I’ve got a big money-saving tip for you that will be completely obvious for long-time readers, yet is still completely necessary for me to review because there are new readers here every day who don’t have time to go back to the old Bicycle post.. and looking around on the city streets, I can see that the message obviously hasn’t caught on yet. As usual, it is best illustrated with a story:
The Mrs. and I had a craving for a fancy salad during a recent lunch time, and we were fresh out of fresh choppable items to throw into it. In fact the grocery list was getting pretty long overall (except for core staple items – we’re set for months on those thanks to my recent Costco run). So I hooked up my bike trailer and started coasting through the city streets – 2.4 miles of them to be exact – to visit the King Sooper’s grocery store.
This particular store is on a stretch of Stripmall Hell called Hover Road. I’m sure it is the very Aorta of Longmont’s city budget because of the sales tax it generates, so we can’t do away with it, but man, is that ever an unfortunate street. 2-3 lanes in each direction plus a jumble of turning lanes and medians in the center. A grueling thousand-lane intersection every few hundred yards. And an absolute cacophony of stupid SUVs, delivery trucks, illegal-muffler Harleys, and regular cars roaring, rushing, idling, squealing, honking and crashing constantly. The street divides an oceanic stretch of parking lots on each side. There are thousands of parking spaces that are usually empty – probably built under a bizarre old city regulation that requires each business to pave enough space to accommodate the largest possible crowd – even though it is theoretically impossible for that to happen simultaneously for all businesses.
It’s very frustrating to drive to any of these stores, because you can see your final destination long before you reach it. “Oh! There’s the grocery store right there! Oh, shit, but here’s a long traffic light. Slow down. Stop. Idle. Wait for the crossing street’s left turners. Wait for the crossing street’s main traffic. Red light for everyone. Wait for the oncoming traffic’s left turners. OK, finally green for me. GO!!! Cut into a turning lane. Wait for more traffic. Enter parking lot. Wait for moms and kids pushing shopping carts. Wait for single lady to back out of parking space at 0.0007 MPH in the shiny black Escalade. Take spot far from store. Get out, lock car, start walking.
The reason all this sounds so stupid is because IT IS. Cars are EXCELLENT inventions for crossing remote mountain ranges and deserts and rolling country fields when travelling from one city or state to the next on a roadtrip with your family or friends. But they are STUPID for driving through your own town to get groceries – because everyone else is out there doing the thing, ruining the fun of the drive for you.
Compare this to the experience of riding your BIKE to the grocery store: Hook up the trailer. Hop on the bike. Get your legs and heart pumping as you ride the low-traffic route you proudly devised for yourself. When I approach Hover Road, I move onto the sidewalk, because I don’t want to mix it up with all those cars. I hit the pedestrian crossing button, and wait for a nice peaceful walk signal for myself. If it’s a long wait, I might even read an email or two on my phone. Green light. Pump the legs and accelerate smoothly through the intersection, right across the grassy median and into the grocery store parking lot instead of doing the 75-mile detour that cars have to do to access the busy main entrance to the parking lot. Cut directly across the entire parking lot at 20MPH and screech to a halt at the bike rack (or lamp post or tree) closest to the store entrance. Lock bike and head directly into the store.
In the olden days, I still bought groceries by bike occasionally, but I was forced to use the car for the giant weekend runs, because you can only fit a few things in a backpack. Two jugs of milk and you’re already almost out of space. But with the bike trailer, as it turns out, you easily can fit a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. I have packed spectacular quantities into even my small Nashbar trailer – one time I hauled $150 worth of items which I later weighed at 94 pounds – with very little effort.
So we’ve established that it is fun, and that Mr. Money Mustache likes to do it. But MMM can be intimidating at times, because he likes doing everything, right?. Once in a comment on this blog, he was even accused of being likely to remove his own appendix if it ever started acting up.
To bridge the gap between myself and the Still Aspiring Mustachians, I decided to conduct an experiment last week. I decided to see if I could get my wife Mrs. Money Mustache to try using the bike trailer to get the groceries, for the first time in her life, and report back to me on how it went.
Now, despite her relative badassity, Mrs. M. is actually a bit cautious when it comes to biking. It always takes a bit of nudging to get her to step up to the next level – from a bike ride in the park way back in the 1990s, to biking the 8 miles to our high-tech jobs in the 2000s, to pulling our son around in the trailer in the 2010s, and now to this final frontier – foregoing the car in order to join me in my established habit of bike-trailering the groceries. I knew it would be tricky, but I was able use my newfound status as Mr. Money Mustache to issue her an MMM CHALLENGE!!. “Are you badass enough to ride to the grocery store, then have the results reported to our Valued Money Mustache Readers!?!?!”
With the public pressure of thousands of people watching her, Mrs. M. proudly rose to the challenge, hooked up the trailer to her own bike, and pedaled off down the street. When she got back, she offered this report:
I admit that I am a fair-weather, convenience biker. If I decide it’s too cold or too far, I wimp out pretty quickly. For me, biking requires the right frame of mind and in my mind, biking to the grocery store seemed like a monumental task. After all, that’s a lot of weight to lug around town, right?
So, when MMM casually challenged me to bike to the grocery store, I was hesitant. But, then I thought of you fellow readers and decided to finally take the plunge and give it a go.
I must admit I expected it to suck, but it didn’t.
The bike ride was extremely pleasant, even though it was all by road. MMM outlined a special way to get to the store where I cut through a park and took the small back roads to end up behind the grocery store (I’m sure you can find a special route as well). I got there quickly and was amazed at how easy and relaxing the bike ride was – it was quiet and I hardly saw a car. I locked the bike right next to the front door (how convenient is that!?) and walked in with my KeepCool bag and a variety of other beautiful cloth bags made by a friend of mine.
When I came out with my big load (which I later learned weighed 52.5 lbs — only about 10 lbs heavier than my 5-year old), I parked the shopping cart right next to the bike trailer and loaded it up. This is the part I had been worried about: biking home. But, again, it was a breeze! I even stopped at the park to watch the geese on the lake. In fact, that bike ride to the grocery store brightened up my whole day. So, MMM, I can now publicly admit that I was wrong. Biking to the grocery store is easy, fun, and awesome!
So where’s the money saving aspect in all of this? It’s in the surprising amount of driving that most people do to get their groceries. I find that I need to visit the store about twice a week. That’s 104 grocery trips per year. Each one would be a 5-mile roundtrip for me, meaning 520 miles of driving. Now, there are a variety of ways to calculate the cost of driving a car, but short trips are the most expensive since they involve more engine wear and lower fuel economy. We’ll use the IRS rate of 51 cents per mile, meaning $265 of driving expenses that I avoid every year by biking to the grocery store. The real savings are of course much higher, because I get enormous health and stress reduction benefits by riding instead of driving too.
So with that 1500-word justification, I now pass on the MMM challenge to you: If you’ve never done it before, try getting your next grocery load by bike. If you don’t yet have a trailer, you can start with a small trip using a backpack. Get into the swing of things. Remember to bring your bike lock and your cloth grocery bags. I picked up a gigantic insulated bag with thick handles and a sturdy zippered top for about $7 at Costco that says “KeepCool” on the front. It keeps the frozen stuff cold while biking in the sun. I throw that into the bike trailer before heading out each time.
Once you realize how fun it is, you’ll want to upgrade to a trailer (search for “trailer” on Craigslist under baby/kid stuff), or if you want a more Hipster-style trailer and don’t mind paying a bit more for it, get one like this Dog Trailer on Amazon.
Existing Bikers: tell us how much you like riding to the store. Soon-to-be-bikers: tell us how you tried it for the first time and loved it. And ask if you need any more advice on how to make it work. Then spread your new skills to your other still-driving sucker friends.
Because of YOU, worldwide grocery store parking lots will soon be abandoned, and we can replace them with gardens and solar farms to power the grocery store itself. All from one MMM challenge. Yeah!
I’d love to try grocery shopping by bike. However, despite the availability of free bikes across London (or, if you use them for more than half an hour at a time – very cheap bikes), biking in central London scares the living shit out of me. Fortunately this is compensated for by the prevalence of public transport, more local amenities (ie not being reliant on Strip Mall Hell), and corner shops, which are actually equally as cheap as big grocery stores for things like milk, eggs and Doritos.
We’ve been happily getting groceries via backpack for years now*. We do one shop where we each of a large backpack once or twice a month at the slightly further afield, but larger and cheaper grocery store. Our weekly top ups for fresh veggies and meats are easily accomplished with a single backpack or a few re-usable bags to our most local grocery store. Last minute stuff can be purchased at one of the 3 corner shops within 1/8 mile from our house, during a lunch hour walk at work or by taking a half block detour en route to the tube on the journey home after work.
If we can outline a super easy, convenient way to avoid driving for groceries in a big metropolitan city, MMM can do the same for a smaller city, and people in rural areas can stock up well in advance and then grow other fresh stuff on their acres of land, I don’t see why anyone really has an excuse to waste the time, money and CO2 emissions for grocery shopping… unless they are the laziest, most inefficient people ever.
*full disclosure: once or twice a year, we have our groceries delivered, because we’ll host a big event like a Christmas or New Years party, and want crates of beer, booze, and enough food to feed all of our friends. The ability to get stuff delivered totally eliminates the need for a car though, saving us hundreds of pounds per year and helping me justify 1-2 shops a year that require a vehicle.