Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bicycle vs Car: Potential Earning Power Discussion

Before I get into one of my rambling sessions, I'll pose my question here at the start: If given the option, would you rather make low wages and be able to walk or bike to work, or would you give up bike commuting to bring home a more reasonable income?
Although I don't necessarily agree that riding a bike will make a person thin, it does require energy to move, unlike a car
*Image source here
As some may know, I went back to school a few years ago because I wanted the opportunity to pursue something that was fairly discouraged, or at minimum I'll say was certainly not supported when I was going through my first round of college right after high school. My early pursuits, vocation-wise, surrounded things like public relations, insurance and human resources. Though I somewhat enjoyed a couple of the jobs I held, as a whole, I wasn't finding fulfillment. Art was not something I believed I could make a living doing, but I decided to go back to school anyway, if for no other reason than to prove to myself and the doubters that I could in fact be successful - at least in an educational setting.

My time in school is coming to and end, and as I realize that I don't have much longer to be on this somewhat freely-adjustable schedule, I've also become increasingly aware that I will have to go back to a job that I likely won't like - and soon. There are days when this makes me sad, as I had envisioned becoming a hippy artist, wearing my paint-stained clothing to conduct business about town, and adopting some sort of anything goes kind of attitude about life. The reality is that nothing is as simple as I would've imagined it.

For starters, I will have a fairly sizable school loan to repay at the end of this return-to-school journey, and while I'm aware that they can't get blood from a turnip (as my grandfather would've said), at some point, the government will expect me to begin repaying this debt. I knew this going into my education, but I also believed that I would have a new career avenue in front of me as payment for that time and money. As I've pursued this avenue, I've realized how unlikely it is that this will take place. There aren't a ton of options for fine art painters in the corporate world (not that I would want that anyway), which leaves me to the skills I gained prior to my return to college (which are, of course, now outdated). It's not quite so black and white and I do realize that there is always a possibility that something in between the two extremes exists, but something else has begun to enter my mind in regard to potential employment opportunities:  transportation.

I've started asking myself what I am willing to give up when the time comes. Our city isn't exactly a roaring metropolis, and job prospects generally are minimum wage (or fairly low wage) jobs unless one works in technology, management, or perhaps construction. I've realized that in order to make a decent living, more than likely, I will be a good 20-30+ miles from my future employer - not likely a regular, bike-able commute. So, I've been asking myself the very question posed at the start of this: Would I rather make $7-8/hour and work locally, or would I be better off giving up the bike ride to work in exchange for a more budget-comfortable wage?

It's not an easy question to answer, but I think it's one that more people are thinking about. I know that I ponder being able to give up a car (and payment on that car, insurance, gas spent to fill it up constantly, repairs, etc) and realize what a cost savings it could be, but then find myself wondering if it's truly the most efficient choice. The decision is of course complicated further by the idea that locally there are simply fewer jobs available, and it could take significantly longer to find employment by narrowing the search to places within say, a 15-20 mile radius from home.

I realize that there are potentially other options (such as public transportation, car/van pooling/share-a-rides, etc), but I'm curious if anyone out there has had a similar decision to make and what you did. If you haven't had to make this decision, what do you think you would do? There are many aspects that could be debated here, such as how much money does a person really need, or living in a two-income household, is it necessary to make a ton of money, or any number of other possible questions that could be asked and debated. Ultimately though, I know I do have some time, and things could change significantly before I reach the end of this little section of life's journey. But, I would love to hear what others think about this potential dilemma and/or your own personal experiences.


  1. Hi! I am a lurker who was moved to comment because I faced a similar decision to yours, and I chose the bike.

    I was unemployed for most of 2009 and most job prospects were in Boston, about 30 miles away from where I live in Lowell, MA. I had commuted from Lowell to Boston in the past and hated every minute of it, so when I was looking for jobs I tried my best to keep it local (but I needed work, so I wasn't too picky!)

    I happened to interview for and get offered two jobs - one in Boston and one in Lowell. Both were in my field and were doing what I wanted to do; the only differences were in the pay and commute. The Boston job paid almost 2X what the Lowell one did, but came with a 3 hour round trip commute (using public transportation, but driving isn't any faster around here and parking in Boston is pricey.) The Lowell job paid a lot less, but was located 3 miles from where I live.

    After discussing both options with my partner, I decided to take the job in Lowell. We figured we could make the money work and that happiness and convenience were more important anyway.

    I remember thinking I was making a *terrible* decision at the time, but I have never once regretted it. The money has never been an real issue for us, and my short commute has allowed us to get rid of a car. I am much happier working in the community where I live: I feel a greater connection to the community, am able to patronize local businesses, and I love riding my bike to work.

    Good luck with your decision!

  2. Looking back I think I would decide low wage but simpler lifestyle hands down. Of course I've painted myself into a corner with a mortgage and a family, but we've adapted rather nicely.

    When my polluter looked like it was going to put us in the poorhouse over emissions testing I just sold it and committed to riding my bike. At the time there was little risk as my wife stayed home and homeschooled my son. Now she works.

    When she took the job I became a sort of involuntary full time bike commuter. We'd just bought a (modest) house and were sort of swinging it on just my income. Her job is great for her and for the kids. She's teaching at a private school where her pay just covers tuition with a little left over. So we're doing okay, but there is no room in our budget for a second car. Ironically we've bought two new bikes, two used bikes for the kids and an Xtracycle conversion kit this year. But I wouldn't even consider taking on another car payment and the extra insurance and hassle involved in another motor vehicle.

    But with the benefit of hindsight I think I would have ended up in the same place, but with better choices along the way to be more resilient at this point. College? Neh...but too late to go back and try to return the education I got and don't seem to be using now. I don't think they'd give me the refund I want.

  3. Chris,
    I think it's very common for people to end up doing something completely unrelated to their college major, or finding that it wasn't as useful as they'd hoped. I kind of did things in reverse (well, I went to college first, but gave up 2/3 of the way through because it seemed unproductive at the time). I was "successful" in my career choices (this is in the eyes of those around me, not my personal opinion), but was incredibly unhappy. While I know the degree is absolutely meaningless, it was important for me to prove something to myself (1- that I could finish it if I chose to, and 2- that I could do something that I always wanted to do that others told me I couldn't). I still hold out hope to be able to use what I've learned in some manner, but I'm also realistic about bills, debt, and the like.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It's interesting to hear (read) different people's perspectives on the choices made. :o)

  4. Mariannika - thanks for taking the time to "unlurk." :o) I appreciate you sharing your story and decision to go with something that made life smoother and less stressful. You make some excellent points, and I'm glad to hear that you're ultimately happy with the decision made.

  5. I currently have a day job that is very low-paying and also own my own business, which I am hoping to transition to a full time job in the next year or two (but I've been saying that for two years now.) To be perfectly frank, money is tight, it's a major source of stress. Our business is profitable, but we've been basically keeping that cash separate so I can afford to quit the day job one day. (Minus any random purchases I make here and there......see my blog in a couple days...hint hint!)

    Anyway, there have been many times I have considered quitting my job to find a better paying job elsewhere, but right now I live 1.5 miles away from my work. As my day job is NOT something I am passionate about, and I'm unlikely to find a job I would feel passionate about, the less time it takes up in my busy day, the better. So for me, a 5 minute commute to work is a big positive. And there are days I begrudge that 5 minutes, because I really hate my job. The fact that I have Fridays off and I'm usually super busy on Fridays with my business is also a deciding factor. If I had a traditional degree (I have more college credits than a masters student and had a high GPA, but I never actually picked a major and graduated) MAYBE I'd be more willing to add driving time to my day, but the pay would have to be like 20-30k more than what I am making now. And that will never happen with my lack of credentials.

    That said, I really do not have a lot of outstanding debt. I have a mortgage that is a little higher than I like, but the day job just barely pays it off each month. My credit card debt is under $200. And I had a full academic scholarship so I have zero student loans. Your milage may vary, since you do have loans....but you also have a spouse that I assume is working, while I'm basically the sole support of my household. (Boyfriend lost his job two years ago and nothing has stuck.) I've also given up a lot of things some people consider necessities. I rarely shop for anything other than groceries, I only get my hair cut like 1-2 times a year, and shop for clothes about that often too. Our business keeps us busy on weekends so we do not spend hardly any money on entertaining, we don't go to movies, don't go out anywhere really. We do eat out a lot, but I put those meals on the business account. I also have the ability to live without stuff other people feel is super necessary. I didn't own a TV until last year. I lived in my house for 2 years before buying any furniture for my living room....and my dining room still has no dining table in it. (When I say no furniture, I don't mean I had cheap mismatched crap, the only thing in my downstairs was boxes!) The money I do have I prefer to spend on stuff I'm passionate about, so while I have a vespa in the garage, my plates are chipped IKEA pieces of crap. :)

    I definitely value my free time enough that it would take a lot of incentive to spend more than 2 hours in a car each day. I believe you just moved, but if you found a great job, would you consider moving closer to it if it was too far away to ride too?

    Also, another interesting issue - would you cycle to job interviews if you could or would you be worried about the perception that would leave with your prospective employer? I have to admit, I would not be likely to do it, unless I was interviewing somewhere very aligned with bicycling culture. There definitely is an opinion here that bikes are for poor people, and poor people are not good workers, not dependable, etc. And to arrive on bike for an interview would be considered unprofessional....not saying I agree with with it, but I think the sentiment is there.

  6. Ugh... Lynn, I just typed out a fairly lengthy response and then blogger freaked out and lost it all. So annoying! Anyway, instead of retyping, I will just say that I think you've made some excellent points and provided many things to ponder. :o)

  7. No question. I never, ever want to have to commute longer than a 45-minute WALK or its cycling equivalent. I never want to have to drive to work again. If I walk, I can relax and clear my head both in the morning and the evening. If I cycle, I can also relax. Not to mention, both walking and cycling are good for my body, even though I am still fat.

    Driving is stressful.

    I definitely think it is worth money to live close enough to work to not use a car for my commute. At present I have no plans to leave my current job, but if I ever do, the ability to live fairly close to my job, plus services like grocery shopping, library, etc., will definitely play into whether I move or not.

  8. Iris,

    Driving is very stressful. When we lived in California, our jobs were 33 and 34 miles from home one way (we were lucky enough to work very close to each other). The 34 miles wasn't so horrible, but the only highway to get there sat at a dead standstill every morning and evening (even in the carpool lane). We easily spent 4-6 hours each day commuting to and from work. I vowed that never again would we go through that, as it was stressful for both of us, and put a strain on our relationship to boot. After that, I don't think any commute could compare (though I should never say that, I suppose). :o)

  9. This is something I've wondered about lately, though chose the latter option (driving) because it was the only job offer I got that was in my field (though still minimum wage). If given the choice I would choose being able to bike with a lower wage option. I HATE driving (it has even exacerbated my knee problems in the past) and would choose walking/biking any day. But, of course, we live in difficult times and finding any job isn't the easiest thing in the world.

    Also, less related but still may be of interest to you -- I just finished reading a book I found at the library called The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry. Usually I try to steer clear of cheesy self-help books, but this was actually a really good read. It has a lot of great advice for people either pursuing artistic/creative career fields, or want to work creativity into their career path. As a fellow painter, I highly recommend it.

  10. Lauren, thanks for the tip on the book! I'll definitely have to check that out. I've had a few thoughts on possible self-careers, but finding start up money can sometimes be a challenge. It would be interesting to read some advice specifically for creative careers. Thanks again!

  11. How about either a real or virtual 'Ladies Bike Shop': Her Bike

    I just googled Lady's Bike Shop, and whilst we're obviously in different places, I can't see much in that space on the Interwob. Sure, lots of femblogs on it, but a dedicated space to deliver sales/purchasing/utility info (in Rivendellesque sales format as opposed to pure personal blog experience)? A centre of excellence on not just niche manufacturers but mainstream WSD from volume makers too?

    You obviously have significant experience of a variety of different bikes which women might like to ride and have an interest in both the aesthetic and functional sides of the hobby, but you also have the creative: able to write, and presumably now in artist-guise able to design/colour and component-consult with the best of them.

    It's possibly too niche, but then again...

  12. Oh dear, just realised I am a year off! Oh well, I hope your chosen/evolved direction has been positive for you!


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