Mar 31, 2010

The Cost of Living in the Boonies

We live in a tiny little town that is 30 minutes from everywhere else we need to go. Thankfully, within one mile of our house I have a grocery store, our bank, a post office, and a library. I make good use of all four of those!

I've been trying to figure out why our vehicles cost so much. They're both paid for. One is a 2002 and the other is a 2003. Neither gets great gas mileage. My husband is a paint contractor and has to drive his small truck loaded with equipment to wherever the customer's house is. His daily commute is at least 20 miles one way. At least. I'll look into where we can save money there later. Right now I want to see what's up with the amount we have budgeted to spend on our van.

My van is used for church services (Thursday and Sunday), choir practice (twice a month), family outings on some Saturdays, and running errands on errand day. Here's what I came up with for MY vehicle:

  • Weekly miles driven: 180
  • MPG: 16
  • Gas used at $2.89/gallon: $33.24
  • One Month's Amount: $133

That's JUST for gas. The insurance is another $61, oil $12 (divided by 12 months), and $50 for future maintenance . . . Well, goodness!

That makes the month's budget for my vehicle alone $256!!

I can see TWO ways to reduce this:

  1. Call the insurance company and see if the premium can be lowered (higher deductible?).
  2. Cut out the errand day and do my errands in conjunction with the church trips.
  3. (One extra possibility: Rini suggested getting my oil changes through a Mystery Shopper trip. I'm looking into that. THANKS, RINI!)

So, I'm on track to reduce this budget item. One down, ??? to go!

I wanted to give a little background history, just for fun. For the first 17 years of our marriage, we had ONE car. One day a week I drove my husband to work and kept the car for errands. When we got pregnant, we finally broke down and bought another vehicle. It was very exciting. For the first time we had air conditioning! Too bad we got it AFTER we moved Up North from Florida.

But, doggone it, the whole 3 weeks we NEED air conditioning in the car here, I have it! Woo Hoo!


Rini said...

Just out of curiosity, why did you decide to go with a van? Unless I'm mistaken, you are a family of three... so why "waste" money on a low-MPG vehicle? Obviously you have to for your husband's, but for yours?

Not trying to be too picky here - we're talking about a whole $50/mo difference from a 26 MPG vehicle, after all - but I am curious what prompted that decision, if you don't mind sharing.

Mary R. said...

Your ideas for reducing the costs are good ones. We, too, used to have just one vehicle until we were married for a while, 25 years for us. Once you get used to having 2 vehicles, though, it seems impossible to go back to just one.

You could, as Rini says, trade down to another used vehicle that gets better gas mileage. However, if you bought your van new and have kept it maintained, it is trustworthy, and you might not do so well trading it for another used vehicle that was owned by somebody you don't know who may not have maintained it properly, possibly necessitating costly repairs on it in the future.

You could go back to one vehicle, but then you're pretty much stranded out there unless you have neighbors to call on in a pinch.

We save by not having a cell phone. We don't get cell phone service here anyway, so it would be a waste. Our son in college has one, though, since there is no phone in his dorm. Cell phones are a big expense. Any possibility of getting rid of yours if you have one? That would be a savings. Or going down to (inconvenient) dial-up internet?

Roxanne said...

Rini--I don't mind at all! I like how questions are coming up that might help pinpoint some new areas that we've not thought about before.

We went with the van for three reasons: Since we live in New England, we wanted something that had either 4WD of AWD. We also didn't want to be low to the ground as it seemed safer to be higher. Remember, this is the thinking of two ex-Floridians LOL!

Also, we *thought* we were finally starting our family and would have more kids. Sadly, after miscarriages and plain ol' age, we apparently aren't having more. The van was new (a demo) when we bought it and it has been a fantastic vehicle--the most reliable we've ever had.

When it goes, we may consider a higher MPG car, but I would still want the safety feature of AWD. It's VERY hand for getting out of a drift (BTDT)!

ALSO, when we're ready to buy the next vehicle, we want to pay cash a la Trixie's example. No car payments for us EVER AGAIN.

Roxanne said...

Mary R--I actually do NOT have a cell phone. One major reason is the cost. I really just don't need one, so I can't justify it.

The dial-up could be an option in the future. Right now, I have the deal of a lifetime--$15 a month for DSL! Somehow that deal rolled over when we were moved to the new company (ours got sold to them). If they decide to go up on us, it will definitely be a sacrifice to have to go back LOL!

Keep thinking ladies. I've already talked to my husband about temporarily stopping our IRA as well as giving myself a MAJOR talking to about going to 100% no restaurants. I'd gotten it down to more than half of what we were doing before, but it's time to go "cold turkey." (HA!)

Roxanne said...

Trixie's story on buying a car debt-free:

Rini said...

Hoooo, I want your DSL deal! Mine is $35/mo, which isn't bad, but $15?! Wow!

FarmMom said...

We also only have basic phone service w/o long distance because we use cell phones for long distance (free to other verizon customers - which all my family members are!). We are going to drop the house phone @ $35.00/mo and get an extra cell phone @ $10.00/mo. The extra phone will share our minutes for other-than-customer-to-customer calls, of which we have plenty. Maybe you could look at your current cell phone plan and "tweek" it a bit, too!

Anonymous said...


An excellent way to measure the true cost of ownership of any vehicle is to use the old "Dollars per mile driven" equation. I ran the numbers on your vehicle; it costs you .33 cents per mile for your van. This is significantly below the .52 cent average.

Your van expenses and mileage at 9360 miles per year seem to be very well tracked and far below the national average. I'm not sure you could lower this very much.

You might be able to get a smidgeon lower on the monthly insurance, esp if you go with the same company as your homeowners is with. For what it's worth you may also want to requote the homeowners too -- to several companies. One year I requoted with 5 companies and finally found one that saved us a total of $400 per year and gave us a little more coverage.

Packrat said...

Okay, realistically, there comes a point when one cannot spend less without being miserly or being a recluse.

There are ways to spend less money, but are they realistic in the world we live in?

For years our second "car" has been a gas guzzler. Why? Because, when figuring out the cost of purchasing a "better" and "more fuel efficient" vehicle vs. keeping the one we have, keeping the one we have to quite a bit less expensive. Besides, living where and the way we do, we need a pickup.

As to safety, our main car (my husband's work car) is a Subaru. We love it - fairly good gas mileage, AWD, and low maintenance. (No, I'm not getting paid to say this.) We put an average of 500 miles a week on this car so you can imagine what our gas bill is.

Roxanne said...

Rini--I KNOW!! That was a promo with our original company. When the new company bought them out, they rolled it over and haven't ever said anything about it. Until they do, I'm just going to be appreciative!

FarmMom--We've talked about letting go of the land line. We haven't looked into it yet, though (mainly because of the killer DSL deal). If they go up on us, then checking into a cell phone situation that would be used INSTEAD of the land line would be a consideration.

For long distance we use either my husband's cell phone (if he's home, of course), or a prepaid card that I got through It's really cheap and I can use it when I need it.

Trixie--Again, you are such a valuable resource. Thank you for crunching the numbers for me. My husband was impressed, too! I agree that keeping the vehicle we have seems to be the best financial decision right now--and you proved it with hard facts!

I will probably check into the insurance situation and see if anything can be lowered. We have our HO and Business insurance with them, too, to get the multi-policy discount, but it may be time to do some serious research. It's Allstate, btw.

Packrat--I agree. I think we've reduced everything we can reduce (except the last little bit of eating out). It's time to step up the selling of stuff, the temporary stop on the IRA, etc., to begin to attack the debt more aggressively.

500 miles a week? Wow! My husband does between 250 and 300. That's what country livin' will do for you LOL!

We considered a Suburu a one point, but went with the van because we though we were about to get on with the passle of kids. How does it feel being so close to the ground after being up high in the truck? Does it feel safe in blizzard situations, etc.?

Packrat said...

Roxanne, yes, sometimes I wish I could sit up a little higher like in the pickup, but we have a Forester which has the same clearance as most regular AWD or 4-wheel-drive vans or pickups - just not the wider wheel base.

But, even with the narrower wheel base, the center of gravity makes the Forester handle like a race car (if you want to drive that way - lol) - meaning it isn't top heavy like some smaller SUV's and vans. (The Forester sits quite a bit higher than the Legacy/Outback. I haven't ridden in one of the new Subarus that looks even higher.)

In the Subaru, on slick roads and during blizzards, it handles so much better than the big pickup in 4-wheel drive with a lot of weight in the back (which lowers gas mileage even more). In the winter, we have to put the pickup in 4-wheel-drive to get up and down Main Street and into our driveway. The Subaru just goes - we don't even stop to think about getting stuck. (The Subaru also handles a thousand times better than the Jeep Cherokee we used to own.) Our daughter has an older Legacy and lives on a very steep hill. She goes up and down all winter long without much problem. She's even "plowed" snow with it and not gotten stuck.

Because we do live surrounded by the boonies, the smaller Forester can get to the same places that the Jeep did and many more places than the pickup. (Some roads are so narrow, the corners so sharp and steep that the pickup won't make it around some of these. There are places that the pickup cannot be turned around. We have only three customers that J can't drive to in the Subaru and that is because there aren't roads into the customers' places.)

The only drawback to the Subaru would be the lack of cargo space. It doesn't hold quite as much as the Jeep did (which wasn't much compared to the pickup). J has to use the whole car to carry his equipment/tools.

Anonymous said...

Hi Roxanne,

I just had another thought about this and I'm preparing our tax return for the year. I got to thinking about your hubby being self employed like my George is. Are you both sure you are taking full advantage of all of the things you are allowed to deduct on your tax return on your schedule C and then taking the Home Office Deduction on your 1040? Our Home office deduction helps us A LOT -- we get to deduct a portion of our heating, electricity, homeowner's insurance, property taxes and the cost of any improvements we make to the office area. A lot of people (me included) are very leery about taking the home office deduction because it can be an audit flag, but it you are honest and keep good records you have nothing to worry about.

Also, are you doing straight milege on your hubby's vehichle or deducting for the maintenance,and insurace? For us it works out much better to deduct for the mileage. If your hubby does this, be sure he writes down the mileage for EVERY SINGLE thing that is business related, even going to buy a book of stamps to mail customer bills is business mileage.

Please let me know more about your situation (again, goodness I hope I'm not being too nosey here!) because you do have the potential to save a bundle on your income taxes.

Packrat said...

Amen to Trixie's latest comment. My husband is very good about writing down mileage to actual jobs, but lousy about writing down mileage when he does business errands. They would add up to more than we already take.

Eva Girl said...

Thank you for the liquid laundry detergent recipe and directions! We've go the ingredients and will be making up a batch : ) My husbands really liking the idea of saving the $$!!! (I linked to you an my post about it

Roxanne said...

Packrat--That's very interesting about the Forester. VERY interesting. That's one of the main things my husband considers a must-have: being up high.

Trixie--Thanks for the tips. I used what you said as a checklist while I was doing the taxes last week. We have been very careful about making the most of the miles husband travels for week, and he keeps great records. We do indeed take the home office deduction. Thankfully I had all the records up to date up until my MIL "dram" in November. The taxes took only 2days instead of the usual 3!

I really appreciate it your help!!

Roxanne said...

Eva Girl--Did the laundry detergent work for you? I know it's a very big deal to go from scented (even the unscented) store detergent to something that has ZERO scent.

Our clothes are always clean. We don't have heavily soiled clothes, though. I've never tried the recipe out on items that have been used for that level of work.

Packrat said...

Roxanne, if your husband likes to be way up high, he won't like even the Forester. It sits higher than the Legacy/Outback, but not as high as a Jeep or a van.

The worst you could do is test drive one.

Lorie B said...

In regards to the homemade laundry soap. We made a batch a while back using Fels-Naptha instead of Ivory. Same recipe. Worked very well. And my hubby gets FILTHY. I am talking the kind of stuff that would make Mike Rowe shudder. haha Anyways. That went well. Next batch, we went with Kirk's Castille and make a double strenght batch. I don't know if it was the strength or the Kirk's Castille, but I wound up breaking outin hives. Scratch that one. har har

I am going to make another batch with Fels-Naptha. I also have a second bucket with my fabric softner. I pour one bottle of softner in, and add two or three bottles of water. Mix well. Throw in a couple of sponges. Toss the sponges in with the wash. Stretches out the fabric softener quite a ways.

Roxanne said...

That's a GREAT idea about the fabric softener! I think I'll have to set that up.

I used the Fels-Naptha before. It smells good and cleaned really well. It isn't available locally here, though, so I started using the Ivory which works well for lightly soiled garments.

I've *heard* that you can use any soap. There is a problem with things like Irish Spring, etc., causing a bit of a buildup. Apparently if you use white vinegar in the wash that keeps that from happening. Or so I've read.

Packrat said...

I'm adding my 2 cents worth. A 1/2 cup (for a large load) of white vinegar used in the final rinse works great. (Cider vinegar will work on colored clothes; here it just costs more than white vinegar.) Not only does it help remove residual soap scum, but it helps get out leftover mildew and sweat odors. I never use fabric softener any more.

As to Irish Spring (along with many other soaps/detergents)- I'm allergic to it. An extra rinse in warm water with or without vinegar saves the day.

Roxanne said...

Packrat--That's good to know about the ACV and tough odors. I'm going to add that to my laundry supplies!

The sensitivity to strong soaps is why I use the Ivory. All those scents smell good, but I'd rather smell "clean" in my laundry and not have to worry about irritation. Just not worth it!

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