Bike Shopping On A Budget

Alex 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.