In my city car insurance costs eight times what renter’s insurance costs. Renter’s insurance covers bicycles. And yet my three bicycles have the same net worth as my former vehicle.

Although I have some basic insurance policies, the best insurance I have is my health (which I maintain through bicycling and a plant-based diet) and my strong bicycle locks. My bicycle locks even come with an anti-theft program: if a thief breaks the lock, then the Bell Garage will pay the renter’s insurance deductible.

What about routine bicycle maintenance? I am currently taking a comprehensive bicycle maintenance class through my local bicycle cooperative. Most cities have bicycle cooperatives, which rent out bike stands and tools. The cooperative also sells and gives away bicycle parts. There are always several knowledgeable mechanics on hand to show you how to service your own bicycle. There is something intensely satisfying about fixing your own bicycle. Last night I took a front wheel that could barely spin and remade it into a wheel that revolves effortlessly. Beautiful!

The final big milestone that happened this last week is that I finally reached my goal of getting my monthly bills down to under $300 a month. It is possible. These are my current monthly bills:

Bills [$260/month]

$10StateFarm renter’s insurance

$22 – PetPlanUSA health insurance for my dog (split with his father)

$22 – No contract TING flip phone

$180 – HOA fees (condo utilities, maintenance, Internet, property taxes, etc.)

$25 – Tucson Electric & Power electricity (with community solar blocks)

$ 1 – Ambetter high deductible health insurance (Bronze Plan through Obamacare)

I want to be clear. These choices are not just financial choices. They are also quality of life choices. They are ethical choices, too. If I ever purchase another vehicle, it will be fully electric, given the fact that fossil fuels are cancer-causing and environmentally destructive. Like many, I also believe our current healthcare system is corrupt. Creating economic demand for clinics that are transparent about prices and serve patients instead of insurers is extremely important.

Though I have only touched on a couple of my new habits, I plan to continue blogging about different experiments in living. Stay tuned!

Sarah