Get Rich With: Conspicuous Consumption

MMM Note: The following is a lesson from our Canadian friend Mr. Frugal Toque, a long-time reader and contributor to this blog, and soon-to-be early retiree.

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

– Commander Data, probably quoting some old English guy.

I can’t say for certain that we Mustachians need perfect honesty: I’d be lying to you. But if we’re to proceed with the utmost efficiency, we’re going to have to at least cut the crap out of our own lives when we look in the mirror and get down to business.

Do you drive a car? I do. Do you lie to yourself about how much the use of that car costs? I used to.

The Toque family makes an annual visit to Grandpa and Grandma Toque every summer, a family reunion of sorts to meet up with the entire Toque clan. Mrs. Toque and I would always record this journey, 600km in each direction, at a reasonable cost of about $100: billing the whole thing to ourselves as if it were simply the cost of gas.

We’ve made this journey for 18 years, every summer we’ve been married and the one before that, and sometimes more than once per year. To add to the issue, before we’d even met, I’d make that 1200 km round trip several times a year in a small sports car with at most one passenger, always billing it in my head as the price of gas.

I would lie to myself, basically. Even while train rides made themselves available, at something like $70 or so round trip, I’d take my own car because, “Hey, it’s the same price, right? Plus, I’ll have my car with me when I get there.”

Never mind that the Toque grandparents live within walking distance to everything and had extra space in their car for events farther away. No, I took my turbo-charged sports car on that long journey, never really accounting for the insurance, maintenance and depreciation it cost me.

Nowadays, having chosen the career Software Engineer over Professional Race Car Driver, I got rid of the sports beast and drive a tidy little Nissan Versa. It only burns through my cash at about 20 cents per km. Despite this savings, this past summer, we took the train on our annual sojourn.

First of all, I have to say, “Holy shit! Trains are awesome.”

If we book our train seats all at once, Mrs. Toque and I and get two comfy seats facing our two children. Then, like a particularly fast cloud, we get to drift lazily past all of the highways we’d normally find ourselves jammed up in. I calculate many tens of dollars of benefits associated with the absence of swearing at stupid drivers and worrying about getting ourselves in another highway collision requiring the procurement of a new car.

In my sports car days, my racing vehicle must have burned through at least 40 cents per km, some $500 per round trip, when a VIA train ride would have cost a tiny fraction of that for a single person. Nowadays, with four seats purchased for the entire Toque family, the cost of the equivalent train ride runs up to $360, exactly the cost of taking an average 30 cents/km car on the same trip.

But here’s the thing: the cost of the train ride is honest. Our consumption stares at us, right there when we hand our credit card information over and click “Proceed with Order”. It doesn’t hide away in the depreciation of our car, maintenance costs and insurance. We can’t lie to ourselves that our trip only costs the price of gas.

Yes, nowadays we drive a cheaper car.  But taking a car because it’s cheaper is still lying to ourselves. Believe it or not, many of the costs of driving a car are hidden away in road maintenance and pollution, line items we find really hard to quantify. I feel confident, mind you, that if we were to find a way to quantify the damage exhaust fumes do and the subsidies that go into highways versus railroads, we would discover that the train ride costs a lot less.

This is what I mean by saying that we can get richer through the use of Conspicuous Consumption. By putting your consumption out there where you can’t hide it, where you have complete honesty, you’ll find yourself getting richer. If, when I’d driven an Eagle Talon TSi, I’d been honest with myself, I’d have saved over a thousand dollars in wear and tear on my car every year.

Moving on, I’d like to give one more example.

A few years back, Mrs. Toque had lamented that many of the children’s Lego constructions had grown dusty. Since the mini Toques wanted to keep many of their toys in the fully assembled state for playing purposes, they would store their toys on dresser tops and inside bookshelves. Layers of dust had accumulated and become unsightly. Now, you might begin to wonder, how many Lego sets are we talking? Figure for a pair of boys, 9 and 11 years of age, receiving a Lego set for each birthday and Christmas since they turned 4 or so. Add in there Mr. Toque’s own building block stash from his own childhood, and we have a lot of the magical clicky-blocks hanging around.

Mrs. Toque wisely proposed the purchasing of a set of simple glass cabinets, which the children could easily operate to retrieve their toys, but would encourage them to “put things away”, and also keep dust from accumulating on them in an unsightly fashion.  As a side note, many of these cabinets can be found cheap, but slightly used, over the Internet.

What does this have to do with Conspicuous Consumption? Behold the image.

The image has enough detail you can recognize the 1980s Transformers.

This is going to hurt my Frugal cred, I know.

We’ve discovered a delightful side effect of these cabinets, and thus I’m writing to you about it.  Whenever the children show interest in acquiring new toys with their allowance, we take a moment and pause in front of the glass cabinets to look at all of the toys currently available.  Are you certain this new toy is significantly different from the toys you have here?  Isn’t such-and-such just a re-paint of so-and-so?  Is the new toy going to increase your happiness enough that it’s worth the allowance money you’ll use up?

Like many other money-related exercises, the goal is to build habits in our children that will serve them for life by preventing them from becoming Clown Consumers looking for happiness at the far end of their credit cards’ limits.

Yes, he made his own U-Wing.

Toque Junior (II)’s custom creations.

It’s not fool proof, mind you. Allowance still flows into toys, but even the younger of the two brothers, at nine years, shows a lot more conscientiousness  about it. He has since built a fleet of his own creations, rather than relying on the official designs, and he spends a bit of time disassembling the formal constructions in order to harvest pieces from them.

There you are: a Hot Tip from the man in the Cold North.  Make your consumption as conspicuous as possible and learn the very finest lessons from it.

  • ThriftyChemist October 24, 2017, 1:47 pm

    I like this idea: un-hide the hidden costs. I think the single best step I’ve taken for saving money has been to meticulously record every last transaction and its purpose. Every cost for over a year is conspicuously in plain sight. Great guest post!

    • Stockbeard October 25, 2017, 2:03 am

      I’d love the whole price of an item to be “unhidden” too, and in particular taking into account the toll on environment: what will be the price of *disposing* of the item, or the garbage associated to it?

      If that price was correctly reflected, a 500ml bottle of coke wouldn’t cost $1, but $10 or something. Then people would be much, much more careful about how much “disposable” containers they buy (or whatever product’s in it)

      • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance October 25, 2017, 4:14 am

        I think we try to rationalize a decision we want to make with explanations and even excuses. The guest post demonstrates a great example of how a person mistakes the convenience of driving for a must-have. It wasn’t until later that Mr. Frugal Toque realized the hidden costs of driving his car.

        I think we’ve been guilty of this at one point or another. For example, we live very close to a grocery store. Sometimes my husband and I can go for a walk and buy something from there. I am willing to take the walk. But my husband would say that we would have heavy groceries and want to drive instead.

        The truth is we just want to buy light items and can get them during our walk. The convenience of life can be so costly sometimes!

        • k smyth October 25, 2017, 2:20 pm

          Walking to get groceries makes it easy to justify buying ice cream :)

        • Sojanyajones October 26, 2017, 2:25 pm

          We had the same issue with the “heavy” groceries. We fixed that excuse by getting a push cart that we take to the grocery store. Then we can haul all of our groceries home by walking with no problem.

          • Chris October 30, 2017, 2:51 pm

            We also had the problem of “heavy” groceries. It became a safety issue due to the route we must take by bicycle. My solution was to purchase an ebike kit and install it on an old mountain bike. I haven’t driven my car in over two weeks as I also use this and my other bikes to commute to work. Not yet ready to give up the car. I’d only get a few thousand for it, and I don’t have any comp or collision on it anymore.

      • Chris October 27, 2017, 10:36 pm

        Laughing out loud right now! I live about 120 miles from the next grocery store and find myself making sure I buy the milk where it’s 10 cents cheaper.
        (OK – I get butter too, but you get the point.)

    • Car Free Mark October 26, 2017, 11:52 am

      Absolutely true. I’ve been car free for 7 years and it’s amazing how many people lie to themselves about what they spend on their car – not the purchase price but annual fixed costs, gas, maintenance, parking, etc. Actually tracking my automobile costs was one of the things that led me to ditch the car and move to a walkable neighborhood.

      • LLBigwave December 11, 2017, 9:53 pm

        So true, Mark. When I got rid of my last car, I’d had it for 14 years and 204K miles. Even over all that time, I estimated that my total costs had been about $500-$600 per month. It was an eye opener.

      • William Navarre August 16, 2018, 11:51 pm

        You’re right, owning a car is apparently extremely expensive. Not that I would know.

        I often advocate for having higher taxes on gasoline, cars, and especially for higher tolls. But then a friend asked me for help budgeting and told me he was spending well over $550/mo on transport.

        I’m beginning to wonder if people just don’t care about the cost (other than to complain about it!). It seems that the extremely high costs don’t get them to re-think automobile ownership!

    • Cubert October 28, 2017, 8:38 am

      Good tip with tracking your expenses so closely. The trick is once you have that baseline down, finding ways to optimize or eliminate. Or better yet, work to bolster the income side of the equation at the same time. There’s just as much “hidden value” we’re all missing out on cuz we’re not willing to step out of comfort zones – whether it’s applying for a new job, starting up a small biz, or some other side gig.

  • fahad syed October 24, 2017, 1:49 pm

    I wish I could take the train…I’ve been complaining about this for years. Man, this country needs high speed rail like yesterday! Our railroad technology (if it’s even there in places, not houston where I live), is freakin’ ancient.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2017, 5:17 pm

      To fully understand my fascination and love of trains, you should know that my first train ride was a multi-day, sleeper-car trip, at the age of five or so, from Buffalo, New York to Galveston, Texas.
      I can’t prove it definitively, since it happened so long ago, but I betcha the train only went to Houston and we had to take a bus to Galveston.

      • tokenadult October 25, 2017, 9:17 am

        Sigh. I’m from Indiana. There is not even a bus. The closest we could get to public transit was one bus a day that picked up 30 miles from home and would leave you in Kentucky somewhere. There was no public transit, not even cabs or paratransit, where we actually lived. Or even sidewalks, so attempting to walk was like a dare to motorists. My father used to lament that in the 1930s, he could take a train anywhere in the world, so how is it progress that he had to drive at 85 because all the stations were removed?

        • Brian Bailey October 25, 2017, 10:57 am

          Hello, fellow Hoosier! Here in Fort Wayne we have a fantastic network of beautiful bike trails that eliminate any need for buses (though there is also a bus service, called Citilink, which seems OK). Many of the trails not only isolate the bikes from the cars, but pass through amazing wetlands, along the banks of our rivers, and through gorgeous Midwestern forests. Find yourself a house near one of the trails, and you will never look back :)

        • k smyth October 25, 2017, 2:23 pm

          IND has a gorgeous, modern airport partially powered by solar panels. You get what your legislators decide.

      • slugline October 25, 2017, 2:49 pm

        If you did take the train all the way, it would have to have been prior to April 1967 when the “Texas Chief” chopped off its Houston-Galveston leg. There has been no other passenger train service to the island since then.

      • Florence October 26, 2017, 2:58 pm

        I’m a native Galvestonian, born in 1947. I remember taking an overnight train from Galveston to New Orleans. I think the old train station is still there but it has been many years since there was train service to the island.

    • Meow October 25, 2017, 10:22 am

      I had a great experience with Amtrak this summer, although it did take me four days to get from New York to LA. Wouldn’t it be great to have high speed rail, despite the political forces opposed to it! Maybe as the car lobby starts to die down we’ll get some planning with foresight.

    • Heather @ bizewife October 25, 2017, 1:48 pm

      We could definitely do better in this arena, but I have heard the problems with a US high speed rail system is our size and varied and at times violent topography, geography, and weather of our various states. The arguments against make sense, but I am excited about the new tech that may make those woes a thing of the past.

    • WantNotToWantNot October 27, 2017, 8:26 am

      Yes. It’s outrageous. If you seriously want to know why the U.S. does not have high-speed railways, watch “Divided Highway” on YouTube, a documentary from 1997 that aired on PBS (given corporate pressures now, I doubt PBS could air it again). It’s important to recognize that the highway infrastructure is no accident. Highways were built in this country because of corporate pressure, lobbying, public relations and ad campaigns (“See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet”) and actual propaganda from the automobile industry, most notably the Ford Motor Company. It worked. Beautifully. The U.S. created the first Car Culture, with all that went with it–superhighways, gas stations, rest stops, suburbia, and lots of pollution. It’s vitally important to know history and to understand how corporate interests shape the decisions that create the “choices” most people make, if they are thoughtless sheeple who become (to use MMM’s terrific moniker) CarClowns. Few want to reckon with this because it means one must do something about it–become politically active, for instance, or at the very least change our mindless consumption habits. But there’s no turning away from actual history and its implications. Notice when you go on YouTube the comments that follow—I have wondered how many of them are posted by paid shills. Just sayin.


      • BB6 October 28, 2017, 11:16 am

        It’s truthiness in action. Our federal and state legislatures are dead set against “subsidies,” but the enormous subsidies for auto travel and truck transport don’t SEEM like subsidies because I OWN my car and have complete dominion over my travel choices when I use it, right?

  • Joel October 24, 2017, 1:54 pm

    Love that train video! There’s something so satisfying about flying past all those stopped cars on the interstate. :-)

  • J Savvy October 24, 2017, 1:56 pm

    Very interesting way to think about consumption! Both great examples. I really like the train example because taking a train somewhere is often overlooked (unless you live in a city with strong mass transportation). Sure, the ticket price might make you think you’d come out even by driving, but it’s a great feeling to speed past the highways and not have to worry about traffic and other drivers whatsoever. Plus, you know, the whole Conspicuous Consumption idea you are talking about :)

  • EarlyRetirementGuy October 24, 2017, 1:59 pm

    Us here in the UK can only dream of public transport being even close to the cost of driving there ourselves. A £30 car journey would cost £100 EACH. It’s ridiculous and yet the government can’t seem to comprehend why people shun the trains unless forced to by way of commute.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2017, 5:21 pm

      The approved mileage rates for a car in the UK come to about 40p/mile, including insurance, wear and tear and the lot.
      A £30 car journey would be about 75 miles.
      You’re saying a round trip journey of 75 miles cost £100 per person on a train? That does seem way out of whack.

      • Pierre Riteau October 25, 2017, 3:40 am

        UK rail travel ranges from extremely expensive to quite cheap. The cost depends on many factors: the origin and destination play a big role (see this BBC News article from 2012 about the huge variance: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16390608), but also when the journey is taking place (peak time vs off-peak) and when it has been booked (advance non-flexible fares are much cheaper). Add to that railcard discounts and split ticketing and you end up with a big difference between the headline “anytime” price and what is achievable with a bit of research.

        • b October 25, 2017, 3:49 am

          Surely the UK and the US can manage a simple to understand, no fine print, way of organizing top quality public transport.

        • EarlyRetirementGuy October 25, 2017, 8:53 am

          It’s not really a valid comparison if you’re trying to compare a car which allows travel immediately and at any time to the ticket hacks required for slightly cheaper train travel.

          • Archie November 3, 2017, 3:11 am

            ERG, I think your perception quite nicely illustrates exactly the original writer’s point about comparing the real costs.

            Here’s one from where I live, chosen to roughly match the distance of a £30 car journey: from Aberdeen to Montrose (41 miles, so roughly £32 for a return journey by car if you don’t just count the petrol, but all the other costs too. Train tickets bought on the spot for immediate travel with no restriction: £13.90 one way, £21.70 open return.

            Or try Stirling to Edinburgh ( 38 miles , abut £30 by car, £8.70 single by train). Or Newcastle to Darlington ( 38 miles, £11 single train ticket)

            Train looks more expensive if there are two or more of you travelling, but you can also buy discount railcards to reduce the costs.

      • Mike October 26, 2017, 5:21 am

        It varies a lot. Manchester is around 40 miles away from me, a return train ticket is around £21 last time I looked, which is roughly what it would cost me in the car, if I don’t factor in insurance and road tax (which I don’t as they’re not linked to usage, only to the fact that I’ve got a car) and conveniently forget about tyres and stuff. And as long as I don’t stay for more than two hours, at which point the parking jumps from £6 to £10, and then jumps again a bit later. If I turn up at the station and want to go to London (~180 miles) on the next train, depending on time of day, it’s around £150, but if I can book in advance at exactly the correct time, it’s possible for under £50.

        If you want to see out-of-whack train “services” just have a look for some of the recent news stories surrounding Southern Trains – this is the company serving one of the most densely-populated commuter areas in the UK, the south-east commuting into London, and if the reports are correct, it’s just thousands of pounds for a season ticket for the privilege of being herded into a train that’s too small to stand up all the way to your destination. If the train turns up at all, that is.

        We’ve somehow gone from being one of (if not *the*) leading countries in the world in train services to being closer to the other end of the list. I’d hate to be someone who has to commute to and from work on the train every day, and in fact there are many stories of people changing jobs just to avoid it.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2017, 8:35 am

      Yeah, I have heard those amazing stories of UK train pricing from many readers and they blow my mind as well.

      So far, the most successful solutions have involved moving closer to work and/or switching to an electric bike, which is can be faster than driving in all but the most rural conditions.

      • EarlyRetirementGuy October 25, 2017, 9:01 am

        I live out in the countryside so biking would be too far for me. I found a motorbike to be the perfect middle-ground instead.. giving me 135mpg, £80 a year insurance and £0 in parking fees.

        • King Cashbags November 5, 2017, 5:13 am

          Sounds as though you are doing the best you can, EarlyRetirementGuy. Moving closer to work in the UK can involve a disproportionate hike in house prices and rent, particularly in the London area.

    • Eliza October 25, 2017, 9:19 pm

      Not sure if the numbers stack up quite the same in Australia, but might be close. We live 2 minutes walk from the train station, yet it would cost two of us around $16 round trip to travel 8km into the city even during off peak times. So we always drive and the price of tickets goes up every year in response to declining passenger numbers. Just goes to show, you need both sides of transit oriented development to work together for the whole system to work.

      • JHeino October 25, 2017, 10:22 pm

        What city is that?
        I’m in Brisbane and it cost about 3$ to travel the 12km into the city.

        • BillSmithee October 26, 2017, 6:00 pm

          Are you on a concession card? Last I checked, Zone 1 in Brisbane (5-7km depending on where you start your centre is) with a go card is $3.20 one way. As per their comment, 2 people on a round trip = $12.8. 8km would be zone 2 meaning a 2 person round trip = $15.60.

    • MelD November 11, 2017, 6:01 am

      The UK has crazy train prices! So do many European countries, incl. Germany – how can the same trip cost so many different tariffs?!!
      Here in Switzerland (n.b. also a wide range of weather/climate from +35 to -35 degrees celsius!!) trains are not cheap. But the tariff stays the same and with a half-tariff pass you only pay…half (ok so the dog pays half, like a child, too). Trains are quick, convenient, efficient, well-maintained, punctual and a pleasure to use. Also very popular and with an excellent and flexible network. Good to work or relax in, too, less stress, mostly quiet (the Swiss are a polite sort).
      The Swiss Touring Club, like the AA/AAA I guess, publishes lists of the “real” driving costs for popular models that are used for budgeting and tax purposes, great for assessing if you can even afford a car (it’s a small country and basically not possible to be too far from a shop to walk or bike!).
      Oh right, and a general annual train pass (free public transport) is increasingly becoming a perk for Federal and some other employees…
      What’s not to love?!

      Btw, when you cross the border to Germany by train you can literally hear the difference where the lines are not so well maintained lol

  • Mrs. Kiwi October 24, 2017, 2:16 pm

    It’s so easy to ignore the hidden costs, especially environmental costs, especially with things that are normal and assumed behaviors (i.e. Visiting family at the holidays). I like your idea of putting your consumer behaviors on full display. No hiding it all away.

  • Cubert October 24, 2017, 2:22 pm

    Legacy Legos! We know how that goes. The real fun is finding the original 1979 instructions online and recreating “space world” all over again with Junior. Great idea with the display cases too. My wife would veto that.

    • Matthew in Michigan October 24, 2017, 2:38 pm

      I was thinking the same thing with the lego cases. Even with 3 girls it’s ridiculous, I’d love to get all the sets stuffed under the bed, in the closet etc. and set them all up on display, my wife certainly would not go for that!
      And what a great point about transportation, never really thought of it in those terms, usually just what each trip would cost in fuel…….

  • Mr. Freaky Frugal October 24, 2017, 2:37 pm

    I like it – make the true cost of consumption obvious so there is nowhere to hide!

    I try to use the US Business Reimbursement Rate (currently $.54 per mile) when calculating my trip cost. That’s probably on the high side for me because we only have a one car, a 2009 Honda Fit, that is heavily depreciated and is easy on gas.

    I’m older and FIREd now – many thanks to MMM’s philosophy to give me the courage – so the whole Lego thing is odd to me. When I was a kid, you got a box of Legos and built whatever you wanted; there was no Lego models to build only certain things. What happened to the joy of creating something unique?

    I did build plastic models that required glue, paint, and careful construction, but that was a different animal. I’m little ashamed to admit that my normally-very-frugal parents bought a glass case just to hold my models and keep the dust off. :) Don’t feel too bad – your Frugal Cred is still intact.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2017, 5:14 pm

      Yes, it saddened me to discover how slowly my used Nissan Versa depreciates and how little maintenance it requires. It makes the use of a bicycle or train only slightly less sweet, but I still savour the smooth ride of bicycle tires or train wheels.
      As for Lego, we’re still on very fringe of the Buying Presents train, though we’ve found ways to keep that sort of thing to a minimum, so that we feel like Generous Parents without creating Entitled Children.
      At this moment, I’m typing this to you while right next to a four foot high, six foot long Nebulon B Frigate made of K’nex, so we rest assured our collective creative impulses are well fortified.

      • Ted October 24, 2017, 8:35 pm

        Don’t forget that buying valuable things can be a good life long lesson. My Lego and my Magic the Gathering items purchased for retail are worth so much because my parents always said if we’re going to own something nice, you have to take care of it.

        Wanting to be RE, meant I wasn’t going to leap into house ownership when renting was so cheap (NYC)… until I decided to get rid of some old collectibles for their “market” price. Turns out there is no shortage of people who will pay outrageous sums for these items, so voila one condo downpayment. A lot of this is luck in the sense that the Lego\Magic the Gathering market exploded and not another type of Toy or card game, but the only reason my stuff was so valuable was that I learned to care for the money. If they were worth “nothing”, they’d still be this really cool item to give to kids\nephews\cousins etc one day.

        I don’t want to seem like I am advocating for consumerism, as I tend to buy the one set a year I think is “coolest” because it gives me so much pleasure, while I am still using a Generation 1 Ipad, 9 year old desktop, no car, etc.

  • Andrew October 24, 2017, 2:51 pm

    “This above all else, to thine own self be true” are the words of Polonius in Hamlet, which was indeed written by some old English guy.

    Polonius also said “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, the first part of which I think we can all subscribe to.

    • Jennifer October 24, 2017, 6:22 pm

      And in context, Polonius is spouting a bunch of platitudes. The old English guy didn’t mean said platitudes to be taken seriously.

      • Ernestine Piskackova October 25, 2017, 1:59 pm

        Finally, someone points this out! I cringe everytime some says, “As Shakespeare said…” followed by those words. No, Shakespeare put them in the mouth of a character who was a priggish, pretentious fool. Yes, platitudes.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque October 25, 2017, 2:15 pm

          Yes, but then this quote was spoken by Lt. Comm. Data, in a non-ironic and quite wise fashion, and that settles that.

        • Alicia Kennelly November 4, 2017, 11:58 am

          Shakespeare often used the “fool” to be the wisest one of all, the one character whom everyone disregarded as knowing nothing and being foolish, but in fact was the one who knew everything and filled the audience in with the facts. You are making the same mistake as the characters in the play to disregard Polonius as simply being the fool.

      • Laura October 29, 2017, 5:12 pm

        Hm I always thought it was like extra irony, because the foolish old dude is saying these things and everyone is rolling their eyes at him, making fun of him, but the things he says are actually wise, useful life lessons! My interpretation could always be wrong tho!!

    • Kayote October 25, 2017, 10:51 am

      Better to borrow and lend than everyone buy & store their own copy of rarely used tools and equipment!

  • Alicia Kennelly October 24, 2017, 3:44 pm

    For personal accounting, I think attempting to roll up all the expenses of the car into a per-mile rate is problematic because many of the costs are fixed, including much of the depreciation, insurance, government fees, and even some maintenance (depending on the item, some are based all or in part on time). That said, I drive approximately 23,000 miles a year between my two cars because I absolutely love doing it – this spring I drove from Minnesota to Virginia and spent a week touring the homes and museums of the presidents. One has to consider the benefits and the enjoyment one receives from activities as well as the costs.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2017, 8:40 am

      Ahh, but it’s not – depreciation scales with mileage too, because you can keep an older car if you don’t need to drive very much (for example my 1999 Honda van has a market value of maybe $1500 but still works perfectly and will do so for another 10 years. I’ve spent about $600 over the last six years on maintenance, most of that on replacing the older back tires that came with it). Insurance and your risk of crashing scale accordingly too, if you shop around.

      And I can’t question your enjoyment of driving, but I can pose the question of , “Is it replacing something that you might enjoy even MORE?” For example: your body definitely doesn’t get any benefit from that 1000 annual hours in the car. Is there anything you would do with a healthier body? What about the joy of being a badass mountain biker, and the bonding with friends it allows?

      • Alicia Kennelly October 25, 2017, 1:30 pm

        Unless you drive very low amounts, the insurance companies I have shopped charge the same amount. They don’t differentiate between 8000 miles and 25, 000 miles (generally it has to be under 7500 to qualify for a lower rate). There is some differentiation in commuting distance, but far less for overall miles in the companies I have priced. I accept the very low risk of crashing, and a good driver and responsive car can mitigate that risk substantially. As far as depreciation, if you are in the salt belt (Colorado I believe uses more crushed rock, from when I was there for a car meet), age is as much of a factor as mileage due to rust and corrosion issues. Seal failures and other such items are also more based on time rather than mileage.

        Cars allow bonding with friends as well. I have met some of my best friends, and have some of the best times of my life through car clubs and attending car meets and other car-related functions. I find it impossible that there would be anything I would enjoy more than my beloved cars. When I attain enough financial wealth, I intend to endow automotive history and perhaps create a car museum (or at least collect cars to then donate to a museum).

        I think it makes sense to budget based on what you would pay anyway even if you didn’t drive separately from what the marginal extra costs are for doing the driving.

  • Tom October 24, 2017, 4:24 pm

    A while ago I did a rough calculation of my cost of driving and gas came out to about half. Maintenance, insurance, registration, all adds up, and if people did the math, they might think twice about some trips, or even owning a car, which costs money even sitting in the driveway.

  • Ben Kurtz October 24, 2017, 4:51 pm

    I’m still having a hard time understanding how $360 < $240. I mean, I see the hand-waving part about intangibles and un-priced externalities, but until some honest attempt is made at quantifying those I don't know whether they are closer to $10 or $100.

    A quick tour of the internet suggests that Papal Indulgences — excuse me, CO2 offsets — for that amount of driving in a compact car cost around $10 (especially when you net out your fraction of the emissions associated with a heavy diesel locomotive), and that the incremental wear-and-tear on the roads from a compact car is truly trivial. So is the next $90 the price of the hassle of having to deal with traffic?

    But even if the un-priced costs do add up to $100, the price of driving is still $340, while the train tickets were $360. Whoops.

    And how did you get to the station? I don't see any accounting for bus tokens, taxi fare, long-term parking for your own car at the station, or the hidden costs borne by your friend who gave you a free lift. Maybe you walked straight to the long-distance train station with your kids and your luggage in tow; most people won't find that practical.

    I'm on board with your basic message: Be as transparent as possible with yourself when reviewing you spending. But I'm not particularly convinced that your example illustrates the point all that well!

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2017, 5:33 pm

      First: you’re right about the parking. I thought it would cost a lot less and I plan to take extra measures on the next trip to avoid the usurious $10/day we had to pay to leave our car there.
      I wanted to address with blog post, first and foremost, the hidden personal costs of automobiles. We often forget depreciation, insurance and maintenance, as I mentioned. The vast majority of my long distance car journeys, from my earlier years, constituted financial stupidity. I hold that this fact remains true for most single-person road trips for most people today.
      Nowadays, for my family, with four people packed into a small vehicle, the bare cost of the trips works out a lot more evenly.
      A few years back, we did get rear-ended going through the Traffic Nightmare called the 401 through Toronto.
      This irritated us all immensely, an inconvenience and potential for injury running a high intangible cost, in addition to the hundreds of dollars lost to various rental fees and such. This highway has only become more packed, more stressful and more likely to cause another accident. The only low traffic portion of the day is between midnight and 6am, not a time in which I like to operate a motor vehicle.
      You can see the video MMM linked in, which shows a pretty decent afternoon on the 401. It is literally impossible to get through that city, at any time of day, without coming to a dead stop at some point.
      When you look at the effect of that stress, plus the pollution, externalized road wear and the like, you have to account for some of that.
      Yes, I’m waving my hands a bit. All I can tell you is that the journey served my peace of mind very well, from the absence of worrying about stopping for washrooms to the beer I could sip on the afternoon ride home. I have no qualms, all things considered, about taking a train the next time, even if there’s a slightly higher cost associated with it.

      • Ben Kurtz October 24, 2017, 11:04 pm

        Talk about hidden costs!

        I just looked up the Via Rail Canada annual report for 2016, and buried in the fine print is the disclosure that the government subsidy per passenger trip works out to $67.32. Multiply by 4 passengers and you have another $270 in hidden costs.

        So that’s $360 for the tickets, $70 for a week of parking (please shout if your trip was longer) and $270 in hidden government subsidies. That works out to a total of $700 for the trip. Versus $250 for the all-in car cost (your gas + insurance + maintenance running estimate + $10 for CO2 offsets. And don’t start hand-waving about wear and tear on the roads — compact cars cause trivial road wear. Look it up. Heavy trucks (and winter weather) do all the damage.).

        I appreciate that you really enjoyed the train ride. But I’m having a hard time reaching the conclusion that (a) it saved you (or Canadian society) and money at all or (b) that your article did a bang-up job on being transparent about the costs.

        With apologies, that’s what it looks like from here.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2017, 8:55 am

          Toque left out the biggest benefit of the train: the value of that five hours that you’re not driving.

          Every summer I purchase the same train ticket for my family of three, and I use a couple of the hours to work on my laptop – writing a blog post or something else valuable. This always pays for the entire train trip several times over, and I’d argue that almost anyone can get the same benefit from those hours: re-negotiate all your insurance policies, send out some job applications, or shop for a new place to live. Heck, even just answering a few work emails will generate sufficient wealth, on average.

          • Mr. Frugal Toque October 25, 2017, 9:25 am

            Indeed. That’s easy to forget on your first train trip, especially with children.
            We consumed much of this free time saying things like:
            “Whoa! We’re going over a bumpy switch.”
            “Look at that old train station!”
            “Wow, this rail yard is huge!”
            On future trips, we’ll probably make more productive use of our time.

            • MarciaB October 25, 2017, 4:40 pm

              Sounds like you engaged with your children for those hours – and what’s more productive and important than that? Well done Toque!

        • Michael October 25, 2017, 4:00 pm

          Gas (or petrol as it’s known down here) is far from being the most expensive part of car ownership.
          Surprisingly one of the highest hidden costs was not even flagged – the cost of opportunity.

        • Tim October 26, 2017, 8:01 pm

          So, uh, Canada spends $3.3 billion annually on fossil fuel subsidies: http://www.iisd.org/faq/unpacking-canadas-fossil-fuel-subsidies/. If you want to count subsidies for train travel, let’s make the comparison fair. Also, while wear and tear might be due mostly to larger vehicles, everybody needs the roads sanded/salted in icy weather, which does happen on occasion in Ontario. And then there are the government expenditures on traffic patrol, signals and signage, and other road safety measures. Government expenditures are not limited to subsidies for trains.

          • PaulB October 27, 2017, 5:46 pm

            Tim, according to globalpetrolprices.com, a U.S. gallon of gasoline costs $1/gal. more in Canada than in the U.S. as of 10/23. I would think that difference represents taxation by federal and/or provincial governments and not underlying cost differential. This would suggest that either Canada is spending far more on road based transportation than the U.S.(most unlikely) or else the additional taxes are being used for non-road transportation or general funds. The fossil fuel subsidy argument made by environmental groups simply doesn’t stand up under serious examination although the intangible benefits of less pollution should be examined, albeit by organizations without an ax to grind.

      • Sean October 25, 2017, 1:15 pm

        And those familiar with this stretch of highway know that the traffic shown in the video is the norm so you can pretty much add an extra hour to any drive through Toronto on the 401 these days. Put a value of an hour or two of your vacation time. Also, although there’s no way to put a dollar value on it I increasingly fear for my safety on each and every trip into or around Toronto – you feel like you are in a Mad Max film most of the drive

    • Ramparts October 24, 2017, 5:37 pm

      I can’t speak for Mr Frugal Toque’s experience and numbers, but here’s my lonely anecdote to give you a better idea of the difference between the cost of gas per mile and the “true” cost of driving per mile. I bought a car new, and drove it for 10 years and 136,000 miles. I spent ~$20,400 on gas, or about 15cents/mile. However, insurance, repairs, fees, taxes, parking, loan interest, and depreciation over that time period cost ~$37,300. When you factor that in, the cost was closer to 42.4cents/mile.

      I too fell into the trap of thinking that driving somewhere only took what it cost in gas, but running through this exercise after the full lifecycle of car ownership was interesting to me. In my case, if I looked only at the price of gas I’d think a trip was 65% cheaper than it really was!

      Of course this still doesn’t include externalities like the article mentions about road maintenance or pollution. I don’t know how to accurately quantify those.

      Anyone else have numbers to share?

    • CheapoGeeko October 24, 2017, 6:15 pm

      If we truly add up all the costs I would think trains win on both individual costs and general costs to society by a landslide. Public transportation is simply much more efficient and focuses travel needs. Yes, getting to a station is an inconvenience for some and the cost of a ticket seems high but only because we don’t demand more public transportation options like we demand for cars. Even so, the un-priced train costs you mention are solved by a single bike or Uber ride. The un-priced costs for cars not mentioned above also include the costs to build, repair and maintain roads (dumping salt to a road so people can drive during a snow storm truly amazes me), bridges, parking decks, accidents, noise, oil wars, trade reliance, sprawl, cost for running streetlights, light pollution from headlights and street lights, pollution other than CO2 to manufacture and dispose of cars (especially battery powered cars), promoting fast food consumption and therefore generating more trash, increasing safety concerns of bike riders and pedestrians, and reducing space and migration paths for animals just to name a few.

      • CheapoGeeko October 25, 2017, 6:23 pm

        A few more un-priced costs of cars to add to the list… cleaning up oil spills, micro rubber pollution in waterways from tires, boxing in cities and cutting off access to nature (people can barely access the Delaware river in Philadelphia because roads are in the way!), car seats for kids until they’re basically a teenager, pavement everywhere (each junky store along the road requires acres of their own pavement), police officers to monitor roadways, parking authority, courts and prisons relating to traffic violations and DUIs, obesity and health costs by allowing people to access just about every inch of the US in their 2 ton lazy-boys, … the issue of using a train over a car seemed like such a no-brainer to me, especially for this crowd!, but seeing some of the comments on here convinced me that we need to do a better job of highlighting all of the hidden costs of cars. If all of the cost were completely conspicuous, and directly paid by the consumer, we would be forced to have a much more efficient system.

        • Rogue Dad, M.D. October 29, 2017, 11:30 am

          Unless you are NEVER EVER going to use a car, then you can’t fully eliminate the costs of insurance, depreciation, car seats, etc.

          I think a fair comparison is a good idea, but then if you have a family of 4, most people are still going to use a car occasionally, so you can’t just say it’s cost of car vs. cost of train, because even most heavy train and bike users with kids still own at least one car.

          • CheapoGeeko October 29, 2017, 12:25 pm

            That’s like saying you shouldn’t consider all of the consequences of your fast food diet because you’re never going to only eat plants. I’m not saying we need to be Amish, but our transportation diet is out of control and most people don’t even see it. Hence the importance of being conspicuous. If every family of four owned one reasonably sized car rather than the standard issue 2 SUVs we would be in much better shape. Including car seats in my list was probably unnecessary but insurance and depreciation certainly go down if you own fewer cars. Come on doc!

            • Rogue Dad, M.D. October 29, 2017, 10:26 pm

              No, I am saying when you swap out a Royale w/Cheese from McDonalds with asparagus at a single meal, you have not eliminated all the harm done by your prior McDonalds purchases or all the future harm from the Oreos sitting at home in your cabinet that you plan to eat that night.

              Yes, you pay less insurance when you have fewer and cheaper cars, but going from 2 cars to 1 is a big jump from using the occasional train. I agree that the 2 large SUV diet is ridiculous — I spent 3 years in Houston and they epitomize that culture. But unless you can actually fully eliminate a car, then the fixed costs are still going to be high even when the variable costs go down.

              Fully eliminating a car when you have kids is extremely difficult unless you are in a mass transit friendly city or have done a great job being a Mustachian and making your entire life bike friendly.

              I am really impressed when people DO go car free with multiple kids, but that isn’t common. Most people can reduce its usage significantly but actually not owning one is hard unless you are homeschooling or something.

            • Christof November 13, 2017, 2:45 pm

              Using a car isn’t the same thing as owning a car. I’ve known people who would take a cab every weekend for their grocery shopping. That is still cheaper than owning the car when that is the only time you need one. Rental cars, car sharing, cabs, uber… At least one of these options is available unless you live on a farm in rural area.

          • Samusugiru November 5, 2017, 1:48 am

            People find it unbelievable that a family of four can exist without a car but our daughters are five and we are still car less. The only time a caris called for is when visiting a random friend in a McMansion far from public transport and the occasional birthday party. It’s not worth purchasing a car for those occasions, a taxi is cheaper. We rent out our car space for fifty a month to a neighbour so that is an added bonus. I adore train travel,seat61.com an excellent resource for trips kids often travel at token costs and trains go to city centres. So much more leisurely than early morning taxis, security screening and queues.

      • Sarah October 25, 2017, 7:58 pm

        YES, CheapoGeeko!!! Yes especially to those “un-priced costs for cars” you list – more comprehensive and even-toned than my observation that people drive like fucking maniacs, and I don’t want to be anywhere near that. The carelessness, sense of entitlement, and impatience is frightening to behold. For safety, there are laws stating that we must stop and wait at red lights, that we not use our phones when driving, that we give right-of-way to walkers, that we not park in crosswalks, and on and on – but *every*single*day* these laws are flouted and dismissed because There was no one coming! I had to take that call! I didn’t see her! There’s nowhere else to park! I NEED TO! I WANT TO! I HAVE TO! ME ME ME!!!

        In the book I just read called A Man Called Ove (“Ove” is a man’s name in Sweden, and it’s pronounced something like ‘oovuh’), cars are not allowed in the residential area where Ove lives – they must be parked in a centrally located garage and then people must walk to their houses from there. I so very much want to live in place where such consideration is given to our surroundings, etc. Cars rule us and we are blind to it.

        Where I live, people behind the wheel become apoplectic at the slightest delay. The level of ire is totally out of proportion with the situation. Motherfuckers, you are in a cushy living room going ten times faster than almost all of humanity has ever traveled. It is so painful to me to see the anger, the risks to life and limb, the giant fuck-you to decency, the environmental toll – Ugh! I must stop writing about this car driving madness now. Sorry I went off topic.

        Also, Mr M’stache, I scrolled to the bottom of this post and there was an ad for a Chevrolet car.

        • CheapoGeeko October 29, 2017, 12:40 pm

          You’re right. The bubbles we live in are another problem altogether. Perhaps “current political climate” or at least “decrease in empathy” could be added to the list. Our addiction to our cars (coupled with our addition to our phones) is walling us off from truly talking to other people, especially people we tend to disagree with. A cars is a literal bubble where you can go everywhere without talking to others. Image if you were walking in your neighborhood and someone stepped in front of you and you yelled at them as loud as a car horn and gave them the finger. You would seem like an insane person and your neighbors would stop inviting you to parties, but being unreasonable is common practice when you’re in a car. Not my town, they don’t know me, I don’t know them, I don’t care. Just hurry up; I need to speed home to watch 3 hours of mindless TV.

  • Joey Graziano October 24, 2017, 5:33 pm

    I love the toy example! I grew up with a family of ten in an 1800 sq foot home. Which meant I shared a bedroom with 3 of my brothers. We didn’t have much space so we all got one single Tupperware container for our toys. Because of this, we had to do the same self-reflection exercise every time Christmas came around and we wanted a new toy. Eventually my brilliant father recommended that if we give up our unwanted toys to a charity we’d have extra space in our Tupperware. Do this day, I do the same self-reflection exercise with ALL my possessions and actually enjoy the donating part more than receiving the gift.

    Thanks for the delightful post!

    • Eliza October 25, 2017, 9:27 pm

      That’s a brilliant idea for stopping toy clutter from taking over Joey. We’ve got a two bedroom house and about to have our second child, so space will definitely be an issue in the coming years and I really don’t want to succumb to buying a bigger house just to store more stuff. Thanks!

      • Joey Graziano December 29, 2017, 11:23 am

        Thank you! I agree, “succumb to buying a bigger house just to store more stuff.” It just makes me sad to see so much waste.

        Instead, if we prioritize right we can put our energy in positive directions and cause more happiness than just being a consumer of things. Consequently, this will also benefit our “stash”.

        And please note, a majority of the ww2 vets returning from war (the parents of the baby boomers) bought 800-1000 square ft 2 bed room homes and they were just fine. :)

  • Andy October 24, 2017, 6:03 pm

    Mr. Frugal Toque! So good to see you back and posting here!

    First, good lord that is a lot of legos!

    That example made me think of storage lockers which I consider to be a scourge in this country (USA) and I imagine our brothers/sisters to the north probably have a similarly awful relationship with these businesses. First people get giant houses that they fill up with stuff they don’t need, simply because they have the space to do it. But then, somehow they end up acquiring EVEN MORE stuff and then paying other people to store it for them on a monthly basis! Totally the opposite of your conspicuous consumption concept and I think part of the reason why you often see those lockers rented indefinitely. Once the junk is out of sight and the fee is getting auto-withdrawn from your account, there’s no mental reckoning with the simple fact that you clearly don’t even need it.

    Anyway, probably not the sort of problem Mustachians run into too often, but it continues to blow my mind that things like this are normal in our culture.

  • Gerard October 24, 2017, 6:20 pm

    I know the post is really about being honest with yourself, but I still wanna chime in with other upsides to the train. Massive legroom and buttroom. Huge windows for the view. A really generous frequent traveller programme. No driving stress. The whole “holy crap, I’m on a train! This is cool!” thing, especially for your first dozen rides or so, and definitely for most of the kids I’ve met. No stopping when you need to pee. Great scenery sometimes. The chance to do stuff while moving, if you want to: work, play games, sleep, watch a movie. Wifi, albeit not great wifi.
    I unfortunately live in a province with no trains, but when I travel I hop on them whenever I can!

  • FullTimeFinance October 24, 2017, 6:32 pm

    I love the toy example and may need to repurpose it at some point. I’m not sure I can get on board with the train though. Here in the North East Amtrak charges a small fortune for anything. It’d be cheaper to fly to New York City then take the train from near my home. We can drive to NJ transit, which we have done in the past, but half the trip is still driving to NJ transit.

    That being said I do agree strongly people tend to underestimate the cost of car travel and equate it with the price of gasoline.

  • Cde October 24, 2017, 7:21 pm


    Click on the PDF and look at the grid on page 5. Gasoline cars are still the cheapest when including the cost of pollution. Some day that may change.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2017, 8:31 am

      I checked out the paper – that’s a good approach to doing analysis (although it’s 18 years old). The next question is, do you agree with his estimates?

      First of all, that table is just measuring the external costs. It’s ignoring your own cost of owning and driving that car, which is 50 cents per mile for a new-ish midsize car.

      Then, you can spot check some numbers: He estimates 0.1 cents per mile for marginal use cost of roads, but we know from other research that it costs about $1 million per lane-mile just to create a road, plus a big percentage of this every decade to maintain it. Unless I’m missing something, this implies that a stretch of road can carry ($1 million / $0.001) = 1 billion cars before it needs replacement.

      But a busy stretch of interstate (3 lanes in each direction) carries only 70,000 cars per day, which is about 12,000 per lane, per day. At this rate it would take 228 years to pass a billion cars. Definitely not a reasonable estimate for a maintenance-free lifespan, so let’s assume 10 years.

      If we multiply that figure by 23, the marginal highway cost becomes 2.3 cents per mile, which is still lower than most department of transport estimates. The same re-working could apply to many of those numbers.

      Besides, I’m not suggesting that we all switch to using the bus – those things suck too. I’m moving you over to the BIKE.

  • Hydrogen October 24, 2017, 7:34 pm

    This is an important point – unhide the hidden costs.

    Is someone able to please explain how driving an extra (e.g.) 1000km makes insurance cost more?

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2017, 7:48 pm

      This much is true: the more you drive, the more your gas consumption, maintenance and depreciation go up.
      I can’t be sure about insurance, but I’m betting that, statistically, your chances of getting into a collision, getting a speeding ticket or other traffic violation, also go up with the number of kilometres you drive per year. That would, in time, result in increased insurance costs.

      • Ben October 24, 2017, 8:18 pm

        Also, most insurance companies have brackets based on mileage. So if you can qualify for a ‘low mileage’ insurance rate, it costs much less.

      • Travelawyer October 25, 2017, 2:01 pm

        Insurance companies do have brackets based on mileage, but the cost difference between brackets is sooo small. I changed the annual mileage on my car insurance from 12,000 (it was the first year I owned a car so went with state average) to 6,000, and it saved me about $20 annually. Womp womp. So I would not include insurance costs in the cost of incremental driving (although it’s an important consideration in the deciscion of owning a car or not owning a car).

  • Plotting for Jailbreak October 25, 2017, 2:16 am

    “The average taxpayer subsidy per Amtrak rider is $100, or 40 percent of the total per-passenger cost. Even this figure doesn’t adequately express how hugely inefficient some long-distance routes are today. For example, the average subsidy to a New York-Los Angeles rider exceeds $1,000. The estimated round trip subsidy per passenger for a Denver-Chicago trip is $650. It would be cheaper for taxpayers to shut down routes like these and purchase discount round-trip airfare for all Amtrak riders.”


    I love public transport in general and trains in particular, and I think we are free to choose how to travel based on our own perception of the costs. Just NOT DRIVING is a huge win for me. But if we’re going to be honest, let’s be rigorous about it by unhiding the costs of both alternatives.

    • Ben Kurtz October 25, 2017, 2:44 am

      Via Rail Canada is inefficient to roughly the same order of magnitude: Average subsidy of $67.32 per passenger ride.

      The most “profitable” (i.e. least loss-making lines) are in the built-up heart of the country (Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-London-Windsor) and there are some wildly unprofitable lines linking more far-flung destinations: the average Montreal-Halifax rider enjoys a public subsidy of around $500 per ride, while the average Winnipeg-Churchill rider enjoys a public subsidy of almost exactly $600 per ride. No city pair turns a profit.

      For a blog post that makes a big deal about the value of being transparent and counting in all the costs, internal and external, the failure to reference the Via Rail Canada 2016 annual report where these per-passenger subsidy figures are published — it is easily downloaded on the internet — was very striking.

      Younger folks these days (and I count the proprietor of this blog and his pals in that group) have no memory of the massive passenger railroad bankruptcies of the 1960s and particularly the 1970s that swept across North America. Railroading is a vastly expensive and capital-intensive line of work. In North America we figured out that the economics of railroading still work really well for long distance freight and bulk commodity transport. Accordingly, we now have vast, sustainable, nicely profitable privately run freight lines crossing the continent, rebuilt from the wreckage of the 1970s. Railroading is not particularly economical for passenger transport; in North America we operate a heavily subsidized skeleton system as a matter of political patronage, while in the UK they tried to semi-privatize the system and put it on a paying basis, with the result being that passenger fares are often painfully expensive. Depending on route, UK are often be faster and more convenient than driving, but it’s a bit like the Acela trains in the Boston/DC corridor — the trains are competing against the airlines for the business traveler more than they’re competing against cars and buses for the family traveler, with prices to match.

    • Brian Bailey October 25, 2017, 4:35 am

      Aren’t there hidden subsidies built into roadway infrastructure as well? Granted, these are harder to measure than the train example, since the railway system has much more distinct fiscal “boundaries.” But in addition to subsidizing rail travel, surely our hard-earned tax dollars also go towards propping up the roadway infrastructure that must be built and maintained to make a comparable car trip possible.

      • Ben Kurtz October 25, 2017, 5:56 am

        To a first approximation: No.

        The figures are not that hard to measure.

        Public spending on highways in the U.S. is approximately 3 cents per passenger mile. And the vast, vast majority of that comes from fuel taxes paid by the motorists themselves, so it’s not a subsidy paid by others.

        The best rough approximation is that no more than 10% of nationwide highway funding comes out of general revenues instead of fuel taxes or other user fees, mainly because Congress hasn’t managed to raise the federal gas tax above 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, and inflation has done its thing. It would not be very difficult to get the “subsidy” element of spending back to zero.

        The current rate of general revenue subsidy amounts to 0.3 cents per passenger mile. On a 1,000 mile trip, that equates to $3 of public subsidy per passenger. By comparison, a passenger on a long distance Amtrak line taking a 1,000 mile journey will get a subsidy that is quite literally two orders of magnitude larger.

        There is no comparison. Once you put aside the vague hand-waving and take a look at the cold hard facts, you discover that long distance passenger rail is fabulously cost inefficient.

        Most of the relevant numbers can be inferred from this government document: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/22059#section0

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 25, 2017, 8:51 am

          Right, but a lot of this cost is because trains are so under-used. Consumer “preference” leans to cars, because we’re generally really bad at math, plus we choose to live way out in suburbs. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where cars look like the only option (unless you’re rare and smart enough to realize that a bike is a muscle-powered car).

          • Brian Bailey October 25, 2017, 10:02 am

            This would seem to be a logical explanation for what otherwise looks like an illogical result.

            Trains move freight much more efficiently than cars – hundreds of miles per ton of freight per gallon of (diesel) fuel. So, fuel cost of move a human 1000 miles is orders of magnitude lower for a train vs. a car.

            It stands to reason that the infrastructure for trains does is not that much more complex than for cars. Similarly, it’s hard for me to imagine that train itself would be orders of magnitude more expensive, per passenger-mile, compared to passenger vehicles.

            Why, then, should trains be more expensive to operate? By rights, they would appear to be a substantially MORE efficient, and therefore less expensive, mode of transportation. I can buy that utilization is a major factor. I’d be interested to know if any other commenters have further information.

            • Ben Kurtz October 25, 2017, 11:51 am

              I didn’t say train seat-mile operating costs are two orders of magnitude higher. Just that their public subsidy is. Pete is right — Amtrak’s 50% load factor does it no budgetary favors.

              But in point of fact, long distance passenger trains have a seat-mile cost (independent of utilization) of around 20 to 30 cents, while passenger cars are usually more in the 7 to 10 cent range. So cars are about 3-fold cheaper than trains to operate on a seat mile basis — far less dramatic than two orders of magnitude, but fully decisive nonetheless.

            • Brian Bailey October 27, 2017, 10:07 am

              Thanks for the info, though I still struggle with the cognitive dissonance created by an assertion that cars are an inherently cheaper way to move humans compared to trains. If that were true, why wouldn’t freight be moved in cars?

              Of course, freight is moved by train whenever possible because it is drastically less expensive even than freight trucks, which in turn are less expensive than moving a comparable amount of material in a convoy of sensible passenger vehicles. Why this equation should be reversed just because the freight is humans escapes me.

            • Ben Kurtz October 27, 2017, 11:35 am


              To your question below, the reason trains are far less efficient for passenger transport than bulk freight is, mainly, down to density of packing. A long distance double-deck railcar can seat around 90 people (roughly 18,000 pounds of human) and will have an empty weight of around 150,000 pounds. By contrast, a DOT-111 tanker car will have an empty weight of 65,000 pounds and carry almost 200,000 pounds of payload. Each pound of passenger payload requires 8.3 pounds of rail car to support it, while each pound of liquid payload requires about 0.25 pounds of rail car to support it.

              A fully loaded passenger railcar weighs just under 2,000 pounds per person transported. Meanwhile, a Honda Fit weighs around 2,500 pounds empty and 3,300 pounds carrying 4 full-size adults (assume 200 pounds per person), giving 825 pounds per person transported, or 2.5 times less mass. That’s the heart of the problem.

              Freight trains car also run at lower speeds, sit idle on sidings, and suffer schedule slippage with generally fewer complaints, which also adds to operational cost efficiency, but that’s a more marginal point.

            • Mr. Money Mustache October 27, 2017, 11:51 am

              But if we compare this to America’s best-selling one-passenger vehicle (Ford F150 king-cab 4×4 at 5000 lbs), the trains don’t look quite as bad. Then, there is the much lower rolling and air resistance per passenger. Also, I would argue our current trains could be scaled down at least 50% in weight, if anybody applied post-1950s engineering to them.

              Still, I agree that small independent pods tend to scale better than entire trains, unless you’re transporting hundreds of people for every trip. Shoes for trips under 1 mile, Bikes for 1-5, and the remaining 10% of our ground travel could be through automated electric cars, buses or trains.

          • Ben Kurtz October 25, 2017, 11:46 am

            Once again, good sir — data!

            Amtrak’s bread-and-butter lines (Northeast Corridor and Acela trains) tend to run at a seat-mile cost of 20 to 30 cents.


            For 30-odd cents a mile (including gas, which includes gas taxes, which includes 90% of the public cost of highways), you could run a decent used car with 5 seats — call it 7 cents per seat mile. Americans may be silly and bad at math, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that cars are actually several times more cost efficient than a train on a cost per seat-mile basis, independent of utilization rate.

            Passenger trains only really make sense in short-haul urban commute settings, where they solve for road congestion problems by packing more people into each unit of right-of-way space. When you’re trying to haul the entire family from Mississauga to Sarnia to visit the grandparents, a roadtrip will always win on cost, by a large margin.

            Look, I get your point about the time spent on a train being more pleasant and more useful than a similar amount of time stuck behind a wheel, or even in the passenger seat of a car. I bill my professional time at a shamefully high Looney Tunes rate, so if a train allows me to work for a single extra hour I’ve more than made up for everything. That’s why the Acela is so popular among lawyers and bankers and consultants in the Boston-NYC-DC corridor. But it strains credulity to pretend that productive use of travel time always tips the financial balance your way. Some people are on strict 9-5 jobs and when they take off for family vacation they can’t sneak in an extra hour of billings on the train. Some people have already saved 15% or more on car insurance this year, and won’t derive much benefit from further internet surfing. Some people will discover that the 2.5 hour drive from Mississauga to Sarnia turns into a 4 hour ride on Via Rail Canada, train schedules being what they are, and they end up losing time or missing planned events.

            In a blog post extolling the virtues of starting from a position of maximum price transparency when making life decisions, you simply have to own up and admit that a family road-trip in a sensible car is ineluctably the most cost effective way to travel long distances — far more cost effective than a long distance passenger train.

            Once you’ve admitted that starting position, we can then talk about whether opting for a more comfortable or interesting or fancy mode of transportation is worth the extra cost. For many people it probably is, for the very reasons you state. But it’s not in keeping with the underlying spirit of the blog post to keep ducking a fundamental point which runs against your personal sensibilities.

            • MKE October 28, 2017, 11:06 am

              In Wisconsin, at least, and probably in the rest of the country, the source of road funding is sale, property, and income taxes. This money is then moved into the “transportation fund” to prop it up. The paltry gas tax comes nowhere close to paying for the roads or all the associated costs. I have read numbers saying vehicle fees and gas taxes pay from 40% to 60% but it’s about half.

            • Kevin October 29, 2017, 1:05 am

              important to keep data in view. you’ve been pretty illustrative. passenger trains in their current form generally dont make economic sense, even if they could run at max capacity 24/7. at least, that is, with current technology.

              yes, then we could make the value judgement for train relaxing/working time over driving-in-traffic time, or environmental costs of 90 personal cars vs 90 train passengers, or we could make the justification that such projects act as a method of more subtle wealth redistribution. where the poor could theoretically get affordable, effective transit without buying a car.

            • Kevin October 29, 2017, 1:12 am

              should add, at least in the context of road trips with relatively full cars

            • TheotherNeil November 2, 2017, 10:37 am

              I really appreciate thoughtful and well supported responses like yours Ben even when they run counter to my personal sensibilities. Sadly even when facts are relatively iron clad confirmation bias tends to rule day. While there are many factors beyond cost that cause me to choose a course of action I think, as you pointed out, the spirit of the blog requires an honest assessment of the data.

  • Andreas October 25, 2017, 7:20 am

    I need to make a confession:

    I had pre-paid traintickets this summer for my vacation, but at last minute I changed my mind, forfeited (€40) the traintickets and took the car instead (€40-50 just for gas). Then I payed €60 for parking for a couple of days.

    It was a sweet/stupid clown ride but damn I regretted it afterward. It destroyed my budget and that months investmentsavings.

  • Mark Myers October 25, 2017, 10:34 am

    One thing to consider for those of us still working is the value of your time. I can make more money and get further ahead even when spending money on car trips vs public transportation because of the time it saves me. Kind of like the example of clipping coupons and driving between stores for 2 hours to save $15 on your groceries. Net return is not worth your time when you can be more productive and get further ahead using your time otherwise.

  • Eric October 25, 2017, 11:32 am

    I drove a 1992 Eagle Talon TSi about 60,000 miles from 2006 to 2016, and this post inspired me to figure out the actual cost per mile. My total cost was $0.23 a mile for fuel, tax/title/license, insurance, depreciation, and maintenance.

    Assuming $3 a gallon gas and 27mpg. Purchase price was 3500 and I sold it for 2900.

    Gas 6667
    Maintenance 1728
    Depreciation 600
    Insurance 3890
    Tax 1030
    Total Cost 13915
    Total Cost Per Mile 0.232

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 25, 2017, 12:07 pm

      In my pre-Frugal-Toque days, I was not so wise.
      My Eagle Talon TSi, 1998, cost me $25750 used in 1999.
      I sold it in 2008 or so for just over $2k, having taken a lot of winter/rust damage.
      The maintenance ran a lot higher, too, on account of the brutal road conditions out where I live.

      • Alicia Kennelly October 25, 2017, 1:44 pm

        Unfortunately, while sportier, the 2nd Generation DSM’s were also more highly strung and prone to require more maintenance and repairs than the 1st Generation DSM’s.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque October 26, 2017, 7:04 am

          Yes. I replaced a *lot* of struts, control arms, bushing, bearings, a couple of rims, a transmission, an entire trunk lid that rusted through from the inside(?). That car went through a lot before I got smart and sold it and was quite relieved to be rid of it.

          • Alicia Kennelly October 26, 2017, 10:23 am

            Even my friends who are DSM enthusiasts joke that broken-down is their natural state :) That said, with a hatchback like a Talon, water (including the winter brine of the northlands) can get past seals and become trapped inside of the hatch panel between the inner and outer layers of metal. Then it rusts from the inside. My mom’s Shadow did this. This can also happen on door panels.

      • Michael October 25, 2017, 4:21 pm

        That is a pretty big hit in depreciation, most cars would not lose quite so much…
        But it’s still less than the amount lost in opportunity costs.
        $25,750 invested for 9 years would have increased $25,724 (assuming an 8% compounded return).
        So instead of having a $2,000 asset, you would/could have had a $51,000 investment.

  • Marcia October 25, 2017, 12:22 pm

    When I consider the cost to drive anywhere, I try to add up the total cost. I don’t remember the math off the top of my head – but I totaled up gas, wear and tear AND the cost of the vehicle.

    So let’s say that my $17k vehicle lasts me 200k miles (it’s a Toyota, will prob go longer, but let’s be conservative). then that is about 9 cents a mile. Then of course insurance, new tires, oil changes, etc. etc. I calculated that to drive to work and home each day was something like $6. (Not too far from the mileage rate.) That puts it into perspective.

    Likewise, we visited Colorado on vacation this summer. I had this grand idea of a 2 week road trip, visiting National Parks on the way. And my family put the kabosh on that one (nobody likes road trips). To be honest, though – a 2 week road trip + gas/ car wear and tear + the extra 7 days of hotels or campsites (if we could find them) – well, it ended up being the same price as decreasing the trip to one week and flying in and renting a car.

    Also, I feel you on the Legos. My boys have a ton (family gets them gifts), + we have all my husband’s when he was a kid (and he’s half Danish). We don’t have clear shelves but we do have clear drawers. We only let them keep about 5 “built” right now. Still they are the most used toys in the house.

  • CL Frey October 25, 2017, 1:43 pm

    Train costs are expensive out in Western Canada as well. I *wish* we could get reasonably priced train tickets. For example, my brother lives in Edmonton, so to go from Edmonton to Saskatoon at the current best deal rate for three of us is $608 ($193 x 3, for tickets regularly priced at $313.00, plus taxes). That includes leaving at 11:30pm at night and getting there at approximately 6am, so no compensation from fun scenery watching along the way. At approximately 1200km for a round trip (1000km plus some city driving), if I estimate gas costs for my Mazda 5 at 4 tanks x $45 each ($180) and double that for hidden costs, the total is $360. But I hate to be a negative Nancy, so someone please go ahead and prove me wrong!

  • Gabe October 25, 2017, 1:53 pm

    I wish we had high-speed rail like in Europe…I once missed a flight from Stuttgart to Frankfurt. I was due to fly out of Frankfurt back to the US after a 2 month stint in Europe. I thought I was S-O-L but luckily, the layover was three hours and I was able to purchase a high-speed rail ticket, bypass traffic, and make my connecting flight back to the US. Rail would be so convenient if we had the infrastructure and mindset here in the States. Maybe someday. ‘Til then I’ll continue saving $$ and reducing my carbon footprint by using my daily van pool to get to work.

    • Georgy Porgy October 28, 2017, 12:02 pm

      Don’t get me started on german rail fees.

  • ViaVia October 25, 2017, 2:02 pm

    Hi Mr. FrugalToque!

    I’m curious how your Via tickets ended up so cheap! Only $90 each ticket, for that long of a journey seems like a steal. I take the Via relatively frequently, but my tickets are often more than that for a distance of 80km. Any tips on how to score such a sweet deal?

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 25, 2017, 7:49 pm

      The keys, as I recall:
      Book on a Tuesday, which has magical Supply and Demand Power.
      Book at least one month in advance, for special early bird rates.
      Also, our children are both under 12, so they get discounts.
      The trip in question actually got us all the way from almost-Ottawa (the train station nearest us) to Toronto Union and then Go Train and Bus to St. Catharines.

  • n00z October 25, 2017, 2:15 pm

    As a daily metro Chicago train commuter, I love train travel. I sure do wish our Amtrak system here in the States was updated with better equipment, as I’d travel home for the holidays more often with that method. I also wish it was a bit cheaper than it is. Sometimes 3 Amtrak tickets home are the same price as flight, which boggles my mind. Well, 1 can keep up hope.

  • Laurie October 25, 2017, 2:55 pm

    The Lego cabinet really hit home. Sometimes I gaze upon the thousands and thousands of Lego pieces in our Lego bin and groan at the hundreds of dollars in gifts it represents. My Lego lover builds them, keeps them intact for a week or two, then starts making his mutant creations shortly after. He’s seven, and all the allowance goes to Lego. I’m hoping it’ll finally click that he’s just buying more of the same soon. Last Christmas, he asked for a particular (large) set because “it’ll change my life, Mom. I know it will.” “Did it change your life?” I asked after he put it together. “Not really.” But he’s bought a set or two since then… I’m not giving up hope, but I’m also not sure if I’m ready for glass-fronted Lego cabinets anywhere in my house. :)

  • k smyth October 25, 2017, 3:07 pm

    My favorite justification to drive is when it’s business travel, and I’m compensated with the US IRS’ mileage rate for my 10+ year old low-maintenance Honda. My car travel allows me to bring my bike for fun and exploration at my destination (and make me feel like I’m not working all the time – I’m being paid to ride my bike & drive my car). I am typing this note from one such occasion, where I am participating in a meeting at one of the “vast, sustainable, nicely profitable privately run freight lines crossing the continent, rebuilt from the wreckage of the 1970s.” Too bad they can’t hitch a few passenger rail cars onto their freight operations.

  • SMM October 25, 2017, 3:28 pm

    Love the lego example. My kid was into legos for a few months, so we bought a few small sets. And of course, I and his older cousin ended up building them. Now there are figures laying around here and there with an arm or leg or some other thing-i-ma-jingi missing. And it’s awesome that your son is taking existing pieces and creating something new and unique out of them – creativity!

  • Brian H October 25, 2017, 6:23 pm

    Hey Mr. Toque, thanks for the great article! I’m a fellow software developer, living in the GTA.
    The cost of commuting is killing my wallet and destroying my soul. I’m thinking of moving the family to Ottawa, buying a place within biking distance of downtown. Are there many development jobs downtown, or do they tend to be in the surrounding suburbs ?

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 26, 2017, 7:03 am

      My information, based on constant efforts to recruit me, is that there are jobs throughout the city. As I live to the west of town, I’ve only taken job offers in this specific area.
      Numerous coworkers live so close they can walk to work from home. High tech workers consider nearby houses affordable, and would probably rank as “cheap” if compared to housing in Toronto.
      Downtown prices naturally run higher, but then you get easy access to the nightlife and such. I suspect many of the downtown jobs are government based, but the private sector also exists.

    • Georgy Porgy October 28, 2017, 12:04 pm

      That’s ironic, since the transport cost in software developed GTA (Grand Theft Auto) is zero.

  • Johan October 25, 2017, 9:09 pm

    I can’t wait for The Hyperloop companies to start rolling out routes around the US. We desperately need a disruption in the public transportation sector and this could be it. Rail lines in the east coast are falling apart (looking at you NJTransit!) and still too slow. If you want a Hyperloop route to be considered in your city, Elon Musk encourages citizens to reach out to your government officials to show interest. I don’t own a car so bikes + trains gets me around :-)

  • Davi October 25, 2017, 9:17 pm

    Everyone fretting about fixed costs of car ownership – insurance, registration, etc. have it backwards. Yes these don’t increase in direct proportionality with use, but that’s not an excuse to drive more… Just lazy thinking. Driving more may bring your cost per mile average down slightly, but your overall costs still increase.

    I own a truck that gets used for business. I put about 3,000 to 4,000 miles per year on it and it consistently costs almost $1.00 per mile to operate. It doesn’t go anywhere if it’s not pushing snow, towing a trailer or hauling a bed load of something. I could drive it all other times and maybe bring the cost per mile to 60¢ per mile. See the logic there? That’s where this thinking leads to. Instead I put about 10,000 miles a year on a 20 year old small FWD wagon (no AWD in Maine! Everyone tells me I’m nuts, but you’d be amazed what a real set of snow tires would do) that gets 30mpg. It costs me 20¢ per mile to run that car. I live in a rural area, driving is the only option.

    Funny thing is, people are amazed to see me doing carpentry out of the little wagon. I’m always asked if my truck has something wrong with it or if things are going okay since I drive a less than $1,000 beater when they know I own rental properties. It’s assumed I’m nuts for choosing the japwagon over the big American truck.

    Thing is, no one seems to understand that we own rentals because we drive shitty old cars (wife included), nevermind that I do all the mechanical work on them to boot. Up here as soon men havery money to blow, they buy the largest truck they can qualify for and get the spouse the most expensive high riding SUV they can but 95% of the time the vehicles are hauling 1 or 2 passengers only. Pickup trucks are commuter vehicles here…and don’t try explaining to a Mainer the folly of their choice, as it will fall on deaf ears.

    Anyways, per mile is the only way to consider driving costs. Someone asked me recently to haul blueberry bushes 75 miles away and what it would cost. Without batting an eye I said $200 for the truck and $100 for me for 4 hours of my time. He laughed and said that was expensive (well I did add $50 bucks for profit/wiggle room in case he wanted to dicker). Since I didn’t expect him to say yes, I lectured him on what it really costs to operate the truck after he said what he had to. He’ll find some dipshit up here that will do it for far less – financial freedom allows me to be straight with these people. Smug, yes…but sometimes people only really understand this shit when you hit them with a hammer.

    • LS October 27, 2017, 12:30 pm

      Just wanted to jump in and say hello from Maine. There are a couple more of us up here. My own family couldn’t understand why we just bought a used car, knowing what we make/save and that we don’t have any debt. I agree — people don’t seem to realize the reason we can afford those things on paper is because we don’t buy them in the first place. Duh?

      • Davi October 27, 2017, 4:11 pm

        LS, year-round residents up here that are addicted to new vehicles don’t seem to realize the extent that these things are just tools that depreciate very quickly. With MDOT addictions to calcium, sodium and magnesium chloride brines for main routes, and the sheer volume of salt that gets mixed in with sand on the local roads, every vehicle is doomed from the moment it becomes a winter vehicle. My solution is to buy the absolute cheapest rust-free small wagons from warm-weather states or snowbirds’ garages I can find to run in the winter & set up a fluid-film spray center and hot water power wash station in my garage to maximize the length of time that cars stay on the road…but eventually they all succumb to the salt-monster as you can only prolong, not eliminate their demise. Why people spend $30,000 to $60,000 on SUVs & Trucks, lease them or take on big loans, then barely maintain them in the winter is beyond me. When I hear my fellow Mainers crying poverty, I take it with a big grain of salt if their falling down home is surrounded by toys – Trucks, ATVs, boats, trailers, motorcycles, RVs etc. The redneck Maine culture is to buy shit you don’t need for yourself first before saving money or keeping the house up-to-date. Who am I to argue? I’m making a living in part by buying fixer-uppers that are structurally sound but in poor cosmetic shape because of poor upkeep.

  • Eliza October 25, 2017, 9:32 pm

    I love your idea of putting stuff on display where you can clearly see how much you have and also enjoy it. I found the same experience, that just being able to see how much I had was enough to stop me from buying more even if it was second hand. I cleaned up our clothes cupboards according to the KonMari folding method at the start of the year and needless to say, we haven’t bought any more clothes this year!

  • Dharma Bum October 26, 2017, 7:24 am

    Timely post, as I just returned from a round trip car jaunt: Toronto to Pittsburgh to Rochester to Toronto.
    I lied to myself the whole way there and back, regarding what this trip is costing me.
    We took this short 5 day road trip (my final week of vacation before I pull the plug at work on Dec. 29th – thanks to MMM) instead of our usual more exotic trip to Arizona, or Texas, or California, to “save money”. However, when you add in the true cost of time, automobile wear and tear, fuel, health (that road food is a killer), motels, restaurants, and random entertainment shopping (just kill me now), it’s a false sense of economy.
    I should have just stayed at home and read books.
    My only saving grace: I used the company car and company gas card. Whew!

  • Dana October 26, 2017, 5:39 pm

    Going to be graduating pharmacy school in May 2019 and looking into mustachian places to live where I can start my career and life. Would love to live in a place like Boulder but it is way too expensive. ANYONE HAVE ADVICE??

    Priorities are: badass community of people I could socialize with, outdoorsy activities, close proximity to fresh local produce, bikable, low cost, pharmacy jobs available. Would appreciate feedback

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2017, 6:16 pm

      Boulder rents are still pretty affordable relative to a pharmacist’s income. Longmont too. Bonus: in both places, you can easily live car-free.

    • Jaap October 28, 2017, 8:31 am

      quote: … and the subsidies that go into highways versus railroads, we would discover that the train ride costs a lot less.

      That may not be true. Railraods are very expensive for a country, even a small, denesly populated country like The Netherlands:
      tax income on cars (bpm + vat + excise duty + road tax): 1.55 + 1.21 + 4.23 + 1.08 = 8.07 B€/year
      road maintenance cost: 2.14 B€/year
      tax income on trains (vat): 1.07 B€/year
      rail maintenance cost: 2.43 B€/year

      And traintickets are not cheap either: 100km will cost 15€ full price, 9€ discounted price.

  • Rafael October 27, 2017, 6:51 am

    I live and work in Mass but my wife’s family lives up around Portland Maine. We tend to make the trip around 2x a month. During the winter, it’s only a 2.5 hour trip and with the Prius, maybe $15 in gas and another $10 in tolls. But in the summer it can be a 5-6 hour long nightmare as everyone else in this state seems to move to Maine for the weekend. It’s during these times that the $30 per person tickets on the train seem like chump change. Not only do we get there in 2 hours vs. the 6 it would take on the road but we get to nap lightly in a quiet train with decent WiFi and a food cart. It makes me question why we don’t take the train every time.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 27, 2017, 7:23 am

      We *did* actually use the food cart on the train, but I consider that a terrible error on our part, due to insufficient planning. Properly done, any meal you bring with you is going to beat “food cart” fare in every possible category (cost, quality etc.).
      Also, I suspect that your trip is *always* more efficient on the train, even when you find the 2.5 hour trip smooth and uninterrupted by heavy traffic. $25 is only the gas and tolls. What about the wear and tear on the car?

  • Sergio October 27, 2017, 7:09 am

    Some 14 years ago, when I moved to Madrid from Canary Islands , I just had to make some calculations. Taking my old car there would cost me 200 euros, plus 300 insurance every year, plus new tires that would add another 300 European bucks, and still no fuel taken into account. Those 800 bucks extra would let me move around madrid for about 1600 times in the public transportation, which I would never need to do so much. So I sold my car, got some extra 800 euros for it, and got a 1600 euros benefits plus fuel.(I haven’t talked yet about the problems of driving and parking cars in the big city). Sometimes, about twice every year we would want to drive a car to some beautiful Spanish city. Then we would rent a car, for about 30 euros a day, plus fuel, and that would make us enjoy some kind of car driving joy in a kind of new car, without paying all of those extra costs

  • Sean Keller October 27, 2017, 11:56 am

    My wife and I have recently started the journey towards financial freedom, and this blog has been a huge influence in how we think about our lives and our spending. We spend so much money on our two cars, that it’s an easy target to reduce spending. I wish I could completely eliminate my car, but my job (external auditor) doesn’t really allow that. For now, we will continue trying to make every decision be the best decision. Keep up the good work with the blog! We need constant motivation and I feel like this blog really provides it!

  • CZ_Technically_Frugal October 27, 2017, 12:51 pm

    Price for using car is the gas only. Sometimes. And sometimes not.

    Say you have the car anyway. Because you need to use it sometimes. To drive once a month or two months to grocery store for 200 kilos of rice, beans, flour and sugar, 300 kilos of fertilizer once a year, some steel beams occasionally, etc. To drive twice a month to one of the near cities to meet friends (4 times faster than public transport from your home to the city, priceless back, because there is no public transport during night).

    Say that you don’t need overcompensate anything, so the car is cheap, old, effective and with low cost of repairs (even electric conversion maybe). So the maintenance costs about $100-200 a year (I’m describing my car here) for less then 10 thousands kilometers driven in that year. The car must be easy to dismantle and easy to get together of course. Something from 1980’s or even older.

    Note: electric car has very expensive batteries, but almost zero maintenance around the engine. There are two ball bearings and (if you’re unlucky) some pairs of carbon brushes. No timing belt, no valves, no compression, no pistons, no engine oil, no oil filter, no emission tests, no spark plugs, no injectors, no more holes in rusty exhaust pipe.

    What is the cost of the additional trip?
    – Gas? Yeah, sure. Unless it’s cost for electricity in batteries of the car.
    – Maintenance? A bit. Something like $1/100km or even less, because some maintenance is more time-dependent, than kilometers driven dependent.
    – Depreciation? Of car bought for $300 ten years ago which will run next 20 years? Let’s add $0.1/100km. This would be the biggest issue for electric cars – depreciation of batteries.
    – Registration and other fees? Are you crazy? You’ll pay them anyway.
    – Your time? It depends. If train will save you 2 hours, hell yeah. If train will take your 6 hours (or just 2 hours plus driving to main train station in the center of city plus pay for parking there), it would be better to even rent a car for commercial price if you’re not early retired yet.

    On the other hand – if you can manage to live happily without car, because everything is in (electro)biking distance and you can afford to have place to grow vegetables and collect solar power, than ditching all costs related to having a car makes sense definitely. And even very time consuming usage of public transport sometimes may be the most effective way (effectivity of public transport depends strongly on where you live of course).

    Car is not good or evil. Car is just tool which can be used wisely or stupidly. The fact, that most people isn’t using it wisely changes nothing.

    • Georgy Porgy October 28, 2017, 12:11 pm

      Agree. If you can’t get rid of the car and have inescapable fixed costs, further trips cost mostly the paid gas/brake deterioration. Tires need to be renewed every 4-5 years because the compound runs too dry/hard.

  • FrugalLizard October 28, 2017, 5:22 am

    In a bid to fully understand the true cost of my wheels, we added up everything it costs. Purchase, insurance, maintenance and operating costs all added up and divided by the number of times a week that I drive it. I kept track of two weeks of use. It works out that I only use the vehicle about 6 times a week. Mostly for trips under 3km. The cost of the trips is between 15 and 18 dollars a trip. Knowing this really make me think about why I have the damn car but I get past the feeling that I have to have constant unfettered access to a car. When it is in the shop I have a feeling of being trapped. Which is completely irrational.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 28, 2017, 10:38 am

      Nice work Frugal Lizard – that’s the real purpose of Mr. Toque’s article here. $15 to $18 per trip, which could be a five minute bike ride instead!

      It’s even worse in my house – I have this 2016 Nissan Leaf that is depreciating ~$2000 per year plus incurs $1000 of registration and insurance costs. We use it about twice per week, usually for short trips that could be done with a bike trailer or the old Honda van, which works out to THIRTY DOLLARS PER TRIP!

      Now that my electric car advocacy experiment is over, it may be time for a car-free advocacy experiment. But will Mrs. Money Mustache agree to it? :-)

      • MKE October 28, 2017, 10:51 am

        $30 bucks per trip! There is hope! Statements like this matter.

        I once had a professor who was somehow relating his wife’s bread machine to Digital Logic – the name of the class. All I recall is that he said he had the costs of a loaf of bread down to about $35 per loaf. Seriously, I don’t remember a damn thing from that class other than that. That was worth the full cost of tuition, though.

        A fellow engineer once blurted out, “Anyone who pays more than a hundred bucks a month in car costs is an idiot.” Don’t recall the context, but it was an important step in changing my perception of cars, and an important step in learning how to make life better, instead of more expensive and dangerous.

      • Slim November 1, 2017, 9:25 am

        It’s a slippery slope with interpreting personal incentives with this logic however…

        If you have the same fixed costs (depreciation, registration, etc.) but increase your number of trips per week you are primarily only increasing the cost of operation (gas, tires, maintenance) which would effectively reduce the cost of use when looking at a “per trip basis” despite the fact that your overall spending is increasing.

        E.G., if MMM uses the nissan leaf for half of the trips he currently does, it will suddenly be costing him near to SIXTY DOLLARS PER TRIP! Whereas doubling the number of trips he’s currently making will make it look like the trips are getting cheaper…. (Which clearly isn’t the way we want to incentivize ourselves to use vehicles less)

        • CompserChris November 2, 2017, 11:17 am

          Yeah… a while ago I was getting really stoked that my Prius was hitting almost 60 mpg! But it was because of a completely unnecessary (and unmustachian) food run for lunch that happened be practically down hill both ways. No food run = $$$ saved. Similarly, carpooling really sucks WRT gas mileage, but gallons per butt-mile is the important measure (assuming the trip was necessary, and the extra butts are just “along for the ride”).

        • MKE November 2, 2017, 12:08 pm

          Yes, you have a good point. It might come down to the motives of the person doing the calculation. If you are looking to justify the money you just wasted on a car, you might start doubling the trips.

          I think overall, though, that if people just put SOME thought into how much money they are losing every single time their life becomes in some way involved with an automobile, their perceptions could change. I look upon the “per trip” oversimplification as yet another way to say, “Wow! Cars are ridiculously expensive!”

          Most people look upon the car as a “sunk cost.” Once they sign away their money on that loan document, they think of the car as “free,”

  • FF,Pharm.D. October 28, 2017, 8:18 am

    Wise words, Mr. Toque. I try to improve my conspicuous consumption each month by perusing my credit card statements. Spent too much on groceries this month? Definitely checking out the sale items going forward! While unneeded transactions slip in here and there, being aware and reminded of where the money went helps prevent that from happening again.

    Mr. Money Mustache, thank you so much for your blog. You have opened up my eyes to the financial world. My wife and I will be out of debt (all student loans) this December, and are on course to reach financial independence within 10 years. We followed your teachings and moved to a smaller apartment, much closer to work, and I am able to ride my bicycle to work everyday! Don’t judge me since I did upgrade my heavy old mountain bike to a nicer road bike…

  • MKE October 28, 2017, 10:41 am

    Cars cost about 54 cents per mile per the IRS and about 62 cents per mile per AAA. Why throw your life away trying to outcompute them or argue about it? What a stupid waste of time! Make the math easy and use fifty cents per mile every time you decide to screw yourself over by getting behind the wheel.

    These are only the personal costs. This does not factor in all the taxes you pay to support such a lame-ass mode of transportation. Driving a car places a huge load on the rest of society to support you. Just remind yourself, every time you get behind the wheel – as I do – how you are being a selfish jerk.

    Cars kill 37,000 Americans per year. That counts. That matters, even if every person posting here about the costs chooses to pretend such a cost does not exist. Remind yourself when you get behind the wheel: this is a death machine and I have just become a potential killer.

    Every car should come up with huge sticker on the side, proportional to the sticker on the side of a pack of cigarettes.

    • Ben Kurtz October 31, 2017, 11:31 am

      “Cars cost about 54 cents per mile per the IRS.”

      That’s not the whole IRS story. Not by a long shot. In fact, the part you omit is probably more important than the part you cite.

      Here’s what the IRS actually says about car costs:

      “Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

      – 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 54 cents for 2016
      – 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 19 cents for 2016
      – 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

      The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.”


      For many people, including the author of this blog post, the honest price comparison for a big trip like the one discussed would be at 17 cents per vehicle mile, not 53.5 cents. Because such people are taking it as a given that they will always own, tax and insure at least one sensible car per family, whether or not it will be used for the big trip to grandma’s house once a year.

      The IRS also goes on to say: “Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.”

      This reminds us of the fact that 53.5 cents per mile reflects an average American vehicle fleet that involves way too many Ford F-150 King Cab 4×4 pickup trucks bought new and on credit, which is a further reason why citing the standard IRS business mileage rate is a heinous oversimplification. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes searching around the Boglehead and MMM forums to figure out that the 53.5 cents per mile “all in” cost easily goes down to 25 to 40 cents per mile if you’re willing to buy a reliable used sedan.

      • MKE November 2, 2017, 12:31 pm

        You are correct. If I wanted, I could go back and figure out all the money I have wasted on cars, and it would come out to somewhere around what the Boglehead and MMM forums say. Having already wasted all that money , I don’t see the sense in wasting my time trying to justify it with a lower per-mile cost. That might make me feel good enough to waste more money on cars. 25 cents a mile is ridiculous. It would be, as the article says, “Conspicuous Consumption.”

        Instead, I tell myself I save fifty cents every mile I ride my bike somewhere, which is most of the time. I have a lot of fun doing it. Sitting around in a car burning money out the tailpipe, even at 25 cents a mile, is not a good use of time and money.

  • Heidi K October 28, 2017, 11:08 am

    Hmm… north is a relative term. I thought you lived in Colorado, USA.

    The Legos looks awesome and somehow almost priceless in those fancy cabinets. I am assuming your spouse is o.k. with the aesthetics. (Apart from a stuffed animal collection and books, Legos are the only remaining childhood toys in our household with 2 teens.)

    Anyway, I will now seriously look into travel by VIA for a family trip next summer from Ottawa to Quebec City. We did a VIA trip once before as a small family and it was a big success.

  • Florida Mike October 28, 2017, 2:49 pm

    So I guess the first concept of the article should be “Does a train go from where one lives to where one wants to go?” For some of US in the US, that is not the case as Amtrak is not all that encompassing nor efficient.

    I have priced it from where I live in FL to anywhere else and driving is still more efficient. Yet when I travel to Europe, its all trains baby!

    If you have not retired early, efficiency is still a must as many of us only get so many days of vacation per year so spending an extra day or two on Amtrak to save a few bucks versus driving isn’t always worth it.

  • Phillip G October 29, 2017, 2:52 pm

    Stupid article. If you want crappy public trans or no cars look to North Korea for their standard of living. I get being frugal and money wise, but this is a stretch. News flash, you’re going to die. All that money you concentrated so hard on saving is going to go to someone else who will spend it away. Whether you spend money or save it, you’re focus is still on money. You are never really financially independent. Anyhow, without cars and our modern transportation culture, which I agree is not anywhere near perfect, you probably would not even have near the standard of living you have now. No computers, no internet, no constant supply of food, etc. So, next time you look at a car, don’t think, OH MY HOW MUCH MONEY IS GOING AWAY!!!! Think, that was what propelled humans out of the primitive age for thousands of years. Thank you personal vehicles. Now we look to the future from the examples cars for better, more efficient, less toxic ways of improving PERSONAL transportation.

  • Rebel 'Stache October 30, 2017, 9:01 am

    Finished binge-reading the whole blog! I’ve had a lot of time while breastfeeding. I’m grateful to have found so many kindred spirits. Together we will save the world!

  • HFBandit October 31, 2017, 1:33 am

    I’d be interested to know the real cost of driving electric. Environmentally I mean. Obviously these things are made in a factory somewhere. The factory needs power. Charging the battery requires power…unless your country is using renewable energy for its electricity supply, then your electric car is just moving the problem somewhere else surely?

    • HFBandit October 31, 2017, 1:34 am

      my train (haha) of thought had moved on beyond that actual scope of the post, so sorry…

    • MKE November 2, 2017, 12:10 pm

      I read once – and I think it was in a book called “The Pedaling Revolution” – that 60% of the environmental damage caused by a car is done when it is built. This applies to electric cars due to the battery (mining and manufacturing damage is substantial).

  • MH November 1, 2017, 11:11 am

    The motorcycle hack I used when trying to get out of my underwater house was great. It works best if you can make the occasional fix yourself with used parts off of ebay.

    The big benefits are:
    1) you can get a Ninja 250/300/500 for a small amount of money ($1000-2000)
    2) the bike will get you 60-45mpg for displacements from 250 – 500
    3) you can sell it when you’re done with it for about the same price – i.e. almost no depreciation!
    4) insurance was like $100/year. you can also get a bundle discount. you can also save on insurance on your car, because you can get a quote based on far fewer miles / year.
    5) it’s really easy to work on (compared to working on cars) – parts are cheap off of ebay if you get a common bike
    6) you keep the miles off your regular car, saving you maintenance and some depreciation on it
    7) taxes and registration were super cheap. in VA they were $0 beyond the standard decal fees (which are cheaper), due to taxes only kicking in after the first $3500 or so…
    8) state inspection is cheaper for a motorcycle than for a car. no emissions were required ($28/year)
    9) in my area, you can ride special HOV lanes and certain toll roads for free – which saves money and time, both of which are very valuable!
    10) parking for motorcycles is often free and you can usually park closer to the building, which saves time
    11) it’s more fun!

  • Chris November 1, 2017, 7:22 pm

    I love how the glass cabinets highlighted the quantity of lego sets. Certainly, encouraging our youth to embrace creativity and engineering skills is a good thing – but there’s a point of diminishing returns.

    We’re in the process of designing a house and one thing you’ll find noticeably small is the amount of storage. We’re fairly minimal in our possessions and keeping storage to a minimum means that any excess gets in the open. That said, you’ve sparked my thinking on whether we could better use more open shelving to really keep ourselves honest.

    Thanks for the inspiration!


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