Bike Shopping On A Budget

2-people-bikingAlex here.

Last weekend, I was reminded of just how easy it is to slip out of the YNAB way of thinking – even if only for two wheels and a chain.

We went shopping for a used bike. It’s May, and the boys have been out and about on their wheels for a month now. I figured it was time for me to join them.

I used to have a bike. I had two, actually, but marital separation can be a funny thing. Stuff goes missing. So it became apparent at the start of this, my third summer without a bike, that I would indeed need some wheels this year, or else I’d never see anything of my children other than their backsides merrily pedaling away from my strident shouting. With the recent spike in gas prices, too, I’ve been thinking I might like to start two-wheeling it to the grocery store and the gym a little more often.

The money came from my Sporting Gear category – a seldom used, marginally-funded zone of my budget which had been sleeping quietly since a nominal purchase of some swim goggles last October. A couple weeks ago, I jerked it awake with a sudden infusion of cash followed by the purchase of new helmets and bells for the boys, a bike pump and a used bike for my eldest. Although I don’t remember the thinking behind my heavy reallocation of funds into Sporting Gear, I likely shaved from Entertainment, Recreation and Regional Vacations. (And yes, I’m one of those people with 82 different categories.)

I dumped another schwack of cash into Sporting Gear this month, too, knowing that I’d be buying myself a bike [she says, ignoring the moans of YNAB purists everywhere].

So on Saturday we showed up at JJ’s Bicycleitis, ready to shop. I told the bike store guy I’d mostly be biking on our street routes and our scenic regional pathways – old railway lines converted to straight, flat commuter corridors. He told me I should get a hybrid for its larger diameter wheels and quicker traveling speed. Hybrids also offer a more casual, upright way of sitting, rather than hunching over your handlebars. Suits me: my gnarly-dude mountain biking days are now strictly confined to the books I write for middle graders.

But because hybrids are more popular now than mountain bikes, there weren’t many available. A really lovely one caught my eye, but it was $549 – way outside the $300 I had earmarked for my ride. There was an adorable sky-blue cruiser with a basket, but it was too small for me. (It was also $389 – outside my budget zone.)

Then I saw the new bikes. Dozens of sleek and funky hybrids, all shiny and new-chromed, beckoning to me with their fat saddles and sexy curved handlebars.

You’d have been shocked to witness the bargaining I started with myself.

I found myself transported straight back to my 20s, into that deadly zone of impulsive decision making, staring at a slick new bike and telling myself that the $600 price tag (and that’s cheap, I tell you!) would be worth it in the long run. Why, I could simply trim a bit from Long Distance Vacations for the next couple months, or maybe dial down Retirement. And just imagine the gas money I would save! Doesn’t that make it worth buying a new bike?? Better yet, I could forget about reallocating money in YNAB and just put it on my MasterCard and pay it off over the next few months.

YIKES, right? I was right back there again.

I’m not sure what snapped me out of it. Maybe the fact that, at 40, I understand I don’t need a flashy new bike; it doesn’t make me a better person. Maybe it was the knowledge that I really only need something that gets me from A to B without having to stop for gas en route. Maybe it was the numbers themselves. I could see that $300 sitting in my balance column. That figure wasn’t $500. It wasn’t $600. It was $300. The budget hasn’t failed me once, in all the time I’ve been using it. Why would I choose this time to fail the budget?

And so I went back outside and picked out a nice plain Miyata mountain bike. It’s white. It’s old. It doesn’t have a cushy saddle, pannier racks or a basket. Yet. (But it does have kinda sexy handlebars – the previous owner must have craved that cruiser feel, too, and modded her ride accordingly.)

And me? I still have $100 in my Sporting Gear category. Yep. I was able to buy my sweet Snowball for a mere $199, leaving me with a fistful of dough for a basket. And pannier racks. And maybe even…the fat-boy seat.

YNAB saves the day.

13 Responses to “Bike Shopping On A Budget”

  1. Kenneth

    Take it back and get the adorable sky blue cruiser with basket. It would be better suited to go to the grocery store. Just spend your Sporting Gear category to a negative balance, and make it up next month.

    P.S. what have you guys done with Mark, I haven’t seen him post in a long time?

    • alex

      Mark is indeed around…I think he’s taking a well-needed break from maintaining the hectic posting pace of previous months. (That’s him, sleeping under the desk.)

      I LOVED the sky-blue cruiser, but it was too little for my King Kong-sized frame (I’m 5’10”). Sigh. Next time.

      • mark

        Hey Kenneth –

        I’ve actually switched projects in YNAB. For the last couple of months I’ve been developing (and selling) a budgeting and bookkeeping service for small businesses. It’s been a great time. I do miss the writing, though. In the next little while you’ll see me and Jesse starting to write on a new blog about small business finances. Hope you’ll wander over!

        (Not that Alex is wrong – I often AM sleeping under my desk.)

  2. Robert Dailey

    You get what you pay for with bicycles. A $300 bike might not make it back from the store. You should have gone with a $600 budget at least.

  3. Lisa

    I love what you said, “The budget hasn’t failed me once, in all the time I’ve been using it. Why would I choose this time to fail the budget?” I am going to repeat that to myself when temptation strikes.

    I saw the other comments about spending more on a bike, and while I am sure that quality does go up with price, rationalizing an expensive purchase that way is not a good idea. If you had been biking for awhile and had a better idea of how often and how you would be using your bike, spending more would make more sense. Starting with a cheaper bike, you give yourself time to discover if this is a purchase where you need to spend $600+. If you keep adding to your sporting gear category, then next spring, you can choose to sell the old bike and buy a new one with the money you have been saving.

    Glad to see that I am not the only one with 82 different categories!

    • akismet-8f980039ea11d844dca6b55a5f26e0ae

      Agreed. I need to know how much I’ll be biking before I sink more cash into this venture. For now, since I’m not a commuter, I just need a runabout.

  4. jbcampo

    Nice! I would love to pick up a bike from the transfer station and recondition it. I just need the time. I enjoyed your article. thanks for sharing.

  5. Emily

    We’re having our own bike related budget groans going on here. Last fall I found that I could bike the kids to school (12 miles a day when it’s all said and done) and we’ve loved it. We loved it so much we continued into the winter. (It’s cold here in Wisconsin and someone even flagged me down and offered to buy us a bus pass. Silly lady, we’re doing this for fun and frugalness, not ’cause we have no other choice!)

    The problem is that the snow and salt really wreaked havoc on my bike. Worse yet it technically isn’t even my bike, I’ve been riding my husband’s since only his will accept the tag along for the youngest. Last Sunday we all rode to church and my husband discovered (though I had told him before, it obviously hadn’t sunk in) that the gears no longer work. I had tried my hand at repair and got one derailer to work for about a week and then it cut out again. The other one is totally seized.

    He immediately wanted to go and buy a new bike. He even went to a bike store and perused Craigslist. I’m trying to talk him down from the ledge. I don’t NEED the gears (I’ve been riding it this way for months now) and it really shouldn’t be our plan to just toss and buy a new bike every spring after the winter harshness. I’m trying to plan that we keep it like this until next spring and by then have saved the money to replace the cassettes, derailers and all that rusty stuff and invest in a chain/gear enclosure to try and keep it nice.

    We’ll see. It doesn’t help my case when it’s his bike and he’s not used to biking as much of the rest of us so he feels the pain more and could really use the gears.

    On a brighter note our microwave died. It died and the husband said it wasn’t worth it to get a used one. We had the money set aside already so I said, “okay” and we headed to the store. We headed home with no purchase. It was very worth it to get a used one. Once we saw all those new prices compared to a quick glance at Craigslist we couldn’t waste that money!

    • alex

      I laughed at no fewer than three places in your post. The bit about the brighter point being the death of the microwave made me laugh out loud.

      I am in awe of your willingness and ability to do your own bike repairs – that’s awesome. I hope you keep up with the cycling. And through the winter, no less! That’s amazing. (Take *that*, Old Man Winter!)

  6. saskia

    Good for you going for the cheaper bike. No need to spend more on your first bike in a while. And I, too, am glad to hear of someone else with a million categories!

  7. Rob

    I bought a couple of used bikes from a police auction website called Propertyroom.com Some are pretty beat up, but if you’re careful you can get a great deal on bikes in all different price levels.

  8. jbcampo

    The only problem with Propertyroom.com bikes is that they don’t ship them. you need to be living near where the bikes are located, and pick them up yourself. their site shows location in CA, WA, or NY. I don’t think it’s worth driving too far to get a bike when you might score one locally at a yard sale. I’ve bought a item or two from this site and they are reputable. Heck, they are the cops :)!

    • Rob

      Oh, they do ship them- I just bought one last month that they shipped from City of Industry, CA. It’s $50 to ship, so there is clearly an advantage to picking them up. I live right near the one on Long Island. I agree: garage sales are great, even Craigslist and Ebay are okay- but you have to do a little homework( bikepedia.com ), scrutinize the photo’s on a big monitor, and be patient.

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