Should I Rob My Emergency Fund to Buy a Bike?

From November 1998 to October 1999, a mountain bike was my sole means of transportation. I was living in northern Virginia at the time, riding around in a white shirt and tie with a little black name tag. Unlike many other guys riding around in white shirts and ties with little black name tags, I enjoyed climbing up stairs and park benches while still mounted on the bike.

I loved this fit and happy time of life.

After eleven blissful months as a serious biker, I was forced back into a Ford Escort – where I promptly gained 20 pounds. On arriving home at the end of my time in Virginia, my older sister welcomed me with “Hi. You’re FAT.” We Butlers don’t mince words.

I think it’s time to get back in the proverbial – and literal – saddle. My younger brother and my dad bike commute religiously. They love it. The blogosphere seems to be talking a lot about the way of the bike, and I want in.

Because I haven’t explicitly budgeted for the purchase, I’ll have to rob my growing buffer or my emergency fund. (YNABers the world over gasp in horror: “No! How could you?!”)

Calm down. I haven’t yet committed either of these Deadly Budgeting Sins. But there’s math here –  math deserving due consideration.

I’ll break down the numbers. You weigh in on the purchase (please).

The Bike, The Helmet, The Upkeep

I haven’t shopped bikes yet, but I could do very well for about $500.  I’ll need a helmet. Let’s call that $75. It seems fair to estimate another $100 of maintenance and accessories in the first year of ownership.

*Serious Bikers: please comment on my cost estimates.

$675 to start my new life as a bike commuter. After spending the $675, I’d still have a full three month emergency fund – just throwing that out there.

Increased Travel Time, Decreased Convenience

I’m estimating 45 to 48 minutes per day in the saddle, compared to 20 minutes per day in the car (five minutes from home to office, and I go home for lunch nearly every day). The bike adds 25 to 30 minutes to my daily travel time.

It also seriously limits my mobility from the office, making random errands during the work day impossible (or at least impractical).

On the Other Hand, the Bike is a Two-wheeled Cash Machine

Taylor (YNAB CTO)  has a good friend Pete (your YNAB t-shirt is on its way, my man) who has tracked all auto-related expenses in his life for the last several years.  Driving a 2005 Mazda 3, he calculates total operating cost per mile at $0.22.

*I have no idea how the IRS comes up with a number like 50 cents. Based on Pete’s data, the IRS number is outrageous.

The YNAB office is 2.5 miles from my house; I go home for lunch almost every day.

10 miles of driving x $0.22 = $2.20 per day

250 working days per year yields $550 in direct savings in the first year.

*You could argue I’ll drive less overall because the car won’t be available for this or that little trip from the office, which would bump up the bike-related savings. I’m sure it’s true, but I can’t quantify it. 

Don’t Forget About the Shrinking Love Handles

A handy calculator estimates a 195 pound man will burn around 100 calories riding 12 minutes at 10 to 12 miles per hour. Two round-trips per day would earn me a 400 calorie burn. I plan to keep things calorie neutral by munching on bagels while riding. Just kidding, sweetie (my wife is, um, psyched about the 400 calories burned per day).

400 calories per day x 250 days per year = 100,000 calories burned. At 3,500 calories per pound of fat burned (by the way, is that a real thing?), I’d theoretically burn about 28.6 pounds of fat in the next year. That sounds pretty fantastic.

A bike-centric lifestyle would mean better health and less money spent on health care in the long run.

I’ll Also Be Happier, Less Stressed, and More Productive

As a bike commuter, I’d arrive at the office in the morning invigorated; I’d expect a corresponding bump in my output.

The ride home would be a good opportunity to detox from the work day, better preparing  me for the daily post-work wrestling match with the kids.

The time outside would make me feel a little less terrible about spending my finite life staring at walls and computer screens (this really does give me serious angst).

The Bike Puts $750 per Year in My Pocket

All physical/mental/emotional benefits considered, I’m going to bump the value of the bike commute up to $3 per day, bringing the value of the bike to about $750 per year. Subtracting $100 for maintenance and accessories, the bike just about pays for itself in year one.

A full commitment to the bike commuting lifestyle would double the money, while leaving it in savings would generate $3.52 in interest (yes, I just made that number up on the spot).

The bike makes perfect financial sense: it doesn’t meaningfully affect the emergency fund, it pays a higher interest rate than the savings account, and it comes will big positive externalities (read: smaller love handles).

So I should go out and bike the bike tomorrow.



I actually ride it.

So, what do you think? Should I take the money out of savings to buy the bike?


72 Responses to “Should I Rob My Emergency Fund to Buy a Bike?”

  1. (mostly)HappyYNABER

    Go for the bike chief – but to make you use it, you have to sell the car. Then you will truly see the benefits come rolling in. No car = no easy option if the weather looks a bit rubbish. Go for it… you won’t look back.

    • Ryan Oakley

      Agreed. Ditch the car first, you’ll have tonnes of cash for a great bike AND add money to your emergency fund.

      • mark

        You’re both mad! I love the bold advice. Burn the ships, right?

      • Ryan Oakley

        BURN EM’!! When we had two cars….I thought it would be a great idea to get rid of one but couldn’t see “how”. I mean…..walk to work every day of the year….in Canada? I couldn’t possibly do that.

        I have great boots, great shoes, and a plethora of great podcasts to listen to. Now I can’t imagine NOT walking to work every day.

        BUT i know that if I had that car waiting for me in the driveway, I would be tempted, every day, to just get the keys.

        No car. No option. Walk (or bike). Do it!!

  2. Adam

    Do it. It sounds as you have already convinced yourself to do so. As a year round bike commuter myself for 4 years, I feel terrible for missing a chance to do so when I have to take a car, and it does give you more benefits than most people realize. Be Safe!

    • mark

      Bike commuters are a passionate bunch. I look forward to the benefits, obvious and less-obvious.

  3. Joel Friedrick

    I don’t see the point of having an emergency fund if you’re going to rob it. You could justify a lot of robbing using your reasoning. If it is going to save so much money you should reduce your window blinds, backpacking gear, and trampoline funds until you can afford the bike. Emergency funds should be for emergencies. Sounds like you’re going to get the bike though :) Enjoy!

    • mark

      Great point on prioritizing the money-generating bike ahead of window coverings. Checking those savings categories, I’m already at $150. Another month or two and I’d have the money for the bikes without touching the emergency fund.

    • Tim B

      Emergency funds ARE for emergencies, but (to me at least) there’s such a thing as being too much of a slave to your budget. It sounds to me like Mark is pretty psyched about getting a bike, and when you feel enthused about something, I’d say that occasionally, it’s worth adjusting your budget to allow for it. In this case, he’s still got plenty left in the emergency fund, so I don’t see a problem in allowing himself a treat.

      • Joel Friedrick

        At one point in his life he decided he needed that money in his emergency fund. If that has changed so be it, I wouldn’t consider it robbing at that point. I personally like the idea of strict emergency fund rules, and adhering to them. Apparently a lot of bikers think he should go for it though, but what if he wanted that PS3 as described by another poster, perhaps a bunch of gamers would come out in defense of spending his emergency money, and all the bikers would say “No way, don’t use your emergency funds!”. I believe his question, while certainly about a bike, should be taken as “Should I rob my emergency fund for [something I could be saving for in my budget].”

  4. garret

    I’m 100% with you on bike commuting… it’s what I’ve done for several years… I love it. I commute year round, except a handful of days when it is heavily snowing or raining.

    But every town is different… some places are just unpleasant and unsafe to bike. So if you haven’t tried bike commuting in your current city, you might want to buy a cheaper bike to start, and see how it goes.

    Look around, and see if you can find a used (cromoly) steel framed mountain bike from the mid to late 1990s. Check craigslist, and call local bike shops to ask if they have any used bikes for sale.

    You want something like a Trek 920 or a Specialized Hardrock… these are fantastic commuter bikes. In good working condition, they go for $200-$250. They are better bikes than anything at target/walmart/etc… and better than the entry level bikes at local bike shop bikes. (Top of the line from 1999 is better than entry level 2013).

    After 2000, everyone went to aluminum frames.. lighter, but less durable.. and used alum bikes are more expensive.

    Plus, who cares about a few pounds of extra weight on your commuter bike. It just gets you a better workout. :)

    • mark

      I actually owned a Specialized Hard Rock in the ’90s. Thanks for the tips on the entry level commuter ride. A $200 to $250 bike changes the entire equation in a big way.

      As far as the commuting environment around here, I’d be on farm roads and in neighborhoods, so I’d do fine in that regard.

      • Catherine H.

        Even on farm roads, I’m sure you know safety and visiblity can be a big concern. I ride for pleasure and short errands but always wear lightweight saftely vest to increase my odds of being seen…sometimes drivers don’t expect to share a country lane with a bike. You probably also know that Google maps has a bike button (after the get directions button) that plots out routes using established or recommended bike routes. And I agree with others…start small, see if you are truly committed then launch into the bigger purchase. A pleasure rider like me would probably be glad to take your “starter” bike off your hands when you get your “real” bike.

      • mark

        Great point on the safety vest. Maybe I’ll have to add a reflective backpack to the wish list (don’t worry – wouldn’t be paid for with e-fund dollars).

      • Catherine H.

        I think I got my vest for like $5 at Walmart-not fancy, not well fitting, but definitely lightweight and bright-and has reflective tapes on both sides also. Could probably take that out of your miscellaneous fund-at least until you have the funds stashed for one that’s nicer.

      • Absotively

        I’m someone who bought a bike and now doesn’t use it, so I may not be the best person to give advice here, but you might also want to see if you have a local not-for-profit community bike shop. They often have used bikes for pretty low prices. And the ones I’m familiar with only sell donated bikes, so I think that reduces the risk that your used bike might be stolen. Plus, regardless of where you buy your bike, they will probably teach you to fix it and let you use their tools (for a usually-low fee).

  5. Patrick

    Hi, I am a recent YNABer (great steam promotion): Two summers ago I totaled my car. I was not prepared for this and had to spend 6 months to save before I could afford to replace it. So for 6 months, in the dead heat of a record breaking Central Texas summer I had no car. A friend encouraged me to bike. Being a very NOT active person, I was uncertain about biking. Turns out, it became the greatest thing that happened to my life. I began to appreciate the journey to places. On my bike I noticed the road more, the community and I felt a part of it, I felt the city’s pulse. Riding requires you to prepare for your journey more, to plan your route, and to be more proactive in determining how long you might be some place and what you might need when you get there. This may seem like a negative, but it became such a positive thing for me. So, in short, I highly recommend going for it!

    Oh and biking also feels like flying.

    • mark

      Hey Patrick – welcome to YNAB. Love your story – that’s exactly the experience I’m hoping to have as a bike commuter. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Mrs. Money Mustache

      I’m sure you know what I’m going to say… get the bike!

      This comment by Patrick is so inspiring and right on. A bike will change your entire life, if you let it. As MMM says, “a bike is actually an automatic life balancing machine”.

      The cost is so small for the rewards. Enjoy!

    • Taylor

      Patrick, you are so right. I bike everywhere when I am in Turin. I don’t own a car here. If a place is really far away, I take the public transport. I have the advantage that most things are close, but man, it is fun to bike places. I find myself looking forward to the trip as much as the destination. It’s so much less insulating. I notice so many more things than I did before. I can identify with the things you said, even though I don’t bike fast enough to feel like I’m flying. :)

  6. Joris Bogers

    I’d seriously bump the $100 cost for the first year up by a lot for a couple of spare inner tubes, maybe even an outer tire. Replacing them yourself is easy enough after a bit of practice, so no need to go to the repair shop when you have a puncture.

    But mostly – locks! To be honest, I’ve blown more than $100 on ONE lock (and my bike has 2!) Then again, I am from the Netherlands where bike theft is rampant, so it might be okay for you to do with less.

    Be sure to stash some dry clothes and a towel at work; it makes it easier to choose the bike, even when it is pouring rain. Oh, and try to park the bike in a dry place – at work AND at home. they really don’t like water much :-)

    With regards to the emergency fund: if you feel you can STILL handle most emergencies after deducting the cost of the bike, go for it. If not… well…

    • mark

      Ah, I hadn’t even thought about the cost of the lock(s)! Great ideas about keeping spare clothes at work, too.

  7. Susan

    Why wouldn’t you just save up for a few months? I also don’t see the point of having an emergency fund if you let yourself spend it for non-necessaries. Also your calculations presume perfect weather all year and no days with meetings or errands you might need a car for.

    • mark

      I did say I’d have a full three months of expenses after the purchase right? I’m not putting my family in serious jeopardy, but you make a fair point.

      I won’t be able to commute on the bike 100% of the time, so my numbers reflect my exuberance.

  8. Kelly

    As long as you’re comfortable with the $$ of your 3 month emergency fund I’d say go for it. You’ve done the bike commuting thing before, so it’s not just some wild idea you’ll try for 2 weeks and then leave sitting collecting dust. Keep the car, you can’t bike everywhere – Dr. appts, out of town trips, weekend errands, etc.

    Emergency funds are important, but I think all to often we get some magic number stuck in our heads and forget to view the money as a tool that provides us options in our lives.

    • mark

      I’ll definitely keep the car. And I agree with you about the e-fund. We’re talking about a relatively small percentage of the savings I have. My biggest concern is whether chubby, 34-year-old me will follow through and use the bike enough to be worthwhile.

      • janisecookston

        Hubby and I had the same quandary awhile back: would we use bikes enough to justify the cost of buying all the gear?

        So we did a test run by getting two used bikes from a free cycle swap and fixing them up. We probably spent less than $50 total to get them in working order.

        We decided that if we liked riding and really got good use out of these “clunkers” then it would be worth putting money into nice bikes and gear.

        It was a great “test drive” period that was super low risk because we put next to no money in on the front end.

        Three years later, we still own the clunkers. We like to ride, but it just didn’t fit into our lives as well as we had hoped, so consequently we don’t do it as often as we had planned. So now we have bikes that get the job done when we need them but didn’t drop all kinds of cash into nice gear that ultimately spends the majority of it’s life hanging in the garage.

        Just a thought. Maybe it’s worth snagging a garage sale bike or borrowing one from a friend to test for a month or two and see if “chubby, 34-year-old me will follow through and use the bike enough to be worthwhile.”

  9. Jeralyn

    2.5 miles? You could WALK to work in a little over a half hour and bring a bag lunch (so you don’t have to walk home at lunch time) until you can save up for the bike. My vote…don’t raid the e-fund.

    • mark

      Jesse made the same suggestion – run or walk to work to prove to myself I can be happy with non-car commuting.

      My only beef with brown-bagging is how I look forward to breaking up the day with a quick trip home. It’s great to have lunch with the wife and kids.

  10. Christian

    Why can’t you bring your lunch to work instead of going back home? I spent about $20 on my helmet. Do you have an air pump already? Lights? Backpack? (These are all things I forgot about.) How much are you saving per month? How long would it take you to save for the bike without raiding current savings? Out of curiosity, what happened to your old bike? I totally think you should get a bike, just rethink what you need right now and how you go about getting it. Maybe you can get your wife to hunt down some sales for you or craigslist shop.

    • mark

      If I were to really buckle down, I could probably save the $700 within 3 months inside the current budget. I might even be able to side hustle my way to a few hundred extra dollars.

      Great thoughts.

    • mark

      Let me email Pete and confirm that he’d be alright with me publishing the data. Thanks for the link – this has the makings of a full post about the true cost of driving.

      • wisekris

        I’m very interested in his process for collecting data and analyzing it. I think it would be great for me to see if its worth keeping my old clunker or look at a new fuel/repair efficient car. $1500 in repairs every 6 months is demoralizing

  11. Sue

    Unless you’re going to replace the car with the bike, I’d say save for it. You’ve been in a car for 24 years, another few month won’t make that much difference. You could set a goal of being out of your car before the 25 year mark. In the meantime, cut out the bagels.

    • mark

      Haha…cut out the bagels, indeed. I’m not sure I like your tone. Just kidding. You’re right – it would be a relatively short wait for the bike if I focus on it and save.

      And by the way – I’m 34, not 24. Oh, to be 24 again… :)

      • Sue

        Sorry – typo! Should have been 14 years, as in it’s 14 years since you stopped riding your bike and started using the car. So 15 year mark would be correct. It was early for me :)

  12. Enrique

    “IF” you actually use it. We budgeted for (and purchased) a treadmill and used the heck out of it the first three or four months, then waned down until it became the default place to throw coats. After a few years of disuse (or use as a bulky coat-hanger), we got rid of it. But you’ve been a serious bike rider before, so you already know what that entails, so that argues in favor of the bike. I don’t like touching my emergency funds (even for actual emergencies) since it was so hard to build up in the first place. But from one extreme (of waiting to purchase it until it is fully funded by your budget) and the other extreme of raiding your emergency fund this very minute, maybe there is some happy medium, some compromise. Maybe save for at least part of the cost (one month or pay period maybe), then for another part of the cost, re-budget your current budget to partially fund the bike from other existing categories – and both of those things to minimize the amount that actually hits the emergency fund for the remaining amount of cost that still doesn’t fit in the budget. It doesn’t look pretty doing it that way, but if it’s important to you, and if it’s important that it be done soon… This also leaves you with maybe a little less that needs to be re-paid back into the emergency fund. My thought is that if you’re already thinking of touching the emergency funds, then at least try to touch it as little as possible and repay that as quickly as possible. But I’ve found that more often than not, patience pays big dividends.

    • mark

      Yes! I’m concerned that my bike will be your treadmill. Used for a while, then shelved.

      You’re right. I should wrestle with the budget to cover as much of the purchase as possible. Pulling it from savings is the lazy way out.

  13. Chad Billington (@ChadEBillington)

    I’d feel fantastic with an emergency fund of three months. My wife and I are working hard (and are almost at a 1 month buffer).

    That said, if you went for a less expensive bike to get started, and made a plan to replenish, I wouldn’t see the harm.

    … except, there is creating a new mental perspective on what the emergency fund is usable for. Be careful that the fund becomes a new ‘loan’ account, that you can borrow from for stuff that isn’t emergencies. The head game is the biggest thing to think of.

    • mark

      Yeah, it could be dangerous to start heading down the path of “oh, I’ll just grab the cash from over here and put back asap.”

  14. Brian

    What about running, or at least walking while you actively save for the bike and the weather is good? You can move the money that you would’ve spent on gas from your transportation category every day, and into a bike savings fund that you’ll see growing daily. Then you don’t have to pick-pocket your emergency fund and can avoid guilt entirely.

    • mark

      Love it. So much level-headedness in the comments today.

  15. Dennis

    When you are a YNABer, the e-fund needs to be a line in the sand that you do not cross unless it is a TRUE emergency. Doubly so for someone who works there. You know, walk the talk and all that. I believe that holding firmly to an important principle makes you a better person. When we have an absolute, we get more creative in working WITH it instead of against it.

    In this case, you have a fully funded 3 month emergency fund. That is what Dave Ramsey recommends. So I could argue that your e-fund is overfunded. You just make a simple correction from the e-fund to the bike fund, and all is well. I don’t see it as robbing the e-fund, because that account is fully funded. When you reach that point in your financial life, you are at liberty to fund personal goals like a new bike. I don’t think you are obligated to continue to build the e-fund at the detriment of other things you would like to do. That is assuming that any debt is paid off and other higher priority accounts are already funded as well.

    For me, taking some time to save up towards something like this would increase the likelihood that I make sure this is something I really want to do, and that I stick with it and keep riding the bike after the initial excitement wears off.

    Here’s another benefit. By putting this out here, you got the benefit of the community’s suggestions, and now you approach this better informed.

    Let us know how this works out.

    • mark

      I feel much better informed thanks to all the comments.

      I think this is officially the most carefully I’ve ever weighed a financial decision (yes, that’s very sad), and now I need a nap.

  16. M Kay Keller (@MKayKeller)

    I did do it! I am losing weight, I feel FREE! I also discovered that I could leave the $120 in my fuel budget as it was and what I was now not using for gas I used to buy some of those bike accessories and by the end of this year, the rest is going into my vacation fund! :)

    • mark

      That’s great, Kay. $120 per month in fuel savings is an enormous amount of money. Should be a great vacation, knowing you paid for it with your daily commute!

  17. JinUk

    Are you planning on buying new or shopping around on Craigslist? You can definitely get a good deal on a better bicycle on Craigslist.

    Bikes-direct generally has bikes that are great for the equipment you get attached to the frame, but they do require some wrench work to get set up. (Its relatively easy if you’re willing to learn).

    http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/cross_bikes.htm -> these are good all-purpose bikes. A lot of people like the Fantom CXX.

    If you buy new from a local bicycle shop, the first year (or first 90 days depending on the LBS) is usually included to some extent. You won’t be buying new parts nor will the chain you get be very expensive (estimate about $25 online). TIres and brake pads will last you for a while – its a good idea to get some good tires moving forward.

    Lights will end up costing about $75 for decent lights (again, shop online and ask around for specifics on lights, but this depends on your night time commuting needs)

    • mark

      I’d love to get the bike on Craig’s List or the local classifieds site. It can be a little tough to find good, used stuff around here – Utah is full of tightwads who pick the classified sites clean.

      I’ve been referred to Bikes Direct before; thanks for the heads up on the specific model and the estimate of accessory costs.

      • JinUk

        Definitely try out some bicycles too. I know you’re just getting into bicycles, but at some point, you will want to upgrade. Hybrid bicycles, although nice for short commuting, aren’t all that great for doing a lot of other fun stuff on bicycles. A road bicycle isn’t all that great for getting on dirt paths. A cross bicycle provides you that flexibility since it has bigger clearances for larger tires. They can also be made to be really fast with a change of tires and sitting position.

        On top of that, I forgot to add in the cost of getting a good fitting on a bicycle. I’d recommend getting one to alleviate any potential issues with improper position.

  18. Northernmama

    Have you factored in the cost of new clothes if you lose 30 lbs this year? Pretty sure you will need new threads as well :p

    My vote is to save and Budget for it. Let the beauty of ynab work. If you buy tomorrow no research, might buy a bike but end up finding a better deal, nicer bike with better features etc down the road. which could lead to remorse and “othe bike is nicer” dissatisfaction with your rushed purchase. Which could lead to another bike purchase in the future; nullifying the purpose of communiting…save money.

    I think borrowing from you emergency fund is a slippery slope and should be avoided; unless a true emergency.

    What does your wife think? Ultimately it is you and your wife’s decision.

  19. Thomasina

    It’s not a matter of being able to justify the expense but of exercising the discipline to stick to your budget. If it’s something you truly want and are serious about budgeting for it is a great way to prove it. If it’s not worth saving for it’s certainly not worth an impulse purchase. What are you willing to sacrifice to have it? What are you unwilling to sacrifice?

    • wisekris

      I think he mentioned he’s willing to sacrifice driving a car to work which is budget choice you make EVERY DAY. This is just a different use a transportation funds. If gas or a big repair made it too expensive to drive your car would you consider that an emergency enough to utilize your emergency fund to buy gas/repair or use another transportation method? If so I think this is decision is more then ok provided it backed with data.

      • Thomasina

        …Except it isn’t a different use of transportation funds – it’s using emergency funds for a non emergency which can be planned and saved for. ;)

        If I had a perfectly good car and wanted a different car – maybe a hybrid that could save me money on gas in the long run – I’d save for it.

        Didn’t Jesse just write a post last month that old dollars are like aged wine?

  20. whocindylou

    Hi Mark,
    I think you’re making a great choice, and one that is well thought out. With regards to true cost of owning a car, the one most people forget to include is DEPRECIATION. That alone can run .20-.30/mile depending on car, whether bought new or used and how in demand the car is once drive for a while.

  21. saveourskills

    somewhat serious biker here.

    go for the bike. As far as if the estimate is serious.. i think it’s decent. I would get a hybrid and put slick tires on it for commuting.

    here is an example

    Or look for a good deal on craigslist. Actually mountain bikes are the lest suited for commuting of all bike types. Personally I would go with a road bike, but for me it’s all about speed. If you want a good mix of comfort and speed then a hybrid bike is the way to go. If you want to go a little faster check out a cross bike.

    My preference is for a rigid fork. I think that a shock is unnecessary for commuting.

    Mountain bikes have a large contact patch designed for traction… this means you are a slug on the road. Cut that 45 minute commute estimate down.

    If you are in shape you can easily do an average of 15mph to 20mph on a road bike… which an MTB bike won’t be able to even dream about.

    As far as accessories:

    1 – floor pump . Not a portable one. Putting in the correct tire pressure and checking it weekly with a gauge is essential for getting efficiency out of your ride.
    2 – Portable pump
    3 – bike multi-tool
    4 – gloves
    5 – tire levers
    6 – patch kit
    7 – spare tire
    8 – water bottle holder and water bottle
    9 – any normal backpack
    10 – wrap some duct tape around the handle of your pump. Comes in handy sometimes.. you never know
    11 – teflon chain grease – grease often, and be sure to wipe off excess ***********NEVER use WD-40
    12 – helmet of course
    13 – bike “clothing”

    This will get you started. If you get into it you will want clip-in pedals and shoes as well for even more speed and efficiency. I prefer mountain bike style ones, but that is so I can keep everything uniform between my bikes. Specifically I like SPD pedals. Road pedals will give you the best efficiency.

    Good luck!!

    • saveourskills

      oh.. just to expand.. the shock is not only not really going to make a road ride more comfortable, but it will decrease efficiency.. meaning you will have to work harder to go where you want to go. People thing they need and want shocks then struggle up hill climbs on a smooth road.. doesn’t make sense… K

  22. pksublime

    I’ve got an easier way to make sure you ride the bike. Contract yourself to a penalty for every day you DON’T ride the bike. Take the money from your e-fund now, and for each day you don’t ride put 1/250th of the amount back in (you’ll have to take it from somewhere – cough Fun Money).

  23. Jay

    You’ve got all the facts and figures and certainly have a good argument, but you’re still not following the YNAB principle of using your Emergency Fund for emergencies, and of budgeting towards any other expense (i.e.: anything that is not an emergency).
    Following your method of rationalising a purchase I could argue that I should use the money in my (baby) emergency fund to buy a Playstaton 3 because it would mean I would save money on movie tickets because I could rent BluRays instead, and that I would spend more time at home playing games on it than I would going out and having coffee with friends or shopping, and that my family would spend more quality time together playing games together and having fun. See: all those are positives – I would be saving money and there would be a lifestyle improvement in my family spending time together! YES! I am GOING to go out and use my EF to buy a Playstation3 today – RIGHT NOW!
    Actually, I’m not. When I started using YNAB I jumped in with both feet and subscribed to this way of life wholeheartedly… I honestly don’t think it works any other way (you can’t eat salad for lunch every day and then have a block of chocolate for dinner and expect to lose weight!). So, as much as I want a Playstation3 and as great as all the benefits may be, my EF is for emergencies and I will just have to put a budget category for that sleek little black box into my Budget… and I truly believe you should do the same.
    Using YNAB and following the Four Rules methodology is about more than getting on track financially, it is also about being more mindful and about working towards things and ignoring that voice inside that screams “now, now, now!”

  24. LarryinLA

    I agree with the commenters that it is unwise to raid your emergency fund to jump-start your bike commute, but it does show a weakness in the YNAB cash-flow focused method. Namely, you can’t prioritize future savings over present costs. Sometimes it really is worthwhile to spend a little more now to lock in reduced future costs, but the fact that the current cash flow is all that matters means that YNAB can be very discouraging of these types of choices because they essentially involve the dreaded forecasting the future savings. It might be worth a post discussing the theory of such decisions in the YNAB framework.

  25. Erich Serediuk (@eserediuk)

    If you are not ditching the car you will need to rethink the amount you are really saving not driving the car. You don’t save all of the $0.22 a mile by not driving it if you are still paying registration and insurance for it. Repairs and maintenance will happen less because it is used less though.

    With all that said, still get a bike, I need to ride mine more often to work. I just hate the steep hills on my ride!

  26. Danny McCurry

    Go for it, but . . . (and this comes from one who has put many thousands of miles on a bike).

    1. You will ride in the dark for 6 months a year.
    2. You will arrive to work with a sweaty back due to the backpack on your back.
    3. Any time you ride at temperatures under 44 degrees it will be pure torture.
    4. You must not let your bike out of your sight at any time, lest you lose parts or all or it. Most everything can be removed with an allen wrench small enough to hide in one’s mouth. And many of those components cannot be locked. We are talking seat and post, pedals, brakes, handlebars, gearing, tire pump and repair kit . . . you get the idea. My daughter’s bike was stolen from the lifeguard room, most certainly by one of her few co-workers who knew where it was, while she was on duty. Don’t think your bike will be secure even when you leave it in your office. Lastly, price bike parts. It will shock you.
    5. Regardless of your plan, you probably would not have ridden to work due to the rotten weather we had this last few days. That’s not the last of the bad weather.
    6. Don’t try to justify it economically. If you save money over time, great. But buy it for the fun factor. Good luck.

  27. bryane

    You could start taking your lunch to work and save money and time that way – no need to commit to a “bike commute” but simply use the saved money to buy a bike at a garage sale, then use the time saved by eating @ work (and not going home) to bike.

    The key is “Nothing is worth the NOW”. It’s not an emergency if you carefully plan and consider the purchase.

  28. Lori

    When I bought my bike, I wasn’t doing YNAB, but I was concerned about how much the bike I wanted cost. The bike was for recreation/exercise, but I needed the exercise!

    I used a concept of “cost per use.” If you use the bike for awhile & ditch the idea, the cost per use isn’t justifiable. (Like the treadmill example above.)

    So, for the first year, I tracked how many times I used the bike on a calendar, refiguring the cost per use. Each time that cost per use dropped. It was fun to watch the numbers drop. And, it reminded me that I had made an investment that wasn’t worth much unless I used it a lot.

    I borrowed the concept from, of all places, a fashion article about the foolishness of paying a lot for special occasion shoes that you wear once or twice a year instead of good-fitting shoes for everyday!

    I ended up finding other bikers and biking a lot for recreation. It lasted until I moved to a less bike-friendly city. By the time I gave up tracking the number of rides, I was down to less than $5 a ride.

  29. RachH

    I think you should save for it. You don’t have the upfront money right now, so if you considered putting the purchase on a credit card for the next year (the amount of time it takes to recover the cost), this would be a no-brainer. Your Emergency Savings is not for fun money. Save for it as if the EM was not there at all.
    And perhaps if you do start walking, you could go in to work a little earlier, or stay a little later to swap out for an extended lunch with the fam?

    Best to you in your decision making ~

  30. Ryan


    Something you may not have thought about in terms of expenses for your commuting:

    Rain gear

    Good rain gear isn’t cheap and could blow your estimate of first-year costs out of the water.

    That being said, I wouldn’t raid your emergency fund for this. And I get the feeling that 3 months worth of expenses is the norm for emergency savings? Is that really enough? I think he actually says that 3-6 months is good. I’m at three months now and rolling for 6 months soon. If I lose my job, chances are I won’t get a new one in 3 months. Any thoughts on the validity of a 3-month savings instead of a 6-month?

  31. Dean

    I bike commute 3/5 days per week and love it. The other days I play football (UK) and go running so I drive. My monthly fuel bill averages around £50, which my colleagues think I make up just to sound awesome as they all drive to work.

    If the bike pays itself in 1 year, do it. 3 months emergency fund is sufficient in my opinion. However, I would say that to comfortably bike commute you need pretty decent gear to protect you from the elements. Your $100 would get you some decent mudguards, but to get the most from bike commuting you need decent wet weather gear too. There’s no point in commuting if you are in sodden, heavy, cold cotton clothes because you will be unhappy. As Ryan said above, wet weather gear is expensive.

    BUT…when you have bought good quality gear, you will not need to renew it frequently. Unless you fall off and put a hole in it…

    • mark

      Excellent point about the fenders for the bike. I don’t mind riding in the rain as long as I have good fenders. Thanks for stopping by!

  32. Anthony Roy

    One of the best decisions I ever made was getting rid of our second car and commuting by bike instead. Once a year the thing tends to need a good overhaul – especially after the winter and the salt and grit has got into everything. However this tends to cost around £100 (assuming rear block and bottom bracket need replacing) – far cheaper than keeping a car taxed and maintained. It will cost £100 just for a pair of tyres for the car!

    Here are my comments:

    1) Initial outlay should include a repair kit and at least one spare tube. Though at 2.5 miles from home a spare tube could be unnecessary – walk home and repair any punctures there. Decent lock. Check with your insurance company what brands/models of locks you are insured using. Don’t bother with cable lock in any case – may as well tie it up with string!

    2) Weather isn’t an issue. Wrong clothing is. Bear in mind those additional costs if you haven’t already got wet weather gear. I spend from November to April riding in temperatures of less the 44 degrees in the UK, 5 miles a day. Cold isn’t problematic if you dress for it – though ice on the roads can be. Similarly if it is hot, dress down. Once you have paid off your Emergency Fund debt if that’s how you choose to do it, budget for a set of panniers – relieves the sweaty back and you’ll be able to comfortably lug more kit around!

    3) You are adding on half an hour of commute time to your day – that;s the equivalent of 2.5 hours on the treadmill at a Gym. Savings there in time and money, and much more interesting!

    4) Unless you are expecting to do anything off road outside of the commute, I’d go for a hybrid with no suspension. Keep it simple if you want it cheap! Less moving parts means less to go wrong. You can get a decent second hand bike for a lot less money if you shop around. Start budgeting now while you look and you won’t need to rob as much from the EF!

  33. Bryan Giles

    I’m late 2 this one.

    In October 2009 my Suburban needed an Oil Pump. My Income was something on the order of $300/month so aside from doing the Job myself (in the cold) I was really too cash strapped to pay someone else. So, I bought a Used bike and hit the trail.

    My Work was 22 miles away ( 2 hours bike ride)

    Long story, lots of great times. BTW, I was 39 when this happened.

    Best time of my life. I bike road everywhere from 2009 to 2011. Even though I got my Truck fixed (I did it myself) in April of 2010, I kept riding. Time spent with my wife on her USED Bike. riding all over St. Louis and East St. Louis. We had a grand time…

    I stayed at a solid 170lbs , and she stayed at a solid 120lbs. (I’m 6’0 and she is 5’3)

    Pizza dates were just a 15 minute bike ride away to downtown STL.

    IMO, raiding an emergency fund to buy a fancy schmancy new $1,000 bike is foolish. I would pick my brand then search craigslist for one as close to what you are looking for.

    My initial bike cost $15.00 then I upgraded to an $85 used bike (Raleigh SC-40 22″ Frame). Hers cost $20 with 2 baskets on the back. For all our Grocery shopping needs….

    Our marriage grew so much closer….

  34. Benjamin

    Lucky! When I wore a white shirt, tie and black nametag, I wasn’t allowed a bicycle! Sure did walk a lot though :)

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