Don’t Pay for 95%

Your car sits idle over 95% of the time.

Your guest bedroom is occupied one week out of every 52.

Your kids use the yard less than 40 minutes a week.

Yet we consumers love to envision the maximum usage for a particular item – like a house or a car – then buy the item with a capacity high enough to accommodate our visions. It makes us feel prepared, it feeds our egos, and it feels as though we got more value for our money than if we’d bought something smaller.

We do this despite knowing that we won’t be boarding guests year ’round, driving groups of eight in our minivan, and hosting lavish backyard parties, nightly.

But rather than buy for peak usage, I prefer to stay flexible.

The kids in front of the Modo minivan we book every couple weeks or so. Just $8 an hour!

I scale my solutions up and down in response to my needs at the time.

Friends visiting from out of town? I’ll pay for their hotel, so I can live in a smaller, cheaper, better located condo for the rest of the year.

I have to schlep a bunch of kids far away? I’ll get a Modo minivan, a local car share, for a few hours. Let someone else maintain that gorgeous van.

Need some outdoors time? Walk a couple blocks to a park. I’m not interested in mowing something I only use a couple hours a week.

When I tell people this, they usually recoil at the cost. “Hotels are expensive!” “You RENT a car?!” They see only the short term price of my solutions.

They don’t see the other 95% of the time. The time when I didn’t need and therefore didn’t own or maintain those items. It’s in that 95% that I rack up huge savings. I make that 95% work for me, not against me.

Meanwhile, they’re living further out to afford that guest bedroom and yard, driving the $50,000 8-seater minivan, and paying for 5% usage, 100% of the time.

Being car-free, we're more likely to opt for active transportation modes - like biking. But we can scale up to vehicles when needed too.

Being car-free, we’re more likely to opt for active transportation modes – like biking. But we can scale up to vehicles when needed too.

Not owning the high capacity solution also gives me huge flexibility. Do I need a two-seater car? Or a five-seater? Minivan, cargo van, sports car? I can access them all, only when I need them.

So what motivates people to plan for occasional peaks and idealized usage, rather than actual daily utilization?

Ego is part of it. A large SUV or huge house is still a sign of success to many. Your neighbours won’t congratulate you in your driveway for scaling up and down your transportation needs in a responsible, real-time fashion.

For daily kid hauling, nothing beats the bus for price, independence and level of engagement.

For daily kid hauling, nothing beats the bus for price, independence and level of engagement.

A mistaken sense of “value” is also at play. We’re often taught that “more is more,” up-selling ourselves to a larger house or car on the premise of “just in case.” It’s something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another.

But next time a big decision comes up, try forgoing your ego and asking yourself if more really means more. Account for the hidden costs: longer commutes to a big house, higher expenses, more maintenance, etc. Try making a rational, needs-based decision. A decision based not on anticipated peaks, but on actual daily usage.

In short, don’t pay for the 95% you won’t use.

You’ll save a ton of money and gain a better quality of life.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.

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  • darkemeralds

    I imagine that you can park all six of those bikes in the parking space(s) whose cost is factored in to your condo, too.

    Thanks for this. I live a similar lifestyle, but my story is way less persuasive to that All American Default Demographic of “families with kids”, since I don’t have any.

    • We have a bike locker in the building, so the bikes have their own parking space.

      And good point re the All American Default Demographic. I wasn’t always a family guy – I definitely remember feeling like I “didn’t count” just because gov’t and MSM seemed to only care about families. Good on you for living a similar lifestyle, regardless. You’re doing the planet more good by having fewer people anyway. 🙂

  • MidlifeSinglemum

    Very good advice. I just found your blog via Rachel Jonat.

    • Oh awesome! Rachel and I live in the same building complex. She’s in the tower right across from me. Love everything she does!

  • Helen Hodson

    I just stumbled across your blog today – I love your philosophy, it is very inspirational to me. We have two sons and are living in a 1000 sq ft condo in South Vancouver. I am feeling enormous pressure to find something bigger and I think we are the last of our friends with kids who are “stuck” in a condo. We own our place and have just about been priced out of the market for townhouses. My big bugaboo with our building is that you are only allowed one bike per owner, hence my son’s bike and a stroller are in our entry way right now (it is also against the by-laws for us to store bikes on the balcony). Our second bedroom has bunkbeds but my 16 month old is still in the crib in the master bedroom for several reasons: he isn’t sleeping through the night yet, I’m not sure about putting him in the bunkbed without a guard rail (did you use one when your youngest started sleeping in the bunk?), the boys don’t go to bed at the same time and I’m afraid of the older one waking up the younger one, and finally, I have trained the baby to sleep in a dark room whereas my older son is afraid of the dark! Any suggestions?! Thanks!

    • Hi Helen!

      Thanks a lot for reading and for your compliments. I’m thrilled you’re inspired! It’s why I write.

      Funny, I’ve had this “stuck” in a condo conversation twice in the last two days. For a certain subset of the population, anyone living in a condo/apartment can only possibly be doing so because they’re at a lower station in life than a homeowner. Obviously I don’t subscribe to this at all. Living in a condo frees me up from so much of the BS that homeowners have to deal with in terms of maintenance, costs, stressing about who’s parked in “my spot” in front of my house or who stole my blue bin, blah blah. No thank you! I prefer to be able to clean my place top to bottom in an hour, then get on with life.

      Re bikes, how about taking an ad out in your building to rent out additional bike parking spaces? How do they police it? Tags? I am a big fan of utilizing unused capacity and there must be someone in the building who isn’t using their quota of bike parking.

      As for the bunk beds, if the youngest is going on the lower bunk, do you need a guard rail? I’ve used guard rails before for some kids, but not for others. Depends mostly on if they’re over a carpet versus being on a tile (when we lived in Mexico). I’ve attached an image of the 4-bed bunk with crib enclosure that we had built back then.

      As for sound and kids waking one another up, to some extent it’s a fact of life. I still have nights where I’m shushing them constantly, yet ineffectively, trying to get them to stop yakking to each other. On the other hand, I’m a big believe in not babying kids when it comes to noise. So keeping your movie turned up or talking at a regular level when guests are over and kids are asleep. Eventually you’d be surprised what they sleep through. Might be some pain to get there, but well worth it.

      And the darkness… why not get your oldest a night light on the top bunk? I gave each of the kids clip-on LED reading lights that they have clipped to the side of their bunks. Provides enough light to erase total darkness, but not enough to disturb others in the room.

      Hope all that helps!

      • Helen Hodson

        Thanks so much for the suggestions, I will definitely try some of these!

      • Helen Hodson

        That is an amazing bunk bed!

    • RachelDan

      Have you thought of adding privacy / block out curtains and a side rail to the lowest bunk (both may like curtains they can use to add privacy) can add a shelf and lamp or torch too.

  • Jessica

    Hi Adrian – I just came across your blog today and although I have no children, it’s still very useful information! I have a car that cost me around $20,000 and has devalued so much over the past years…and as you said…I only use it (maybe) once a day and that’s because it’s there, so why not use it. I definitely can forego having a vehicle as I live in Toronto and public transit will take me everywhere, as will my own two feet. I’ve also been considering the idea of renting a vehicle for those longer trips where transit is not available.
    You have a great point about how we associate success with “things”. The more we have the more successful we ought to be or seem to be. We all know this to be false and probably one of the best marketing tools used by companies, yet we still buy into this idea (literally).
    As I get older (I’m a whole 24 years old right now haha), I am truly learning the value of everything, including money, experiences, moments, relationships and so forth. I look forward to re-evaluating my lifestyle in order to make appropriate adjustments that will not only save me money but also my sanity!

    • Awesome, Jessica. I wish I had your awareness at 24. Took me much longer to put it together, even to the minor degree I have currently. 🙂

  • K M

    I would say that this philosophy certainly works in larger cities such as Vancouver or Toronto, but not in smaller or more spread out cities, or where weather is a huge factor. In some of the eastern provinces, there is snow for a large part of the year, which also means ice, slush, salt, mud, freezing cold temperatures, etc. The idea of walking/waiting for a bus or organizing a rental car idea on a daily basis just does not make sense. Great that this works for you but it should not negate the reasons other people have reliable, sensible vehicles that get them to and from work, appointments, shopping, etc. Not everyone has a fancy car just so the neighbors will see it. A large percentage have a car because other forms of transportation where they live are just not feasible. To say that you have a better quality of life is a very negative comment. Different strokes for different folks, always.

    • Fair comment, indeed. Transit and car sharing systems definitely decrease the further way from density one chooses to live. But what many people miscalculate is the true cost of living further out. They move out for the cheaper house, but then they “need” two cars – which more than negates any savings on housing. So housing+transport is *usually* a choice that’s within our control, but I understand not everyone enjoys such flexibility.

  • SMB

    We this way in NYC with three kids and 130 lb dog for most of their lives. We just bought a house in the Bronx with an extra apartment in it as they are departing for college. We figure they will eventually return for free rent in NYC. Maybe televise the cage match to who gets the free apartment. For several years, we rented Zipcar when we needed to shop. I still have 2 big rooms with no furniture after 2 years.

  • Kristen Rudderham von Finckens

    I am complete agreement with your philosophy. One caveat; although I go without the extra car, extra bedrooms etc, I cannot go without the yard. Or rather, I choose not to. My kids don’t spend 40 minutes a day there, they spend hours. And free, unsupervised play is a key tenet of my parenting philosophy. I have a six, three and one year old, so the time that would get stolen from me trying to get them a few blocks away to a park would be a serious problem. They do not nap at the same time, we have school pick up etc. My three year old can play by himself all through out the day while I manage other necessary tasks like laundry etc. It is the one thing that if we have it up, would seriously impact our lives and my kids would spend a lot less time playing out doors.